The Letter is a 2017 horror visual novel from Filipino developers Yangyang Mobile (their most recent project is a rom-com VN, Love Esquire). In the vein of the Japanese horror film, Ju-On (The Grudge internationally), the game focuses on a group of people who unwittingly find themselves the victim of a vengeful ghost when one of them discovers a cursed chain letter in the attic of an old mansion. What follows is a descent into madness and terror as the ghost unleashes her wrath on the game’s ensemble cast of characters.
The events of the story are kicked off by Isabella, a young Real Estate Agent who is tasked with selling the Ermengarde Mansion. While setting up for an Open House she finds a mysterious letter in the attic of the estate. The letter has the words “Help Me” written in blood repeatedly on the page, and ends with a note to send the letter to 5 people “or else…”
The game gives the player the chance to uncover the secrets behind the letter and it’s connection to the Ermengarde Mansion, while also defending yourself and others that are drawn into the curse against the vengeful spirit that haunts the estate.
The Letter is divided into 7 chapters, each told from the perspectives of one of the seven protagonist, giving players the chance to explore the events of the game from the point of view of each character, unveiling new details that may have otherwise been impossible discover in a more linear narrative. There is some overlap between the individual chapters, mostly with respect to the curse, but, each chapter offers a unique gaming experience that does a great job of drawing out the suspense and mystery of the story.
Isabella is young Real Estate Agent who moved from the Philippines to England five years prior to the start of the story in hopes of finding a job so she could help support her family back home. She’s upbeat and cheerful, though a bit childish and very superstitious, so folks tend to underestimate her. She is the first person to encounter the ghost and despite her warnings, she is ignored by her close friends.
Isabella’s chapter is an introduction to the story and gives the player their first glimpses of the curse and it’s connection to her job and a recent slew of missing persons cases. Since she is more open to the possibility of the supernatural, her chapter delves more deeply into the supernatural goings on as she is the one that is affected most by the ghost’s haunting.
Hannah Wright is a wealthy socialite and wife of Luke Wright. The pair are renowned in Luxembourg for their wealth and lavish parties. Despite being married for 7 years, the relationship between herself and her husband is strained. She is cheerful and kind to everyone, however, many of the characters remark that she seems to harbor a deep sadness beneath her carefully constructed facade.
Her chapter focuses on the connection between Lady Ermengarde and the mansion itself. While she rarely encounters the ghost (or rather easily dismisses the supernatural goings on), she is the one that is most susceptible to the spirit, even getting possessed by it at one point.
Zach is a good-natured photographer and and aspiring filmmaker. At the start of the story he is good friends to Isabella, Ash, and Rebecca. He’s a great cook and always willing to let a friend (usually Ash) crash with him if need be. Prior to the start of the story, his parents were brutally murdered during a hate crime, leaving him with trauma which manifests as night terrors in which he relives the events surrounding their death.
His chapter unveils that the ghost’s actions aren’t just wonton fits of fancy, but serve a deeper purpose. He is the first to suggest that perhaps the ghost might be a victim of the curse as well.
Marianne is the interior designer hired by the Wrights to fix up the Ermengarde Mansion. She like Isabella traveled to England in search of better employment opportunities, having left Ireland during the Irish economic crisis.
Unlike the other characters, she was designed by one of the Kickstarter backers, so her chapter is a bit more detached from the others. After the events of her chapter she is essentially put on a bus until the finale. Her chapter reveals the true nature of the letter Isabella discovers in chapter 1.
Rebecca is a history teacher at St Goretti and Isabella’s friend and next door neighbor. Unlike Isabella, she grew up in Luxembourg along side Ash, with whom she harbors an unrequited love for (your choices throughout can change this). Despite being shy and bookish as a child, Rebecca grew into a very opinionated and stubborn young woman. She isn’t above doling out a bit of tough love to her friends, taking on a more motherly role among her friends.
True to her profession, Rebecca’s chapter reveals the truth behind the mansion’s past and the history surrounding its previous mistress, Charlotte Ermengarde.
Ash is close friends with Isabella, Rebecca, and Zach and a detective inspector at Luxbourne’s Criminal Investigations Department. He can be a bit of a jerk sometimes, but he means well and if his friends are ever in trouble he would do anything to protect them. He has been investigating Luke Wright for some time now, though he is not forthcoming about the details of his case. He harbors a not so subtle crush on Isabella despite Becca also harboring an unrequited crush on him (either are potential love interests for him) and he and Zach are especially close. Out of everyone, he is the last to start believing in the ghost.
Ash’s chapter is noticeably longer than the other chapters and serves as a connecting point for all the loose threads picked up throughout the other 5 chapters. In his chapter is where all the hints and clues start to form a more cohesive narrative. He is also the one that decides to investigate the mansion and confront the ghost directly.
Born the bastard son of a prostitute and the wealthy CEO of Wright Enterprises, Luke unlike his wife did not have the best start in life. And his abrasive and shrewd personality doesn’t win him any favors either. He’s a functioning alcoholic and womanizer who is not above being a complete jerkass to everyone he comes into contact with. He is simply the worst and it’s a wonder he managed to marry someone as compassionate as Hannah. He has been at the center of a lot of dirty dealings throughout Luxembourg, but his money and influence has kept any charges from sticking. Despite being a complete asshole, he does have a few moments of decency; he really does love his wife Hannah, and he dotes on his goddaughter Kylie (and the True End does redeem him somewhat).
