Macabre Mysteries: Curse of the Nightingale
     from Blue Tea Games

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Welcome to a very weird ride!

This is one of those games that has a Reputation, and in this case, that reputation is deserved: it's widely loved (and criticized) for being a very attractive and engaging game that didn't sell enough to make its sequels and therefore dropped the entire storyline and all related inquiries directly into the ocean. We saw this back with the Mystery Legends game, which actually came out about a year after this one and apparently followed its "what even are sequels, things you promise but then don't ever actually make?" playbook to the letter. (Maybe there was something in the water around the game studios that year.)

Anyway, this game is a lot of fun and also, as I mentioned above, deeply weird even when it's also curiously emotional. Take a gander:

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This is Rose, one of the main characters of the game and our very subtly named Christine character, but we won't find that out for a bit. In the meantime, she's here to show that this game has a truly lovely art style; it's on par with some other heavy hitters (like Mystery Legends or Dark Romance) in spite of being older than they are, and it milks this obvious strength for all it's worth. The game is, like most games in this genre, largely composed of static shots of areas and occasional stills that make up cut scenes, and since it lacks animation (there isn't even a sprite for the character, who is invisible due to the game being from a fully first-person perspective) it makes up for it with painting and style.

Anyway, this is established before the player has time to even wonder about it, which is always nice; this opening loading splash screen suddenly transforms into an identical screen but with Rose now clearly dead and a ghost, a nice sudden bucket of ice water to get our spooky theme going.

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Speaking of "most games in this genre", the genre in question is the hidden object search/adventure game hybrid that is so enormously popular in casual gaming circles (which is not a bad thing, I'd like to note!). This one, like several others, leans heavily upon the adventure game genre and its tropes; the player spends most of their time running around trying to find the items used to solve puzzles or open up new areas, and although there are a healthy amount of hidden object searches peppered throughout and they're all pretty good, they clearly seem to be approached more as one of many puzzle options available to the makers of this adventure game, rather than being the main event themselves.

As you can see from the sliders above, our options for customization are minimal this time; you can control the music and sound volumes separately (a boon if, like me, you can't hear a goddamn thing whenever a loud orchestral sting happens), and you can choose to use fullscreen or windowed modes (beware, this was not designed for widescreen so it'll let you fullscreen it but it WILL have a very weird aspect ratio) as well as deciding whether you'd like to keep the game's custom cursor or use your system's familiar one. (I actually quite like that little touch - cursors aren't a problem for most people, but for those with visual disabilities or who just have trouble with weird shapes flying around, the option to make sure the cursor is visually easy to find and identify is a nice option we don't often see.)

The hint mechanic, by the way, doesn't work like most hint systems in hidden object games, probably because this is far more of an adventure game and HOG mechanics aren't as applicable. Instead of getting a "go somewhere else" or "do that thing over there" prompt when clicking on the hint button, it's used by dragging an item over to it; once the player does, the game shows you a quick flash of it being used correctly. This can be frustrating if you're nowhere near wherever that item is used, but also allows you to recognize settings and run out to investigate them without having to be handholdy, and even if you do get a hint for an area you haven't seen yet, you get the nice rush of excited recognition whenever you do arrive there and realize you've got an item ready and waiting.

So, anyway, it's time for the introduction to the game! This is accomplished in a rambling introductory cut scene that feels longer than it is, in which the protagonist explains that the "Nightingale" in the title is not in fact a person or animal but the name of a theater, which is currently abandoned after a catastrophic fire in 1960 but was before that owned by the protagonist's grandfather, who has just sent her a letter out of the blue telling her to come by and meet him at the place. Considering that he's been missing in action since the fire and is presumed dead, this is a cause for some curiosity and concern.

Before anyone asks, it is not at all clear what time period the game is set in; in spite of explicitly giving us dates for old performances and the theater's destruction in order to establish that these things happened a long time ago, how long is hard to suss out. Given the other characters' generally period-appropriate clothes and dialogue, players are probably meant to assume that it takes place in the present day (or rather, the present day of 2011ish when the game was published). We certainly don't get much in the way of modern technology shortcuts such as cell phones or wireless internet, and while you could chalk that up to no one having service at a condemned theater in the middle of nowhere, someone should at least say something about it so I don't have to spend all my time sitting around wondering why I, the main character, don't just frigging call someone for help.

But, anyway, I won't be doing that, because Grandpa Wilson (no relation to Patrick Wilson, one must assume, but feel free to have fun envisioning him as the old man at the auction in the framing device scene of the 2004 Schumacher/Butler film because I definitely did) has sent a cryptic letter and a GOLDEN TICKET to tell me I need to come and see his "greatest achievement", and I have no characterization since I'm a player-insert character so I'm going to assume I'm just Very Plucky. (Sadly, no, I have very little to contribute in the way of Willy Wonka cameos in this game, which honestly feels like a crime given the setting.)

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Here's the Nightingale thriving away in 1958, which the game assiduously timestamps on this "old footage" as well as providing additional confirmations for in printed headlines, newspapers, posters and playbills, etc. The emphasis on making sure we know when this happened makes sense for a game where a lot of the plot has to do with what on earth happened and who are all these people, but again, it's weird when I have no good frame of reference for when the character is supposed to be NOW.

Anyway, along with Grandpa's letter and demands, we also get a little backstory, namely that Grandpa himself is and always has been the main suspect in the fire that demolished the theater. Given that there is an avalanche of evidence against him - he owned the place and stood to make a fortune in insurance, no one who was there is still alive to give details but the fire department found that it was definitely arson, and he immediately vanished, never to reappear, the second shit went down but also is believed to still be alive somewhere since no body was ever found - it's hard to fault them, even though like most dewy-eyed young grandchildren I don't believe Gramps could have done something so terrible for a moment.

Interestingly, it's confirmed here that Grandpa really is missing - I and my theoretical parents may be his family, but none of us have seen or heard from him since 1960, either. His letter implies that he has to be sneaky because he doesn't want to be caught for this crime he totes did not commit, honest, but wasn't this somewhere in the neighborhood of forty or fifty years ago? Is this case even still open? Would anyone notice if he happened to show up for holidays once in a while? The statue of limitations for arson is ten years, although I suppose if he's concerned about also going down for all the wrongful deaths of people in the building, he's probably right to stay in hiding.

Given all this, we have a compelling mystery, but I am definitely going about it in the most boneheaded possible way by taking this mysterious letter from a felon grandfather no one has seen in decades completely at face value and driving up to his abandoned, derelict theater to meet him with absolutely no backup. Time for adventure, kids!

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Never mind, I immediately regret the brief impulse toward adventure.

So, the game begins when I drive up to the front of the theater, which you can see is very much not open for business with locked and chained gates and an ancient but artistically horrifying sign that says STAY AWAY in blood or something. This seems very extra for the city works department, but no one consulted me.

As you can see, there is also a ghostly ballerina weeping and touching the gates, apparently unable to get inside. Obviously, we're going with an overtly supernatural theme here (and in addition to ghosts, we'll later get psychic visions and not-actually-mundane stage magic), which tends to be a spookier but also often more interesting approach.

Hang onto this lady here, with her short dark hair and spidery blood weeping. We'll be seeing a lot of her. Also notice that she is wearing a lot of feathers in her ballet costume; there is a heavy theme of birds throughout this game, starting with the name of the theater itself and continuing on ad infinitum, and while I was unsure at various points in the game, I'm almost certain at this point that there's at least a little homage in here to the 1974 de Palma/Finley film and its similar love affair with the creepy and avian.

 

The more obvious source of bird imagery throughout is from the world of ballet itself: Tchaikovsky's beloved Swan Lake, although not used outright and frequently cunningly disguised as a totally original ballet that is about two identical magical girl-swans and their romantic tragedies, is an obvious running theme. It's also worth noting that Black Swan, a critically acclaimed and very popular film about dueling ballerinas losing their grip on sanity as they compete over roles in Swan Lake, came out only a couple of years before this game; while most of that movie's bird imagery is due to riffing on Swan Lake to begin with, this game seems to be drawing from both with pretty wild abandon.

Anyway, I get out and leave my car parked by the front gate because I'm BUSY, and it's time to get going. There is a brief tutorial, presided over by (what else?) a charming little animated nightingale, that walks the player through their basic tools and how gameplay works. Most of it is pretty standard for the genre: we've got a hint button that refreshes slowly when used to prevent you from spamming for hints, we've got a map of the place so you can figure out how to get back to an area after you leave it, we've got a journal/guide in which the game will helpfully keep track of the plot and what you're supposed to be doing next for you, and we've got subtle sparkles over areas where there is Something to Interact With.

There is also a Visions button, which is not explained. We'll find out about it later as part of the plot, although I'm not sure we can claim that "explanations" are a particularly well-supported part of that process.

After pausing to note that the game's background music is nice - ominous and atmospheric, but not intrusive or nerve-jangling, which is the sweet spot for me - we move on to attempting to reach out to this ghost and offer her some help.

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Friends, she did not want help. The minute I tried to interact with her, she did a classic Ghost Turns Angry and Therefore Scarier face at me, complete with implied shrieking and blood dripping, and then tried to rush me only to vanish before making contact. Well, I mean, she's committed to her role, at least.

You might be thinking, "Gee, this theater looks awfully large and solid and not burnt down," and you would mostly be right, but the art team does a credible job of making the inside look like a mess (not necessarily a BURNT mess, but we'll take what we can get) once we get in there. Also, my car is not providing me with an exact make and model so I can guess the year, but it DOES have what appears to be an American license plate, which checks out given that everyone has pretty American accents in this story.

There are a lot of tiny animals throughout this game, which is a delight; as you can see above, this first scene has two little nightingales in the tree as well as a cat lounging on the wall around the theater's courtyard, and inside will have a plethora of birds, insects, spiders, lizards, and other little critters that you might expect to make their homes in a conveniently abandoned building humans have left alone for a few decades. The animals have nothing to do with the plot, but they're a little light color, and someone on the team had fun making them have small flavor interactions with the player; for example, if you bother the cat, it'll grumble at you and run away, only to return after a few minutes to give you a death stare in case you try anything again.

I mention while I noodle around in this area, getting useful things like letters but not phones or pepper spray out of my car, that I "sense a presence" and that I suspect it's my Grandpa, which raises all sorts of questions. How is my Grandpa's presence sensable? Do I think he's dead, in which case I'm sensing his ghost? Am I psychic and USED to sensing ghosts, which might explain why I didn't like the ballerina jumping me but also kind of shrugged it off a second later? Some of this will be sort of explained later, but in the way that media "sort of" explain supernatural stuff because they don't care if you want to know how the metaphysics work, they just want to have a scene where someone does a Cool Magic Maneuver with digital lightning.

Okay, so after futzing around with the time period some MORE, I was briefly confused by the revelation that this letter from my Grandpa is clearly dated 1971, which is at odds with the voiceover claiming it's been about forty years since the fire. But a minute later it is revealed that the year is actually 2001, making it forty-one years since the fire (and just over a decade before the game was released, meaning they set it in the recent past on purpose, most likely exactly to stop people like me from asking why problems are not solved with cell phones). Why dear old Gramps decided to date this letter eleven years AFTER the fire but thirty years before SENDING it is not addressed; having played through to the end, I honestly can't tell if this is supposed to be an attempt at a Foreshadowing Clue or just a mistake, since even with all the information the game is still not really making it clear where he is or what the hell he's been doing this entire time.

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Okay, like, I'm not making any accusations here, but Grandpa Wilson's luxurious locks billowing dramatically in the breeze even in my journal doesn't make me not think about Patrick Wilson and his wig, is all I'm saying.

Anyway, this is the journal layout for the game, and it's actually among my favorite ones, a feat when it's basically a standard and every game is trying to come up with a recognizable yet excellent version of it. The map is not only very clear but also very attractive, with effort being put into it looking like a drawing the player character could have made (apparently I have a bright future as a cartographer if I survive traipsing around this falling-down building), and the addition of a YOU ARE HERE star is the sort of basic feature that once you see it you wonder why it hasn't been a staple of every game in the genre since coding allowed it to come into being. I actually do want to treat exploring the gameworld like exploring a very large and comfusingly laid-out mall, game designers. I'm not lying. I want that. Thank you.

To the right, you have tabs at the top; "Objective Hint" shows you whatever has happened recently that you need to follow up on, giving you a sort of semi-hint so you don't have to waste your precious real ones on not remembering what you were doing when you were playing this at 4am in your underwear six days ago (not that this experience is drawn from real life or anything, cough). The "Characters" tab is the real gold mine, though. Every time the player meets a significant character, they get a profile added, and every time something in the game happens that reveals information about them, a little screenshot is added that you can click on to get a reminder. It not only helps keep all the characters relevant and your information about them straight, but even allows the designers to slip in little extra clues from the player character's inner thoughts as they write all this down.

I hope y'all didn't think I was joking about that golden ticket, by the way. There it is. I haven't found Grandpa Wonka yet, but when I do we will be discussing his elevator situation because that's my current working theory about where he's been all this time.

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This is another really nice additional feature: if you click on the button reading "Guide" on your toolbar, you get a full walkthrough menu, which provides general tips on how to play the game most easily as well as an actual guided tour to help you if you get stuck anywhere. Of course, we're all used to disgruntledly googling WHERE IS THIS FUCKING HAT when we get stuck these days, but I can think of many times in days of yore that I would have killed to have this sort of feature just easily accessible from within the game itself. (It's actually still nice if you have a machine that doesn't like you tabbing out in the middle of this game, which I am sad to say mine did not and frequently lodged complaints about it when I did it anyway to take notes.)

There are also, if you haven't played the game through yet, a lot of little clues on this page, although they don't quite approach spoilers since none of them actually give you much of a clue into what's going on. Suffice it to say we're going to see a lot of these people throughout the game, and the eagle-eyed among us may already recognize that the white-clad ballerina in the ripped poster matches the one we saw on the loading screen, while the black-clad one is reminiscent of the ghost at the gates.

I have to pause here for anyone as confused as I was: no, "The Great HOG-dini" is not in fact a pig Muppet who is also a stage magician. I spent far too much of this game trying to figure out what the fuck that was about when all the posters of him clearly look like just a normal dude, and that's because I haven't played the ancient texts of yore recently and I'm too far from my adventure game roots. I forgot that tongue-in-cheek humor and ridiculous puns are one of the genre's most beloved staples, even in otherwise serious games.

So if you're as mystified as I was... it's just a pun. HOG is a common acronym for this kind of game - Hidden Object Game - and his name is literally just a joke about the type of game you're playing. There you go! Now you don't have to actually shriek in rage six hours into gameplay when you finally figure out it and want to peel all your own teeth (still definitely a completely theoretical thing that I am only imagining happening to someone)! You're welcome!

Anyway, I'm not the sort of girl who can resist the lure of anything called an "Acrobatic Destruction Show", so I get right on breaking the padlock off the gate, although it's still chained shut so I'm not in yet. So off we go to investigate the box office, which is apparently outside...

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Ooh, look at me and my fancy leather driving gloves! As in many games like this, the gender of the player character is never given in order to make it identifiable for everyone, but a lot of implications suggest that the designers were thinking of a default female character. This isn't uncommon, since the genre is hugely more popular with female players than with anyone else.

All right, fine, we'll stop focusing on fashion and identity and start focusing on the fearsome curse, or whatever. Anyway, there is a curse! It's important! The locals fear it! Keep this in mind for later. I'm primarily amused by this headline's weird insinuation that the theater was shut down not because it was ravaged by a massive and hugely costly fire that killed a bunch of people, but because of the nebulous threat of A Curse.

Another posted picture shows an older woman with short grey hair holding a bunch of flowers, alongside an article explaining that she is the mayor (of... where? shh, we're doing ghost stories!) and has recently ordered that the derelict building be demolished, which frankly feels like something that someone should have done before it sat there being a death trap for the past forty years, but at least she's on it now. I spent some time trying to identify what language the filler text on these articles is in, because it's not English, nor is it good old Lorem Ipsum; it looks Scandinavian to me, but I'm not great at the difference between Swedish and Norwegian and Danish, etc. Some research shows me that Blue Tea Games was founded and incorporated in California, but the Wayback Machine shows that it had the Canadian maple leaf as its logo for a not inconsiderable period of time, and it established a second Hong Kong studio about two years before this was made. I'd be willing to bet that the HK studio was in charge of large portions of this; not only is it just a different style from the American games Blue Tea had been putting out before this point (if you're looking for an example, Cactus Bruce and the Corporate Monkeys was their flagship game in the mid 2000s), but we'll get some very neat bits of Chinese culture in the game itself that appear to come sort of out of left field but make a lot of sense if you have a primarily Chinese team working on the project.

Anyway, the mayor here with the grey bob is Mayor Linden, and she's important enough to pop up in my character journal! She is, if you are wondering, portrayed wearing a blazer, pearls, parachute pants, red spike heels, glasses on a gold chain, and a peacock feather in her lapel, and is holding a pipe as long as her forearm. I might possibly want to marry her.

This is a game that wants to be crystal-clear about what you are supposed to be doing and when you are supposed to be doing it. "Gee," I think as I stand in front of the box office holding a brick which is the sum total of my inventory, "I can see something shining in the back behind this fragile windowpane." Thanks, dialogue writers. I needed the reassurance that there wasn't also a brick-proof forcefield around this sucker. (Actually, that wouldn't be too surprising, given that my ability to believe no one has broken this "fragile windowpane" in the past forty years of the place being abandoned and considered haunted is pretty close to zero. There are literally visible coins on the counter. Someone would have broken this baby by now, most likely kids looking for a thrill or someone down on their luck who could really use a little pocket change for sandwich.)

Inside the box office, by the way, there is an old and slightly askew plaque that reads DIRECTOR: J. MORRIS WILSON, so Grandpa has been namedropped! I still don't know what his first name is and am saddened to learn that it clearly is not Patrick. I have no respect for you, Grandpa, so brick directly to the glass. I wrote "I hope you don't mind me vandalizing the shit out of your baby, Grandpa," in my notes, and was immediately punished when a GHOST MANIFESTED TO GLARE AT ME BEFORE DISAPPEARING. SO APPARENTLY HE ACTUALLY MINDED A LOT. (No, it wasn't Grandpa, unless he died in disguise as the ticket-seller, complete with old-timey hat. But it still scared the shit out of me.)

Obviously, ghosts are trying to warn me to get my living ass out of here and leave them alone, but I have a Family Legacy to find out about or something, so instead I raid the booth for a pair of bolt-cutters leaning against the wall. I would like to submit that there is a ring of keys hanging from a hook in there, too, but I am not allowed to take them, so all I can say is everywhere inside had better be fucking unlocked. (It isn't. Tip for game designers: putting neat details in art is great, but you have to be aware of when it will create player confusion and then, you know, not do that.)

So I cut the chains, causing the gates to drift ominously open... and even more ominously, a ghost appears a moment later and waves for me to follow before disappearing inside. We're going to see a lot of ghosts, but this one (confirmed by my character's voice line, which I'm not mad about because it's nice to have both visual and audio streams of information for your players) is notable because it's clearly Grandpa, and he clearly recognizes me.

So... I guess he did die in the fire, or around that time, and everyone has failed at finding him for prosecution because he isn't anywhere to be found. Sorry, fruitless forty-year-old manhunt. Alternatively, I suppose he could have been living in the abandoned theater this whole time, making him the Phantom character, and possibly called me down because he knew he was about to die. Either way, the fact that my character is just like "huh, weird," and then follows him in is sort of jarring. I mean... I know he's been gone for forty years, but theoretically I met and bonded with him and have many happy memories. I feel like I'd care when slapped with the sudden realization that he's dead.

