The visual novel, Scar of the Doll, is a story about a woman looking for her lost sister. If that was it, then this would not be a very exciting game, but in fact it is more complex than just looking for a lost love. Scar of the Doll is a visual novel showing the story of a woman who stumbles across a life-altering secret while looking for her sister. Asumi Kamijo hadn’t heard from her sister in months. The only thing she last knew was her sister was a first year doctoral student at the prestigious Mikosuka lab in Tokyo. Worried about her sister, Asumi travels to Tokyo to look for her. She has the name of the lab and her sister’s apartment and spare key. When she arrives in Tokyo and begins her search at the lab then apartment her adventure to the truth only begins. A mystery with suspense and shocking secrets await the player of this very engaging story. The new steam release is an updated English version from the original 90’s game, by the scenario writer of the hit game Folklore for the PlayStation 3.
The first place that Asumi believes her sister would be is at Mikosuka Lab. Starting at the University and finding the lab she begins to ask around. However, no one has heard of her sister and she is not a student. From now on it becomes an investigation into her sister’s disappearance with consequences that go beyond Asumi and her family. Students in the lab become wrapped up in the mystery and strange and terrible things begin happening to those Asumi become involved with. Looking for clues takes her and other students around the lab, uncovering items and areas associated with the secrets of the lab and her sister’s disappearance.
It starts with the students; there are only six working on research and studying at one time. During Asumi’s stay the students were the first through third year doctoral students Akira Ichinose, Fukutaro Kakizaki, and Nobuaki Shiina. Next are the three master’s students in their first and second years, Seiichi Yumino, Yasuhiko Funabashi, and Kaori Hayashitani. Beyond the students Asumi engages with the faculty, Professor Takehiro Mikosuka, Assistant Professor Kenji Haibara, Assistant Naoyodhi Tanabu,
Technician Susuma Kanematsu, and Secretary Maiko Mizukoshi. Now Asumi’s sister is suppose to be in her first year of the doctoral program. Akira Ichinose who never heard of Asumi’s sister occupies this post and despite everyone saying they didn’t know her sister she persisted. Without intent, her meddling leads to bad things happening to the students.
Every disaster leads to new clues, new mysteries, and opening up of students, faculty, and lab employees. Throughout the game Asumi finds items and clues that lead her down a dark path to enlightenment of who she is and the true nature of her sister’s disappearance. But she also gets caught up in a feud and lab politics that lead to greater consequences. However, everything that happens contains a truth to be unraveled by the player. It’s not only a game of mystery and suspense, but there is also an element of science fiction in the story. The science fiction aspect is something players must learn for themselves, but it’s shocking and revealing. With so many twists and moments of shocking revelations this is a story worth playing.
It may be a re-mastered game from the 90’s but it does not feel at all dated. Even the graphics, which at first looked a bit dated, became so much apart of the story you forget about the age. When a CD-ROM shows up and I had to use a UNIX computer I got a bit nostalgic but it’s a game that takes place in that era.
Going back to the mention of game art, the graphics in this game were very well done and more real then some of the digital graphics today. The art in general gives the story meaning and connects the player to the characters and scenes. Even the scenery is painted in a way that brings scenes to life.
Asumi’s portrait, as the main character and her story, differs depending on her mood during conversations. Except for Asumi, other character’s portraits don’t change but the way they are drawn give away their general characterization and how they tend to act in the game. For instance Yumino, being the youngest student and in the first year master’s program is shown as young and innocent. Asumi trusts him during one scene enough to show him a clue. With Shiina he appears standoffish and not welcoming so when Asumi does come to him he is reluctant to engage. However, depending on choice he does help Asumi, but be careful with your choice. Therefore the art adds so much more to the story then first realized.
