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Pinoy-made horror visual novel ‘The Letter’ earns stellar ratings on Steam

Horror visual novel “The Letter” from Philippine game developer Yangyang Mobile was only recently launched on Steam, and so far, it’s been giving PC, Mac, and Linux users a great reason to play with the lights on.

Successfully Kickstarted in November 2015, “The Letter” was first featured on GMA News Online in our coverage of the local game developers at ESGS 2016. The visual novel has attracted quite a following, and has been receiving glowing reviews on Steam since its late July 2017 release. Its rating sits at 97% as of writing.

The rating is understandable when you factor in “The Letter’s” gorgeous art, sound, and wonderful characters. Most importantly for a title such as this, “The Letter” features a branching storyline that evolves depending on the player’s choices. As such, it boasts a number of diverse scenarios that you won’t experience in a single playthrough.

Though “The Letter’s” story takes place in England, it is inspired by classic Asian horror films such as “The Ring” and “Ju-On: The Grudge.” It revolves around seven diverse characters – the first of whom is a Filipina! – who become the unwitting prey of an age-old curse connected to the 17th century Ermengarde Mansion. As you assume the role of each character, you can help them survive, develop their relationships with each other, or lead them down a path of destruction.

“The Letter” dedicates a lot of time to these individuals. You’ll be with them at their best and worst, delve into their innermost thoughts, and be privy to their deepest longings and fears. Characters who initially strike you as vapid or shallow become complex, layered people, thanks to the impressive characterization. “The Letter” also touches on a variety of social issues affecting each character, such as racism and the struggles of OFWs. This makes them more relatable, while also helping build a world that is believable and relevant despite “The Letter’s” fantastical inclinations.

The writing is generally entertaining and at times even extremely clever. While it has a tendency to drag at some points, it nevertheless does wonders for the characterization, helping give each of the seven leads a distinct and likeable personality. It also succeeds in hooking your interest so deeply that you’ll want to see the story through to its end, no matter how bloody and brutal things get the further down the proverbial rabbit hole you go.

“The Letter’s” horror relies on a slow but effective buildup, so that when dark forces do rear their ghastly heads, it’s like a kick to the gut. And the persistent dread only grows in intensity as you progress through the story.

The visuals certainly help cultivate the sense that there is no sanctuary from evil. When it comes to scares, the art ranges from the creepy to the downright gruesome – “The Letter” isn’t afraid to get gory. But whether the scene requires horror or not, you’ll be treated to scores of beautifully painted backgrounds and character illustrations at all times. Many of them are even animated.

The sound and music are spectacular. Ambient sounds – such as the murmur of a crowd and the rumblings of traffic – bring to life every location. Similarly, ghostly whispers, the creaking of floorboards, and the howling of wind through empty hallways lend to the atmosphere the eeriness good horror can’t do without. Take this with the beautiful music, which ranges from the plaintive, to the cheerful, to the bone-chilling, and “The Letter” will have you experiencing a gamut of powerful emotions.

The voice acting is uniformly excellent – not to mention those accents are simply – and I insist on using the following word – fabulous! I had no idea the English and Irish accents could be so musical; seriously, I can listen to Hannah and Marianne all day. I do wish Isabella sounded more Filipina, though this is a small gripe.

While “The Letter” consists of only 7 chapters, it is a very long visual novel, and can take you over 30 hours to complete depending on how fast your reading is. And with so many different scenes and multiple endings to unlock, the title has great replay value – so you’ll likely be spending more time than that.

Its incredible production values, loveable characters, and intriguing branching storyline certainly earn “The Letter” the praises it has received so far. Expect to hear more about “The Letter” and Yangyang Mobile on GMA News Online.

For more information about “The Letter,” visit its official website and Steam page. — BM, GMA News