Spring Thing: Ms Lojka

cover_small“Ms Lojka” is a tale of creeping, reality-bending horror, about a witch (or is she?) who lives in an ancient tower in the middle of bustling New York City.

So, there’s a tower of ancient construction right in the middle of New York City, and the eponymous Ms Lojka is … a witch, at first glance, who lives at the top of it and does horrible things. Our narrator tells the story in a casual, conversational tone, and the text is played forward in a typewriter font, with typewriter sounds in the background.

I’m not a fan of the practice of “playing” text, a convention seemingly beloved by a lot of Japanese games: they never play at the speed that’s comfortable for me to read. But the typewriter sounds had the effect of making it easier to read and follow, at least the first time around. They’re pretty effective at setting the mood, too, and if there’s one thing “Ms Lojka” does well, it’s the mood. Immersion. The sound effects and the artwork are all spot-on, with the possible exception of the cheesy “Yay!” when the narrator begins the section on their love for New York. Still, the fact I can point out that one very specific thing as an exception should be an indication of how seamless and coherent the rest of it is.

Speaking of coherency … our narrator isn’t exactly the most coherent. Or, more to the point, they’re not the most reliable. I think I first realised this when they began a wildly erroneous account of who Rasputin was. As the story progresses, our narrator’s grip on reality seems to weaken. Backspacing begins to appear on the playing of the text–and now the reason for that practice becomes apparent. It’s not merely a convention: it’s part of the performance. By the end, it’s not entirely clear who our narrator is, or what their relationship might be to Ms Lojka (if she even exists) and the tower. There is a sense of something unspeakable at the heart of the mystery; and though we do realise that much, the true nature of it is left to the fertile fields of our imagination rather than explicitly described. It is, I think, this appeal to the unknown that fuels the story’s horror.

I replayed this once more, and on a second playthrough, I found (as I expected) the “playing” text to be more hindrance than help. A lot of the choices throughout the beginning of the game seemed to be false choices–they all lead directly to the same place–enough that I think most people would play through a few scenes, decide that there is in fact nothing more to see, and give up on their second try. But, moving further along, choices begin to result in differences in the text. I don’t think any of it really mattered to the actual story, though, except the final choice. And that final choice … well, it’s a bit of an interesting presentation. Remember what I said about immersion? The story plays with the appearance of browser features at this point. One of the endings has the appearance of a Google Docs page, text playing out as though typed by a collaborating author. It felt very engaging in a meta kind of way.

Immersive and atmospheric. This is a story told as much from what is left unsaid as from what is said, and the result is an unsettling tale of creeping horror. Like raw oysters on the half shell, served chilled on a bed of crushed ice. Horrifying, really, but elegant and so delicious.

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