My theorizing about Gramps being the Phantom is especially funny about five seconds later.

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HOLY FUCK THERE HE IS

So this first glimpse we get of the Phantom watching us from within the theater is actually rife with clues.

1) He's clearly alive, since he needs light to see, or at least the kind of ghost that likes to have light when haunting.

2) He COULD be my grandfather, but it's hard to tell due to the mask.

3) The mask is very clearly intended to evoke a bird, again suggesting a connection to the 1976 de Palma/Finley film.

4) If that's my grandfather, I need to ask him how he gets absolutely RIPPED shoulders.

5) He appears unwilling to leave the building, which might mean either that he doesn't like it or that he can't.

6) There is no possible way to confuse this person with the tragic ballerina ghosts, so he's a new factor.

7) I say "he" a lot due to the usual way Phantom stories go, but we genuinely can't tell anything about this person.

8) He's certainly got something supernatural going on because when the lantern goes out a second later, his eyes briefly glow red.

A moment after this extremely startling appearance, he disappears into the darkness again as if he'd never been there. This is a neat and effective storytelling device - I still haven't even gotten INTO the building yet, but I now know there's somebody in there and that that somebody is not, shall we say, very chill or everyday.

But I CAN go inside now, so let's go find this colossus and demand he explain himself.

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There definitely must have been some sort of zeitgeist in the early 2010s to explain why everyone of these games has a creepy fountain set. I mean, this is no demon fountain throne in the center of town the way you get in the 2010 Nightfall Mysteries game, but it's no slouch.

This strikes me as a lot of trees to have INSIDE your theater grounds, but I guess ash does make soil fertile, so theoretically we could be looking at 40 years of growth from the original decoratively small trees or something? Unfortunately no theories are available to explain why someone buried a knife hilt-down in the middle of the foyer, like some sort of exceptionally lethal Home Alone trap.

We get our first hidden object search screen here - or, more accurately, this is a screen where you search for multiple pieces that combine into a single object, which is usually called a fragmented object game (or FOG instead of HOG, if you will). Most searches in this game are FOGs, which is something in the past I've mostly seen as an occasional palate-cleanser for more traditional searches but seldom as the main event itself. It works well here; since our backstory is heavily centered around a massive structural collapse and disaster in this area, it makes sense that a lot of important items are either broken and have to be fixed, or buried under debris and have to be dug out.

Items are very nicely integrated into their background screens throughout the game, making it not only more challenging to find them but generally more pleasant to interact with what looks like a reasonable piece of art with hidden pockets. This game leans more toward realism in its search screens, with mostly items that could reasonably be found in the area you are searching and a general willingness to let them obey the rules of gravity and decay. It's also nice to note that, unlike many games in the genre, you can back out of search screens without completing them and come back later, and the game saves your search progress so that you don't have to start over from scratch when you do.

We've got a lot more nightingales here and in the search, as well as a variety of broken stone angels, all of which fit into our themes pretty well. The music also becomes more sad and introspective once I enter the theater grounds; where outside it was more generically spooky, in here it suggests regret and the sadness of the past disaster alongside its moments of unsettling creepy stings, which I really enjoyed.

I'm just a girl, living in the world, touching animated cats who are annoyed about it.

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And now we've made it to the building. As you can see, this may or may not be a good thing to celebrate.

It's worth noting throughout the game that there are a lot of small but nevertheless active shadows that are animated, leading to a continually shifting and atmospheric environment that feels creepy and unnerving even when nothing is happening. Given the general state of game animation at the time, I'd bet this was a big deal in 2012, and it holds up.

It's enjoyably creepy and disturbing that the banners of the two ballerinas have been actively torn away, and even more so when you reflect that this doesn't look like fire damage; there is no evidence of burning, no singed edges, and no fire damage to the rest of the front of the building, either. That means someone had to rip the faces off these girls on purpose, which does not portend anything great for them or for me, our intrepid hero. Also notable is the fact that behind them are two more banners, presumably for the other performers; the one on the left shows a man in a tuxedo whose face has also been ripped out and who looks suspiciously like Grandpa from my journal, and whomever was on the other side has been completely eradicated.

We can also see that Swan Lake theme really revving up with the black- and white-clad ballerinas being displayed here as contrasts. While in Swan Lake both the white swan Odette and the black swan Odile are typically performed by the same dancer in a costume change, here we've seen the ghosts of both ballerinas already - one on the loading screen, and one at the front gates - and we KNOW they don't appear to be the same person, so that's an interesting tidbit as we try to untangle it all. (Yes, fine, it's not actually Swan Lake, it's Swans Near a Lake by Pyotr Ilyich Smithkovski and is very different and original, whatever, but my point stands.)

This seems like as good a place as any to pause and talk about the phenomenon of twin Phantoms and whether it applies here. We've already got a LOT of balls on the court when it comes to who the Phantom character is - my grandfather, the terrifying bird-masked guy at the window, these two ballerinas, and honestly they will not be the last options. A lot of Phantom adaptations that want to preserve the mystery go with not revealing the Phantom's identity for as long as possible (the 1987 film Opera is this taken to its logical conclusion of "five minutes from the end and not a second before"), and while there are a lot of tricks employed to try to do this, one of them is the twin Phantom; that is, a twin sibling to a main character who has already been alibi'd, so that to the audience it appears that the Phantom cannot be him, or else a twin sibling to a main character who is clearly Dangerous and Scary but in a way that is questionable when it comes to causing the exact evil afoot. Examples of this pop up in every format, but I'm specifically here thinking of Phantom of the Paradise again, in which the Phantom is actually two characters, the manipulative demonically-fuelled Swan and the tortured musical genius attacking people in the shower Winslow, although obviously only one of them ever gets the public blame for the mayhem around them.

Obviously, I'm thinking of that because BIRDS, but also because one of the characters in that film's dual Phantom is literally named Swan, and we have here two ballerinas who are playing swans who have had their faces ripped off the advertising materials, so you can see where I'd be intrigued. They are, of course, also both literal phantoms, as we've seen that they are clearly not alive anymore and can pass through walls and shriek banshee wails at innocent people just getting out of their cars.

This really leads us to our larger meta-question: what counts as the Phantom of a story? What kind of story role makes it clear that this is an adaptation of the Phantom story and not a different one? Is it the face, the music, the teaching of a young talent, the arts harassment, the kidnapping, the visual cues like roses and capes and candles? I'd argue that it's really a combination of all of these, because adapters will go any and every direction and while some will find one part of the character more interesting to pursue, others will go completely the other direction. Consider Frederick, the Phantom character from Fowles'  1963 novel, who is heavily centered around the question of what captivity with the goal of romance would look like and how lacking social skills can create an empathy gulf between different people, versus Erik from Forsyth's 1999 trainwreck, who is a love letter to genius and skill and unrepentatly toxic adjustment to the rejections of others, versus Erique from the 1943 Lubin/Rains film who is an exploration of a different motive for a Phantom to harass Christine, in his case fatherly love and a desire to advance her career and protect her from danger. They're all clearly versions of the Phantom, but not for the same reason.

So sometimes you get a piece of media like this one, which has just scads of Phantoms running around, because they had a lot of neat ideas centered around that original story and, rather than cut some in favor of the others, they just assigned them round-robin to the whole cast and called it a day. This can be confusing for analysis, but it's also a really neat phenomenon: in essence, this creator is taking a stance that what makes a story Phantom-related is a lot of related elements but not necessarily the character himself. By giving everyone a little bit of the Phantom's identity or associated iconography, the game achieves an overall powerful Phantom Vibe without being too on the nose.

Anyway, it's too early to do more than speculate about the ghostly ballerinas or the creepy lantern-carrier or who's out here ripping Gramps' face off of his advertising copy, so on with the show. I actually do not in any way, shape, or form want to open whatever's been stuffed into a box and tied around with a gunnysack and rope and then left on the ground for forty years. I feel like whatever's in there is a done deal and probably doesn't need my input anymore.

In addition to my praise for the shadow animation work above, I'd also like to note that some work has gone into establishing that the player character is creeped out, too, which is helpful to prevent the player from feeling like their avatar has the reaction reflexes of a rock. Looking at the banner yielded the thought, "The banner flaps lightly in the wind... at least I think it's the wind," and SAMES, ME FROM THE OTHER SIDE OF THE SCREEN.

Other things this game doesn't do: warn you when it's about to punish you for existing slightly to the right:

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WHAT THE FUCK

Now, obviously, I am a little salty about this because I genuinely somehow didn't NOTICE this horrifying lurker when I first arrived, so it was an even nastier shock after perusing the bench items and the billboard to realize I was being straight up stared at by whatever this is. I did in fact scream. Even more hilarious for whichever one of my traitorous personal electronics was recording me at that moment, the game expects you to INTERACT WITH THIS THING before you can move on effectively, which requires like a five minute break and a pep talk. (Yes, of course trying to interact with it made it just fucking bolt, but you don't KNOW that when you have to click on it. YOU DON'T KNOW, OKAY.) My character is not nearly as off-the-wall nervous as she should be about this and is just kind of like "huh, wild," before going back to making guesses about the show posters.

Here, my friends, is where things Get Really Weird, and oddly enough this creepster staring at us from a ripped-apart rebar-filled wall is not the weird part. The weird part is when I turn around and my grandfather is just STANDING THERE but also he is clearly a ghost but, friends, he is here to explain that he is clearly NOT a ghost and actually this is a third layer of weirdness (fourth? fifth? there are a lot is what I'm saying).

You see, Gramps explains here that I am psychic, which I inherited from him, and I'm specifically a flavor of psychic where I can see brief glimpses of important past events with the right stimulus. This makes sense for this game's aims - it's a lot more dynamic if they can just drop the player character directly INTO the action instead of having them read about the long-ago mystery in a diary or whatever - but it comes completely out of left field and resolutely refuses to explain its metaphysics in any way, so whether or not this bothers a given player is probably a matter of taste. Personally, I find the idea of Gramps leaving behind a Star Wars-esque hologram of himself just in CASE I was psychic because I was also a kid and he didn't know yet just so that he could give me this speech hilariously bonkers, especially when the game explicitly confirms that he stopped and gave this lecture to nobody on the SAME NIGHT his theater burned down while SURROUNDED BY PEOPLE who presumably avoided him in case he was hallucinating. And I had to come to this specific place in the wrecked theater itself to see this hologram and have it trigger my psychic abilities, and if I hadn't, I'd have lived my life never hearing about them, I guess?

 

Gramps, I just gotta say, the evidence is adding to you being the arsonist but is also making you look like the least good-at-planning arsonist of all time. (Maybe that's a hazard of having Time Vision or whatever.)

A moment of real talk, just in case any of my real family members are secretly psychic: if someone I knew was aware that I could look into the past to interact with them and all they left me to explain the horrifying life-destroying mystery was this cryptic-ass message about looking for clues, I'd throw them off a bridge. It's PAST VISION. I can literally HEAR YOU TALKING. You could EXPLAIN EVERYTHING I NEED TO KNOW, and yet you won't. The only logical conclusions I can draw are that Gramps doesn't really WANT me to solve the mystery but DOES want me in the building, which doesn't bode well for me at all, or that Gramps is absolutely the fucking worst at this and I can stop listening to him most of the time.

(Of course, this is not true. Gramps is supposed to be a reliable source of information for the player, as are the visions. He's still the worst and I will die on that hill, probably because he didn't warn me it had spikes in it or something.)

If this is confusing, don't worry; it's confusing for the player, too. Basically, Gramps was psychic, he could do touch-sensitive psychic readings of items or places and see what the most significant events to happen around them, and now I also have this power so I can start finding Significant Stuff and, I don't know, licking it until inspiration strikes. The game makes it more confusing than it needs to be by wanting to have its cake and eat it, too: it wants Grandpa to be an eccentric genius smartyman who invented this "technique" all by himself, but it also needs me to have it since I'm doing the investigating and I haven't seen him since 1960, so it also has to have me sort of genetically inherit it just because. Apparently Grandpa not only changed his own DNA but ripple-changed his childrens' and grandchildrens' DNA at the same time, even though they were already living and presumably not involved in a seance with him at that time. I wonder if my mom gets psychic visions about like, who's upset at the office and where her best blanket at home really got to.

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Here's the first vision I get, though, and you can see why the designers shoehorned this concept in so hard, because you can do some very cool things with it. This is the exact same scene I was just in, but seen as it was in 1960; the wall isn't broken, the place is lit and cheerful and full of performance-goers, and there's Gramps, hanging out in full color. (He's still weirdly staring at me, a person who is not there, but the people around him appear to be being nice about this, so thanks for the team effort, y'all.) It's also very neat that this is a fully interactive scene, not just a still painting; you can talk to the people, look at the posters, and learn details about the time period, which are excellent ways to make sure this really does feel like the player looking directly into the past instead of just being shown a different page in a book.

This is actually a true hidden-object game, as opposed to the combination games throughout most of the rest of it; it's neat to see that there's a delineation between the FOG searches, which make up the bulk of the game in the current timeline, and the classic HOG searches, which appear only in psychic flashbacks. It's possible that it's a comment on HOGs being old-fashioned compared to FOGs, but I think it's more intended to illustrate that interaction with the past is fairly limited; you can see what's already there, but you can't exactly rearrange it into something new because it's already fixed. A further mechanical extension of this is the fact that we'll find out when we finish this search that I actually get to keep one of the items I found, meaning that I can reach into the past to grab a tool to help me in the present now and then, but probably don't have the acumen to reach into the past and do a Rubik's Cube real quick.

Anyhow, perusing the posters and talking to people who have come to see the show gives us our first mention of Rose, who if you happen to recall from the loading screen was the first character we've seen but has been offscreen in the story proper until now. As you can see from the posters above, she's a blonde peaches-and-cream dream of a perfect ballerina, which puts her in line with Leroux's angelically blonde and innocent opera singer. I'd point out that roses are often used as shorthand to represent the Phantom story from the 1980s onward thanks to their use in the 1983 Maximilian/Schell film and the 1986 Lloyd Webber musical, and therefore Rose's name is linked to her role in the story, but...

...but a poster informs me here that her last name is Tyler. Rose Tyler.

As I recover from my breathless peals of laughter at this revelation, let's look at what this means. So is this actually a Doctor Who game in disguise, possibly because they couldn't get the rights to the franchise? It does mess around with time, and the "take an item from the past to use in the present" mechanic makes more sense if it was originally intended to be you actually physically traveling to the past instead of just looking at it. Does this make my grandfather the Doctor? Is the Phantom the Master? Am I Susan Foreman? WHAT'S GOING ON.

At the end of the day, there's very little other overt referencing to Doctor Who in this, so I've mostly landed on the side of assuming Rose's name is either an accident or a cute nod to the fact that this game involves de facto time travel. But I'm watching you, plot.

After talking to the folks waiting for the performance and learning that the recent ballet Swan Sisters, presumably the one we've seen advertised elsewhere, wasn't warmly received and that Rose's solo show seems to be an attempt to put out something more popularly compelling (which IS INDEED FORESHADOWING SO GOOD OF YOU TO NOTICE), I finish the search and pop out of the vision, now with an entire-ass shovel in my hand. Frankly, I'm kind of mad I didn't get the other things I found in the vision, too. Do you know how useful a wrench, a can, and a gun would be? But Gramps is only into borderline useless magic, so the shovel is it.

Naturally, I know of somewhere with a suspicious pile of dirt I've already complained about, so obviously I went back there to dig it up and was IMMEDIATELY PUNISHED.

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Um. I mean, I've got my answer about who would bury a knife blade-up - no one, because that's unbelievably dangerous - but I do not like the answer and would like to submit that it be removed again. Also, there was a no-warning horror sting when this little screen popped up, for extra Pick on Anne Times.

This frustrates me so much, in retrospect. You might think that this poor kid is part of the mystery. He saw something horrible! Someone buried him in the courtyard, possibly supernaturally given the knife situation! He's clutching a single ballet shoe! He's wearing a kilt which seems like a lot of detail for a character to not matter!

But, my friends, unfortunately he does not matter and I can't make him. We will never see or hear about this kid again. We will never find out what killed him or buried him and honestly even the guesses we could make at the end seem strained. We will never learn why he was here or who he was. We will never learn about his tortured last moments.

But we WILL steal this knife out of his hand to be used later. I mean, sorry, man, but one of us is still alive and would like to stay that way. I can't help that whoever storyboarded this forgot about you after Act I.

In case this wasn't all horrifying enough yet, when I turn away from the corpse, there is the audible sound of someone quickly running away nearby. And then when I try to LEAVE...

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What the HELL is that? Why is there a... a man-wolf here? (This is as close as we can see him here and he's never not moving, so that's all the information you're getting to place your bets on.) Why is he yelling at me but then immediately running away, which is remarkably shy for most man-wolves? Why did he smash the gates in, preventing me from leaving, when he seems very into me getting the fuck out of here?

These questions are not answered now, except to say that yes, this is the same lantern-holding scarysona we saw through the window upstairs and peering over the broken wall; he's just further away so it's hard to see his birdy mask and so on. It's not hard to see he's definitely built like a fucking brick factory, though. This is a place where the game didn't quite set the player up to succeed with regards to clues about what's going on; if I hadn't happened to notice that lurky face up in the window and clicked on it (which players are not required to do to advance), I'd have absolutely no frame of reference for this (and the lurking shadow at the bulletin boards) other than WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT.

Now that I'm locked the fuck in here, wondering if perhaps it wasn't the best idea I've ever had to go to the scene of my grandfather's famous crimes alone forty years later with no backup because I got a letter asking me to, at least I get to search some pretty scenes.

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I'd like to note that this owl is the only animal in the game that just hoots at you and glares if you bother it instead of hiding or running away, and since that comes with its glowing red eyes, I'm going to say it's not a great sign.

But much more interesting is the poster near the gate, which we saw a smaller version of on our Guide page but can now peruse in all its glory:

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This is pretty clearly the poster for our Swan Lake totally-not-a-clone Swan Sisters (you can even read a bit of surviving text around the black-clad ballerina's legs), and equally clearly someone is Not Happy About It, if Rose's face being ripped out is any clue. Interestingly, while the other ballerina's face was destroyed on the hanging banners as well, it isn't here, giving us the ability to look a little more closely and get pretty convinced about the fact that she's the short-haired ballerina ghost we saw at the front gates. (Side note: the Art Deco look of the Nightingale, obviously showcased on the frame of this poster, is consistent throughout; it really does feel like a place that was built to evoke the 1920s theater world, even if it did operate up through the 1950s.)

So the game has done enough now to be reasonably sure that everyone understands that Something Very Bad Happened about this whole dead-ballerinas-who-are-swans thing, so it's time to move on to actually finding out what that bad thing was. Although not before finding a headdress for the Peking Opera (!), which raises some interesting questions for those of us who know about the long and gloriously dramatic tradition of the Phantom in Chinese media such as the 1937 Weibang/Shan film and its many progeny. I'll go ahead and spoil the fun early before we all get too invested: there doesn't seem to be any influence from the Chinese film tradition here. Instead, a Peking Opera is one of the theater's standing acts. This is why I said earlier that it makes sense that there a notable chunk of the folks working on this game might have been doing so from in Hong Kong; Chinese cultural pursuits are given equal weight alongside Western ones and are lovingly rendered, which is really nice to see.

