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About the Story
"In the Never it's colder than ever."
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Number of Reviews: 1
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I am in IFComp mode right now, so please excuse this brief intermission. I also encourage you to put this on your Halloween play list. Preferably with the lights off.
The premise of Disharmony is that you and your friends live in the same country, but far enough away from each other to make daily face-to-face in-person interaction impractical. Everyone uses a messaging and streaming app called Harmony to keep in touch. However, Reina has been unresponsive to anyone’s messages. As more of your friends keep speculating about what to do next, you get a feeling that there is something more beneath the surface.
Disharmony follows the investigation-via-online-messaging trope, a trope that is usually exciting even if it you have seen it before. This game is no exception. It cultivates an investigative ambience for a story that is a mix mystery and horror elements.
A main mechanic is tracing contradictions in character dialog. It is a balance of knowing when to take things with a grain of salt, and when to pick out clues that are a solid indicator. How you respond to characters is as equally important. Here is a scenario:
If you think Character 1 seems suspicious, the game may have you discuss it with Character 2 or Character 3 for answers. But it is also possible that it has nothing to do with Character 1, that instead it is Character 2 or 3 (or neither?) who is at the root of your suspicions. You must follow closely or end up sharing the right findings with the wrong person. If a character thinks you are on to them, they will be less responsive as you try to piece everything together.
While your friends continue to talk, you notice something suspicious.
Who do you contact about it?
Sometimes characters will message you privately to share their own thoughts and suspicions, which only amplifies as the game continues. A helpful feature is how the game summarizes characters’ perspectives akin to, "[Character name] thinks that [spoiler] is being [spoiler] by-" (and so forth) when the player needs to make an important decision.
In the last half of the game the player runs in to a moral choice. This is where another (Spoiler - click to show) horror movie trend enters: The “group vote.” In these cases, everyone is eyeing each other suspiciously and, in the face of strife, decides to “vote” to either pin the blame on someone or to assign someone to complete an unsavory task for the benefit of the group. Something like that happens in Disharmony.
By now, some creepypasta themes are also introduced. (Spoiler - click to show) Reina claims to be trapped somewhere called, “Never,” and one of the NPCs goes diving into the internet to search for an explanation. They find a secluded article that matches the content in Reina’s messages, and the solution in the article- you know what? Play the game. But expect to make a tough moral decision regarding one of the NPCs. It will keep you busy for a while.
I am not going to hash out the ins and outs of the endings because they will be 150% more enjoyable if you experience them for yourself. But I still want to share some findings. This is where I caution you to play the game before you read this section of my review. It is so easy to click on the spoiler tag to see what’s underneath, but the spoilers here will dampen the thrill of reaching your first ending.
(Spoiler - click to show)
I found out who was responsible for Reina's disappearance, but when the ritual (spoilers, I warned you) was complete, Reina was not returned while the person responsible was returned instead. In the next playthrough the same happened except the person responsible did not return. Finally, I managed to get Reina back at the expense of the person responsible. And then much later I managed to bring them both back. Win? Not really.
Now, I am giving the game four stars instead of five because of its weak ending. This is not me wishing for a happy fairytale where everyone wins. Instead, I did not like how dismissive the game was when the player fulfills the objective of returning Reina.
If you fail, the game informs you that, “Reina is offline,” and then everyone glumly logs off. The screen then says, "The events of the night have left everyone shaken and disturbed. Your friends begin to sign off, no doubt to report the circumstances, or contact one another in some way, or sit and process what has happened." Makes sense. Now, when I first succeeded, this is what I got:
Reina is online.
Presumably the goal of checking Harmony is to have a chit chat with Reina about her disappearance, right? No, the game still wraps up the same way, first with everyone logging off, and second with the game giving you the exact message that you get when you fail. Is everyone seriously going to log off after successfully bringing her back? Now, she is online and probably wondering where everyone went. No one acknowledges the victory of saving her. If a group chat with Reina is not possible, I was hoping that the player could at least have a private chat with her. Instead, you can only log off.
The game puts so much effort into creating a complex and choice-sensitive gameplay experience only to reduce it to a generalized outcome that ignores the player’s choices. To be clear, there are multiple endings in the sense where a major decision that you make at the end is evaluated and then weighed to determine your success in bringing back Reina. But the ending text and the NPCs’ behavior stays the same regardless.
Anyway, that is my take on the story. I am not entirely convinced that I found the ultimate best ending, but I do know what else it could be. Despite my feelings about the endings, it still makes me want to revisit it (and I have). It is an excellent game.
Zero, Amelia, Jae, and Ravi are the NCPs whom you interact with to figure out what happened to Reina. As the game moves on you get a sense of their relationships with each other. It is not necessarily a tight group where everyone are close pals, but there is a general sense of familiarity. Of course, this dynamic takes on new forms as the mystery grows.
Disharmony has simple but stylized look. It uses a dark grey background with lightly coloured text. The author does not try to replicate a chat room look with message bubbles or interface. The only indicator are the colour-coded character names and the occasional @ symbol, which works perfectly well. Fancy chat room designs in Twine games are awesome, but this game shows that a basic look is just as effective at conveying the idea of chat space. Also: The cover art is pretty.
The game’s use of delayed pauses is spot on. I have seen so many Twine games that overuse pauses to point where the suspenseful/dramatic effect is canceled out since everything seems to be drawing (pause) out (pause) the (you get the idea) suspense. Plus, it slows progress. Disharmony uses them whenever Reina sends messages which builds suspense because there is a feeling of anticipation as she slowly doles out shards of information about her circumstances. (Spoiler - click to show) A creepy moment is when she suddenly floods the screen with messages.
Disharmony is creepier than I thought it would be, and I had a lot of fun. The tropes were nicely done. A mystery conducted through chat messaging paired with horror movie character group dynamics. There is some creepypasta thrown in as well. This is all combined with an intriguing storyline, consistent pacing, and a mix of NPC personalities.
I especially liked its investigative nature of the gameplay. (Spoiler - click to show) Winning is not a simple matter of identifying a culprit. It involves identifying a culprit and then going the extra mile so that Reina is brought back. Even though I have (Spoiler - click to show) mixed feelings about the rather lackluster winning ending, reaching it still felt rewarding. There is still the possibility that I missed some things. For this game, it is quite possible. I highly recommend this game to anyone in the mood for a horror Twine game.
(Actually, (Spoiler - click to show) the only trope that made me roll my eyes a little was how everyone’s phones die when they consider calling emergency services. Then again, it functions fine enough.)
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