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Game Info:

Vera Blanc: Ghost in the Castle
Developed By: Winter Wolves
Published By: Ratalaika Games
Released: January 29, 2021
Available On: Android, iOS, Linux, Mac OS, Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Mystery/Visual Novel
ESRB Rating: Teen (Blood and Gore, Violence, Suggestive Themes)
Number of Players: Offline Single-player
Price: $3.99 

Thank you to Ratalaika Games for providing us with a review code!

Vera Blanc: Ghost in the Castle is the second game in the series of detective visual novels originally released for computer and phone operating systems in 2010. It acts as a sequel to Vera Blanc: Full Moon in some aspects, but its main narrative is mostly separate from the events of the first game, with main characters Vera Blanc and Brandon Mackey making a return. While the story is fresh, it’s about the only novel addition to Ghost in the Castle. The lure of a new mystery is exciting at first, but solving the mystery feels laborious and requires players to trudge through its most tedious moments over and over.

I played the first game in this series, Vera Blanc: Full Moon, when it released for the Nintendo Switch in November of 2020. Overall, I felt Full Moon succeeded in delivering a simple but entertaining mystery despite some controls issues and an annoying habit of depicting Vera wearing as little clothing as possible in key scenes. Ghost in the Castle makes barely any changes to gameplay flow and controls while also reusing several of the music cues from the first game. The game also doubles down on sexualizing Vera in situations where it doesn’t make sense, which I’ll delve more into near the end of this review.

The art style in Ghost in the Castle is still the same comic-book inspired aesthetic but character models for protagonists Vera and Brandon are different. Vera seems a bit more curvaceous than in the previous game. The comic panels are all still pleasing to look at for the most part and only a few panels seem underdeveloped. There are some larger panels that receive panoramic camera movement and are beautiful new additions. As stated before, most music cues in this game are exact copies from Full Moon with a few new themes sprinkled in to add something different. Vera gets her own theme during certain story panels that has some charm, and the new disco and ghost themes are good as well.

Vera Blanc: Ghost in the Castle
Highlights:

Strong Points: Nostalgic comic book art style; more complex mystery than the first game; strong game navigation tools
Weak Points: No quality of life upgrades in gameplay from Full Moon; less engaging narrative; frustrating minigames; some controls not tailored to consoles 
Moral Warnings: Blood and gore; consistent sexualization of the female characters in the game; some foul language; heavy themes such as mental illness, suicide, and drug trafficking; alcohol abuse

The case that needs solving causes Vera and Brandon to travel to Bargi, a small town in Italy. They have been hired by rich local Roberto Anastasi to investigate the appearance of a ghost in a nearby castle. The ghost is terrifying residents of the town and interfering with some of Anastasi’s business ventures, so Anastasi is willing to help Vera and Brandon in any way to get rid of the ghost. Bargi is home to several new faces the detective duo will question during their search for the truth behind the ghost’s appearance, but the game struggles to make all of them memorable. Ghost in the Castle feels at times like it struggles from an unbalanced emphasis of quantity of characters over quality of characters. When the finale finally plays out there are several shoehorned conclusions to story threads left by the wayside, and I felt a bit like I wasn’t given enough clues to actually solve all the pieces of the central mystery on my own.

I was excited to learn from Ghost in the Castle’s early comic panels that the mysterious Eva and The Master from Full Moon would once again be present in this game. In my review of Full Moon I mentioned that they played a seemingly pivotal role in the story but were simply plot drivers to get to the game’s end. Ghost in the Castle teases them once again, and I hoped that they would be featured more heavily this time around. Sadly, while Eva gets a few moments to shine, both characters’ true intentions remain hidden and they are instead ushered along to be more prominent in a sequel to this game that will likely never release.

