So, we’re about to discuss a puzzle game which stars a bunnygirl who interacts with three university students on their vacation. Our bunnygirl is a very shy young woman who likes to walk around with one of her socks off and is very nervous around strangers. What’s that? You think this sounds like a cute adventure that might lead to moe hijinks? Haha, no. This is a horror game with a narrative that would make Higurashi No Naku Koro Ni pull a sheet over its head.
All right, let’s discuss the gameplay first because it’s this game’s main sticking point. The game give you NO indication as to what you are supposed to do and how you keep from failing and, even when you do figure it out, there are a lot of factors working against you. At the start of the game, you get a number of blocks (squares and triangles) that come in three colors (Yellow, blue, and reddish-brown) and come in the sizes of really dang small, normal (which you rarely get), and way too dang big. The blocks you get on the bottom need to be knocked into blocks (that are the same color) that are randomly raining from above. If you hit them together or hit two of blocks that are falling down (provided there are two blocks that are the same color both in the air at the same time), they will glow and can combo against other, similarly colored blocks on the ground, making the blocks disappear. Even if they don’t hit blocks on the ground, they will still explode and give you points.
“Okay,” I hear you say, “That’s a bit much to take in but I can still wrap my head around it.” Well that’s good because here’s where the crux of the problem is: the blocks have physics and you move the blocks by shooting smaller blocks at them. You see, your mouse fires two types of blocks, a white block that fires slowly (left-click) and a gray block that fires faster (right-click). The blocks have physics though, so bigger blocks weigh more (meaning they need to be shot more to propel them and will fall faster once they are shot) and shooting their corners will propel them left or right. Now here’s the kicker: the blocks you fire at the bigger blocks don’t go away. They stack up and only disappear if a glowing block hits them. If a normal block hits them, it will count as though the block hit the floor, which will cause you to take damage (you have a meter at the bottom which shows how many hits you can take, which you can extend by making combos). The worst part? You can only take two hits at the start, meaning it’s possible to lose in less than a minute. Oh, and you have to score above 20,000 points if you don’t want to get the worst ending.
However, the endings are part of the fun and tie back into why I think the game is not only worth playing, but borderline genius. That’s skipping ahead though, we need to talk about the plot first. Irisu Syndrome is about three university students (and yes, much like another genre of games, you just have to believe they really are over 18): Uuji (the kid with the sleeves), Edogawa (the other guy), and Ageha (their gal pal), who go on vacation to a remote location where a witch is rumored to live. According to those rumors, the witch likes performing experiments on her victims and–What do you know?–Ageha has been spotting a strange woman watching them from afar. As the game progresses, the three of them start to disappear, both in the narrative… and on your computer.
Oh yes, that’s what makes Irisu Syndrome unique: the game actually creates files on your computer. At the start of the game, you just get a picture of the three protagonists which changes as you play rounds of the game. Some of the files are messages related to the witch and one is from the witch herself. Not to mention, the game’s normal ending (which you unlock by getting 20,000 points within four rounds) is one of the most terrifying moments of fourth-wall breaking horror I’ve ever experienced in a game. As an aside, be careful about trying to click away from the game or closing it if you aren’t at the title screen… the witch doesn’t like that. Sometimes she’ll let it slide, other times… well, I wouldn’t suggest it.
Of course, fourth-wall breaking horror is fine and dandy, but what good is it if it’s not backed up by a creepy atmosphere? Luckily, katatema, the game’s developer, has the atmosphere down pat. The music develops that type of subtle fear that claws its way into your spine and stays lodged there and the pictures in the gallery (left click on the picture to bring up dialogue, right click to leave Gallery Mode) perfectly capture the growing dread facing the characters as they are picked off. Then there’s the disturbing pictures in the background of the game, which are based on “The Book of Bunny Suicides” but trade the bunnies for another fluffy animal. There’s a plot-related explanation for these images, as well as a reason for the witch becoming more and more depressed with your failing.
The plot is where the game’s insidious brilliance shines. At its core, the story resembles a typical hyper-violent (though most of the violence is implied or only described with the exception of a stinger or two) visual novel that stars junior high, uh, university students but there are some amazing twists, especially if you unlock the second mode, Metsu. You unlock by getting 20,000 points in one play-through and then 40,000 on another play-through. This mode unlocks a new gameplay style (which is similar to the regular mode but is initially easier due to shapes being the same size and your life bar being more prominent) and has a whole new set of images and dialogue, which reveals what’s really going on… or does it? Let’s just say that there may be more to the witch and there may be forces both mortal and demonic that are guiding her actions. Really, finding out the plot is one of the more disturbing and interesting parts of the game (especially when you find out how the gameplay portions relate to the plot).
Overall, while the game does suffer from a steep learning curve and its first mode is unfair, this game is a beautiful delving into horror. I wish I could have discussed the plot more but spoiling it would be a true shame. Irisu Syndrome is fantastic and disturbing and it’s more than worthy of your time.
Download: HERE (Warning: NOT FOR CHILDREN. SERIOUSLY TIMMY, GO PLAY SOMETHING ELSE!)
Translation Patch: HERE (Just take the files out of the patch and put them in place of the same files in the original game.)