Developer – Novectacle
Publisher – Mangagamer & Novectacle
Length – 10-30 Hours
I’ll admit that I am guilty of prejudice. I looked at the synopsis of The House in Fata Morgana, at its art and at its reviews, and I felt that there was little chance I would enjoy it. Yet, I also knew that I was going to have to read it and I’m very glad that I did. Novectacle’s first release is unlike any other currently translated visual novel; it is not colorful, it does not feature larger than life heroines aiming to leap off the screen and into your heart, and it is not full of the same Japanese tropes you might expect. What it is, however, is something very special. The House in Fata Morgana is an intensely fulfilling tale of tragedy, empathy and love that thrives on its uniquely crafted and immersive atmosphere.
When you awake in The Mansion, you find that you are but a shade of your former self. You are greeted by The Maid, who assures you that your return has been long awaited, and that you will most definitely be able to recall your identity in due time. The Maid decides to guide you through The Mansion, and behind each new door you are shown the history of the people that have come before you. You share in their happiness, and in the inevitable tragedy that befalls them. Each. And. Every. One. For The Mansion is cursed, and you are its Master.
More than perhaps any other visual novel I have read before, The House in Fata Morgana is a production that strikes me as a labor of love. It is, as I have said, unlike the other media we are used to seeing from Japan; it draws you away from the norm and into its own unique world effortlessly, building an atmosphere that is at the same time both bewitching and disquieting as its plotlines unfold and intertwine with each other. The Mansion grows to be more than a simple place in the mind of the reader as its mysteries are gradually unveiled and it becomes a time-transcending vessel for love, despair and hatred that both you and its residents are trapped within.
The tale begins with a series of short stories, each with their own charm and twists, naturally, but their apparently dubious connection to any larger narrative did little to assuage my initial wariness. It took a while before I found myself actively looking forward to being able to continue reading each night. Once the larger picture had begun to form, however, I was enraptured until the story had reached its conclusion, and that conclusion was immensely satisfying. There are some periods of repetition as the same events are seen through different eyes, and though that can be frustrating I found that it occurred infrequently enough to limit its impact on my enjoyment of the novel.
By and large, The House in Fata Morgana is about human interaction and the ways we both hurt and lift each other up as living beings. Though there are several emotional buzzwords I could use, and have used already, to describe the events portrayed – joy, sorrow, empathy, tolerance, rage – the truth is that the story’s focus rests on the lowest low points of humanity’s cruelty to itself. If you are a person that finds it easy to empathize with characters, to really get inside their head and feel what they are feeling, The House in Fata Morgana will be a harrowing experience that you will not forget. Thankfully, as you might have guessed, that is balanced by humanity’s capacity for understanding and forgiveness, and I predict that the effects of the mixing of light and darkness within this story will stay with me for the foreseeable future.
I feel like I’ve been waiting for a long time to get to this part of the review: The House in Fata Morgana’s sound track is, in a word, phenomenal. While there is no voice acting in either the original or localized releases, this is tempered by its simultaneously haunting and enchanting vocal background music. Even as I write this review, my memory of the songs that accompanied me through the novel force me to periodically close my eyes to enjoy the emotion they embody. The art is also a high point worth discussing, though I have to admit that I did not enjoy it to begin with. The sprites are, for lack of a better word, a great deal more “Western” than I am used to from visual novels, and at times sufficiently stylized to be disconcerting. That said, the way it all complemented the music and atmosphere of the story made it easy for the art to grow on me very quickly.
It may also be worth noting that since I finished reading a patch has been released that overhauls almost the entire library of sound effects used in the visual novel, as well as updating some of its character sprites.
Finally, I have to give major praise to Mangagamer’s localization team. The House in Fata Morgana’s story in English is written impeccably, with the style of writing fitting the production as a whole while remaining able to convey the emotion I’m sure was present in the original Japanese. Considering where the company has come from, this particular release represents amazing progress.
Summary – The House in Fata Morgana is a completely novel and captivating experience unlike any other currently available on the English market. While there are some hiccups in pacing near the beginning, I can assure you that the emotional satisfaction granted by the body and conclusion of the tale are well worth it. With an impressive localization effort, spellbinding sound track and immersive atmosphere, you’ll find you’re not quite the same person you used to be once you’ve finished The House in Fata Morgana.
Score: 9.5/10 – Great