The House in Fata Morgana

The House in Fata Morgana describes itself as “a gothic suspense tale set in a cursed mansion,” but I would describe this visual novel as 500k+ words of torture porn. It’s so bad. It is so so bad.

The premise of the game is that you wake up in an abandoned mansion with no memories. A creepy maid guides you through the house while telling you the tragic stories of the people who once lived there. It turns out that the maid was present in all eras of history, and that you were too – albeit not in the form you expect. Along the way there are a lot of silly and juvenile anime tropes, as well as a seriously awful mistreatment of transgender issues. And did I mention torture? There’s a lot of torture.

The remainder of this post includes discussion of torture, including sexual assault, so please take care.

One of the reasons I shy away from away from amateur writing communities is because they tend to have at least one person who will go through a manic phase and then won’t shut up about how they wrote 10k words in one night, and how these words are the most brilliant thing that’s ever been written, and how every single one of these words are perfect and should never be edited.

The House in Fata Morgana wrote 10k words in one night, and it shows. The ideas behind the individual character stories and the overarching plot aren’t bad, but the writing is godawful. There was clearly no editing, and the pacing is a miserable mess. Characters repeat themselves endlessly in a way that goes far beyond “demonstrating the theme of a cycle of abuse.” Each of the sub-stories drags on forever before ending in a bloodbath of screams that go “AaAAAAggHHH” and “NnnGGggGG uuuUrrhhh” and “hehehHEHEHehehe” for literally dozens of minutes of the player clicking through meaningless text.

(I don’t mean to suggest that the translation is bad, by the way. It’s actually very polished. Still, I feel horrible that the translator had to wade through this mess, and I hope they got to take a long vacation afterward.)

The art is pretty but extremely limited, and the character designs fail to convey any sort of personality or mood. The game offers almost no horror art, or even any interesting visual imagery. The giant gothic mansion has maybe ten rooms, and they’re all bog-standard stock photos run through different filters. The player is asked to make a few decisions, but they’re few and far between. These choices are binary, with the wrong decision being crystal clear and resulting in an obviously premature end to the game. In other words, there’s no real gameplay to speak of, nor any real payoff for making your way through the text.

About two-thirds of the way through the game, I got to the point where I was holding down the skip button to speed-read through the text as quickly as possible. I gave up at some point during the penultimate chapter. Towards the end, the story’s pace slows down instead of quickens, making the game feel even more tedious as it offers revelations that might have been surprising if the writing weren’t so mind-numbingly boring.

The House in Fata Morgana could have had the potential to be unique and interesting if its writing had been properly edited. At perhaps 250k words, the player would still have been able to spend a significant amount of time in this creepy mansion with these unfortunate characters, and the writer still would have been able to convey the sense of feeling trapped in a web of words. I’m willing to grant a creator sufficient room to explore the world of their story, but I think it’s safe to say that three entire novels’ worth of extra words will try anyone’s patience.  

There’s also the game’s severe mistreatment of transgender issues.

By this point I have enough exposure to Japanese otaku media to understand that the representation of queer identity and sexuality is complicated. For example, is a work of fiction seemingly intended for a straight male audience secretly LGBTQ+ friendly, or is it actually homophobic? And, if it is borderline homophobic, how much energy do you need to expend to reinterpret the plot and characters into something that can be read as queer-positive? Is it worth the trouble?

Even with the benefit of the doubt, however, the second-to-last chapter of The House in Fata Morgana hit me especially hard.

This chapter is about a transgender (and possibly intersex) character quietly coming out as gay and then being tortured by his family. It’s intense, and it lasts for more than an hour of gameplay time. I don’t use the word “problematic” lightly, but the way this torture and misgendering resonates with the rest of the story is deeply upsetting.

Maybe this is all resolved and everyone gets a happy ending, who knows. For me, I’m not sure any ending is worth having to sit through hours of a transgender character being imprisoned and starved and beaten and tortured and being told, in line after line after line of text, that he would be happy if only he weren’t gay.

I feel like this goes beyond “horror” and enters the realm of something else entirely. Either the writer has an intense fetish, or it’s sincere homophobia. I don’t think every piece of media needs to be ideologically pure or written for me specifically, but the way this element of the story casts a different light on the plot of the entire game (for complicated spoiler reasons) is extremely weird and fucked up.

I think most players will eventually run up against the question of “why don’t the characters just get up and leave the house,” and the same frustration applies to The House in Fata Morgana in a meta sense. Namely, you don’t need to be trapped by this poorly-written and poorly-edited and poorly-paced game. You can just quit playing! So that’s what I did.

If you’re wondering whether you should spend $40 to check out The House in Fata Morgana and just play until you get bored, it’s worth keeping in mind that there’s a strong psychosexual element to the story presented by each chapter, with sexual assault and torture being the dominant themes. This is par for the course for gothic horror, but the player’s enjoyment of this game is going to be strongly dependent on how many hundreds of thousands of words of explicit descriptions of non-erotic yet still sexualized torture they’re willing to tolerate. Also, the very first chapter is about incest.

I love horror, and I’m not judging anyone who uses fiction to explore the darker sides of human experience. Still, considering how highly rated The House in Fata Morgana is on Steam, I think it’s important to say that this game definitely isn’t for everyone.

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