Anyway, I'm off to find a back door that hopefully goes somewhere other than over the cliff we saw in the opening cinematic, during the course of which I also fix the electricity with a crowbar and a roll of electrical tape because I'm extremely scrappy that way.

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I actually love that I've gone and put everything I know about this scary dude in my journal under the heading ???. It's exactly what I'd do in real life.

Now that we can see him more clearly and he isn't running around menacing me, we can definitely see that he's wearing a full-faced mask, and it definitely has a bird beak on it. (I actually debated this throughout the game, because I was worried I was seeing Winslows everywhere due to bias, but I can now confidently say it's very much On Purpose.) Where to begin with the rest of this guy?

1) He is #confirmed to be very physically large and powerful.

2) He's wearing a poet's blouse with a shiny purple ruffle and collar, indicating Flamboyant Style.

3) His shirt is stained with fresh blood, suggesting that he's either been injured or injured someone else recently.

4) He has what looks like a keyring hanging from his belt, but those are definitely NOT keys. (We're never given an explicit explanation, but given the rest of the game I'm pretty sure they're bird beaks/claws.)

5) He has wild hair and torn/damaged clothing, indicating that either something stressful happened to him recently or he doesn't have the ability or inclination to take care of his appearance.

6) His exposed right forearm is clearly injured in some way, although it's hard to make out detail.

7) His right leg is clearly wearing a makeshift brace.

I want to hang out here with 6 and 7 for a minute, because there's an unfortunate undercurrent of ableism to a lot of Phantom literature, and in this game, unfortunately, it's a frigging river. Obviously, having a famous main character whose disability causes him to be severely abused and who retaliates with violence and murder means that you sort of have to engage with issues of disability, and it also makes it easy to use the disability itself as shorthand for the Phantom's General Badness. This is a problem because the Phantom is not bad because he's disabled; he's bad because he terrorized and killed people, which you can argue is due to having been abused for being disabled but which still in the end is also a matter of choice on his part. The disability is part of the chain reaction of him getting to that point, but nobody put a gun to his head and made him kidnap anybody. The disability isn't at fault, because it's just a neutral fact, but rather the reaction of all the people around it is what causes the drama.

Leroux addresses these themes, both through the lens of other characters' reaction to the Phantom's disability (anywhere from pity to horror to fear to revulsion to sympathy) and through the Phantom's own reaction to it (both angry at his treatment but also struggling with being told his whole life that it is justified). When Leroux has the Phantom question whether he's evil because of his face or has this face because he's evil, he's displaying a lot of the questions that disabled folks struggle with, especially in a time period when medical science and disability rights haven't advanced particularly far yet, and when he has Christine point out that it's the Phantom's actions that are repugnant, not his face, he's explicitly addressing the fact that he does evil by his own choice, even though others' treatment of him was wrong. It's nuanced, because Leroux is good at writing.

Unfortunately, the treatment of the Phantom in this game is not very nuanced, and it's not going to get a lot better, so strap in now. It might interest you to know that no one ever mentions or even seems to notice the Phantom's mobility issues in this game; we can see he's wearing a brace, implying that he has difficulty or pain when walking, but nobody cares much and he often does impressive physical feats that seems to suggest that the development team has forgotten he has a disability at all in their quest to make him scarier. (Not that someone with a leg brace COULDN'T ever do physical feats, but the complete lack of addressing it when he's doing things like eight-foot vertical leaps onscreen is noticeable.)

Basically, the Phantom in this game gets a lot of flack for being disabled, mostly in a shorthand sense where no one SAYS that but also him being visibly disabled and therefore frightening is used to make pretty unquestioned judgments about him throughout. There is a twist about this very late in the plot, but unfortunately it's too little too late to not be unpleasant to have to live through; the game indulges actively in too much ableism to be able to save it with a moral tacked on at the end.

But, anyway, people being shitty to the Phantom for his disabilities is not new. What IS new is this ballerina ghost that appeared briefly at the front door and whispered to me indistinctly before disappearing again. Visually speaking, it's pretty clearly Rose, but I don't know much about her and the only thing my character wrote down in my journal is that I think she wants me to follow her. Rose, I'm down for that, but you're going to need to give me a minute or two to make peace with the fact that this is happening right over top of that gunnysack bundle situation and I might need to sit down if I have to discover that someone killed you and stuffed your body in a bag forty years ago or whatever.

Thankfully, she was not in the bag; the key to getting in the front door was! The moment I unlock the doors, the lights come on inside and for a second I can see (and hear!) a ballerina, silhouetted against the lit windows, laughing as she flits past, which is very creepy but also sort of enchanting and a nice balance in tone for everything going on here. My voiceover sounds like I'm kind of into the ballerina and I'm not against it but please focus, someone is trying to kill us, me. The mortal peril, remember?

Our first minigame occurs here - surprising in retrospect that it's taken this long, since most games like this are dying to debut their clever puzzles as soon as possible and prevent the player from thinking this is just one hidden object screen after another. The minigames in this deserve some real praise: they tend to have their own unique art, which is just as beautiful as the rest of the game, and they operate more on a logic puzzles axis than a do-some-quick-mental-math axis, meaning that players have more of a chance if a given puzzle isn't exactly in their usual wheelhouse. They're also always tied to the game's overall plot; here, I have to rearrange tiles until I create a coherent image, which will open the door, and the image is that of a nightingale surrounded by music notes.

Of course, I still can't get in. Doors that should be open but are frustratingly NOT open are a theme in this game. One of the developers' favorite moves is to have a door that is unlocked and COULD open, but tragically someone has removed its handles so you'll have to go find them before you can manipulate the completely unlocked door mechanism. Yes, of course I know that unlocked doors with no handles are ridiculously easy to jimmy open unless they have actual bars or chains on them, but the game does not care about that. Handles. Go get some.

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Getting some does lead me to get to enjoy the next hidden object screen, though, which features a mask next to a mirror, a poster for French champagne, and various assorted pieces of junk that don't go with the theme. If you'd like to be extra horrified, you can realize that the mirror's reflection, while in this screenshot showing the posters in the next scene presumably "behind" me, does not always show that.

I already praised the music, but the ambient soundtrack in this game is great, too. The wind howling; the creaking and shuffling of an ancient decaying building; distant whispers and footsteps. It all makes for an excellently unsettling soundscape even if nothing particularly creepy is happening right now.

Upon FINALLY getting my ass inside the theater I've been supposed to be visiting this entire time, the ghost of one of the ballerinas in the foyer leaps away from me and vanishes, causing one of the heads of the statues lining the hall to fall off. This appears to again be the short-haired ballerina ghost from outside the front steps - and now that we saw her at the front door, notably not Rose.

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Where to start with this foyer? (Aside from my thirsty internal monologue. Chill, me.)

There is a LOT going on here. We are not able to read the plaques beneath any of the dancer statues, but we can assume these are performers; the plaques visibly have the dates they were in residence at the theater with them, and the statue on the left's plaque has been broken, removing the end date. (Subtlety, thy name is visual design.) This design also clearly prioritizes the ballerinas; we'll find out later that there are multiple other popular acts at this theater, but only the ballerinas are showcased here (and in fact we don't even know who two of them ARE). Given that we later find out that Gramps was something of a ballerina chaser, we have some Unfortunate Implications, but we'll get to those when we get to them.

We've also got a door boarded up, which is weird, and above it the symbol of the eye the game uses for the psychic visions of the past, which is also weird. Even more weird, most of the theaters are through the door with the appropriately-chosen tragedy/comedy theater masks, so even if we assume someone came in here and did the dangerous work of boarding up an existing perfectly good door after the catastrophic fire that ruined the place, what were they putting over there under Eyeballs from Beyond before it burnt down?

Since I just mentioned it, you're right, reader! This does NOT look like a place that's been burnt down, does it? The game seems to forget its own premise that the theater is condemned and destroyed by frequently having it look more like it's fallen into disrepair from the forty years of not being used rather than because anyone set it on fire. I can understand even minor fire damage being way too expensive and difficult for a performing arts institution without considerable funding to try to fix, but since the place belonged to Gramps and he vanished and is wanted for multiple felonies, you'd think the state would have repossessed and done something with the place by now, even if only tearing it down to replace it with a bed and breakfast or something.

The door down, on the other hand, leads to only a single theater, which was designed for the ballet dancers only (and is not subtle about it). From the way this is set up, it seems like a place that wants to be a highbrow ballet theater, but also feels compelled to keep a stable of "lowbrow" acts like magicians and lounge singers regularly performing, to the level that they all have their own individual lesser stages. Maybe the Nightingale was once more of a variety show sort of situation... except in that case, why is it on a cliff in the woods instead of somewhere in town where people would be looking for cheap entertainment? Who's the artistic director for this mess? (I know it's you, Grandpa.)

Anyway, I do always appreciate being the kind of protagonist who looks at cracks in the brickwork in a wall and thinks, "Yeah, I could take that wall out if I had a bat or something."

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Props again to the art department for these sets; they're very creepy while still managing to communicate the grandeur and even sparkle of the theater-that-once-was. The stains leading down the hall are an especially nice touch, because while they could be just normal abandoned-building mess problems, they also look unsettlingly like footprints or smear patterns. Wilting plants, hissing electronics...even the little mini-chandeliers in this hallway sway a bit ominously now and then, just in case you forgot what story you're in.

We've got headless statues out front and now in here we also have slashed portraits, one of them entirely beheaded. The blonde on the right is clearly Rose again, complete with a plaque to make it official, and true to form my character mostly thinks about how beautiful she is instead of anything mystery-related while staring at her. The guy to the left with the long hair is HOG-dini, who, in case anyone is left in the audience who doesn't understand the pun, is here said to "be able to find any hidden object while blindfolded". (I'm not proud that I made a joke in my notes about truffle hogs but in my defense I had not yet gotten the pun.) I can't tell, even having finished the game, if HOG-dini's masks/blindfolds and rapturously flowing locks are supposed to be clues that he's actually just Grandpa doing a different act, or if I'm just reading too much into it.

Of course, we're all interested in the other picture to the left, which has not only been decapitated but also has no plaque, which appears to have been yanked out of the wall at some point. Someone REALLY did not like this person, and it's depressing that I actually don't know who, even after finishing the entire game. Gramps again, probably. (Anything the game developers didn't explain is now on you, Granddad, which is honestly probably accurate most of the time anyway.)

I can feel a cold breeze coming from under the door at the end of the hall, and I don't think I'm calm enough in real life to support my character's blasé response of "oh, maybe there's a clue in there somewhere," so instead I tried the other door in the hall that isn't locked with a distressing and complicated machine puzzle.

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What is even the best part of this room? Is it the creepy statue of a woman looking out the window who is almost definitely going to animate and kill me as soon as I turn around? The MASSIVE elk's head on the wall? The creepy painting of the Peking Opera that someone appears to have smashed with a sledgehammer? The abandoned yet still groovy saxophone? The bundt cake and accordion smorgasbord?

The game goes out of its way to give me a slightly clunky explanation about how this is an electric fireplace, which I appreciate since it's trying to tell me it's not a clue, but am also annoyed about because we'll get almost the same clue later so where was the harm, y'all? (It is funny, though, when I look at the liquor cabinet and go, "No thanks, the last thing I need is a drink from a forty-year-old bottle." Okay, so I'm not an oenophile, I'm BUSY.) Also the room also makes sure to tell you, if you happen to look at it, that the chandelier is swinging slightly but that's weird because there's no wind in here, so I'll just throw myself out the window and hope I can hit my car from here.

Nice to see the word "malodor" used. You don't get a lot of twenty-dollar-words in your average video game.

So, after doing some searching and poking and messing around in here and the hallway, including an art restoration job that I should definitely have a degree for, I've figured out that the missing portrait was a woman named Abigail. Presumably, she's the other ballerina in all the posters and banners alongside Rose.

The door at the end of the hall has the mad fever dream of Daedalus in the form of a clockwork lion strapped to it. Gramps, if you wanted me to succeed at this, did it ever occur to you NOT to create a bunch of complex mechanical joke locks that constantly stymie my efforts for no apparent reason beyond the lolz?

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You gotta love a show that just says BALLET SHOW. It's like being hawked to by a very aggressive sidewalk advertiser in Time's Square. "What do you want to know about, it's a Ballet Show! It's a show with ballet, it's a ballet show, you coming inside or not?!"

After a little investigation, I discover that the machine to the right is waiting for a collection of ballerina statues, and only after I've found them all will it release a relevant item, sort of (exactly) like a vending machine that dispenses Plot Advancement. This is the introduction of a long-running mechanic throughout the rest of the game; several times, the player will be asked to collect a bunch of the same thing, then do a small puzzle with them at machines like this to get a reward. It's a neat way of adding a slightly different texture to the time-honored "find stuff, win" approach in adventure games, although admittedly it's not actually especially different when it comes to what the player actually does with their time.

I tried using the GOLDEN TICKET at the GLOWING GOLDEN TICKET TAKER and was told no. Or rather, I was told, "Oh, this is the show for my ticket," which is not the response I would be having were I actually here, which would be more along the lines of "what the fucking fuck is happening right now what the shit."

Back upstairs, I've found the head to Abigail's portrait and put it back! And... it fucking BLINKED at me, so in conclusion I'll be under the bed. (In my defense, my character does not like this either.) If you're wondering, Abigail's portrait had been walled up underneath Rose's statue, which is... very weird. We can also now definitively confirm that she is the other ballerina, which means she's dead. Sorry, Abigail.

I found a bottle of perfume stashed near Abigail's portrait, and when I took it the entire building started to suddenly and massively shake and make a lot of noises, so naturally I ran downstairs because structural safety is no joke in a condemned building. It turned out, however, that it was just that barricaded door in the front foyer being mysteriously ripped from its hinges. Seems extremely safe and legit. I should go in there.

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Now this is happening. Well, at least the developers were nice enough to give me time to process all the stages of grief about my decision to see what was going on in there; the game pauses with the Phantom hulking menacingly over you for as long as you need to get it out of your system.

The close-up adds some interesting detail. For one thing, he's even more fucked up than we might have originally believed; the left eye is swollen shut and possibly blind, and the right eye appears to have blood or exposed flesh surrounding it and possibly extending up toward the scalp. The mask has been half-shattered at some point, as if someone smashed his head into a heavy surface. The pauldrons remain glorious.

The most curious part for me is the... whiskers? On the mask? Now that we can see it up close it's definitely got that pointy beak, although you could argue it might be more in the tradition of a Venetien Carnival mask, which traditionally uses long noses as a sign of licentiousness. (Thankfully, the Phantom is not especially licentious in this.) The brown lines extending down from the bloodstained mask... honestly, I'm not sure. At first I thought maybe they were a sort of straw filler, a way to kind of obscure the lower face without limiting mobility, like a sort of traveling-carnival version of the original Phantom's masque du barbe. Then I thought, whiskers? They kind of look like a nightmare version of whiskers, but why and how would they match the rest of his theme? Another option is that they may not be ON the mask but going THROUGH the mask, like maybe he smashed his face into a barrel of pine needles and is carrying his wounds proudly. I don't know. No one ever explains the whiskers thing, so I encourage commentary.

It's interesting, by the way, to have a red-haired Phantom. Red hair is used as shorthand in media a lot, usually to denote that the person is temperamental, selfish, or volatile (often as a result of old tropes used to stigmatize the Irish in British-controlled literature), but we seldom see it in the Phantom story, and when we do it's always either 1) a self-insert love interest for someone, so the red hair stands for Passion and Beauty and Not Being Like Other Girls, or 2) Carlotta, and the red hair is back to being an example of her unreasonable demands and hysteria. Legitimately the only other redheaded Phantom I can think of is the one on the front of the Phantom: Geheimnis der Maske tabletop game, and since he's actually represented by an oblong piece of wood in-game, it's barely worth mentioning.

Unfortunately, this red-haired Phantom is getting the Carlotta treatment for the most part: his hair is never actually mentioned, but he falls into the same group of redheads in Phantom fiction who are mysteriously all over-emotional, hysterical or violent, and impossible to reason with. Case in point: he tries to jump me when I try to run away, but I'm able to fend him off with the perfume bottle I'm carrying, the scent from which makes him suddenly panic and run away. But not without first grabbing the chandelier and just ripping it the fuck out of the ceiling, because why not, he's tall enough to just DO that.

And now it's time for something that sucks: I see a bottle on the floor that I manage to identify purely on sight as "animal medicine". My character immediately assumes that the Phantom must be taking this medication, and declares that this makes sense because one of the side effects of the medication is "mental impairment", and then goes on to say that the pills have made him "strong in body but weak in mind". And there are... so many things to say about this.

First of all, this is literally an abandoned building full of junk, and unless I missed my character's extensive medical backstory, I do not have the ability to perform a visual physical on this dude, so why assume he's taking these random pills I found on the floor? How do I know what they are ("animal medicine" could be literally anything!) and why would I assume a human is taking them and not that they're left behind from when people were here regularly and possibly had their pets or show animals with them? (This is a place that you could actually have used the past vision mechanic to make things make sense but no, we won't be doing that because of Reasons.) Some "animal medicines" are literally the same as human medicines but in different dosages or compounds - so how "for animals only" are we talking here? WHAT animals, even? You can't medicate a llama with the same things you use to medicate a goldfish!

Second of all, even if all of the leaps of logic got ironed out of this, you can't iron out the intense ableism being directed at this character. "Strong in body but weak in mind" is a hideous and widely-applied stereotype of developmentally disabled and autistic people, to the point that our popular culture has and still uses very ugly slurs describing the phenomenon of "r****d strength", and in spite of the fact that this is a completely invented idea (newsflash: disabled people aren't stronger than you are, you just don't like it when they make physical movements you wouldn't or push back against abuse), it's still used, and has been for decades, as an excuse to physically restrain, manhandle, and abuse disabled people on the theory that they're too "strong" and therefore have to be treated this way for the safety of their handlers. In other words, they are treated like animals, and a character literally taking animal medication and transforming into being similarly strong-but-disabled is a direct and intentional call-out to that very disgusting view. (It also doesn't make much sense - outside of angel dust, there are very few substances that can "increase strength" to any noticeable degree and none of them are animal medications, but I'm too mad at the implicational failures here to stop long for the mechanical ones.)

Besides, what kind of "mental impairment"? That's a big fucking umbrella and there are not a ton of symptom spreads that include both "easily frightened by emotional triggers" but also "unstoppable kill machine." The implication that the medication caused the condition leaves out most mental illnesses, which would have been developed independently due to trauma or stimuli and are unlikely to be triggered by a medicine, but that still leaves us with a dizzying array of possible neurological symptoms. Is he foggy and confused? Does he hallucinate? Is he struggling to identify unfamiliar people and things? Are some of his emotions more easily or volatilely triggered and if so, which ones and how/why? Does he have trouble with his memory? Does he know he's mentally ill (because let me tell you, most people do) and if he does, does he know it's due to the medication or is he not sure what's happening? Is he violent because he feels afraid, threatened, angry, confused? How does he cope with all of this?

I ask these questions because the game's designers clearly did not. I doubt very much that they thought about what the Phantom himself is actually experiencing when they said that he was suffering from "impairment"; all they meant was "he's violent and doesn't understand you, so consider him a Formerly Human Monster" so they could firmly put him in the antagonist box. Their own explanation for the Phantom's behavior makes him more likely to be a victim or at least a confused person in need of help, but it's obviously intended to ignore all of those things and just present him as a Dangerous Lunatic. (Many Phantoms are dangerous and mentally unstable, including the original, so it's especially frustrating to have us so heavily punching down on one who to all appearances isn't when lots of the others do awful things fully lucidly and then get all the reformation grace they can stuff into a bag and scurry away with.)

