Did you ever get one of those chain text messages? You know, the ones that say, “SeNd ThIS 2 !!!FIVE!!! peeple or els u will DIE 2NITE!!!” During my high school years, they became so pervasive that they were more annoying than scary. Horror visual novel The Letter changes all that.
Set in the U.K., The Letter focuses on seven people and a for-sale mansion that is rumored to be haunted. Isabella Santos is a realtor who is trying to sell the house to send the commission back to her family in the Philippines. She has a few friends—Becca, a school teacher; Ash, a detective inspector; and Zach, an aspiring film director—who she relies on for emotional support. Isabella is managing the sale of the mansion with her coworker, Rose. One day, Isabella can’t find Rose at the house, so she sets out to look for her. In the attic, she finds a letter with the words “Help Me” seemingly written in blood, over and over again. At the bottom of the letter it tells her to send it to five people “or else.”
After that, Isabella finds herself being haunted by a malicious spirit. Aristocrats Hannah and Luke Wright, a couple whose relationship is on the rocks, purchase the house. While she thinks everything will return to normal, Isabella’s terror escalates when she finds that Rose has been brutally murdered by the “Anslem killer.” Soon, the others also begin to experience the same terrifying hallucinations as the ghost targets them as well.
The Letter draws on themes and motifs from Japanese horror classics such as Ju-On: The Grudge and The Ring, as well as the Korean horror webcomic BongCheon-Dong Ghost. The ghost in the game even makes a similar clicking/gurgling sound that the Grudge makes. While the story isn’t necessarily unique in that sense, it makes up for it with its interesting storytelling mechanics. The game progresses in non-chronological order, but there’s a journal asset that allows you to check, chronologically, what’s happened over the course of the game. It also keeps track of clues. This combination keeps players from becoming confused by the overlapping events of the game.
The Letter has other cool assets as well. You play as all seven of the main characters (one for each of the chapters), all of the sprites are fully animated, and there’s full English voice acting, with every line of text read out loud.
The game also has relationship meters that track the status of the relationships between the characters. In my playthrough, my decisions drove Hannah further away from her husband Luke because I didn’t like how he treated her and other characters—for instance, he refers to Zachary (who comes to take pictures of their house for a magazine) as a “negro.” There is a lot of replay value in the game’s different paths, and the game maps the trajectory of your route based off of your choices.
Though there’s a lot of complicated events going on in The Letter, the pacing is very slow. I’ve only played through a little over three of the seven chapters so far, and this has taken me five hours. The pacing serves to build suspense, but it can also be frustrating. At a certain point, I stop caring about Hannah hemming and hawing over whether or not she should leave her husband because I just want to get to the part where she fights for her life against the ghost.
Despite some of its issues, the replay value and the excellent animations and artwork make it a fun experience. You can get it on Steam right now, and there’s also a free demo there or on itch.io. The developer, Yang Yang Mobile, also said that it plans to release the game on iOS and Android before the year’s end.