Review: The House in Fata Morgana
I really enjoy stories about time travel. Whether it’s the When They Cry or Steins;Gate series in which people repeat the same few days or actual time travel where the heroes see different eras, I will be all over that stuff. In fact, Timesplitters 2 is my all-time favorite first person shooter mainly for this reason. The House in Fata Morgana mixes time travel with another beloved video game trope, namely amnesia, to tell a story about a peculiar mansion that stands the test of time much better than its residents.
This is a Japanese visual novel with a gothic art style, which immediately caught me by surprise. While I personally think that people who say all anime-related stuff looks the same nowadays are exaggerating, the presentation of The House in Fata Morgana really stands out. Characters look like nothing I have ever seen before in a visual novel and the use of colors here makes this one of the rare cases where I feel this story couldn’t have worked in any other format. The music is equally as strange, utilizing many songs that have vocals sang in European languages. If you are a fan of visual novels already, then you can just go ahead and get this one for the originality alone.
That is not to say I was wholly fond of it though. This is just a subjective case of preference, but the music, while fitting, fell just a little short of clicking with me. The art is absolutely fantastic, though, no complaints there.
The novel part of this visual novel doesn’t disappoint either. It kicks off with you awakening in a chair inside of the titular mansion. You have no memory at all, but a beautiful maid stands ready to greet you, explaining that you are the true master of this house and have been gone for a very long time. Distressed to hear that you have no clue what is going on, she takes you by the hand and escorts you through your domain. As you pass by certain doors, the maid begins to tell a story about a past resident of the house.
Each “door” takes you to another point in time where an interesting person occupied the house, only to soon learn that it is cursed. This is a neat format because it tells a smaller mystery over the course of about 3 hours while also adding to the overarching mystery of who you are and what the mansion really does. It’s satisfying to read and allows you to split up your reading sessions much easier. Besides that the stories all take place in the same location, they also share the similarity that the maid is always present, regardless of the time it takes place in. Similarly, a white haired woman always shows up too, yet changes drastically over the course of time.
The first story takes you back to the era of aristocracy where a rich family has moved in and filled the gardens with beautiful roses. A brilliant boy and his rebellious sister live there as well and have a good relationship together. One day, a new maid with beautiful, white hair arrives in the mansion and the boy falls in love, much to the chagrin of his younger sister. The second story takes place in the golden age of trade and has a resident of much more monstrous origin, as a beast that haunts the local village has made the mansion into its den. Each new chapter is just as interesting as the one before it, yet all of them have a much different story to tell with different themes.
What I like the most in each story is that the characters are all really interesting, but connected by the fact that they are all struggling with their love for the white-haired girl. It’s fun, and perhaps a little recognizable, to see the boy in the first story bodge his every attempt to say something sensible to her and it’s painful to read how her husband treats her in a later chapter. I am not the kind of person who regularly enjoys romantic drama, usually I can manage an episode of even the most acclaimed anime series out there or a single volume if I get it in manga format, but The House in Fata Morgana had me absolutely hooked.
The horror factor varies per story, but is always present. In the second case, with the monster, it’s much more apparent, while in the first it’s more of a slow boil that builds up to something really good. Overall I’d rate each individual chapter pretty highly and the translation work by Manga Gamer reads quite well. The third tale, which takes place in a time of industrialization, is by far my favorite of the bunch and also happens to feature the most beautifully designed characters, as well as music tracks I could actually appreciate.
If you prefer visual novels with a lot of choice, then this one may be a bit of a disappointment. You have very few throughout and most of them happen near the end, when the game starts deciding which of its endings you are going to get. I didn’t find it to be particularly hard to stumble my way into the “best” ending, since there are usually only two options and what you are supposed to be pick is pretty obvious. It’s just a shame that I found the ending to be woefully boring, since it’s pretty much a repeat of an earlier story-line with alterations throughout. I got so tired when I realized 90 minutes in that it really was going to have me re-read the entire chapter, that I loaded up a save just before the final choice and purposefully went with the obvious “bad” one just to get it over with.
While it’s a shame that the ending is pretty lame I want to stress that the individual chapters before it were all really good on their own. It would have been nice to see them all tied together and get the final few questions answered, but the smaller mysteries of each chapter were perfectly enjoyable too. So yes, if you can appreciate an artful sense of style and good romantic drama with sniffs of horror mixed in, then this visual novel has you covered.
(8 / 10)