 

Furthermore, the use of the medication "explanation" for why the Phantom is the way he is here is provided completely at face value and apparently for no real reason; the game's writers wanted him to be dangerous and unhinged, so they threw in a lazy backstory about drug abuse and called it a day. This impressively branches the ableism out to now also include anyone struggling with addiction, and its clear judgment of "and this is bad and dangerous and this person should not have done it" leaves absolutely no wiggle room for a nuanced treatment of that discussion, either. The fact that taking animal medications with hideous side effects might be this person's best option doesn't seem to have occurred to anyone involved in this plot point, even though the character has literally already been designed and appeared onscreen and is clearly severely injured and probably in chronic pain. No shit, people shouldn't just take animal medication if they don't have to, but if you've burnt off half my body and I don't have access to human medication because I live in a hollowed-out wreck of a building without healthcare, fuck yeah, I'm taking the Gabapentin for Dogs or whatever because I AM IN AGONY.

Finally, even if we were to clean all that up somehow, at the core you're still left with a story in which the Phantom is doing the things he does mostly because he's not in his right mind because he's hopped up on drugs, which could probably be done well but certainly won't be if you only introduce it as a blink-and-you'll-miss-it item plot point to lazily say "so he's crazy and you can't talk to him" before completely forgetting to ever address it again. This revelation doesn't generate any more sympathy for the character; if anything, my character's journal notes about him get more hostile around the time of this discovery, and I never try to help him, find out what happened to him, or see if there's a way to reverse some of the damage done to him. It's reasonable for a frightened character locked in an abandoned building with this guy not to want to interact with him, but I DO interact with him a lot, especially as my past visions start explaining the chain of events that led us here, and while I sometimes express sympathy for past versions of him, I pretty much never stop treating his current self as at best a dangerous inconvenience, at worst a monster.

This is also weird because, generally speaking, addiction is neither new nor even really treated as remarkable in most adaptations of the Phantom story. While Leroux's original character was pretty ambiguous about what he's beed doing other than definitely drinking expensive wine, many, many of the major versions of the character, including the one from Kay's foundational 1990 novel and several of the film ones, are explicitly drug addicts. Kay's Phantom smokes opium; modern versions of the character often use heroin. And there's a reason that we don't barely notice this in most adaptations, which is that it's meant to be a sympathetic touch of characterization. All the drugs we see most Phantoms do are versions of painkillers, either mentally or physically, and so we instinctively understand that he is in pain and needs them to deal with his physical condition as well as his mental trauma... which is what makes this version being so virulently and judgmentally anti-drug surprising. (Yes, there is of course always something gross in there; the opium-smoking, in particular, is also meant to signify his degredation from living and working in the courts of the deeply racistly-depicted Shah of Persia, and to a lesser extend to serve a similar purpose to the drug use present in many Sherlock Holmes stories to suggest that a genius mind needs some way to take the edge off that we mere plebes do not, but I'll take both over "if you take painkillers, you deserve to be put down like a dog", thanks.)

This is all very disappointing and takes some of the fun out of theorizing about whether or not the Phantom is meant to actually be Grandpa. We once again don't know whether he's alive or dead now that we've discovered that the vision of him at the gates and bulletin board courtyard area were both extremely mystical genetic past visions and not him being an actual ghost, although I'm now struck by how entertaining it would be if he left a bunch of past visions for me and then died in the fire anyway and now is also simultaneously haunting me. The Phantom certainly could be Gramps, if he's been living here alone since the fire and that's why no one has been able to find him, but honestly I'd rather that isn't the case because if it is, we'll have to accept the cockamamie animal medication theory above to explain why he's physically so much larger than Gramps is in flashbacks. (Thankfully, this isn't a red herring the game puts much effort into; for one thing, if Gramps were also out of his mind on horse quaaludes or whatever, he'd have trouble setting up this elaborate game via letters and secret powers to get me here.)

Speaking of visions, it's time for another one! And it's time to watch Gramps be weird again. He never stops. In this vision, he is telling Rose in the past that he's giving her a whole new show with herself as the sole star, while hiding behind a nearby pillar is Abigail, who overhears this and, upset, snaps her pipe in half and storms away. This sets up a rivalry or at least distress between the two ballerinas, as well as giving us a noticeable parallel to the Apollo's Lyre scene in the original novel, in which the Phantom overheard Christine and Raoul plotting to escape him. This places Abigail slightly in the Phantom role, with Rose and Gramps as the scheming lovers trying to escape, but since the power dynamics are wildly different, it's hard to analyze much further than that until later.

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Since the Phantom has so thoroughly wrecked the hallway that I actually can't follow him (which honestly just again suggests that he's pretty scared himself and really did flee from me), back downstairs I go to do another search for items, this time at the feet of the statue whose head was knocked off earlier by one of the ghosts. Now that we can see it in close-up, it looks an awful lot like Abigail, with the short dark hair, sharp features, and 1920s flapper stylings; it's interesting to wonder what that means, especially since it was hard to tell whether it was the ghost of Rose or Abigail herself who beheaded the statue in the first place (it's a very fast sequence and the ghost animations tend to be blurry as a consequence of their art style). If this statue is Abigail's, that would make Rose the statue on the other side with no end date on its plaque, perhaps referencing her continuing presence in the theater, or perhaps a very cutting illustration of her being favored over Abigail as the local prima ballerina.

After successfully putting together a speaker for the gramophone in the orchestra room of ancient bundt cake and smooth sax jams, I manage to get it to play. This is not a reward for the player, because the phonograph plays OVER the background music whenever you're in the same room with it and the discordance is more jarring than effectively spooky. Unfortunately, going back out into the hall is not better, because the lights go out, the door at the end of the hall drifts open, and there's a ghost of a ballerina (hard to tell because we can only see her in flashes but I think it's Rose) here and she dances menacingly down the hall toward us in a sequence that is probably the most spine-chilling one in the game before rushing the player only to dissipate, again, at the last moment. LADIES, I UNDERSTAND THAT YOU ARE UPSET AND I AM WORKING ON IT BUT YOU HAVE GOT TO STOP MAKING ME CRY.

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Yes, there's a lot to unpack here behind the door - the creepy fish tank, whatever's happening in the middle of the floor - but let's all pause and appreciate this rat in a champagne bucket who is clearly living its very best life.

Speaking of the table, it has food that isn't that old on it, nor has the wine been open that long, which finally brings my character to the realization that, hey! Ghosts don't eat or drink or smoke, so someone is alive in this building! I feel like we should already know this since we've been busily judging said living person for his everything the entire time, but sure, glad to get confirmation. I do think it's interesting to note that there are three bottles here and clearly a lot of them have been drunk, and that there are two wine glasses on the table, one of which has been broken; either our Phantom was drinking with someone else who is also still living and capable of ingestion, or he was hallucinating doing so, or he was drinking with a ghost who sat there but couldn't participate, or he's also using alcohol to self-medicate and has gone through a lot of it. The rat refuses to tell us its secrets.

I am in the wrong career; first painting restoration, and now I have flawlessly repaired and reassembled some ancient Chinese ceramics. This is one of those games where the total lack of backstory for the main character results in it looking like some random person who is also inexplicably Temperance Brennan just happens to be the one investigating this forty-year-old family crime.

We discover down here, although we can't get into it yet, the doors to the Peking Opera show, which is worth a minute to pause and talk about. Peking Opera is a sub-genre of Chinese opera with stock roles (think similar to old-fashioned commedia dell'arte shows) which involves elaborate costumes, use of stock forms to inform the audience about a plot that is not always presented literally, and performers whose main job is to perform acting movements and acrobatics so stunningly beautiful that they are the main draw of the show as opposed to the plot itself. Music is incredibly important, and even non-singing performers are required to move along with the music no matter where they are in the plot in order to avoid breaking the visual and aural aesthetic. Peking Opera is performed all over the world and since the Cultural Revolution has often been more popular outside of China than in its homeland, although it's been experiencing a resurgence lately.

Unsurprisingly, Peking Opera was a huge hit in the Western world in the nineteenth century when Orientalism was extremely in vogue in northern Europe, with its elaborate costumes, impressive feats, and complete inability to be interpreted as anything but quintessentially Chinese. We've seen mentions of Chinese opera pop up (outside of the Ye ban ge sheng franchise, of course) occasionally in period pieces to acknowledge that it would be a recognizable art form for folks around the time of Leroux's novel, but we've never actually had the opera in question BE a Chinese opera. (Again, outside of YBGS, which of course is set IN China and involves traditional Chinese opera most of the time, at least in earlier adaptations.)

So basically, it's very cool that this is here, and I wish it had gotten more attention and time devoted to it! The Peking Opera, in spite of being clearly loved enough to get some gorgeous art and interesting details, is still obviously not the "major focus" of the game; it's the only act that doesn't have a big-name celebrity attached to it like Rose or HOG-dini, and the only one that we'll loot for clues and items but never really interact with or care about again. I suppose that's on the nose for imperialist interactions with other cultures, but it's still depressing.

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Yeah, I see your secret past vision icon up there, Gramps, but I can't worry about that right now because HOLY CRAP ANOTHER PERSON. Convenient that we only had to go one room over after pondering the wine and food, eh?

Whoever this person is, she won't tell me her name, although to be fair to her she is in distress and wants to do introductions AFTER she's sure she's not about to lose her leg. She explains that someone shoved her from behind and she smacked into the left lion statue, which broke and fell on her lower legs, pinning her. Obviously I'm going to rescue her either way because I'm not a monster, but you're on some thin ice, mysterious won't-explain-why-she's-here girl. (For a hot minute I thought maybe she was also one of Gramps' grandchildren and maybe this was some sort of Westing Game situation, but unfortunately this did not turn out to be true.)

But the mystery of her identity apparently has to wait until I do what Grandpa wants and eject my brain back to the year 1960, so it's time for another vision. We pop into the same place but in yesteryear, when the theater was still thriving and this act was very much live all the time, and we happen to see it just after a show. The destruction acrobat, whose name is Andreas, is out front signing autographs for several very excited fans, which is very nice and cozy, but the really notable details here are that the acrobat has long red hair and is gigantic.

It'll be a minute before we get real confirmation, but yes, Andreas is our masked Phantom. On the one hand, this is a jarring and horrible realization for the player; this is the moment when, after seeing the ballerina ghosts and Gramps' ambiguous shade and now also this, we realize that it's possible that NOBODY ever got out of this godforsaken place, and all the characters we're finding out about died here or were trapped here forever. That's a heavy realization, which is probably why the game tries to parcel it out over time before confirming it for the player. They try, but they don't succeed; you can talk to Andreas and his fans in this scene and he's very nice and very polite and super sweet and trying very hard not to tower over people while signing autographs and I'm already upset about what's going to happen to him even though I don't know what it is exactly.

Unfortunately, the vision does not give me anything to help me get this woman out of her predicament before she loses all bloodflow to her feet, so... uh, one second, ma'am, be back in a few minutes.

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WELP. We've got a dressing room, we've got a haunted mirror, we've got a mannequin no one could possibly have thought was a good idea... we've got it all.

 

We won't know until we investigate more, but it looks like Abigail and Rose shared this dressing room, so it's not super weird to see Rose in the mirror except that I hate it and actually would like to not see it if at all possible. (She vanishes a second after you enter the room.) It is a neat reversal to have our masked Phantom be the one who is very much alive and Rose, who maps more easily onto Christine, be the one doing ghostly mirror visitations, though.

Abigail and Rose both have jewelry boxes and closets in here, helpfully color-coded black for Abigail and white for Rose; that's interesting, since unless these are gifts from somebody else (Gramps, I know it's you), that means they both leaned into their Swan Sisters roles even offstage. Both boxes are cunningly locked, of course, so I'm only able to get Abigail's open at the moment, revealing a picture inside of her and Andreas that causes me to immediately exclaim that they must have been lovers. It's not THAT kind of picture so this is clearly a hilariously huge leap, but whatever, I can respect that we don't have a lot of living characters who can help with exposition here. I'd say I can't wait to open Rose's box and discover Andreas is also in there or something, but I can. This game's plot is pretty unrelentingly tragic, which is a big part of what sets it apart from others; lots of Phantom games are spooky, but this one is spooky AND it makes you cry.

After finally managing to rescue the trapped girl by banging around the general area of her feet, she reveals that her name is Rebecca and that she is a college journalist who saw that the theater is about to be torn down and sneaked in so she could do an article about it for local history purposes first. She's sweet, but this scene really hits the limits of the game's animation abilities, and the smooth pseudo-animations achieved with the cunning swapping of still images doesn't really work here when we also have prolonged close-ups and an attempt at lip-syncing with the voice line.

Also, the plot doesn't really work either, because Rebecca now runs off (guess her foot is fine) and promises to go for help, meaning that she can somehow get OUT of here and for some reason I do not go WITH her, I suppose because I Must Know the Truth. Again, everything is Gramps' fault.

She did randomly hand me a medallion before leaving with a line that basically translated to "I bet you'll need this, the plot says so." Thanks, I guess. A cut scene does make it clear that it was the Phantom who knocked her down and caused her to be trapped, although no one ever wonders why he didn't kill her, which he easily could have since she didn't even know he was there, or why he fled as soon as he pushed her instead of making sure she left or died. Again, his behavior does not read like someone who actually wants to hurt others so much as someone who lashes out whenever frightened or uncertain, and now that we know he's Andreas, Rebecca specifically trying to break into the part of the theater he used to perform in which probably contains his only happy memories could certainly trigger a reaction.

I finally manage to get into Rose's jewelry box, but they got me: there is not in fact evidence of a love triangle in it. What is in it is a disembodied puppet arm. Weird, Rose.

Before leaving the dressing room, I cut the ropes holding the drapes closed... only to look out the window and find the Phantom standing below, staring up at the window, I guess probably because I have the lights on in there. He growls in frustration and runs away when he sees me, leaving me looking down into the dismal courtyard. Again, there are interesting questions here: why was he just standing down there? Was it just because he thought I was in there, or does the dressing room his girlfriend used to use have significance for him? Was he looking for her and upset that it turned out to be me instead? Does he ever see Abigail's ghost, and if he does, does he know she's dead? Is that one of the reasons he's such a mess?

Anyway, no answers to be found, so I go off to discover Rebecca again, currently trying to crack a safe because college journalism is much more hardcore than you've ever thought before. She informs me that she "informed her professor" about the situation and also "called someone from the city council" for help, which is... Rebecca, sweetheart, why would you call your professor (no shade but I AM a professor and I do not know what I'd do with a student going "hey I'm trapped in a derelict building and being hunted by a maniac, just an update on the situation" at eleven fucking p.m. or whatever), and what do you expect them to do? I suppose the idea of a student's first thought being "how will this affect my grade" is not unrealistic, but this is why we should have gone with her instead of hoping the traumatized college kid would handle calling emergency services on her own. Because she didn't. She called the city council. Who will do what, exactly? Have a meeting about it next week at their town hall?

Anyway, she gets the safe open - she mentions in passing that she learned lockpicking many years ago, making her another example of a wildly talented character with unusual skills but no explanation whatsoever for where she got them from - but then refuses to look into it, saying it's too dark in there, and waits for me to do it instead. Obviously, I understand that we're looking for a way to let the player character do stuff here, but read that again and tell me it's not the most obvious trap that ever trapped. This is The Cask of Amontillado except it's a college student and she just wants me to stick my head in there, all the way to the back...

When this inexplicably doesn't end in beheading, I find a disc in there that unlocks the Peking Opera stage so we can go in there. Rebecca is very weird but the Opera is very beautiful.

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The central character in red is the stylized glyph shing or jing, meaning "Peking", and the masks and pipas surrounding it are common visual markers for a Peking Opera. As you can see, the Chinese cultural aspects of this game, even if I complain there aren't more of them, are still very beautifully rendered.

The ticket-taker for this Opera was a puppet, allowing me to use the puppet arms even though it's VERY creepy. More concerning is the fact that Rose's ghost briefly manifests again and whispers "stay away" to me when I try to go inside. My crackerjack character says, "Intuition tells me Rose's spirit is trying to warn me about something," which... no, it doesn't. Rose's spirit just told you that. Rose. She was literally just here.

Naturally, the moment I get the doors open, Rebecca declares she's been waiting for this day for years and charges inside. Rebecca is just so weird, y'all, like to the point where I keep wondering if she was originally written differently and had to be hastily revised into her current form. Her shenanigans would make more sense if SHE were the player character, or if she were part of Gramps' weird game and related to me (or Andreas, or the ballerinas, whatever works). But as she is, she's just... a random stranger who is here.

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Unfortunately for her, she's also here to be In Peril when the Phantom is waiting for us inside. (Rose, I know you're dead, but couldn't you have said something like "he's inside" instead of "stay away"? They're the same frigging number of syllables and everything.) As anyone who has ever seen or read an adaptation of this story could probably predict, the Phantom promptly kidnaps Rebecca off the stage where she was starting to poke at the sets, and now she's my problem to rescue AGAIN and I don't even know where she is.

This is an interesting plot swerve, in my opinion; it almost looks like Rebecca was added to the game solely so that the Phantom could do his usual kidnapping schtick but NOT kidnap the main character, who would make far more sense. I get that not every game wants to tell its story from within captivity, but Rebecca is so out of left field, and me, the person related to Gramps and poking all his dead girlfriend's stuff, am so much a better candidate for kidnapping. What's he even going to do with Rebecca? (The answer is put her in a box and apparently forget about her, which just makes this even more nonsensical.)

However, the designers sensed we might be struggling so they provided some additional clues. First of all, there's a mysterious old woman in the shadows above the theater who appears to be giving the Phantom orders, and yes, she uses his name, confirming that he definitely is Andreas AND that she knows him. We don't see her clearly, but given that the only old lady in our Important Characters book is the local mayor and Rebecca just told us she "called the city council", it seems like a fair bet it's probably her, although this does not explain what she's doing here or how this ties into her attempt to tear the place down and replace it with something more useful to the community.

The Phantom, to his credit, does try to grab me, too, but once again the scent of Abigail's perfume makes him start to cry and then run away again. This is very sad now that we know they were together and she's dead; he's literally running away from a reminder too painful to manage, and that's more important to him than getting his hands on me. We also get a better close-up of his right side when he reaches for me, and he definitely has severe burn scarring all the way from hand to elbow, which suggests that we were right earlier and his entire right side is permanently damaged. Again, it's hard to be mad at the guy who is probably living at a permanent level of pain most of us can't dream of for occasionally taking Cow Morphine or whatever it is he's doing instead of being in a burn unit getting some grafts.

The burns are interesting to speculate about; a Phantom with burns automatically signals that there was a Burning Incident somewhere in his past, rather than his being born with a congenital deformity. We've seen this with both acid and fire, most often in the film Phantoms; obviously the Phantom from the 1988 Plone/Sussman camp film had a full-body and extensive burn situation, and the Phantoms from the 1983 film, the 1988 Friedman/Rydall tour de force, the 1991 Herrier/Villard film, and the 1974 Levitt/Cassidy movie were all burn victims, too. We've also seen it in games, including 2010's Gray Matter, and even in adult adapatations like the 2006 Taylor/Valenciano movie. About half the time the Burning Incident is the Phantom's own fault, either on purpose (I'm mad at you all and I'm burning the place down), by accident (I got upset and accidentally burned the place down and got caught in it), or through misunderstanding (I got upset about something that wasn't actually happening and went way overboard), which serves to de-sympathize him by trying to convey to the reader that he disfigured himself and therefore doesn't deserve to be pitied for it. The other half of the time it's because some asshole was attacking or taking advantage of him and the whole situation went belly-up as soon as violence entered the equation, which generally serves the opposite goal of making the Phantom more sympathetic by showing him as the victim of others' cruelty.