As he is the final chapter, Luke is the character that decides the way the curse is handled and whether the characters are saved in the end. No pressure or anything.
And last, but not least the ghost…
I am not gonna lie, the first time I saw the ghost, I slammed my laptop shut and spent the next couple of hours watching cheerful kids shows on YouTube. I am a fan of all things horror, but, the decision to play the game alone, in my room with the shades closed was a poor one. As far as horror villains go, the ghost is definitely terrifying, decaying skin and that god awful clicking noise! Not to mention the fact that she literally pops up without warning sometimes which makes for a pretty effective jump scare. Of course she isn’t just a one trick pony, there’s a method to her madness and the game does explore her origins and motivations, however, in order to get that you have to kill off every single character to unlock all the memory fragments necessary to figure it all out. And let me tell you, when characters die, they die bloody…
The characters are the best part of the game and despite the fact that they all fall into one or more horror cliches, the chemistry between them is hard to ignore. They each play off one another well, both as allies and as antagonists, with each of the relationships developing organically, whether or not you choose to foster bonds between them or cause conflict.
The Letter does a great job of fleshing them out as characters and not just pawns in the overarching supernatural mischief, by the end of the game, you really feel like you got to know each and every one of them on a personal level. Which, adds weight to the choices you make throughout the story, and makes their eventual fates much more tragic or satisfying. Honestly, I can’t say that I outright hated any of the characters… except, Becca, I went out of my way to kill Becca during just about every single playthrough except one. Hell, even the damn ghost is likeable once you get her whole backstory figured out… granted she’s a serial killer ghost, but, come on, killer ghosts need love too!
Like most visual novels, each choice determines the course of the story, but in the high stakes world of the game, one wrong move could spell disaster for any of the characters at any time. In The Letter, is like a game of chess, sometimes sacrifices must be made for the greater good and that sentiment holds true in the high stakes world of the game, as, characters can and will die. And for some of the best endings, players will have to willingly kill off characters, giving the game a distinctly bittersweet aftertaste. You can of course foster romantic relationships between the individual characters, which offers a bit of levity to the darker elements of the story. However, I will caution you now, pursuing the romance routes negates any hope of achieving the True End. I did notice that in order to get the best ending you have to kill off all the LGBT characters, whether that means something or not is up to you…
There are a lot of twists and turns in this one with over 170 Achievements and over 30 paths to pursue, this is a pretty hefty visual novel. Thankfully the game has a nifty story tree feature that maps out each chapter so you can clearly see which path you’re on at any given time. However, using this feature can result in spoilers, so use it sparingly. In addition to the Branching Tree, there is also a pretty helpful Journal that includes a Timeline that, summarizes key events from the story. As you complete each chapter, new entries are entered, filling in the gaps left in the story. The Journal also includes profiles on all the main characters that serve as a biography of sorts, detailing their backstories as well as pertinent personalty traits, etc.
There were also these really cool Quick Time Events that are triggered whenever the ghost attempts to kill someone, which usually involve clicking or pressing keys on the keyboard before the time runs out. These usually occur at the end of the chapter when the ghost makes a last ditch attempt to off whoever is the main character at the time. Losing the mini game results in an automatic gameover, though players can toggle between Easy and Normal mode (something I wish I had known from the beginning), because some of them are hard af in Normal mode.
Not to mention, the game is fully voiced, and the cast is amazing! The sound quality is really good and each of the VAs do a phenomenal job of bringing their respective characters to life. They each give it their all and the performances speak for themselves! The soundtrack for the game is also great, full of great atmospheric instrumentals that vacillate between breezy instrumentals for the more relaxed slice of life scenes to erratic uptempo tracks for when the story takes a more sinister turn. But, of all the audio features, I think the most chilling performance goes to the ghost… Those, throaty gargles and screeches are fucking terrifying!
Visually, The Letter is simply breathtaking, utilizing a more realistic, painted art style that lends itself well to the atmospheric horror of the game. While many of the characters sport some interesting hair colors (lookin’ at you Becca), but, for the most part everything is firmly grounded in reality. The game does have animated backgrounds, CGs, and character sprites, making for a much more immersive experience as you aren’t just reading and looking at static images. The game moves, it breathes, and the animated features really help to bring the whole story to life. When the text says that the ghost scurries across the floor, the damn sprite scurries across the floor. When the text says Hannah punched Luke, the animated CG shows Hannah punching Luke in his smug face!
Due to the branching nature of the plot, there are several CG variations depending on which choices you make, some are big changes and some are very minor. In total there are 100 CGs, 80 Backgrounds, and 50 Epilogue CGs. The art style in the Epilogue CGs is slightly different from the rest of the game, utilizing a rougher sketchy style, like what you’d see in a storybook. This the epilogue this almost fantastical quality, that serves as a great contrast to the painfully real horrors of the main story.
Yangyang Mobile’s The Letter is a must play for fans of horror and visual novels! With it’s well thought out and immersive story and it’s dynamic cast, this game will keep you reading long into the night.
This game takes us on a journey of terror and suspense, in painstaking detail, delving into the complex relationships of the characters as they try and survive the malevolent supernatural situations the characters find themselves in, while also revealing more about the curse and the circumstances that brought about its creation. It took me two weeks to get through this game and honestly, it was worth every minute of it. Yangyang Media hit it out of their park with their first foray into the game developing world, dishing out an engaging story with so many twists and turns to enjoy along the way.
But, as always, you don’t have to take my word for it! Check out the game for yourself and get swept up in the mystery and suspense of The Letter!
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