A Dual Tale of Horror and Romance
I’m a sucker for a twisted and creepy story. So the premise and style of The Shadow You really jumped out at me. It was touted as a mix of puzzle-solving, horror, romance, and VN elements. Additionally, I’m also really fascinated by the concept of duality. And just based on the title, I assumed that would be a central focus for the game. In the end result, The Shadow You was both more and less than I expected. This isn’t to say the game is horrible, just that it didn’t fully realize its potential.
First Day Of Work After Being Murdered
The Shadow You starts with a car ride. Ophelia is traveling with Kiel. It’s initially unclear how they’re related, whether they are friends, acquaintances, or even family. Regardless, the car ride abruptly ends after a storm blocks their path. Kiel goes out to check and wanders into some sketchy-looking woods. When Ophelia looks for him afterward, he’s gone missing. Instead, she finds odd knickknacks inexplicably littering the forest. Perplexed, she’s caught by surprise by a strange woman with ghost-white hair. She says Ophelia doesn’t belong and then proceeds to slash her to death. That definitely caught my attention, especially at the beginning of the story. However, immediately afterward, it’s as if the event never occurred. Ophelia wakes up safe and whole in her bed, ready for the first day of her new job. Thus the stage is set for the rest of The Shadow You.
Living That Nerd Life
Ophelia is the ward of her sister Fiona, after their parents died years ago. Fiona has worked at the Mortimer mansion for years and managed to secure a maid position for her little sis. Given that Ophelia spends most of her free time playing an online game called Guilty Moon with her friends and not much else, this is a welcome offer. Honestly, Ophelia is a bit of a space case, and her only real friend is someone she hasn’t even met in real life. Their online avatar is named Fabula, but that’s about it, which makes it quite interesting when Ophelia discovers that her gamer friend is actually the son of the Mortimers, a young man named Kiel. Though I’ll try and avoid any other spoilers in this review, that’s an unavoidable detail.
Welcome To Gloom
As the story proceeds, it’s bifurcated into two different segments. The first segments involve Ophelia and Kiel’s somewhat mundane adventures, as well as budding romances. There are also a couple of other characters involved named Roger and Dezy, but more on them later. The second type of segment is what I lived for. They’re the horror sections, and they take place in an aptly named area called Gloom. It’s full of fog, monsters, and dangerous traps. The character you control there is an unnamed woman who resembles Ophelia. She has no recollection of who she is or how she got there. All that’s clear is that her adventures and those of Ophelia and Kiel seem to occur in parallel. These are also the only segments that have any real challenge. You’ll have to solve puzzles, survive harrowing encounters, and much more. It quickly got to the point where I dreaded returning to the “regular” world and much preferred my jaunts to Gloom.
What’s In the Box?
A big reason I loved the Gloom sections so much was that they involved far less dialogue. I hate to be overly critical of a game’s translation, but it’s especially relevant in a genre like this. And frankly, the translation was subpar at best. It was evident to me the scriptwriters don’t speak English as a first language. There’s the misuse of common phrases and grammatical flubs that made it frequently hard to get invested in the drama. This was especially apparent when The Shadow You was trying to make me care about the characters’ romantic escapades or their emotional states. I hate to feel this way, but honestly, it’s unavoidable. If the game was just the dialogue and no puzzle or horror segments, I would have dreaded my time with it. But the mixture of the good and the bad made it bearable.
Despite the awkward writing, the story is interesting. I was very curious about how the regular and Gloom segments intersected, and I was eager to find out what was really happening. So much so that I got every ending the game had to offer, including the True ending. Sadly it still left me a bit underwhelmed, but at least it was clear to me Topchan Games was trying. Which definitely helped me offer them a bit more slack in the score department. Another aspect that helped me temper my judgment was the aesthetic and audio design of The Shadow You.
Though it’s a bit of a mixed bag, overall, the design is the strongest aspect of the game. Characters are represented by delightful little chibi models, and the static artwork has a ton of personality. Best of all are the pictures used in dramatic moments, especially those that happen in Gloom. The only aesthetic misstep is the backgrounds. Most look flat and lack details, especially in the regular segments featuring Ophelia. The most egregious example of this is in the scene where Roger and Dezy get into an accident while riding the bus. They just kind of hover in midair while everything spins, and it was pretty generic looking. As for the audio side, that’s quite good. There’s a mixture of upbeat tunes while traveling through the city and working at the mansion. In Gloom, there’s an eerie ambiance that strangles everything with dread. Whenever you’re being hunted, the sound gets dynamic, which gets your heart pumping. Though you’re only chased by little chibi models, they express a lot of menace with their growls as they hunt you.
As far as the UI, that’s also surprisingly well implemented. The game works with just a mouse, and the icon changes based on context. If you can touch an item, a hand will appear; an arrow will appear when you can travel somewhere; and an eyeball appears when you can investigate an object. This really helped me spend less time searching every corner of the screen, especially where puzzles were involved. That said, sometimes the icon was very finicky, and I would occasionally miss an item despite being thorough. Once you have an item in your inventory, you can drag and drop it to utilize it. Lastly, by pressing the icon in the upper right, you can bring up settings and the message log. All these are welcome features, and they helped make the game less frustrating. It’s also worth noting that the game has a couple of sections with light RPG combat. I wanted to be more invested in these, but they’re very rudimentary and lacked much in the way of strategy.
A Nightmarish Labyrinth
Now, I had talked earlier about Roger and Dezy. I’d love to say they were great characters, but they didn’t really add anything to the story. They show up unexpectedly in one section that I mentioned earlier, and then barely spend any time getting development. There is a revelation late in the game’s True ending regarding them, and it serves a small narrative purpose. I just don’t feel it did enough to justify their inclusion. Had the game just focused on Ophelia, Fiona, Kiel, and the mystery girl, that would have been more than enough. But then that would also require a much higher level of writing and editing, which simply isn’t present here.
A Shadow of a Chance
I know I sound like I’m being hard on The Shadow You, but that’s only cause I see the potential for it to be something better. I do admire Topchan Games for what they obviously accomplished with a limited budget. And they definitely succeeded in the horror parts of the game. Perhaps if they can invest more time and care into their writing and focus more on their horror, their next game could be outstanding. As things sit now, The Shadow You is a promising game held back by its narrative. If nothing else, it’s a short and inexpensive experience. I managed to get the True ending in about 4 hours, and that’s only because I got lost in a couple of puzzles. Horror fans might still find something worthwhile here, warts and all.
Final Verdict: 3/5
Available on: PC (reviewed); Publisher: WhisperGames; Developer: Topchan Games; Players: 1; Released: January 22, 2021; MSRP: $9.99
Editor’s note: The publisher provided a review copy to Hey Poor Player.