Either way, we now know that our Phantom was burnt at some point, and since we have a spectacular burning down of the theater that he worked at, it's probably a safe bet to assume that he got trapped inside and was injured by the flames. This is, like the 1983 film, an interesting case of the catastrophic destruction of the opera house, which is usually saved for the finale of the story (if it's used at all, as it wasn't in the original novel except as a threat), actually creating the Phantom rather than being the catalyst that ends his reign of terror.

You know, we can see the Phantom's severe injuries from the incident forty years ago, but he otherwise... doesn't look any older. He should be in his 60s if not older, but he's still bouncing around like someone's idea of a masked King Kong and isn't showing so much as a change in physique or a greying of his hair. This doesn't make any sense; not only is he obviously in very poor health (the fact that he somehow never got a deadly infection in any of his extensive open burn wounds beggars belief, especially if he's been squatting in an abandoned building full of tetanus and smoke damage the whole time), but even if he weren't, time has gone by! He's an old man now! He could keep working out and doing his old show to stay in shape, sure, but he should be physically different in some way. Parts of this game seem to occasionally forget that the disaster happened forty years ago and not like last week, so much so that I occasionally wonder if there was an earlier draft of the story in which the fire was much more recent and it was changed later, leaving a few weird plot artifacts behind.

We get to complete our first collection here, which is of pieces of the traditional costumes of the Peking Opera! As noted before, there are several stock characters in Peking Opera, and knowing something about them helps with solving the puzzle slightly afterward, where you have to combine the masks, hats, and clothing correctly for each role. This would be child's play to someone familiar with the artform, but even if you aren't, you can also just try combinations until it works.

Rose is such a mysterious figure. Who was this woman and why was she keeping a fishing rod in her dressing room wardrobe? The world will never know.

I also run across an old employee performance review that Gramps did of Andreas (yes, obviously, why would I not be reading all the theater's old HR paperwork), in which he notes that Andreas was a kind person but had a mean temper. Very subtle, thank you, writers.

It's at this point in the game that we start getting reused hidden object searches, where we search a scene we've already searched before but for different items. There's nothing wrong with this per se, and it's done well here with completely different items and situations each time, but players who complain about this convention in games aren't wrong either when they point out that it's a way to reuse existing art and coding instead of giving the player anything new. I don't think it's overused here, but it might have been nice to get a few newer search scenes in later parts of the game.

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It's been a minute since we played Who's On First with this game's characters, so take a gander at the poster over on the left for the Velvet Voice. The tagline on her advertising materials is "The Velvet Voice: Hear Her Sing and Fall in Love", and she's a beautiful young solo woman singer in a theater with a Phantom, so... hello again, Christine? The singer's arrival at just under halfway through the game is something of a shock, since we haven't even heard of her before and have only ever seen her mentioned on a single mostly-destroyed poster in the hallway that lost its chandelier, but it also adds an additional note of uncertainty, which is nice now that we've cleaned up a lot of the red herrings and are in desperate danger of figuring the whole shebang out before we get to the end.

So hi, Velvet Voice whose real name we don't know! Did you also know Andreas? Are you still here somewhere, either as a ghost or a living person? Are you the old lady telling him what to do (which would be kind of neat in a Christine bossing the Phantom around kind of dynamic reversal way)? While we ponder these things, it's worth noting that this is a lounge or cabaret singing act, more like what Jessica Rabbit does than what the original Christine did; with ballet so prominently taking over the role of High Art in this game, apparently they felt the need for the singers to be a little more intimate and casual rather than also introducing opera.

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These are very concerning things to find in a bucket. I am not a fan. Who wrote this? Gramps, is that you again? Wherever you are, you'd better appreciate all the effort I'm going to in order to do things like melt candlewax that's been hard for 40 years through all temperatures just to get at stuff underneath it.

Okay, it's time to start keeping a running tally of the characters and their relationship to what's going on, because now that I'm writing this I no longer have the helpful journal and neither do you:

1) The protagonist, Grandpa Wilson's grandchild and a Seeker of the Truth

2) Grandpa Wilson, wanted for felony arson and murder, possibly alive but possibly not, psychic, maybe the Phantom, possibly Raoul?

3) Andreas, strongman and acrobat turned masked Phantom, on major drug uppers of some kind and seriously injured from past events

4) Rose, definitely dead and now a ghost, a former ballerina who was being touted as a new superstar, possibly Christine?

5) Abigail, also definitely dead and now a ghost, a former ballerina who was upset at being shoved out of the spotlight by Rose, in a relationship with Andreas, possibly also Christine?

6) Mayor Linden, an eccentric old woman who wants to tear the theater down

7) Rebecca, a college student who claims to be a reporter, can crack safes in under five minutes, and keeps getting non-fatally attacked by Andreas, kind of possibly Christine?

8) The Velvet Voice, name unknown, a lounge singer whose fate remains uncertain, ALSO possibly Christine?

9) The ticket-taker at the box office, definitely dead and now a ghost but apparently not interested in going inside

10) The dead boy in the courtyard, who so far is the only confirmed dead person not allowed to show up as a ghost

This is what I'm talking about when I say that the designers just took all the Phantom story tropes, loaded them into a shotgun, and blasted them haphazardly over the entire cast.

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The closed theater with the musical instruments all over it is the Velvet Voice's performance space, so at least we hopefully won't have to wait too much longer to find out more about her. In the meantime, the foyer immediately outside her space is lousy with stuff that evokes a Christine-like character; sheet music and accompaniments, empty birdcages recalling both the Nightingale's name and Christine's characters (she was, after all, called the Swedish Nightingale in Leroux's novel), childike angels, and of course posters for her show. I first thought that one angel up there was holding a mirror, but it turned out to be a little metal plate with an instrument embossed on it so I could start another collection of related items, like you do in this game.

It's a small thing, but I really appreciate that basically all the upstairs areas in this game have skylights or high windows, and that the art team uses those for an appropriately ghostly, cold light to stream in from the full moon. Games like this often forget about windows and ambient light in their zeal to focus on the thousand details of the interior.

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This closeup of the music-and-instruments side of the clutter near the closed theater is also heavily signifying that at some point she had, or shared with the rest of the theater, a not inconsequential little chamber orchestra. I hope I'm not about to find like seven dead clarinettists in the basement or something. This is another gorgeous and evocative search scene for the character it's trying to illustrate, although I have serious questions about all the medications and obvious sharp edges being kept in this cello case instead of, you know, a cello. Sure, we can make fun of Andreas for taking badger pills, but we're just going to ignore the clearly visible bottle of medication next to this other performer's room? Fine, be that way, game.

Once this search is over, it's time to have another flashback, and oh boy is it a doozy. We jump directly to the realization, because we're watching it happen, that we're definitely playing the Black Swan influence straight; Abigail poisoned Rose out of jealousy at her perceived theft of her role or stage time, although she has other motives we won't see for a minute. Almost as major as that revelation is the realization that Gramps and Rose were romantically involved, which we discover pretty thoroughly as he gets increasingly hysterical over her poisoning and slide toward death.

There's a lot going on here, and as I said before, we won't see all the moving pieces until way, WAY later. For the moment, however, it's pretty straightforward: theater owner gives girlfriend her own show at the expense of other performers, other performers retaliate with murder. Obviously the murder part is not okay no matter what they did, but it's interesting that, as presented, Abigail kind of has a point. It's already shady for Gramps to be dating Rose, his headliner, who may or may not be able to refuse him or argue with anything he does without risking losing her career; it's extra double shady for him to dump the other ballerinas, including Abigail, in order to give her and only her a giant star show. In fact, it's Phantom behavior; that's the Phantom's exact M.O., to tell the rest of the opera house to get in line or fuck off because this is now the Christine Show. The game does not address what was going to happen to Abigail and the other ballerinas, but now that I've finished the entire game and seen every room, there are no other ballet theaters or acts around, which seems to suggest that the best-case scenario is "you're all now backup dancers for the Only True Talent", and the worst-case scenario is "you're all fired".

I'm going to be realistic with you: obviously Abigail is wrong to kill her fellow performer, but the real villain of this piece is definitely my fucking grandfather. He has all the power and uses it to be apparently very cavalier with the lives and livelihoods of the people who work for him, and he repeatedly just makes things worse instead of ever trying to help anyone with anything. (Seriously, he will not offer one smidgen of an attempt to help someone in distress, ever, except for Rose who is already dying and too late to do anything for more difficult than romantically cradling her head until she expires.) He dates his employees and exhibits gross favoritism as a result, which creates an environment where not only are only some people getting advancement, but it's based not on talent but on whether they're willing to tell him no. I'm not only saying this because he's also the kind of asshole who makes me personally psychically witness people traumatically dying instead of telling me what's going on as soon as I arrived, but it's not irrelevant. He's just generally the worst.

It's interesting to wonder what Abigail's plan was here, Did she just kill Rose out of anger and betrayal, expecting to leave shortly after? (We'll see later that she took steps to try to keep from being blamed for the death, but we still don't know what she was going to do.) Did she expect to stay at the theater and take over Rose's show, or did she hope to reinstall a different show now that Rose could no longer be the sole star? I don't know the answers to these questions and honestly, even after finishing the game, I'm not sure anyone bothered to give any.

Anyway, watching that absolute disaster got me the ticket to Andreas' show, which I used to sneak inside in the fervent hope that he didn't just yeet me off the roof as soon as I got in his space. (He didn't, thankfully.) The stage set doesn't look nearly large enough or well-set-up enough for an acrobatics act, especially with a person so physically BIG as Andreas, but there's no time to critique the design because as soon as I walked out of there, the MAYOR was here.

Mayor Linden is just as no-nonsense yet weirdly quirky as you would suspect from someone wearing pearls and parachute pants while smoking an unidentified substance out of an opium pipe, and when I ask her why she's here bcause it's very frigging weird that she is, she says nostalgically that she really loved the old place in its heyday and just wanted to visit to say goodbye before it's demolished next week. This is actually rather lovely and might even be believable, except she just so happens to be here alone in the middle of the night after an SOS was sent to the local city council, and she appears one thousand percent unworried about the possibility of even building collapse, let alone malevolent danger ghosts in the rubble. Maybe it's the hash.

By the way, her voice acting is great, but there's a weird bug where her secondary lines are WAY quieter than the first things she says each time she talks, which can make her hard to hear over the background music. Anyway, she tells me that she hasn't seen any "large figures" around, so I assume she's managed to escape the scourge of the Phantom at least temporarily.

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At this point, I realize that I've discussed the minigames in passing but not shown y'all one, so here's a good example!

The minigames here are not especially difficult, but they are very intuitive, which depending on your approach to games could theoretically be the same thing. In the game above, for example, there are no instructions beyond that one line right below. The game itself isn't complex - figure out which animal features are shared by two critters next to each other, then navigate the switching system to put them there - but it requires you to actually engage and recognize the elements in the puzzle. Most minigames could be boiled down to pegs and holes for as much as the artwork around them actually matters to the game, but here the flavor is not optional; you would be quite literally just brute force guessing without it. Other games will follow suit, showing events that you have to put in a logical order to justify the outcome, or matching similar concepts represented by artwork. This is definitely less accessible for any visually impaired players out there, which is a shame because it's such a neat way of approaching the traditional "time to open a door with a MENSA model" format.

This door lock, by the way, is on the door to somebody's room, and it's very necessary because...

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Well, this doesn't seem like good news.

There's a lot going on in this room, a thing I keep saying because this game does not know how to do ebb-and-flow storytelling so everything is a constant barrel at high speed toward even wackier stuff. We have a large portrait of Abigail as the very original character Nodile, no relation to Swan Lake's Odile, and a plethora of birdcages, some of them empty and others apparently filled with both living and toy birds. We've got medications and poisons galore all over the room, and a bed with a black flower design at its foot. And we've got a glowing magical rose in a glass display case, an obvious shout-out to Disney's 1991 animated version of Beauty and the Beast if ever there was one.

I originally thought that this must have been Abigail's room when she was alive, but we'll actually see her room later. No, this is the Phantom's room, which adds an almost inescapable flavor of sadness to everything in it. He keeps his lover's portrait, even though she's been dead for decades. He surrounds himself with birds, alive or dead, who remind him of music and will never leave him. And he has an extensive pharmacy on display, which suggests to me that he's doing the best he can about medicating his injuries and has been for a long time and my character can shut her judgmental face about him using veterinary medicine in there. (Also, this raises the question of whether that medicine is actually for his pet birds, which no one ever addresses but I'm going to, so there.)

This is one of the few times that a Phantom story really got me right in the gut with sympathetic feelings for a Phantom, so well done to this game for that. Even touching the bed and realizing it's still warm, indicating that he was here very recently, is sad, because it brings with it the realization that he's been here alone for decades with no one but the birds and the ghosts of the other dead performers. My character ponders aloud whose room this could be that is full of birds and also Abigail, like the magical rose in the locked display case isn't a giant flashing sign pointing directly at the guy who is in the Phantom/Beast role.

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Our closeup search in this room is, again, beautiful, and is, again, terminally sad. This is where Andreas has been living all these years, and these are the only things he's been able to or cared enough to preserve. This game is a great example of using the power of a location or setting to tell parts of the story without having to actually exposit them.

I appreciate, by the way, that my character in this game doesn't really go about plundering the way most adventure game protagonists do. Oh, I still take things that aren't mine all the time, but I generally only take items infrequently, usually ones I am repairing and returning to their rightful places, and it's never anything I couldn't conceivably need to get through this. This is rare for games in this genre, which tend to encourage you to brazenly burglarize other characters right in front of them and then pretend nothing has ever happened.

While poking around, I find a locket with a black rose on it, which makes me realize that in spite of how much you'd think the image would lend itself to the Phantom story, we almost never see black roses, just red ones denoting passion. I honestly don't know what that's about. It seems like a great place for the Phantom to lean into his inclination toward being very dramatic about how deathy and full of death he is.

In case this room was making me too morose, the game switches it up by having me figure out how to get a locked birdcage open, at which point the Phantom CRASHES DOWN right outside the window and then leaps UP and out of sight again. I shrieked. The contents of the birdcage confirm that not only is this his room, but that he has always loved birds and was something of a gentle giant, and in case that didn't make us want to sob enough, he's also the one who wrote the guilty note about never being able to leave the theater, implying that he feels responsible for what happened there in 1960.

We get a neat little minigame here to find out exactly what steps Abigail took to mix the poison, which she appears to have stored in a perfume bottle with an atomizer, which of course brings to mind the poison-pill atomizer situations in the 1943 Lubin/Rains film and 1983 Markowitz/Schell movies, which both featured the Phantom using drugs in atomizers to harass the Christine character, as well as the one from the contemporary game Night in the Opera. This provoked some brief but spirited theorizing about whether Andreas feels guilty because he made or taught her to make the poison, or even just because he had a bunch of drugs around for his birds and she used them, but we don't need theorizing because the game is about to explain it to us outright.

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Another vision of the past shows us that Abigail lied to Andreas, telling him that she saw Gramps kill Rose and that she's afraid he might come after her next. Naturally, since he's already been characterized as protective and hot-headed, he instantly goes on a rampage after the perpetrator.

On the one hand, it's actually pretty touching to see. Andreas believes Abigail when she tells him she's in trouble and doesn't demand proof or try to take their employer's side, even though doing so would make a lot of sense for him since he might lose his livelihood (and, if she's right, even his life) over confronting Grandpa. He's also not romantically attached to Rose in any way, and his righteous fury over her treatment is refreshing when so many stories go out of their way to pair characters up in order to explain why they'd care about each other; he cares about Rose as a person and people in general, and that's enough.

On the other hand, Abigail, you suck. There's some especially uncomfortable baggage here about using a big powerful masculine dummy as a missile against her enemies, largely because "help! someone threatened me, a fragile White woman!" is a timeless way for said white women to blame their actions on others and even be protected and praised for it. The only things saving this from being Some Bad Writing Decisions are the facts that both Andreas and Gramps are also White, taking the often-deployed "go kill that dude of color for me" move off the table, and also that Abigail just uses the actual crime committed - Rose is dying - rather than going for the equally time-honored yet horrible move of claiming that Gramps did something else terrible to her in order to emotionally involve Andreas. Abigail clearly understands Andreas very well and knows exactly how to manipulate his emotions, so she doesn't have to do any gross clichéd stuff to get him to help her and thankfully that means we don't have to watch it.

We do have to notice the peacock feathers she's wearing on her lapel, though. Now where have we seen those before?

In case we aren't dying of tragic sadness yet, I also find an old love letter from Andreas to Abigail in which he tenderly expresses his love for and devotion to her. See, this is a blameless Phantom + evil Christine combination that I can get behind; most often when adaptations try to pull this move, they either overdo it to a stratospheric level and make the Phantom into a precious blameless baby and severely undercut his character (like Garza's messy 2006 book), or they make them both evil and kind of flail around trying to get something sympathetic out of that (a good example would be Liu's 2006 novel). Here, the combination works well; I'm invested in both of them, I believe both of their actions as much as I wish I didn't, and they both have complex characterization to explain how they got where they are. (Well, we haven't seen it all yet, but we've got the broad strokes by now.)

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Since I'm sure you're all dying to know what it looks like when you finish one of those collection puzzles, this is it! First, I had to collect all five of these little suckers from around the game's many environments, then I had to come slot them into this Plot Vending Machine, and now that I'm here I have to rearrange them so that their positions make sense. You can see fairly clearly that we've got a firebreather to go with the fire-eating plume and a balancing clown to go on the unicycle, but some of them are less clear than this. In any case, like the Peking Opera version of this earlier, you don't have to know anything about clowning or clown acts to do this, but knowing even the basics about what kinds of acts clowns often perform is helpful.

By the way, I forgot to mention it earlier, but the game does do that thing where if you randomly click around a screen too much, the cursor turns red and the game makes a scoldy noise at you, and you aren't allowed to click on anything else for a full five seconds, which as we all know is eternity in video game terms. A lot of games have similar features to discourage players from just wildly clicking until they win instead of actually looking for things; in some games that's annoying or even punishing, when items are hard to identify or find or plagued by translation errors, but in this case there's been enough work put into making the puzzles and sets relevant to the story that it makes sense to try to stop players from skipping them.

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Man, Abigail is really going through something, or was back in the day when all this was happening. I'd like to point out the butterfly in the decoration on this piece of paper; while it's pretty obvious Abigail wrote it (although again, two unknown ballerina statues up front who might also be pissed about Rose's show!), the butterfly is another clue, as butterflies are used as personal symbols for Abigail throughout in much the same way the Phantom uses birds and Rose uses, well, roses. The butterfly imagery is interesting; like the birds we see everywhere, it's a flying creature beloved for its beauty, but it's also an insect with a much shorter lifespan, and they're associated with metamorphosis and change since they transform from caterpillars. In some cultures, butterflies are considered dangerous warriors (after all, they've got teeny claws and they will definitely drink blood if you leave it lying around!) or the souls of the warrior dead. I don't think we're trying to describe Abigail as a great warrior or anything, but the metamorphosis part is definitely on the table.

