Spooky school kids are spooky
Today I want to write to you about a plot-heavy RPG Maker game called Misao.
Misao is a survival horror and puzzle game developed by Sen and Miscreant’s Room released in May 2011. A remastered version was later released on Steam in October 2017.
Overall, my feelings towards this game are mixed. While I was playing it, I enjoyed it. It is mysterious and fun with effective jump scares and a gripping plot. There are also lots of scares that are not jump scares, it is creepy as hell in places, violent in others and tricky in some.
However, when I started writing this blog and got thinking about this game, I started to remember certain things about it that I was not a fan of. There is a weakness in some of the characters and the game has a few moments that feel unnecessary and gratuitous, at least to me.
As I said above this is a plot-heavy game, it also has multiple endings and I will be discussing this below, as it is exceedingly difficult to talk about what makes this a fun and interesting horror title without discussing the plot fully. Because the epilogue is considered the ‘true’ or ‘good’ ending.
So, if you have not played the game through then this is your warning, stop here and avoid spoilers.
I also want to put a trigger warning here, this game involves sexual assault and rape of high school students, not to mention a lot of violence.
You play as Aki, a Japanese high school student who is trapped in a cursed high school.
Three months before the game’s opening Misao, a quiet and often bullied classmate of Aki’s went missing (most believe her to be dead). Misao has been reaching out to Aki, her ghost begging Aki for help and to find her. It is Misao’s spirit that has cursed the school.
You start out exploring the school and it is established that Misao had a crush on a kid named Tohma and was then bullied by Yoshino, who also had a crush on Tohma. There are two other members of this little group, Saotome who is Tohma’s girlfriend and Kudoh who stood by and did nothing, or worse encouraged the bullying. It should be noted that calling what was done to Misao bullying is not doing it justice, it goes far beyond name-calling and hair-pulling and dabbles more in enforced isolation and sexual assault.
As you explore the school you find pieces of Misao, I am not being cute, I mean this literally, you find bits of her, and must effectively reassemble them in a shrine at the back of the school. As you do this you witness each member of the group suffer horrific retribution.
By the time Aki has collected all Misao, she is forced to make a choice, she either must sacrifice Tohma or a charming teacher Mr Sohta.
If you are unfortunate enough to kill Tohma you get the bad ending. Here you will meet with Misao’s ghost and she will tell you what happened to her. How Yoshino told everyone she had a crush on Tohma. Tohma then said he liked her back. There are some embarrassing text messages sent between the two, with Tohma asking if Misao likes him. Misao responds in a long text and writes Tohma a poem about how she feels.
Later the text is ‘somehow’ printed out and put up all over the school, it is hinted that this was done by Saotome, possibly at Yoshino’s request. Misao then overhears Tohma talking to Saotome, exposing that it was Saotome who printed the text message. Misao runs away, Kuoh witnesses her leave.
We then see Misao being attacked in the bathroom by Yoshino and a group of others who physically beat Misao. Misao is then stripped naked and photographed. Lastly, Yoshino tells one of the boys to give Misao lots of love, thankfully the screen fades out before we must witness any further assault.
The screen fades back in with Misao alone and sobbing in the bathroom, it is now night and she is found by a teacher, Mr Sohta. The flashback fades out again. We next see Misao with Mr Sohta being comforted by him in his office, Misao lies about the abuse, (remember the photograph) instead she talks about how her heart was broken, Mr Sohta talks about his past, compliments Misao and then hugs her from behind. He reveals he has a hand fetish and things escalate uncomfortably with it strongly being inferred that Mr Sohta assaults Misao. Fortunately, it fades out, so we do not have to witness yet another rape of this poor girl. But when the screen fades back in it is shown that she did not survive this assault and Mr Sohta is standing over her body, that he then dismembers.
The game then ends with Mr Sohta killing Aki as she knows too much.
Good or true ending / Epilogue
To get this ending you must sacrifice Mr Shota.
You witness the same flashbacks as the bad ending but you get to play on as Aki, and it is revealed that Misao is still not at peace and what is more the souls of those who died during her curse are now trapped in the school so that Misao can continue to torture them. You decide to push forward and try to rescue everyone.
You enter small, self-contained ‘levels’ and in each level, one of those who died is trapped, you have to talk to Misao and convince her to let each of them go. When she does, they are reincarnated as babies.
Kudoh is in a dark empty room surrounded by clones of Misao all yelling at him. You speak with Kudoh and convince him that this is not real, the ‘real’ Misao then appears and admits that she never really hated Kudoh.
Saotome is having lunch with Tohma in her ‘trap’ only Misao appears and Tohma leaves Saotome’s side to be with Misao, he says he only loves Misao. We give Saotome a bat and she can attack Misao and Tohma and fight her way free of her trap.
