Ikai, tried – Nerd4.life

The tried by Ikai, a first-person psychological horror game set in ancient Japan, which focuses all on atmosphere and folklore

It is always fascinating to discover how certain cultures manage to go beyond their territories, especially in a globalized era like ours, often becoming the subject of extremely rigorous representations, to the point of being almost indistinguishable from indigenous ones. Think of Sucker Punch’s Ghost of Tsushima and how much it made headlines for its apparently more Japanese than many Japanese games. In reality, the practice is now so common that it no longer appears as alien as it once was, although attempts to reproduce styles from distant cultures have never been lacking in human history (think of the Japonism of France in the late nineteenth century just to have an easy reference).

This is why we were not so surprised that a work like Ikai, oriental-looking right from the title, was actually created by an independent team from Barcelona, ​​the Endflame. Let’s find out Ikai in our tried.

History and seals

The world of Ikai is full of demons

The world of Ikai is full of demons

Ikai tells the history of Naoko, a priestess who works in a Japanese Shinto temple lost in the mountains, in feudal times. When his mentor priest is requested by the inhabitants of a nearby village, terrified by the signs that the arrival of demons on Earth is near, ours is left alone to carry out his daily chores. Restless, but not worried, she will find herself experiencing the horror by unintentionally unleashing it and will have to, by herself, be able to drive away the evil spirits who will try to take possession of the temple. All this translates into a first-person psychological horror that blends adventure, stealth and action in a gameplay full of interesting ideas, as often already seen.

At the beginning of the game we are introduced to one of the fundamental mechanics: before leaving for the village, the priest will ask us to prepare some seals for demons. To do this we will literally have to trace them by hand using a brush, controlled with the mouse or with the controller. The system requires a certain precision in the stretch, which forces you not to rush too much. If you make a mistake, you have to start over.

The reason for this design choice becomes clear as you progress through the game: the design of the seals is actually one of the tricks designed to make us jump on the chair. Basically we will have to refine our technique as much as possible, if we do not want to be attacked by some demon while we are engaged in the operation. If desired, it is possible to complete the drawings in several times, in order to release the tension. The important thing is not to spend too much time on it, because otherwise we end up killed without too many pleasantries and without the possibility of escape (the demons arrive suddenly, without giving us the possibility of reaction).

Japanese, too Japanese

Drawing the seals is one of the fundamental mechanics

Drawing the seals is one of the fundamental mechanics

In principle, the gameplay of Ikai is quite classic: you explore the environment with a certain slowness, often crouching, trying not to make noise so as not to arouse unwanted attention and you solve small puzzles, such as tidying up some drawers or using the seals at the right time, to unlock useful items or particular passages. Unlike other titles of the genre, that of Endflame seems to be built much more on situations, that is, it tries to be as varied as possible by confronting us with different events and challenges, such as the one already told about the seals, or as the escape from a demonic worm which is very reminiscent of an action film, including overrides and makeshift dams to be created to slow it down.

There are obviously gods too environmental puzzles, others more mechanical to The Room, and others even more folkloristic (let’s define them this way to avoid giving you inappropriate previews). Everything serves to tell a story that takes more and more an introspective turn as the adventure progresses and which in its own way turns out to be very different from what it initially seems.

The folkloristic elements are not lacking

The folkloristic elements are not lacking

Yet playing one feels that something is missing, because a Japanese would never have told such a Japanese story in a way that is so similar to the image that a Westerner has of Japan. It is a bit like oriental philosophy explained by someone from New York who has not studied anything else in his life: maybe he is perfect, he gets all the concepts right, he moves flawlessly imitating the oriental masters, but he always seems very far from this. that he wants to embody and the only image he really manages to convey to you is that of a luxury gym on the top floor of a skyscraper, full of middle-to-high-income people who get intoxicated with exotic words with which they try to fill the their life. Perhaps, come to think of it, this is precisely why Ikai works and we also liked it, at least as far as we could go: because we too are part of mental and cultural schemes similar to those from which these representations derive. A Japanese to scare us develops Silent Hill or Clock Tower, transfiguring his original culture into something different and higher, while we, trying to understand it, go and remake the posters of the demons that he has hung in the bedroom.

Provisional conclusions

The setting is suggestive

The setting is suggestive

Having said that Ikai is not bad at all and, indeed, it is surprising at times how it was made by only three people: the environments are well composed and detailed, the variety is good and the design of the maps is very intelligent and successful, so much to create a strong sense of loss even in purely linear moments (at least until certain tricks are understood). Despite being in early access, the game felt stable and clean to us, so no major bugs and no sudden desktop returns. The demons of them are similar to those seen in many oriental illustrations and are made with some care, although it must be said that it is difficult to admire them up close, since when it happens it is usually because you are killed. We will see if the good impressions are confirmed by the final version, so it should not be missing very much (we are talking about Q1 2022). In the meantime, let’s go draw some seals, that the demons are coming.

From what we have tried, Ikai is an interesting psychological horror, with various and compelling mechanics, but with a lot to prove in the narrative field. For now we advise you to try the demo, available for free, but to find out whether or not it is worth living Naoko’s adventure to the end, all you have to do is wait for the final version.

CERTAINTIES

  • You find it interesting to create tension
  • Curated setting

DOUBTS

  • Will history hold up to the end?

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