Anyway, Abigail is clearly frustrated and acting out about her replacement by Rose. I have to ask here who she's writing this note to; is this a scrap from a diary? A letter to another performer as they vent about the situation? A confrontation sent to Gramps himself? We never find out, which is a shame because it would have given us a frame of reference for what Abigail was doing about the situation before she ended up at murder. Of course, we have no way of telling whether she's being accurate in her assessment when she says she's a better dancer than Rose, nor does being a better dancer than Rose give her some sort of excuse for killing people, but it's important to note that she certainly seems to believe it. As a woman in the performing arts, I'm unfortunately very familiar with the specific kind of despair that comes with realizing that you're not getting to do something not because you wouldn't be great at it but because the director wants to fuck someone else (not that it's more fun when they want to fuck YOU and dangle the role as incentive, but no part of patriarchy is fun), so while I cannot condone Abigail's response, mostly I just want to punch my grandfather in his stupid face again.

It's interesting that my character is very neutral on judgments about everyone in this situation except for Andreas. My voice lines think that Rose is beautiful and tragic, that Abigail is sensitive and fragile, that the mayor is nostalgic and cool, and of course I'm all the way up my grandfather's colon, but I still keep calling Andreas by pejoratives like "madman" and "brute" and "monster", even now that I know who he is and that he's at least in some dimension a victim in all of this. I don't like you, me. Stop being an asshole.

I waited until now to float the idea that the Phantom may flee from Abigail's perfume bottle not because the smell is so upsetting, but because I now realize it could be the actual bottle of poison she used to kill Rose. We'll never find out, but I figured I'd mention it here so you'd get the full reproduced experience of that horrible little thought exactly where I did.

Anyway, on to the Velvet Voice's stage, which I've finally managed to get into! This is a small, dimly-lit, intimate cabaret theater, right down to the old-fashioned tube microphone and discarded saxophone on the floor. I find some sheet music still abandoned on the piano (it's hard to tell, but I think maybe some kind of 4/4 rag?) and a few jeweled butterflies that probably belonged to Abigail, suggesting she was either in here a lot or someone else brought some of her things in here. The scene is already extremely sad; from the little broken music box with the dancing girl figurines representing our lost dancers to the half-drunk bottle of wine and glasses on the table that remind us how suddenly everything ended for everyone here, it's already tragic, and that's before finding an old note from Andreas, dated 1957, in which he mentions Rose coming to perform at the theater and his discovery that she also likes little birds, leading to him mentioning that he'll give her a pet bird as a gift.

 

If you're wondering if this is a clue that he and Rose were messing around on the side, it isn't; neither of them shows any interest in the other that isn't about their shared performances or hobbies. They're just friends who were once happy before everything burnt down around them. You could, however, definitely wonder if Abigail knows that; if she's been seeing them spending time together or has run across notes like this, she might easily have gained the impression that Andreas was also more interested in Rose than in her, which could definitely have tipped her over from professional disgruntlement to all-out warfare against the other woman. This is never confirmed outright, but given the strength of Abigail's violent reaction to everything and the glimpses we'll soon get of what she was like before she suddenly started killing people, I think it's probably intended that we suspect a jealousy motive on top of the professional one.

At this point, it's just funny whenever I find another piece of another collection and write "oh look, another piece of another collection puzzle" in my journal.

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First of all, thank you, the gossamer curtain still intact and flapping with the wind after all these years IS terribly creepy. Second of all, one enormous huge no thank you at all to the spider the size of a human hand on the wall over there. You're right, ma'am. This IS your house now and the rest of us should get the hell out. Unfortunately that is not an option because one of the musical instrument plates I'm collecting is behind the web, and in spite of my reasonable and healthy fear of one of our natural predators, I'm still upset that I had to get it by spraying the poor thing with pesticide. If that's a comment on Abigail's similarly spray-on extermination of Rose, I'm not sure you want to force the players to ritually take part in it; this doesn't feel like that kind of game. (I know, it would have died in the impending demolition anyway probably, but I still had to chemically poison a bug to death while it writhed in agony, which I do not think is better for either me or said bug.)

If I look at the poster of HOG-dini up there, my character wistfully wishes he were here. Yeah, I mean, a supernaturally good finder would be really fucking useful in this game, wouldn't he? He's also the last character that we know was around but who hasn't been introduced yet, which leads me to question who he was and how he's so far avoided being drawn into all this. For a while I was wondering if he might be involved with Rose, but now that we know that's Gramps, I'm back to my original theory that Gramps and HOG-dini are the same person and he just likes having an act separate from his managing duties.

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I was not kidding about how this game wants you to sob into your hands every time you learn new information. Here we have another vision of the past, and it shows us the exact same scene but when the theater was thriving, when the performers were happy... and, as we can see, when Abigail and Rose were fast friends. If you interact with them, you can listen to them talking about it, with Abigail passionately declaring they'll be friends forever and Rose telling her that she's like a sister to her. IT'S RAINING ON MY FACE. It feels right that each of them is holding an item for this search - Abigail a fan, and Rose a pink bow.

We have a lot of room here to ask whether Abigail is lying about this; she says they'll be friends forever, but then again she also later kills her, so was that all hot air? Was she trying to lull Rose into a false sense of security? Did she just make friends to help herself get ahead?

Honestly, I don't think so. The game's setup strongly suggests to me that this is legitimate: Abigail and Rose really and truly did love one another and were very close friends. We see clues of it all over the place, from their performances together to their shared dressing room and matching clothes and knick-knacks, all of which suggest a pair of close friends who like to share things and express that closeness through gifts (you know, like kids giving each other half-heart necklaces). From the fact that Abigail gets most of the information that spurs her to act through eavesdropping to the absolute failure of everyone else to see it coming, it very much reads to me like she genuinely loved Rose and was actively devastated to discover that she was "betraying" her, either by taking her art and livelihood from her or stealing her lover or both.

Also, I see you out there, shippers, but: there's no real suggestion that Rose and Abigail were romantically involved, but feel free to pretend that isn't the case. After all, it would be a reasonable additional emotional trigger for Abigail to go fully off the rails if she was also in love with the person who torpedoed her career and left her for some douchebag with psychic powers and bad problem-solving skills. I can also see all the folks preparing to speculate about whether Abigail is meant to be Meg to Rose's Christine, but I don't see much influence from Lloyd Webber's Meg in this, even with the heavy emphasis on ballet; you could make more of an argument for Meg from the original novel, where she's a younger ballerina and described as dark-haired and swarthy, but that version of her was never friends with or even very close to Christine.

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Another day, another collection of items to get a vending machine to give me my plot tokens. It's a nice, one, though; again, there's a heavy visual component where the player is asked to recognize and identify each instrument individually, and then match it to the statue of a person actively playing it. I couldn't find out whether any of them were modeled on real people, so if you're a musician featured in this game, drop me a line and I'll be delighted.

My attempts to get the next fiendishly locked door open are a little on the hilarious side, mostly due to goofy descriptions that say things about how POWERFUL and STRONG and MAJESTIC the eagle decorating the door is and then how I will need a POWERFUL and STRONG and MAJESTIC key to match it. I understand that this clue is trying to communicate that there's a key somewhere with an eagle on it, but mostly it just made me go, fine, jeez, I'll put my pathetic weakling keys away, I guess.

After getting the door open, I discover it opens back into the hallway the Phantom trashed, but I'm encouraged by a ghostly ballerina - Abigail this time, I think - passing through the hallway and the locked doors on the other side of it, which I'm pretty sure from context clues is my grandfather's old office. (That's right, asshole. I'm coming to check your books forty years later and I am not inclined to be forgiving.)

I manage to discover just a straight up stage magician wand, which becomes the most disappointing object in my possession once I realize it is not for performing magic but is just a glorified prop key to my grandfather's study. HARSH, GRANDPA. It's also about here that I figured out the HOG-dini pun and had to go lie down for a few hours, so feel free to take a minute to feel superior about this.

While we're doing that, I'm going to pause and ask another important question: is HOG-dini my grandfather? On the one hand, he's billed as a separate character completely, and we never actually encounter any real evidence that they're the same person, nor do we ever see his ghost to help give us any clues from the grave. On the other hand, he wears a mask, has similar physical coloring, we have no idea if he survived the original catastrophe or what he did afterward if he did, and he exclusively does stage magic involving finding lost things, which really feels like a great way for someone with a clairvoyant talent to put on a show, and we'll see a few pictures of HOG-dini in Grandpa's office and around the place that make it ambiguous.

I honestly think in the end that it doesn't matter, weirdly enough. If Gramps is HOG-dini, he's not doing any diniing in THIS game, so there's no reason to care; all the clues and sets and props left behind from HOG-dini will be easily found and accessed once I get his empty theater open. If he isn't, well, HOG-dini apparently doesn't matter very much, since we don't get to ever so much as see or interact with him. (Run free, HOG-dini. You are the only character in this game not currently listed as Hideously Dead or Permanently Traumatized.)

It is interesting, though, that only the female performers become ghosts, while the male ones seem to get to still be alive (even Gramps, assuming he survived the fire; we don't know since that original vision of him at the gates is implied to be a past vision and not a ghost). I suspect this has to do with very lazy shorthand along the lines of "ghosts allow girls to remain pretty and tragic but be occasionally scary in an ineffectual way, and being alive allows boys to be big and scary and dangerous and menace the main character", but whatever.

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This is my favorite scene to walk into. I can't help it. I laughed out loud when I finally got this door open and discovered the teeny-tiny mayor working on jiggling my Grandpa's ancient-ass locked walk-in safe open. She looks like a gremlin on the loose.

Anyway, this is Grandpa's office, and sadly I don't get to ask the mayor whether she learned her lockpicking skills at the same Lockpicking for Toddlers workshop everyone around here apparently went to as part of their schooling because when she turns around she has GLOWING YELLOW EYES for a moment before they settle down. I know none of you are probably surprised by the fact that the mayor with her 824 visual clues is Involved In All This, but it's still unnerving to have it be the kind of involvement that causes laser eyes.

Entertainingly, the mayor will not talk to me, which I am happily interpreting as her being too embarrassed by being caught trying to break into a cabinet like a teen looking for booze to say anything, so obviously it's not weird to just... ransack the office while she silently watches. This genre can be so weird. I appreciate that my character is beginning to get somewhat concerned about why the mayor is here and why she's getting more hostile every time I see her, but apparently not concerned enough to like, do anything about it or even leave the room.

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More confusing artifacts. This poster is hanging in Gramps' office, and is the single greatest piece of evidence against him being HOG-dini simply because he seems to have also been doing his own stage magic act, at least up until 1958 (so if he did quit before the fire, it was only barely). On the one hand, this is clearly about Gramps and his past vision technique, since the poster says I CAN SEE THE PAST in exciting speech-bubble letters; on the other hand, does this place have need of or room for two stage magicians, both of whom have questionably difficult acts for their audience to see and/or appreciate? (To be quite honest, Granddad, is seeing something that happened in the past and then explaining it real good... an act? Like, did you just stand in a room and say things that could be made up for all anyone knows for an hour? What did this look like?)

This room is the only one in the game that has noticeable mapping problems, where the player often cannot click on the correct item or area because the program's hotspot isn't aligned over the artwork properly. I'm going to blame my grandfather again. It feels right.

The mayor finally talks to me when I decide to investigate the door she couldn't get open myself, and she is not in a good mood with me or in fact the rest of the universe. She won't let me at the door and instead launches into an angry rant about how my grandfather was a criminal (I know, ma'am, you're not getting arguments from me on that front), that he burned the Nightingale down on purpose (jury's still out, but I can certainly see why she believes it and is mad about it), and how they're still looking for him and he can't escape justice forever (thereby rendering my comments about statues of limitation weirdly prophetic). She closes by telling me that she'll lock my ass up too if I give her a reason to so DO NOT TEST HER.

She flounces off, peacock feather that fits our bird theme switching angrily in the wind, leaving me to ponder the extremely salient question of how she knows who I am in the first place. I didn't tell her that Gramps is my grandfather, or even introduce myself by name, but she knew who I was on sight and clearly doesn't like my being here one little bit (which I suppose is reasonable, if she thinks I'm doing some sort of arson cahoots for a family member). This is one of those nice writing moments because it's actually easy to miss this; due to the thinner filter between player and point-of-view character than you might normally find in most printed media, it's easy to let the game's immersive approach make you forget that your backstory is not printed on your forehead and that other characters shouldn't necessarily know everything you know. (Complain though I do, at least Rebecca accurately had no fucking clue what I was doing here just as much as I have no idea what she's doing here.)

Since I forgot to say so earlier, note: you can skip minigames after a 30-second wait at the beginning, but doing so turns off your hints for the next full five minutes. I didn't mind, because I enjoyed the cute graphic of chains with a timer on them being put over the hint button.

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Gramps, your office is a fucking mess. No, we cannot blame all this on the fire causing a speedy getaway. A rummage sale threw up on this desk.

The money on the desk is especially funny to me, not only because it's still there in spite of the apparently nonstop parade of traffic through this place in its forty-odd years of being abandoned and easily robbed, but because it's obvious that the artist didn't know what to do here. The collection of legal tender on display includes a twenty-dollar bill that has George Washington's face on it (if you're not in the United States, this is hilarious because Washington only appears on one-dollar bills; Andrew Jackson appears on twenties); a bill beneath it that is not green and therefore must be a different nation's currency; and several coins that are completely indecipherable but look like they're from the Byzantine era. This is money as envisioned by an alien who grasps the general concept of currency but has no idea how to research the culture they're about to enter. (Alternatively, Gramps is a counterfeiter, you decide!)

Hey, there's a photo in here of me with Grandpa! That's kind of nice, although I can't actually see it because the developers need to preserve the air of mystery about the protagonist so any player can project themself into the role so the picture is blurry as fuck, but it does appear that I am some sort of slightly round-faced little person. Checks out. I actually like this for reasons probably not intended by the developers: almost all protagonists in video games are young people, and having a visual confirmation that I physically met and hung out with my grandfather forty years ago means that by definition this one is middle-aged. My joints hurt and I'm very worried about what's going to happen to my heating bill this winter, but that doesn't mean I can't go on adventures.

Continuing my quest to be bafflingly good at various skilled trades just because, I manage to construct an entire fully functional, full-sized ladder out of shit I found in my grandfather's office. I'm a badass. This is unfortunate because the obvious thing to do when you are a badass with a ladder is to get into the upper level of the theater by climbing up through the hole the Phantom ripped in the ceiling when he tore down the chandelier, which of course is what I do.

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Hmm. Well, this isn't ominous at all.

In one of the game's funnier lines, my attempts to use a lamp in the dark were met with the assertion that I can't light it with the "spark of imagination" or the "flame of desire". In other words, go find some matches, loser.

Note the butterflies, which are a clue that the locked room to the right belongs to Abigail. The double butterfly motif, with both in different colors, is interesting for reasons we'll get to at the end of this review.

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Oh, well, there's Rebecca. Guess he wasn't interested in hurting her, which tracks with this Phantom, who tends to freak out when people are literally in his face but to not have any interest in actually hurting anyone. I still think this game might have had an earlier draft in which Rebecca was Grandpa's descendant, because she just doesn't make very much sense as written.

My main concern coming in here was whether or not Rebecca has enough air and spoilers: SHE DOES NOT. The ostentatiously visible exhaust fan on the ceiling there is damaged, meaning that she isn't getting any fresh air and has only limited time before it starts getting hard to stay awake in there. I will note that it is actually neat to have this little bit of tech jargon in here; tanks with performers in them are historically a notorious problem when it comes to making sure that those inside can breathe well enough to do their acts, and the exhaust fan solution to create a corridor of fresh air is a pretty common and fairly low-tech solution. Tanks like this were frequently used to display "mermaids" (really swimming performers who either sat behind a screen and only appeared to be in the tank through the glass, or who were adept at holding their breath and could submerge for long periods of time while being exhibited) and "dangerous characters" (basically any person who looked unusual enough for people to pay to look at them, which unfortunately did traditionally involve a lot of racism and ableism).

I'd love to help you, Rebecca, but I can't because instead I have to start a new collection of crystal balls because WIZARDS.

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Speaking of, we've found HOG-dini's show, which is the only actual longstanding performance left we haven't already pillaged. The big white rabbit up at the top there pops in and out of the hat, and I have to applaud whatever hydraulic system is still working to let it do that even after a catastrophic fire and forty years of absolutely no maintenance whatsoever. The real magic was complete immunity to entropy.

The other rooms, if you've noticed the highly subtle visual motifs the roses, is Rose's bedroom. This brings up a question: we see bedrooms for Abigail, Andreas, and Rose, but not for the other headliners, HOG-dini and the Velvet Voice, nor for any of the other ballerinas we know once existed. (Or Gramps, but I'm not counting him, of course he has a mansion or some shit somewhere.) This is a very odd bit of worldbuilding, since having any performers living at the theater is weird but having only some of them live there is very weird; generally speaking, professional performers don't live at their workplaces outside of experimental artist communes, but if they did, you'd think it wouldn't be like half the headliners and not the others because of Inexpliable Reasons. If Gramps is keeping some of them living in the company town under his constant surveillance, that really isn't adding to any of our attempts to not to see him as the foundational disaster plaguing this company.

(Yes, obviously the problem is that the designers wanted multiple environments that give you a sense of the characters' personalities, and Abigail/Andreas/Rose are important to the plot while Velvet/HOG-dini aren't, so they get the bedrooms. That doesn't make it not weird. I don't care what the 2004 Schumacher/Butler film wants us to believe.)

There is a lot of artificial pressure on this situation, because Rebecca is actively dying of oxygen deprivation the longer I dick around looking at things... but it's that non-pressure you often get in adventure games. Because nothing will move or advance no matter how long it takes me to do it, Rebecca is actually fine; while the story tells us she's in trouble, in terms of gameplay she has functionally limitless oxygen and I could go on a leisurely ambulatory tour of every other part of the building before coming back and she'd be right where I left her. Honestly, while this isn't particularly realistic, I don't mind it in context of this game genre; timed objectives and irrevocable failure conditions stress me out in a game, and the story giving us Rebecca's peril gets enough of this across to make it still seem reasonably urgent to the player.

Somewhere along the line here, I found a few more notes from Gramps left strategically in drawers, as if by some sort of ghoulish psychic who knew I'd be able to find them later and thought this would be funnier than telling me so that Rebecca doesn't asphyxiate to death. One of them exists solely to prevent us from thinking that Grandpa was playing favorites with his performers and claims he was being extremely objective and the fact that he's sleeping with Rose has absolutely nothing to do with him passing Abigail over to give Rose the new show instead and therefore no one is allowed to be mad at him. I think we can all sort of collectively recognize what this note deserves, which is none of our attention and also a trash can. The second note claims that Gramps has been framed for the fire and has to run away, which is of course about ten thousand percent obvious at this point in the game but also seems like a hilariously suspicious thing to stop and write down and safely stow in a drawer while in the middle of a massive fire emergency you definitely did not cause.