Yoshino is in the girl’s bathroom, where she beat Misao and had her raped, she is dressed only in her underwear and is being savagely beaten by three Misao clones. We must fight the Misao clones and once we talk to Yoshino the ‘real’ Misao appears and asks why we are interfering in her revenge. We argue revenge will not help her move on, Misao does not want to listen, however.
If you chose to sacrifice Tohma, you will find Misao with Tohma, she is trying to convince him to stay with her but Tohma is terrified and screaming. We witness this and when Misao is confused at Tohma’s fear we give her a mirror and show that vengeance has turned his physically into a monster. Misao freaks out and runs, but we console her and through discussion calm her down and make her understand that vengeance is not particularly great, and she eventually agrees and with her spirit pure she moves on.
If you sacrificed Mr Sohta you get a much longer level where his entire past is revealed, how he became a serial killer etc you manage to console him and while he does not reincarnate the way the others do there is a sense of peace at the end.
The plot is interesting but not convoluted. It starts as a bloody and rather grotesque fetch quest. Gathering body parts hidden around the school. It has kept interesting by exploring a little bit into the side characters who are all suffering gruesome and untimely ends It seems heavy-handed but then explained in flashbacks later why Misao is so angry with them. So yes, the plot works well, and it holds the audience.
I was not a massive fan of the level that the game took Misao’s abuse. It felt gratuitous to me but then I am not a huge fan of rape and sexual assault being used in fiction, I am aware that it happens in the real world and fiction can reflect the real world, but I also feel it should serve the story if it must be there. This went from being a spooky story about a ghost getting revenge on her bullies to suddenly involving assault and two rape scenes within minutes of each other. It was like the story was sitting at a five on the violent scale and suddenly shot up to a ten. It started feeling a bit like torture porn to me like the writers were enjoying torturing this character.
If the rape scene had to be kept in, I would have been more accepting of the teacher assault, as that fit his character and would have helped the ‘punch’ at the end, the reveal that this mild-mannered teacher was a full-on psychopath who was hurting girls. I would have cut the first scene where the teenage girl orders a classmate to rape Misao. It both lowered the impact of how awful Mr Shota was and raised Yoshino who up to that point had just been a petty bully into a full-on psycho.
Where this game also falls down a bit are the characters.
Aki as a player charter does not get much in the way of development or background etc, she is just a generic nice girl who is trying to save everyone. This is not uncommon for some games, it has done to that the player can imprint on a character, see themselves in them. But I am still not a huge fan, great games such as Night in the Woods, for example, have a well-developed player avatar with her history, mystery and development and works amazingly well in her story.
The ‘side’ characters were all basic stereotypes, the fit jock every girl is in love with, but he is a coward and a superficial butthead. The bitchy girl who bullies (again need a stronger word for this). The bystander and the pretty girl who’s only characterisation is that she is pretty and cruel.
Misao is, in my opinion, the only character who feels like a character. She is established as quiet and shy but with hopes and desires, she goes for what she wants, and it goes wrong for her and she changes from a shy but ultimately sweet girl into something terrifying and full of hatred. During the game, she comes back round to being her old self, just wiser for it. She goes through something of an arc and it is interesting to watch. I for one felt very empathic towards Misao, she went through hell and was miffed, I certainly did not blame her. She was tragic yet terrifying and it worked well.
Mr Shota annoyed me. Though to be clear, I liked the twist that he was the one who killed Misao, that was fine, it was well hidden and the reveal at the end was well done. The bit I am complaining about is in the good ending when you go to his ‘grave’ and get all his backstory they try awfully hard to make him sympathetic. Oh, people called him ugly and he got a hard time when he was younger, so he is going to develop a hand fetish and kill teen girls. It just felt a bit lame. I would have preferred it if he had just been left as a psychopath, we do not have to sympathise with everyone. Child killing rapists is not someone I want to sympathise with. Though again that being said I did like that they did not fully redeem him, he did not reincarnate the way the other bullies did. It was acknowledged at least in part that his crimes were considerably terrible.
I know it may not sound it from the above, but I did enjoy this game, it held me all the way through, and I was keen to uncover the mystery. The reveal at the end was good, it left me feeling satisfied and not cheated out of my time playing.
The sound design was on point with the music being effectively used to control tension. The visuals were great considering it is a low poly game, it is brutal but also pretty in places and this is conveyed well. The controls for Aki are used very well, you spend a lot more time running away than you do fighting which always helps in horror games which are supposed to be disempowering as opposed to empowering. But the moments where you do fight are well done, you really feel that Aki, who normally runs feels both duty and anger to start smashing stuff in with a baseball bat.
I would recommend the game, but I would also stress my trigger warnings.