One of the most annoying parts of Ghost in the Castle is its treatment of the minigames. In Full Moon, the minigames were simple but slightly challenging and never hindered the story’s progress. Ghost in the Castle is not able to strike the same balance. First, nearly all of the minigames are harder to complete, with difficulties for the Hangman and Spot the Difference games notably raised. I watched a good amount of Wheel of Fortune when I was younger so I was able to get through the Hangman games without too much pain, but the Spot the Difference panels are tough. I spent almost two hours on one, finally needing my wife to help me with her superior skills. Panel differences are basically just small brush strokes or slight differences in color hues, which make the minigame far more frustrating than it needs to be. While there are no major changes to the minigames, they just feel more intrusive this time around. There is an option to play without minigames, which seems like the right way to go.

The controls remain similar to Full Moon, with most gameplay consisting of text selection options or choosing between numbers/letters in a minigame. The minigame most like a fast-paced game of Concentration still suffers from confusing navigation and I accidentally hit “Give Up” twice before I managed to complete the minigame. Luckily, Ghost in the Castle retains the very useful feature that allows a player to skip forward and backward in the visual novel so I was able to quickly try again by just retreating panel by panel from a death screen. The game plays well on the Switch docked or undocked and feels designed to be enjoyed in short bursts while traveling.

Vera Blanc: Ghost in the Castle
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 74%
Gameplay – 13/20
Graphics – 8/10
Sound – 7/10
Stability – 5/5
Controls – 4/5

Morality Score - 48%
Violence – 5/10
Language – 4/10
Sexual Content – 3.5/10
Occult/Supernatural – 7/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical – 4.5/10

But Ghost in the Castle is still hindered by its consistent and overzealous sexualization of Vera in situations that don’t call for it. Whether deserved or not, this game was banned from the Google Play Store at one point due to a few of the images I will describe. The game offers the same introduction as Full Moon with the exact same panels (with slightly altered art to fit the new style) save for one notable exception. In Full Moon, when Vera talks about doctors examining her enhanced brain, the panel shown is of Vera looking ill in a hospital bed. For some unknown reason, this panel is changed in Ghost in the Castle to a bikini clad Vera sitting in a giant chair with a tentacled helmet over her head. There is no good reason for this change that I can fathom other than an excuse to show Vera in a compromising position.

Another time Vera’s near-nudity makes no sense is when she goes to bed at an Italian hotel. Full Moon already established that Vera typically sleeps in skimpy pink nightgown. So, it makes no sense when she decides to get out of bed at night to look out the window of the hotel and she is only wearing a green bikini. The ridiculous nature of this panel is even more obvious when she spots the ghost and rushes to find Brandon, pulling on her pink nightgown in the process to cover herself. Why she slept in the nightgown in the first game and decides to sleep in a bikini for Ghost in the Castle isn’t explained but I think that’s because there isn’t a good explanation. Vera shows skin several other times in the game, including a panel sequence at a coffee shop that seems entirely set up so that Vera has to take off her jacket and show off her cleavage. Sexual content in games is not inherently bad, but when there are heavy handed narrative choices that steer toward sex-related images and situations meant to tease the player, sex becomes a fleeting visual high with no substance.

Ghost in the Castle deals with more mature themes than Full Moon in general, with conversations in the game covering suicide, homosexuality, drug trafficking, serial murders, and mental illness. Blood is present in several panels in pools and drops, though one panel for a bad ending shows the gruesome outcome of a central character’s suicide. There are supernatural elements and an exorcism is a main part of the plot. There is also a sequence required to progress in the game where the player must make Vera drink alcohol and get drunk. Foul language is scarce but there is one use of b*****d and one use of b***h.

Vera Blanc: Ghost in the Castle does a decent job of expanding upon the supernatural detective story of the first game with more story threads to explore and a more complex central mystery. But it can’t recreate the simple efficiency of Full Moon and leans harder on unfortunate tropes like a scantily clad protagonist and the use of dark themes just for the emotional shock. The game is pretty cheap at $3.99 on the Nintendo E-Shop, so if you thoroughly enjoyed the first game you might give this one a try. Considering Ghost in the Castle was originally released in 2010, there will probably not a be a third game to tie up the series, and it is sad to see the Vera Blanc story end on a sour note.

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William Miracle

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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