But speaking of emergencies, it's time for another past vision, which we can all enjoy because it opens with Andreas punching the monocle right off Gramps' face. Unfortunately, he's doing that because he thinks Gramps killed Rose and not because of his behavior up to that point, but I'll take it. We also see that the fire was started accidentally, since in the scuffle a table is knocked over and a candle ignites the alcohol from a spilled bottle of wine. Andreas leaves Gramps lying unconscious on the floor and turns his back to go back into the fire as the vision ends, which I assume is him realizing he needs to go find Abigail and get people out of the building. I also assume Gramps woke up at some point so he could write sad notes about how he got framed, even though this would be a perfect revelatory moment explaining why Grandpa's ghost is here and confirming his innocence. (I guess he has to be alive and elsewhere for sequel reasons, which is a bummer when no sequel ever materialized.)

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But we've finally gotten into Rose's room, so now we're back to everything being sad and tragic instead of loud and scary. Look at that swan! It refers to her role in Swan Sisters, of course, and ties into the overall bird motif of the game, but it's also pretty strongly reminiscent of the swan bed in the 1925 Julian/Chaney film, which I doubt is a coincidence.

It's worth pausing here to talk about the Greek myth of Leda and the Swan, which we last saw back in Ashe's 1996 novel (and yes it is KILLING me that I can't find a connection because you all know I like that hot published mess). According to the myth, Leda was a queen of ancient Sparta whom Zeus became enamored with, and he tricked her into letting him into her bed by transforming into a swan and fleeing from an eagle, prompting her to innocently protect him before realizing. The resulting children, born from eggs as a result of their swan father, are Helen of Troy, famously the most beautiful mortal woman ever to live, and then lots of arguing about who the other twin is (Clytemnestra and Castor & Pollux, usually, but not always).

This myth is a bummer because it involves rape and that is always a bummer, but it's notable here because it's not much of a stretch to attach it to these characters. Obviously, Rose as Leda herself, with Gramps as Zeus, is one option; but given their close connection and the birds everywhere, I'd lean more toward Abigail and Rose being the symbolic children of Leda, each born from the eggs of the same swan but with markedly different natures. Rose maps easily onto Helen of Troy, as a beautiful woman for whose love everything is set on fire by people who are being jerks about it, and Abigail makes a capable Clytemnestra, who was betrayed when her husband sacrificed their child and plotted to murder him on his return from the battlefield (and succeeded fairly epically). Under this metaphor, we'd see Rose and Abigail represented as literal sisters, and as two birds from the same egg who nevertheless are dealt radically different hands and who respond radically differently.

Anyway, whether any of that is intentional or not, Rose's room design certainly is. Everywhere in this room are things designed to remind us of how sweet and innocent Rose was, largely by aligning her with childhood; there's a doll on the bed and a teddy bear on the floor, and the pink color scheme is also associated with girlishness and childhood. I understand where these decisions were coming from, as shorthand to describe the character to us and to align with Leroux's Christine and her frequently mentioned childlike innocence, but they don't put me in any better mood with my grandfather, who is definitely significantly older than Rose (he had a middle-grade grandchild, me, when he was dating her!).

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Get ready to get sad again: inside the music box on Rose's desk is this photograph of her and Andreas playing with his pet birds. There's a bit of a flashback involved in which we are able to see that Andreas and Rose bonded over their shared love of little birds and sometimes visited each other, and that they were genuinely fond of one another. Once again, though we don't see an inciting incident, it seems all too likely that the already upset and betrayed Abigail may have seen this and believed that Andreas was two-timing her.

Here's a new question: did Rose have a thing for Andreas? We know from his correspondence that Andreas was fully in love with Abigail and thought of Rose as a friend, and we know Gramps and Rose were dating because he flipped his shit when she died and said so, but... Rose never shows any actual interest in Gramps. We don't see them have a love scene; we don't even see them hang out together except for purely work purposes. The only two times we see them interact are when he's telling her about her new solo show, during which she's excited and effusive but specifically toward her show, and then when she's dying and he's crying and holding her, and neither one gives us much to work with when it comes to figuring out how invested she actually is in the relationship.

But she does care about this picture, enough to hide it in her music box like a treasured possession. I'm not saying this game is secretly about the tragic romance between the Christine and Phantom characters just because that's what these things are usually about, but it is curious to me that the only examples of Rose showing genuine affection for others are in her relationships with Abigail and Andreas. She and Gramps are more something we get told but that doesn't seem to have any emotional core to it aside from, we'll see a little later, her asking Andreas not to let Gramps die in the fire while she's about to die herself.

These are the sorts of things I think about in order to distract myself from the inexpressible sadness of searching through all the things left behind by Rose, who died for no good reason at all, in a tragedy that benefited no one. I also think about how funny it is when you get little mistakes like a hidden object search screen that clearly shows the wall safe open even though in the game proper you have not yet figured out how to open it.

FINALLY, after some extremely dangerous and questionable decisions involving cutting wires, reaching into moving fans, and building family crests out of pieces of bric-a-brac, I manage to get Rebecca out of the glass case, which is a relief to us both after she had to desperately watch me try to figure out which little picture the tiny Caesar figure was supposed to be next to before she died. Once she's out of the box, she informs us that the Phantom is Andreas (we already know, but in her defense the box was soundproof) and that almost suffocating to death has finally satiated her college-girl lust for adventure and she's getting the fuck out of here. Of course, I have no idea how she's planning to get out because I sure fucking can't, AND I'm not going with her for completely incomprehensible reasons, but whatever, at least I hopefully don't have to rescue her again.

And now, of course, as Swan Sisters has been telling us the entire game, it's time for a contrast.

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This is Abigail's room. As we can clearly see, it is designed to mirror Rose's room, which it does perfectly; these are the exact same room, just flipped so that the bed and vanity are on opposite walls. Both have a single window to the outside world, a wardrobe/cabinet, a vanity, and a bed in the same positions... and, of course, each has her swan, with Abigail's room featuring the black swan she once played as opposed to Rose's white.

Obviously, we're going out of our way to make sure that the vibe in Abigail's room is neither cheerful nor fun. The warm lights and colors of Rose's room are replaced here with cold blues and purples; the childish toys and sweet flowers of Rose's room are replaced with creepy things like mannequin heads and broken mirrors. Many things appear in twos, such as scissors, mice, feathers, and so on. All the things in here relate to Abigail's fall into darkness, but I'd especially like to note the painting over her bead, which depicts her and Rose in their ballet costumes. It's another example of the fact that Abigail genuinely loved Rose, to the point that she kept a portrait of the two of them above her bead, and the nails now sticking out of the painted Rose illustrate Abigail's frenzied reaction to her perceived betrayal. (The same spot in Rose's room is occupied by her dance trophies; draw your own conclusions.)

I think the whole-ass LIZARD that crawls behind the bed whenever you enter is maybe a bit much, though. Also the spectral mice under the bed with their glowing red eyes who are about to break into the creepiest rendition of "The Work Song" from Disney's Cinderella you've ever heard of.

This room gives us more insight into Abigail's unraveling; the scissors and voodoo doll on the bed signify that she was acting out violent fantasies about Rose before she finally escalated to actual murder, and of course we've got another peacock feather on the vanity, just in case the game has been too subtle about where it's going for you up until now. Of course, I'm not sure why Abigail would have wanted a skull and crossbones literally built into her vanity drawers - even if she was into the aesthetic, it's a weird custom job to get when trying not to be identified as a poisoner.

If you're wondering what's up with all the mannequin heads, fear not, the game actually explains that when you interact with them! Apparently Abigail was also a costume artist and makeup artist, and she was especially good at making realistic human masks. Obviously, a cast member who makes masks is rife with Phantom possibilities, especially when the specific mention of realistic human masks is a clear reference to the mask made by the original Phantom, which he claimed mimicked humanity so well that he could walk unnoticed and handsome among other people.

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It turns out that when you treat the mirror in Abigail's bedroom, you can see her desperate scrawled message. I certainly forecasted that Abigail felt betrayed, and her mention of "everyone" here once again suggests to me that she includes Andreas (and the fact that she specifically tells Andreas that it was Rose who Gramps attacked, not herself, really lends itself to the interpretation that she may have thought Andreas genuinely cared more about Rose than he did her). The fact that her words disappeared when the mirror was broken is poetic.

 

The yonic resemblance of the slots below is less poetic, but hey, it's not like we don't have a ton of penis imagery in any given Phantom story. The slots are two halves of a little heart, one representing each of the two girls who loved each other before all this happened, and we'll find one half of the heart in Abigail's room here and the other in a locket in Rose's, again two halves of a broken whole.

Also, there's something behind this mirror, because of course there is! So...

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Well, hell. It's not a passage into the depths of the sub-basements, but it's definitely a poison cabinet. Poison cabinets actually aren't new, and were fairly common in old-time apothecary ages when you would definitely want to lock up your most potent poisons before making medications with safer things like cocaine and strychnine. They're usually a little more organized than this, with tiny compartments and drawers for different substances, but I don't think Abigail is worried about whether her cabinet aligns with those owned by the Medicis.

This is interesting because a false mirror back doesn't usually come standard with your average vanity set, so the implication is that Abigail made this herself. We already know she's talented in creative pursuits and has exceptional physical stamina and dexterity from her work as a ballerina and as a world-class makeup artist and costumer, so it's not a surprise that she could build a secret cabinet into her vanity outside of it being surprising in general because who on earth does that. If she'd had someone else do it, she would have had to explain what she wanted it for, and even if she lied always know someone would know exactly where to look if suspicion fell on her, so given that she's been pretty canny about all this it seems unlikely she'd have wanted to involve anyone else she didn't have to.

The stuffed bird in here is particularly sad. It's probably just there because of the bird motif and maybe as an ominous contrast of a bird of prey vs. the songbirds and waterfowl Andreas and Rose liked to keep, but it also seems plausible that it IS one of their little birds, killed and stuffed because we're clearly doing (or trying to do) some sort of sympathetic magic and it would go along well with the voodoo doll and stabbed-up painting.

I am not a fan of my character exclaiming, "What a crazy woman!" here, though. Yes, Abigail is clearly entirely out in the weeds, but let's not go straight to "bitches be crazy", please, there are like sixteen things wrong with that and about half of them are the same problems we're seeing with the ableism directed toward Andres.

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Back in Rose's room, it's time for another past vision, in this case of Gramps pressing his suit to Rose. Rose's living bedroom is much more vibrant than the dead one, which makes sense; her dolls are sitting in pride of place with her trophies, which tells us something about what she values, and we can see the little songbird peeking out of its birdcage at the back of the room, presumably the one given to her by Andreas. Teddy gets to stay on the bed, but that cashmere sweater on the floor can fend for itself. She's surrounded by flowers, most likely given to her by admirers as a result of her triumphant performance, but clearly doesn't consider them that important, since they're slung somewhat haphazardly on her bed and have even fallen on the floor. We can see back by the window that she's growing potted flowers of her own, too, meaning that it's not that she doesn't care for flora but rather that she doesn't seem interested in being flattered with bouquets.

Bad news for Gramps, who is kneeling in front of her with yet another one like he is not in a prime position to know exactly how many flowers his performers get all the time. This scene is actually really confusing; ALL our other past visions have been from 1960, the night of the fire, but this one seems like it must have come from an earlier point in time. The poster for Rose's solo show is not on her wardrobe door yet as it is in the present day, meaning that this is prior to the advertising for that show and therefore these accolades surrounding her are probably for Swan Sisters. We can't see Gramps' face, but he looks significantly younger than he does in the flashbacks to 1960, and has short hair that ends at his collar, while the 1960 visions show him with long hair down to his shoulders. There is only one trophy on Rose's shelf, but in the present-day version of her room there are three.

All of this, plus the fact that Gramps' position feels like he's declaring his love for the first time or at least to a new level of fervor, suggests that this had to happen some time before the whole situation with Abigail, who is presumably down the hall in her own room writing Mrs. Abigail Destruction Acrobat happily in her journal right now. More than a lot of games in this genre, this one really has a lot of moments where you can clearly see its "bones", and I think that's because they're sort of slapped together in places they weren't originally intended; for example, I think this scene was likely either originally meant to be backstory concept art rather than a live part of the game, or that there was some previous draft, again, that didn't concertina everything up into Just That One Night so that this might have made more sense.

We can't really get any clues from Rose herself, even, although this I think the only time we ever see her face clearly when she is not already dead or in the middle of dying; she appears surprised, but there's no other emotion to help us figure out how receptive she is to Gramps here, and her very round baby face makes her look a LOT younger than her ghost, to the point where I am again creeped out by my grandfather out here macking on women at minimum twenty years his junior who are also in his employ. VERY creeped out. She looks like a child, not just in the room (which we earlier noted is heavily styled to evoke childhood and innocence) but also in her dress, reminiscent of childrens' fashions in the first half of the twentieth century, her hair, which is sporting a headband which is traditionally worn almost exclusively by children and teens, and her size (even kneeling, Grandpa is clearly bigger than she is).

The fact that the art on Gramps is hilarious is the only thing staving off the ickies. No, seriously. Look at his right hand. Then look at his foot. Then look at his tiny apple head. He was put together by a committee with no interest in quality assurance and then unleashed on the world.

Anyway, this still scene is the sum total of the relationship we're going to be seen between the two of them. I don't actually think there's a conspiracy to secretly imply Rose and Grandpa are not actually blissfully in love; the game clearly intends them to be. It just hasn't done a good job of showing that at any point, which leaves us wondering important things like why Abigail clearly seems to have much more of an emotional attachment to Rose than her supposed boyfriend does or which backhoe-adjacent piece of equipment we need to rent to run my grandfather down, preferably somewhere in the past so that I will also be able to escape justice.

After leaving all this sadness to go back to vandalizing my grandfather's office for a bit, I manage to get a safe open only to discover a box of junk in it - in fact, a box of IDENTICAL junk to that which was sent to me to convince me to come out here in the first place. This is one of the best shocking moments of the game, because it's been well set up but also wasn't too obvious: suddenly, the player is forced to realize that they could have been lured here by someone who wasn't Gramps at all for some nefarious purpose, and further that if it wasn't Gramps, he may be dead after all.

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We've finally made it into HOG-dini's performance space! Unfortunately the first thing we see in it is this Zoltar-esque fortune-telling automaton machine. Machines like this have a long history as amusement-park and boardwalk attractions; essentially, you pay a little money, the machine makes some noises and ominously moves its automated fortune-teller around, and then a printed fortune pops out of the front. There's nothing inherently wrong with the concept (which is more of an amusement here in the States and one that most people won't ever see in person; I understand fortune-telling machines are more popular in places where the dominant religion or folklore is more divination-friendly), but in practice in the West it's always been deployed with racist overtones, usually by fashioning the automaton to look like a person from an "exotic and magical" culture, which in practice means "brown and we find their religion scary". Most of these use markers to indicate that the automatons are meant to represent a person of Indian, Arab, or Romani ancestry, because we have an unstoppable shitty problem with assuming people from those groups are actually all wizards and maybe we should shoot them about it.

Anyway, it's a bit of a bummer, because the idea of an automaton is always great for Phantom stories; Leroux noted in his epilogue that the Phantom had invented several, and they make a neat place for experimentation with the idea of the Phantom fashioning an avatar for himself that is completely inhuman but more palatable to other humans, or with the idea of him as a genius inventor who creates wondrous things in exile. We could have enjoyed all that here if they had just not coded the automaton as a Scary Magical Other Woman, but they did; the long veil and headdress suggest that the automaton is meant to be viewed as coming from an orthodox Muslim country, probably in the middle east, and the visible jingly jewelry is frequently a shorthand symbol for the Romani in these kinds of designs.

Like we don't have enough anti-Romani racism to go around in the Phantom story and its progeny already. ANYWAY. If you'd like to enjoy an automaton, we do at least get the bunny up on the left there, in its own private Bunny Box 5.

In addition to the fortune-teller, we also have all he traditional hallmarks of a stage magician: playing cards, clocks, top hats, wands or canes, crystal balls, the entire nine yards. I'm not sure how a lot of these things actually figure into the Great HOG-dini whose act seems to consist of being blindfolded and then finding things anyway, but we're at the part of the game where a lot of questions are just going to go unanswered. For instance, why the door is wrapped in chains, other than HOG-dini being extremely into his bit.

Another vision of the past tells us that Rose's dying request, made of Andreas who was the only conscious person there, was for him to save Gramps instead of leaving him to be burnt alive in the fire before she finishes coughing and delicately expires. The sequence that follows is difficult to uncode, since it consists of pseudo-animated stills and no dialogue; I initially thought it was implying that Andres looked down at Gramps, shook his head, and left him there anyway, which was hilarious, but I now think it's trying to communicate that Andreas moved Gramps' unconscious body outside the building before he ran back in to save Abigail and the others, out of deference to Rose's wishes. Of course, this does not explain how Gramps was able to write a lot of self-aggrandizing notes about how he's not playing favorites and actually he's being framed and then leave them inside the building in locked drawers. I suppose he could have sneaked back into the derelict building later, but that sort of thing feels risky when you're wanted for like seventeen simultaneous felonies.

However, we are coming toward the close: I have just completed the last collection in the game. It's a LOT of collecting, and I've been doing it since I started this 592 aeons ago. So what do we get to celebrate?

A battery. A fucking battery. The vending machine dispenses a battery, and it turns out the only reason the ticket machine wouldn't let me in is that it needed a battery. I could have solved this game thirty seconds after a quick visit to Wal-Mart but NO, HERE WE ARE.

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We finally made it into the Ballet Show theater! And oof. From the giant rose design to the stained glass decorations to the pink color scheme on everything, the place couldn't scream that it was about Rose and Specifically Rose Only any louder without an actual sound system. The last remaining poster that hasn't been burnt to almost unrecognizability is the one for the Swan Sisters above, the same poster we saw defaced out front, with living Abigail and Rose happily dancing as best friends.

Nevertheless, the place is clearly beautiful; imagine when the lights were working and the skylight wasn't broken! We've clearly got some Art Nouveau design going on around those doors, too, which is surprising when most of the rest of the building has been Art Deco (there's even clear Art Deco influence in the design on the balcony right above the doors!). The two torn up posters in here are for Rose's show and for the Velvet Voice's, an interesting choice as those are our strongest frontrunners for the role of Christine in this adaptation.

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And, of course, it's been a minute since I've seen him... so the Phantom is back. You know, Andreas is possibly the saddest Phantom in the world, but still, what a power pose. I'd also like to point out the prominently placed ripped down and destroyed chandeliers to his left, where the statue of the ballerina has also been destroyed and thrown down the steps in pieces, a contrast with the chandeliers and statue to his right, which are not only intact but still in working order decades later, suggesting that he may actualyl have been maintaining them.

If the stage setup is confusing you (and it should, no ballerina is going within fifty feet of this nightmare), let me note that it looks an awful lot like Rose's show never got off the ground. Oh, the decorating is there, as we noted, but the stage here clearly has a ton of doubling, including two opposing statues of ballerinas; in a few minutes, we'll find out that those two platforms in front of the rose symbol hold statues of two swans, one white and one black. This seems to strongly suggest that we're looking at the old setup for Swan Sisters, not Rose's solo show... but that doesn't make very much sense because it seemed from the flashbacks that Rose's solo show was already running when the fire destroyed the theater, or at latest was premiering that night. We could extrapolate that Rose's solo show is Swan Sisters, in the sense that they retooled it to have a single star (which is actually the way Swan Lake is usually danced, with one ballerina performing both swans' roles), but you'd think someone would have mentioned that, if only to hammer home how unbelievably pissed off that would probably make Abigail, who would be just getting point-blank fired so that Rose could take over the exact same role in addition to the one she already had.

 

Either way, this is a mess and no one is dancing ballet on it, even if it were clean and debris-free. I don't even want to walk on this stage and I don't have to do it in pointe shoes and hope I don't destroy my career forever when I do.

