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Words of Ren: Phantasmagoria

1995 saw one of the first true horror games emerge in the form of the point-and-click adventure, Phantasmagoria. Based on psychological thriller and toting full motion video acting, this is a unique experience. But does it hold the test of time?

Game Developer, Staff

September 19, 2016

2 Min Read

Phantasmagoria. That's a word. Try bringing that into casual conversation. I'm digressing.

My name is Josh. Some call me Ren. This is a critical analysis of Phantasmagoria, a  Sierra published, full motion video horror point and click adventure. That's a lot of words. 

As far as adventure games go, it's pretty straightforward. Talk to people, collect items, use items to unlock previously unaccessible areas, and so on. Fortunately, as supposed to other examples in Sierra's backlog, *cough* King's Quest *cough*, Phantasmagoria's queuing is easy to understand and follow. Characters, upon discovering something new, will make a passing remark as to where to go next, instead of expecting you to wander around the entire explorable space using every item you have on every interactable setpiece.

The one part of the gameplay I will fault is a specific sequence at the very end. It is time-based and requires constant trial and error to ensure safety from the same death scene being repeated over and over. Without the hint system, it was almost impossible.

On a more positive note, the visual design in Phantas is very well done. It has a sort of New England coast vibe with a mysterious Persian look for the main castle. There are several evocative images, particularly in the hidden areas locked away, waiting to be discovered.

Where Phantas falls flat, sadly, is in the story department. It is extremely cliche and takes a piece of every horror trope of the 90s. You have your haunted house, a possessed loved one, a seance, creepy visions of the past, etc.

Imgur: The most awesome images on the Internet
Imgur: The most awesome images on the Internet.

This lovely face is that of Victoria Morsell, who plays the lead role of Adrienne Delaney. As the most visual aspect of this game, the FMV acting is very hit or miss. The protagonist is very tropey and her reactions don't seem to line up with the actions she's witnessing. Watching a vision of a man getting his head chopped off warrants nothing more than a look of bored dismay.

On the flip side of this, the actor portrauing the husband is very interesting, especially towards the end of the game. Without spoiling too much, his part requires a bit of ... excitement, and his insanity would make the Joker proud.

However cringe-worthy some of the acting was, or how stereotyped the overall story could be, Phantasmagoria made for an entertaining four hours. It got to the point where the cliches became endearing and downright funny. That in mind, there are a few good scares in there, so be forewarned. 

It's ten bucks on Steam. Why not. It's worth a laugh.



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