In “Mad Father”, a game released by Miscreant’s Room (Sen) and translated by vgperson, Aya Drevis lives on an estate in northern Germany with her mad scientist father and his assistant, Maria. On the anniversary of Aya’s mother’s death, her father’s victims are brought back to life by a curse and capture Doctor Drevis. Determined to save him no matter what, Aya journeys through the castle and begins to uncover his secrets.
The visuals, for the most part, are strong. It’s standard RPG Maker fare, but Sen puts what’s available to good use. The castle looks and feels like an extensive torture dungeon with an innocent front. Even the prettier and more polished upper floors still have an unsettling vibe to them, including a pristine marble floor polished and scraped to hide the extra blood splatter. The usage of shadow and lighting here is also excellent. In several rooms you explore, there are quite a few with a limited range of sight, making the players feel that they are caught deep within this dark, twisted labyrinth and hoping they don’t run into another monster around the corner.
The music also does an effective job of establishing the mood, and strikes a fine balance between subtlety and poppy B-movie soundtracks. Overall, the setting is appropriately spooky and unsettling, and the strongest executed level is the basement.
Because of the minimalistic nature of RPG games, the expressions of the sprites must be well executed and impeccably timed. For the most part, Mad Father manages to find this balance. The various corpses and monsters are unsettling, but a special mention must go to the dolls—faceless, colonial-dressed, knife-wielding dolls.
The best designs in the human cast are Aya’s and Alfred’s, which provide a strong contrast to one another. Aya is just downright adorable, while her father looks very creepy and unsettling. I just don’t trust anyone whose eyes I can’t see through his glasses. Dat mask, man. Dat mask.
At the same time, despite her cuteness, Aya has a few unsettling qualities of her own, including a taste for certain bedtime stories and an ability to successfully wield a chainsaw. She is her father’s daughter. This makes the visual contrast between her and Alfred feel as if they’re not quite so different after all.
Let me be clear: this game is neither very deep, nor anywhere close to being a masterpiece. Its overall vibe is reminiscent of a B-movie that perhaps takes itself a bit more seriously than it should, and it comes off as silly. The story has elements that are a bizarre amalgam of a B-movie, a gothic horror story, and an unholy retelling of Frankenstein gone wrong.
I mean this as the highest compliment, because these elements combined together make for one highly entertaining experience. I mean, c’mon—your protagonist is an eleven-year-old adorable moe girl wielding a chainsaw. Impractical? Sure. A safety hazard? Maybe. But totally awesome? Fuck, yes!
What contributes to this entertainment factor is that at every corner, there will be some kind of surprise. It could be something as extreme as having to maneuver around monsters hungry for flesh—specifically, yours—or it could be something minor, like figuring out when you’ll need to serve some freshly cooked ham. The story manages to go all over the place without ever feeling too over-the-top. In this game, nothing can be too over-the-top. Here, if something is not over-the-top, you’re doing it wrong.
In spite of its silliness, this game has a heart. Maria’s blind dedication to the doctor is questionable, but if you find and read her diary, you’ll learn that she also feels loyalty, gratitude, and most of all, sincere love.
Aya’s love for her family does feel genuine, and she wants nothing more than to uphold that love no matter what. She wants to believe her mother still loved her father, despite knowing about his less-than-professional relationship with Maria. She wants to see her father as the same man who stopped her from hurting herself with a chainsaw, and who went out of his way to heal her rabbit whenever it got hurt. And it is only through trying to reach out to Maria that you can unlock the story’s best possible ending. It’s corny, but it’s executed with such sincerity that you can’t help but go “D’aww.”
Oddly enough, even Alfred’s love for Aya feels genuine. He never tries to manipulate her into complying with his experiments, and he doesn’t show any sign that he’s thinking of abandoning her once he achieves his objectives. He is genuinely protective of his daughter and is willing to take time off his odd hobby to play with her. Despite his madness, he still loves her … but revealing any more would be spoiling.
