Illia’s Mansion: The Board Game Visual Novel Off-Shoot of Press-Switch
Press-Switch has never had the most timely or consistent releases, as it is ultimately a hobbyist project that shifts and shapes itself in accordance with its sole creator, Skiegh. After a nearly two-year-long hiatus, the game finally received another update… in the form of an isolated non-canon spin-off centered around a magical board game. I would say that this was not what I, and presumably others, wanted… but the end result is about a novel’s worth of new content (46k words), a new gimmick, a different arrangement of characters, and a different flavor than the usual Press-Switch flair.
Also, quick disclaimer. I support Skiegh (also known as Trigger) on Patreon, and I forked over $60 for this release. Because that’s how I like to spend my money.
Illia’s Mansion Version 1.0 Review
Platforms: PC(Reviewed) and Mac
Despite what the title screen and name might imply, Illia’s Mansion does not involve an actual mansion, and instead follows Mika after she happens across the package containing the DSM (the device from the main game) and manages to return it to its creator, Candice. As a reward for her generosity, and for keeping this world destroying device out of the wrong hands, Candice gives Mika an arguably more destructive gift in the form of a board game known as Illia’s Mansion. Which has the ability to do every mental and physical transformation the DSM can, but is also quite adept at rewriting reality.
I would criticize this premise for not making much sense, as I doubt Candice would be so deranged that she would make a board game like this in the first place, let alone give it to a random 17-year-old girl, but whatever. It’s a premise, it makes the plot go forward, and it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that Mika sets up the game and, somehow, ropes in five other players. Including her father Sean, mother Anna, sister Miya, Miya’s friend Hope, and Ashley’s mother Chastity.
Together these six gradually realize that this bizarre game is fully capable of reshaping their bodies, minds, and reality as they are assaulted with a flurry of transformations that only get wilder and weirder as the game progresses, leaning into the core appeal of this game as a whole. The chaos!
Illia’s Mansion feels like a self-imposed test by Skiegh to see what his limits as a creator are. He pulls everything he can think of out of the TF playbook and as the transformations go on and on, it becomes genuinely confusing as to who is who and what that’s even supposed to mean. Characters have their identity, personality, body, life, realities, and more all thrown into a tumbler set to high. And while this could feel manic or unfocused, it is all told and conducted with a clear structure, reads like something that the creator put a great deal of thought in, and, as somebody who enjoys seeing creators play with these narrative concepts in a grounded setting, I found the story enthralling overall. That being said, this approach does come with two major shortcomings.
By featuring so many transformations, it can be challenging to keep track of what is going on in the game itself. The rules are fairly simple— land on spaces, do a thing, get points, use points to vote if the game should continue between rounds, and whoever has the most points at the end gets to decide if they want to (mostly) revert these changes. But the actual events of the game are so loose and sporadic with the introduction of chance cards that I gave up following the mechanics pretty early on. Instead, I began viewing the board game as a mere plot device to initiate these transformations. Because… that’s what it ultimately is.
As for the second drawback, it’s the sheer ambition and complexity of this concept. Skiegh tries to follow and expand these transformations through robust epilogue sections, occasional intermissions, and plenty of flavor text during the board game itself. However, there are a few instances where his insistence on spewing chaos comes across as arbitrary, as he does not always follow through on new transformations, or brushes them aside a bit too quickly. Not that I really blame him for this.
When dealing with more than main characters, it is tricky to make sure they all get their screen time and that their voices are heard. And when you are writing a story where a person’s identity changes so frequently, and sometimes at the very end of a story branch, it is hard to find a good balance between indulging ideas for the sake of it and carrying on the story without getting sidetracked by small details. While there is definitely room for improvement or refinement, I do think Skiegh did a better job than most can hope to and that he focuses on the most interesting characters among the cluttered cast.
That being said, a good chunk of my enjoyment with this game came from letting it idle while I mulled over the repercussions raised by these transformations, and tried to internalize what these changes actually mean. Where do these people stop being themselves and start becoming something else? It’s a philosophical quandary that’s less akin to asking how many repairs can Locke’s sock undergo before it stops being the original sock, and instead asks if you cut up six different socks and randomly stitch them together into six new socks, which sock is which?
Is it determined by the cuff, the toe, the leg, the foot, or the heel? Similarly, what aspect of a person determines who that person is if everything is scrambled about? Is it the personality, the memories, the life they actually led, what the current reality dictates is true, or some nebulous other factor found by melding all of these things? Or does none of this actually matter, and does any extensive mental transformation simultaneously ‘shelve’ and create a new person?
I don’t bloody know! The game doesn’t give me the answer— or even explicitly ask this question— but it got me to think about this stuff, so that’s at least something in its favor. Not that Illia’s Mansion really needs any bonus points as, for all the structural changes, this is still a new Press-Switch route at its core, and it carries all the competencies that I have come to expect from Skiegh as a writer.
Characters have recognizable and endearing personalities that shine even as their identities are pureed time and time again. Character backgrounds are detailed, play into their personalities well, and remain core parts of the characters even as they are immersed in this murky quagmire of chaos. And Skiegh continues to approach this material like somebody who has been exploring these concepts for well over a decade— because he has. He understands the core appeal these concepts have, the sort of thing the expected audience wants to see from them, and how to use them to create a story with drama, tension, dread, and a hearty dose of humor.
In crafting this off-shoot, Skiegh has also reprised his expected presentational flair, going a step beyond most other visual novel devs and producing something that, despite its antiquated 600×800 resolution, still managed to impress me. Character expressions are fluid and vibrant. The camera zooms in and out as scenes dictate. There are first-person sequences that are far better animated than they need to be. CGs and visual elements are used surprisingly well, as Skiegh chops and crops multiple visual assets together to better visualize scenes. And while the sheer volume of sprite edits, it’s easy to forget that all these sprites and backgrounds were lifted from some wack-ass hentai games with squid rape, spider rape, and binder clips on nipples.
However, the presentation takes a different approach when it comes to the board game itself, where the pomp and flair of the standard visual novel segments are traded in exchange for a mostly static screen with three players on the left, another three on the right, and a game board in the middle. There are nifty flourishes and effects that happen occasionally, close-ups sometimes fill the center of the screen, and you can hover over the game board to learn what each space does. But the character portraits strewn throughout the sides of the screen remain largely static throughout the game. They transform along with their bodies, but they do not jitter or switch between their set of dozens of expressions.
I get why Skiegh opted not to do this, because it would be a lot of boring work on top of all the work he did for the rest of the game, but I still wish that he found the passion to have the characters emote at least a little. Seeing character expressions flutter and change does a lot to keep something like this visually engaging, and without this engagement, I found myself looking down at the bottom 25% of the screen, because that’s where the action is! In the dialog box!
In summation, despite bearing a different name, Illia’s Mansion is still more Press-Switch, and just about everything I love about Press-Switch is carried over here. It can be chaotic, confusing, or even convoluted at points, but that’s also the point and appeal of this off-shoot— taking an outlandish concept and rolling with it. And while I could point out how certain minutiae could be better, it is still a rousing and thoroughly entertaining little romp that deserves to be played about as much as any of the routes in Press-Switch proper. Plus, Skiegh actually completely finished this off-shoot without including any nebulous placeholder choices that he, in all likelihood, would never get around to expanding.
As per tradition, I also made a flowchart for this release, even though you really don’t need one. But if I don’t make this, then somebody else might take my title of Flowchart Girl away, and that… that I simply cannot stand for!
I also prepared a flowchart for the super secret easter egg endings, which nobody would have ever found unless they dug through the game’s code, like I did.