Today I want to talk to you about one of my favourite RPG Maker games. It’s a pretty well known one in both horror and RPG Maker circles.
I am talking about The Witches House.
The witches house ais a horror game, where you solve puzzles to uncover the story of the witches house. It was made by Fummy, a Japanese creator and released in 2021 for Windows and Mac.
Warning, spoilers, I will be talking about the endings to this game.
You play as Viola, a young girl who mysteriously wakes up in the forest, she cannot leave as the forest is blocked off with rose bushes and Viola must enter an equally mysterious house in order to find a way to escape the forest.
Viola meets a black cat who tells her that the house is The Witches House and that it is effectively possessed by the ghost of a witch.
As Viola travels through the house she finds various diary entries, they are short and often disconnected, but it is through these entries that the games story is told. The diaries were written by Ellen, a girl who was also the witch. The diaries detail Ellen’s upbringing and her eventual murder of her abusive parents. It is Ellen’s spirit that now apparently haunts the house.
There are three endings to this game, a good ending, a True one and a really hard to get ending.
In both the good and true endings it is revealed that prior to the game starting Viola and Ellen switched bodies, you have effectively been playing as Ellen this entire time. The house and it’s traps was Viola’s attempt to get her own body back.
The reason Ellen forced the switch prior to the games beginning was that she was dying from a terminal illness.
In the Good ending, once you’ve gotten through the entire house, seen the cat die, met Viola, in Ellen’s body, you flee. Then as Ellen, in Viola’s body, flees the house she meets her father in the forest. Viola’s father naturally thinks that Ellen is his daughter and when Viola, still in Ellen’s body peruses Ellen she dies from despair at her father not recognising her and shooting at her.
In the Ture ending as Ellen flees in Viola’s body she doesn’t immediately encounter her father in the forest, instead she encounters Viola, in Ellen’s body, she taunts and stabs her. Then Viola’s father arrives and shoots Viola, still in Ellen’s body.
To get the Third ending you cannot interact with the cat at all, this means you cannot save your game. The whole game must be played through without dying in a single playthrough. In this ending it is revealed that the black cat was a demon that Ellen made a deal with. You will get more detailed descriptions of items after this and the final diary entry also changes, revealing Ellen’s self-mutilation (I wondered why she had no logs etc, seemed an odd terminal illness). You will then get either the true or good ending depending on your actions in the game.
Lastly, there was another ending added in the 1.07 version of the game, to get this ending you have to do nothing once you start the game. Just stand in the forest, for an hour. If you do this the roses will die and you can leave, you wont meet Viola’s father in the forest, and Viola, in Ellen’s body, wont chase you. It is revealed that because Ellen’s body was in such a bad state Viola would have died whether Ellen intervened or not.
The game play is typical survival horror in that you don’t fight your enemies, you hide and/or run like hell. I very much think that this is the only ‘real’ game mechanic you should use in a horror game. Horror is all about feeling afraid and disempowered, having your character be vulnerable and fragile should they be attacked is a very basic and easy way to convey that feeling of disempowerment. It can be achieved in other ways (Pathologic I’m looking at you) but this is the least subtle way to do it.
It’s a bit of a bug-bare of mine when people label their game as horror, but then have the player character be some kind of badass with loads of weapons. Just because your fighting demons does not mean your game is a horror one. Some fighting is ok provided it’s managed well, take Silent Hill as a good example, you can fight back in this game but you never at any point really want to. Your character is vulnerable, fighting is a real risk and you mostly still hide and or run away/avoid encounters.
I recently saw a great comment on a YouTube video with regard to this kind of thing, the commenter was comparing Resident Evil and Devil May Cry. They said that in Resident Evil, you are locked in with the monsters, in Devil May Cry the monsters are locked in with you. Devil May Cry does not label itself as horror (correctly so) but this comment rings very true, if you have a game where you are locked in with monsters then it might well be a horror game, but if the monsters are locked in with you then this is NOT a horror game.
Forgive my side tracking rant, my point, before I got distracted was that The Witches House has the right kind of gameplay in my opinion.
It’s also worth mentioning the gameplay aspect that is the instant death mechanic. Throughout the house are objects and puzzels, some of the objects are needed for progression or puzzle solving others are effectively booby traps. So you can walk into a room and touch a vase and boom sudden death, or hell sometimes even walking into the wrong room, or into a room through the wrong door is enough. You will die a lot in this game, and while these instant death’s get a little old after a time, they do work well as good jump scares and again enforce the feeling of powerlessness that makes this game a good horror game.
The cat that you meet, who is also mechanically your save point, is a great character. Having the cat be your only real source of conversation works well to enforce the feeling of isolation, contributing to the feeling of disempowerment that is crucial to a horror game.
Lastly, the plot itself. I really liked the story in this game, initially I didn’t think much of it while on my first play through, it seemed pretty straightforward, your in a spooky murderous house, dealing with a ghost, trying to uncover the ghost’s past to make it bugger off. But then we get to the endings and the twist that you’ve been playing as the witch the entire time.
As I said above the game uses jump scares to keep you on your toes, and uses diary entries to drip feed you the story as you go through solving puzzles, but add into that the twist ending and suddenly the game gains a level of depth that it lacked initially. It puts the whole playthrough in a different context and, in my opinion makes the game more replayable.