The pacing is even, and balances both the expository/backstory narration with exploration, making the game feel similar to a movie. Lengthwise, it also feels like a movie—theoretically, you could clear the whole game in just under two hours and feel like not a single second was wasted on anything unnecessary. And the climax is very, very creepy. Yes, it still feels like a B-movie, but it’s a B-movie done right.
That said, there is one major downfall to the writing that undermines its earlier intentions: the ending. More specifically, it’s the epilogue following the best ending. (Spoiler warning for the rest of the paragraph—I will try not to give away specifics, but the vague details may be enough to spoil you, so consider yourself warned!) The story sets itself up as one where Aya must learn not to blindly idolize her father, and that she must remember and value the lives of his victims. But in the epilogue, it’s implied that she goes on to follow in her father’s footsteps. Perhaps she is no longer blind to his behavior, but the fact that she chooses to do so anyway suggests that she perhaps did not quite learn her lesson. The problem with this is that Aya is written as someone whom we are supposed to view as dangerously naïve, and this was supposed to be her one major persistent character flaw. Instead, she just goes on to become like him anyway, adhering to the lazy Aesop moral that “evil runs in the blood.” It’s pretty groanworthy and unfair after everything you go through.
There aren’t many direct puzzles in the game (one of the few is pictured above, similar to another puzzle in The Witch’s House), but the few that are there fit in fine. There are a few exceptions that do stick out, but otherwise, they’re okay. If you wish to count strategizing as a puzzle, then there are a few segments where the player must calculate how to help Aya outwit the monsters encountered. One of these segments requires a lot of careful thinking, and while it might be somewhat frustrating, it’s still rewarding. The other, however, is far more frustrating.
This particular sequence occurs in one of the lower levels in the basement. You have to escape a passing monster (who moves the fastest of the monsters) by running into a nearby jail cell, luring it into another cell and then quickly trapping it there. This part is just too damn hard and mindbreakingly difficult, and I can say with certainty that this is the only part of avoiding the monsters that I outright despise. Recorded below is a rare victory:
But this is not the one frustrating gaming feature. From time to time, you’ll encounter random sequences where you must mash the Z button, and once in a while, this will occur before you’ve had the chance to save major progress. Perhaps it puts more pressure on the player to mash that Z button like mad, but for me, it was just flat out annoying. Aya may be sheltered and inexperienced in combat, but this was better shown where you have to maneuver around the monsters and only get killed because you didn’t move fast enough.
Apart from these two unfortunate factors, the gameplay is decent. Figuring out what you need to do and how to do it in order to progress is straightforward. The crows that fly in throughout the game act as save points, and fit in with the overall theme. Sorting through the game’s inventory can get a bit confusing at times. You need to press Esc to access the inventory and then move from one type of inventory to the other.
With three endings, the game is very replayable. You can also collect 21 special gems to unlock the gallery and an extra epilogue scene that makes Dr. Drevis look especially creepy.
In the end, my strongest recommendation point for this game is that this is a great “Halloween night” game. If you’re not a huge fan of Halloween parties or trick-or-treating, or if you come home early from either of these and are looking for something else to do, I recommend playing this game. It’s got everything you could hope for in a Halloween title: zombie ghosts, curses, monsters, revenge, a dark yet heartwarming theme, and an adorable girl wielding a chainsaw.
Mad Father is available for free from vgperson’s site: http://www.vgperson.com/games/madfather.htm
For more free JRPG horror/adventure titles translated thus far by vgperson, go here: http://vgperson.com/games
Mad Father may be silly at times, and it does have a somewhat disappointing ending, but this game has a heart...and it keeps that heart beating in a jar on a desk (sorry, Stephen King, I couldn't resist).
- Story (7.08/10)
- Presentation (7.67/10)
- Gameplay (8.5/10)
- Replay Value (8.52/10)