Because the game does not have spoken dialogue it uses the art and music to bring the story to life. Besides the art the music makes up for dialogue. One way this works is as a player reads the story the music changes to adapt to the mood. An upbeat Asumi will be accompanied by upbeat music, while any suspenseful action will have the appropriate sound. There are also moments were the music is altered to have the player feel shock or anticipation for things to come. If Asumi is feeling hurt or sadden by not finding more information or a loss the music is toned down to her state of mind. Combining the music with the art and scenery makes for a very engaging story. Beyond the game elements is the gameplay.
As with other visual novels, the player clicks through the story and will choose a dialogue or action choice to move the story forward. Be warned, choices can bring consequences that lead to the game being over quick. Actually the game warns players about this and tells you to save often. Though the game will load from right before the game ending decisions is made, there are times when its best to go back a bit further to do more investigations and talk to more people. Another good thing is the game does tell you most of the time what went wrong. It is common in the beginning but toward the end when less mistakes can be made you lose this feature. This is also where you can just reload the game.
In Scar of the Doll the story has many truths and twists that it left me not knowing the direction of the story. When it came time to make a choice, I had to think about who to turn to and how this will affect the game. Sometimes it was hard to know, even after intense investigation. In other words, the story makes the player think of the next move. One thing I found out is that subtle suggestions and specific conversation dialogue hinted to the next steps. Looking at portraits can be an asset to know if a person should be trusted or not. Some of the students felt off and I thought not to engage them further then basic conversation about the day’s happenings. For a visual novel game it gives a player an engaging experience.
When I thought I had figured out the story a new mystery or revelation caused that theory to be wrong. I find the best game stories are the ones that are unpredictable and keep you playing to the end. Also the best characters are the ones that change other characters. I can see why this game was re-mastered for a new audience; it is a great story with compelling characters. We have Asumi that comes in to this lab but her background and sister are a mystery. Along the way as she asks questions and the truth begins to unravel the other characters open up, they change, and evolve to work with Asumi or hinder her purpose. Some risk their lives for a woman they only met.
As a player I connected with Asumi and her interaction with the students like young Yumino and her exploration of the lab’s secrets with Ichinose. She empathized with students she only met who saved her life at the expense of their own. As a player I also connected emotionally with the Asumi. Whether it was experiencing her cherished happy moments with her sister during Christmas time or being sad and disappointed from finding out her sister isn’t a student at Mikosuka lab. Even at her shock and horror over specific events during the game.
Emotionally it wasn’t as dramatic as other visual novels like Muv-Luv, also published by Degica, where I was literally crying at the end. However, at the end of Scar of the Doll I felt sorrow for Asumi. However, I also felt that Asumi and everyone were in a good place and that she will continue her life free of all the pain that the lab brought. There was also moments where I was shocked, felt uneasy, and saddened. Poor Asumi her life was turned inside out and upside down, and yet she was strong enough to endure it all, which is why she is such a well developed character. Asumi evolved from an innocent girl to something much more, all because of her love for a lost sister.
When it comes to faults the game has few. I would have to say the only slight thing I wasn’t fond of is some of the repetitive dialogue. Asumi does at times repeat her self in thought. For example she tends to repeat things like information about the lab, past events, and where different characters reside. For those who are not paying attention to the game or walk away from it for a bit it might be useful to hear specific things repeated. However, it’s an Asumi thing and she needs to repeat things for her memory. To make proper choices it’s good to know what is going on. Also if you are not keeping track of what you have done you might find yourself in the same room and hearing the same conversation over and over again. Sometimes you need to be thorough in this game to find all clues and the right person to give an item to just to continue the story. Or you have to back track and then the story can get repetitive.
The visual novel Scar of the Doll, a name that has meaning within the game, is a timeless game that adds mystery and suspense with science fiction to create a compelling and emotional journey of a young woman looking for a lost sister. In the end she uncovers the ultimate truth and must become a hero for many. With its beautiful portraits and scenery, and accompanying music, Scar of the Doll is a truly wonderful visual novel that will engage players for another decade.