My plan for dealing with Andreas here is, uh... not stellar. Basically, I figured I'd just show him the poison Abigail used to kill Rose, and... that's kind of the end of the plan. Apparently I'm assuming he'll know what I'm implying even though I also think he's mindless from his medication, and apparently I think he'll just believe me instead of his sainted dead lover? I honestly do not know because aside from the extreme video game logic of "small bottles of smells upset this NPC", it seems like I'm just trying to get myself thrown off the roof as efficiently as possible.

(I don't end up with any evidence of these even at the end of the game, but it occurred to me that, since I have Schroedinger's Grandpa and have no clue if he's alive or dead or a ghost or in a different time period or just living in Costa Rica to escape extradition, it's also possible that no one has ever caught Gramps to try him for the crimes he's accused of because he may have just been living in Andreas Jail in the basement for the past forty years. You'd have to applaud Andreas' commitment to both fucking this guy's life up but also respecting Rose's wishes that he not die, at least.)

Anyway, I have a Bad Fucking Plan and nobody can stop me so I clamber my way up toward him, waving my bottle of old-timey poison. He screams at me a lot and runs away, and I want to punch my own avatar when she shrugs and says to herself, "Guess he doesn't want to accept the truth." Look, me, he's enormously traumatized and you are a stranger who has been making it worse by dredging up his specific trauma all night. I'd scream at us, too. My character then goes and writes down in her journal, "I should go check on him." DO YOU THINK?

At least I don't have to feel as bad about ripping up the theater seats with a boxcutter as I would in most adventure games. The whole place is toast tomorrow when the demolition crew gets here, anyway, and I deeply appreciate that the game didn't go for the low-hanging fruit of making me desperate to like, fix it up or something.

Speaking of toast, time for the plot to lurch us to the end of the road: I find another note, classically Phantom-esque, which promises to get revenge not only on Gramps but on all his descendants, which does indeed mean I'm probably in hilarious trouble here. You'd think this might be Abigail, because she's actively pissed off at dear old Granddad, but then again she's mad at him for being an asshole about casting, so I'm not sure why all his descendants would need to be in for a blood feud about it. You could alternatively think it's Andreas, which makes more sense since he believes that my grandfather literally burned down his entire life and killed everyone he cares about, but aside from his angsty I CAN NEVER LEAVE note, presumably written soon after or during the disaster, he doesn't seem like he's in a very writing coherent notes for no audience kind of place. (Honestly, logically speaking it doesn't really make sense for ANYONE, with the slight possibility of it maybe being Gramps himself seeding me clues, but if so I don't get this one.)

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Hahaha, I thought we were done with collections, but that's because I'm a foolish fool who fools about. The final door is locked with a ridiculous mechanism that involves needing to go re-search areas outside the building for the last collection of little lamps to get inside. It's actually a neat way of bookending the game, to send the player back to the outside areas that were the "beginning" after hours in the inside ones; it helps give the game the flavor of winding up to its conclusion and lets us revisit and enjoy those old environments through fresh eyes.

 

There's our trusty Very Powerful and Manly eagle up there again; actually, now that we've discussed it, I wonder if the intermittent eagles throughout are also meant to suggest the myth of Leda and the Swan, as eagles were popular symbols representing Zeus and it was an eagle that was "chasing" the swan when Leda rescued it.

While I run around looking for things, a quick look at my journal shows me that my character has jumped ahead to the conclusion that Gramps must be dead, having last seen him lying on the ground in the general vicinity of a horrible fire and some very angry performers. I also appear to believe that Abigail lured me here in order to murder me, presumably because of the note about Gramps and his descendants. One of these assumptions makes more sense than the other, but the plot's barreling toward its conclusion now so we won't have to wait long to find out if I'm right.

Man, there's a tortoise out here, but it has glowing red eyes and hates me. I am not in favor of all the fun animals from the beginning of the game suddenly deciding to be possessed.

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Hi again, Rose. Sorry about your literal everything. She appears briefly when I get the door unlocked before vanishing again, and my character starts waxing rhapsodically about how exciting it is to see what's behind the door, which is how a game lets you know that the Big Finale is over yonder.

As I complete YET ANOTHER FINAL MINIGAME TO GET IN, this one involving books made out of rocks and who the fuck even knows, I have time to ponder the eagle question again with regards to a surprising number of gryphons in this game. And then the door is open, and I get to climb a terror staircase! Who doesn't like a nice winding broken staircase into the yawning void?

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At the top of the stairs is this observatory (full moon, spooky!), which is very confusing because I genuinely want to know why on earth this was built on top of a theater and what it was used for. (And who's been cleaning all this sparkling marble and glass for the last forty years.) The theater was operating in the 1950s, so while it could be doing some sort of magic lantern or laser projection, it doesn't feel likely. I mean, looking out at the bucolic scenery is nice, but it doesn't make dollars, and I can't imagine how many times your bird-themed theater has had to clean actual bird off its massive purposeless roof windows.

Anyway, my character is immediately proven wrong when there's another past vision in here that makes it clear that Gramps is fully alive, having woken up and fled the theater in time to not get so much as a sliver of smoke damage in his lungs. Gramps does choose this moment to tell me from the past that I'll have to find a way to project my past visions to show them to Andreas because otherwise he'll never believe what I tell him, once again making me want to beat his head in with a phone book because we could have just DONE THIS AT THE BEGINNING, BRO. YOU CAN SEND MESSAGES THROUGH TIME. The fact that forcing Andreas, who is already in very rough shape, to relive the worst trauma of his life only so it can be even MORE shocking and traumatizing this time around as he realizes his last forty years have been futile does not seem like it's going to end well for either one of us does not appear to have occurred to my asshole forbear in 1960.

But since my brilliant "wave a bottle at him" plan didn't work, this is what we've got, so off we go. The game introduces a new concept here at the eleventh hour, that of "vision fragments", which are apparently tangible bits of the past that when combined can show even some pitiful non-Gramps-or-me plebe our past visions when deployed correctly. Honestly, that just makes Grandpa not leaving behind clues even worse. He has the technology to send me a fucking book of instructions from the past and instead he has me root around in a condemned building while a deeply traumatized man repeatedly makes ominous noises in the distance.

We do get a nice bookend tour as we visit each of the acts one by one, though, since naturally they each have a fragment. I find myself again being saddened by the Peking Opera; I wish we knew at least who performed at it, and while we clearly only hear about the headliners in this game, it's noticeable and sad that the only non-White act is also the one that, although it must have had headliners, will never get to tell us about them or who they were or what happened to them in this whole debacle.

But, anyway, once we find everything, it's go time.

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It's time to ACKNOWLEDGE THE MAYOR SITUATION, Y'ALL.

The finale will be in a second, but let's just note that as absolutely bug-eyed as she's being the mayor still has some rad older lady fashion choices going on. Turquoise hoops! What I think are white begonias, which often symbolize warnings of future misfortunes to come! We've talked about the peacock feather a few times, but I'd like to mention here, just since I'm fully huffing my own paint at this point, that peacocks were considered sacred to the goddess Hera in ancient Greece, and peacock feathers were often considered to signify her; as Zeus' wife, Hera was notoriously angry every time he had sex or children with anyone else. Of course, to our knowledge the mayor was not involved with Gramps (although how great of a twist would THAT be?), and the myth of Leda and the Swan is notable partly because it's one of very few cases in which Hera didn't spectacularly murder Leda or her illegitimate children. I'm not necessarily saying the mayor is possessed by the spirit of an ancient Greek matriarchal god, but it's still interesting.

Anyway, possessed or not, she cackles that she did in fact drag my ass out here under false pretenses, confirming that Gramps, if he's even still alive wherever he is, is definitely not here, and that she's going to burn the place down with me in it before running off very spryly for her age, leaving us to reflect upon the fact that this game somehow managed to begin after the first from the 2004 Schumacher/Butler film but also returned to it again for the finale.

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Speaking of finales and Gramps, there he is. Is he here to help me escape this burning building with my life? Ha ha, of course he isn't. He's not here at all; that's just another past vision, and he just wants me to stop trying to escape the burning building that is extra unsound because it's already burnt down once, and instead stand here while my feet turn to charcoal so I can look into the past again. You better hope I never find you, Gramps, and it's not because of anything involving the legal system.

But this is a video game, so final vision it is, and we get our last pieces of information from it. It's a neat touch that we don't see the flashback to what's actually happening in the burning building until it's burning in the present, too; we see Abigail trying to escape from the flames as well, only to be facially scarred as she does, directly linking her to the Phantom and making her physically match at least a small part of Andreas' similar wounds and scarring.

But the dramatic part has arrived: you see, Abigail isn't as hurt as Andreas, because she was already wearing a full-face rubber mask. Abigail has been the Phantom all along, unseen under everyone's noses the exact way Leroux's Phantom claimed he could do if he felt like it. She peels the Abigail mask off, and then as we watch dramatically pulls on another one to reveal that she is actually Mayor Linden.

This isn't really a reveal anymore at this point unless you have absolutely no ability to follow a plot, but it's still a nice payoff. Of course, it's also ridiculous and makes no sense. For one thing, Abigail appeared as a very young woman, and the Mayor is in her fifties if not older; but Abigail put on the mayor's face and wig forty years ago, meaning that presumably someone would notice that the little grey-haired old lady doesn't physically age, which you'd think would be important. Even if we lowball her to age fifty due to her grey hair and wrinkles, that still means she would be, at minimum, ninety years old by the time of this game, which should be raising some questions and also some eyebrows. Also, if Andreas takes orders from the mayor, presumably he knows she's actually Abigail, but how? Why? Did she roll back in here at some point like "it's me but I've decided to be in disguise forever because Reasons", and he was just fine with that? There's definitely some implied abuse of Andreas going on - even if she's never ruined his entire life by gaslighting him again, the first time was quite enough, and she certainly snaps orders at him and never seems to consider his feelings in the present-day - but I'm not sure even that makes their behavior make sense.

This would make more sense, actually, if we were looking at what's going on right now. If I were seeing a vision of Abigail elsewhere in the theater, setting fire to the place and then swapping out her masks due to the accident, that would help explain why no one has tried to study the mayor for science AND be useful last-minute information I couldn't have gotten from looking at the events of sixty years ago.

But then it also wouldn't be past vision; it'd be present vision, which, you know, most people have. Is it like... five-minutes-ago past vision? How does this stupid plot-contrivance power work? And if it was present vision it wouldn't work anyway, since we saw her changing masks and she looked like she was still in her twenties, so it had to be the past. What a mess.

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So here we finally are at the end, with our two Phantoms, the one running the other. Remember when I mentioned above that there's no way this game isn't influenced by the 1974 de Palma/Finley film? We've got dual Phantoms, one a deeply unstable and unhappy victim of the other who wears a metallic bird mask, the other a semi-literal swan (who, we'll discover in the bonus game, also has ties to the demonic). If they're not based at least in part on Winslow and Swan, I'll eat something inorganic.

Obviously, now that Abigail is here actively trying to kill me and capable of weaponizing Andreas against me with a snap of her fingers, I have to get my shit together and get him off her side immediately. So I do my absolute best, but I only get so far because Abigail needs to villain monologue again about how she tricked me into coming here and so on, and to be honest she never got to villain monologue in 1960 and if she doesn't let that pressure out now she'll probably explode, so I say let her go for it.

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As you can see, she's removed her mask again for this scene; I'm not entirely certain why she put it back on except that she wanted to dramatically rip it back off again with the only audience she can do that to, which I guess I can respect. She does look a little older than Abigail does in the past visions, but I'm not convinced I'm looking at a woman in her sixties or older. I do have to admire her commitment, though. She killed her rival and most of her fellow performers, fled the scene, successfully invented a whole new identity, became prominent in the community, and managed to get elected to political office, all while keeping her past a secret. She has dedicated her ENTIRE LIFE to this and if I didn't have a frankly bullshit made-up supernatural power, she'd have gotten away with it, too.

Also, amused by the fact that the art department accidentally implied here that she stopped to upgrade her jewelry. Turqouise hoops? Never heard of them. On Wednesday we wear jade hoops and pearls too, baby!

She briefly recaps her grievances, claiming that Grandpa never cared about her talent or gave her a chance and was giving his girlfriend preferential treatment instead; notably, she doesn't say anything about Andreas, although since he's standing right next to her I can understand not accusing him of hitting on her friend forty years ago and starting a separate problem at an inopportune moment. I'm perilously close to being turned into burnt floor paste if I don't do something before she finishes laughing at me, though, so I continue my scrupulously designed pattern of extremely bad plans and just shove the vision fragments into Andreas' face. (I'm not sure how I made the intuitive leap from "this will let Andreas psychically experience impressions of past events" to "so put them in a plate and then throw it at the guy", but it works.)

Poor Andreas does not take it well.

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I'm sorry, man. The moment when a Winslow realizes that Swan is the worst, actually, is always a rough one. This one feels especially bad because yeah, it was in self-defense, but it still feels like a pretty extensive invasion of someone's privacy and personhood to force them to experience a traumatic vision without permission, especially one of their own already horrific past. (Once again, we could have avoided all this back at the very first pas vision, but no, THANKS A LOT FOR NOTHING, GRAMPS.)

Predictably, Andreas cannot handle this revelation at all, especially because Abigail, who has gone into full-on villain mode by now, implies that she doesn't really give that much of a shit about him mid-monologue. This is another one of those places where it feels like the game's designers either couldn't get it together about how long it's been since the fire, or had to change it to a substantially further backstory away at some point; not only do the characters' ages not make very much sense, but the emotional beats here fit much better if the theater's destruction was fairly recent, no more than a few years ago. That would allow us to feel we still had a pretty decent handle on the relationship between Abigail and Andreas, fix our aging problems, and make the fixation everyone has on solving the case and figuring out where Gramps went make more sense. As it is, it's been forty years; we have no idea what kind of relationship Andrea and Abigail have had during that huge amount of time. We don't know if they're still together, if they have other relationships, if she visits him often or lives here alone all the time and vice versa, if they ever talk about what happened, if Abigail ever added to her story... nothing. This much omission feels like it almost must be a case of a hasty rewrite.

But whatever their relationship, Andreas can't bear the revelation that the woman he loves killed all his friends, destroyed his home, permanently disabled him, and then lied to him about it extensively for decades. So he grabs her and he throws both of them through the observatory window to fall three stories down to the ground, dying on impact.

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This final shot of them has Concept Art Problems about them, you know, wearing totally different colors of clothes than they just were upstairs, but nevertheless, it's still poignantly sad. Even in death, they went together; their hands are clasped tight when they die, showing us that they are two halves of the same person, and both their masks are finally gone, showing them honestly for who they are. We even get a brief but sweet flashback, as they lie dying, of them as young lovers, pleding their love to one another when they were happy all those years ago. Andreas has finally given up his guilt over destroying the theater, realizing that he was manipulated; Abigail is finally at rest. Tomorrow the theater will be demolished, and the tragedy will finally be over. (Or not, because the demolition crew is going to find bodies so everything's going to halt for a while, but we can be poetic about it for a second.)

Obviously, this is also analogous to the end of the 1974 de Palma/Finley film, in which Winslow realized the only way he could kill Swan was to kill himself as well and went for it, but it's hard to focus on literary parallels when I am not locked in a raging firetrap and all the other living people are gone so no one can help me. At least I hear distant sirens. Hopefully Rebecca's cavalry will get here before I hit sixth-degree burns.

A final text card explains that Abigail's and Andreas' deaths were ruled to be suicides, which technically isn't inaccurate but feels very simple when no one should even know these people were still alive to begin with and also one of them is the MAYOR. (Or, at best, one of them is a stranger wearing the mayor's clothes and the mayor mysteriously vanished the same day, which might actually be even worse.) It also informs us that Rose's ghost was released from the theater and no longer forced to haunt it, which is similar to other previous games, most notable Dark Romance, which featured freeing ghosts from their hauntings as a major goal.

This is technically the end of the game, but there's a bonus game with a bit more plot to dig into soon, so hang in there. Before we go to that, though, let's do a quick wrap-up of the main game and its dangling threads of What the Fuck, because these are my questions:

1) Wait, where is Gramps?

2) Wait, isn't Abigail dead?

3) Wait, aren't there areas we never got into?

First of all, please witness my incandescent rage as the credits roll and not only did we not find Gramps so I could explain his bullshit to him at length with a baseball bat, we still don't know where he is or if he's even alive. This has now been plot-justified - he wasn't here and probably hasn't been here since 1960, and presumably has no idea Abigail is performing a ridiculous Willy Wonka scheme using his name to target his grandchildren - but that still leaves us wondering where the fuck he is and what he's doing besides annoying me from the past. It seems obvious that this plot thread was left dangling on purpose as a starting point for a sequel game, so that my character can retain her motivation of Find Grandpa (and Put a Boot in His Butt), but since that sequel never materialized, it's just frustrating.

Second of all, and this one gets to me a lot more: HOW IS ABIGAIL ALIVE? I don't mean logistically; if anyone can survive this, then sure, the person who set it all in motion probably can. But the thing is that we've SEEN Abigail - as a ghost. A dead ghost. A very dead ghost who is also pretty pissed off. We saw her. Multiple times!

I am still utterly baffled by this, and I think what's happening is that, at some point in development, Abigail was promoted from tragic side character (like Rose) to Main Antagonist, and so we end up with half a game that has been using her as an undead information vehicle and half that has been using her as a living mastermind. I'm genuinely pretty baffled by this one, because it's such a huge mistake and feels so absolutely impossible to have appeared in a live retail game, but there it is. I (and John, who was drawn in for Research Purposes) spent a lot of time poring over the screenshots of the ballerina ghosts, but while some are clearly Rose, some clearly look completely different, and no matter how many times I look them over, they still look like two different people to me. Possibly the art department went, "Eh, they're ghost ballerinas who are onscreen for a maximum of three seconds at a time, who's going to notice they have different designs?", which... I guess must have sort of worked, since the game is still pretty beloved?

I'm... I just... look, it just puts me off-balance. Unless you're experiencing media that is intentionally employing surprising twists and turns and misleading dead ends and puts these sorts of things in to throw you off on purpose, which it doesn't look like this one is, having characters be clearly dead and then show up clearly alive later with absolutely no explanation kind of shoots a bazooka directly at the egg of your audience's suspension of disbelief and willingness to invest in you as a storyteller.

Thirdly: yes, there are areas we never got into. We never got past the chained-up door in HOG-dini's theater, nor did we manage to figure out how to get backstage ANYWHERE, including the ballet theater and Andreas' space, both of which have obvious and ungated backstage entrances. We also never got the locked safe door in Grandpa's office open, even more egregious when we watched the mayor trying to get in there and therefore KNOW that at some point it was supposed to have some sort of plot relevance. Having places that seem like the player should be able to get into them but actually do nothing is a problem in adventure games, and it usually needs to be solved by giving the player some kind of justification - oh, that's just the broom closet, oh, my grandma's asleep in there, or whatever else you can come up with - to make it clear that they are not going behind the door. Ideally, you want to do this by not putting a door in the room in the first place, which obviously is a problem in a game with a bunch of backstages it doesn't want us to access, but the art department still dropped the ball on this one.

Fourthly, which I didn't list but am mad about: the side characters, y'all. Who was that poor kilt-clad dead boy in the courtyard, and what happened to him? I assumed he'd died of terror from being haunted, but we now have only one ghost, Rose, who doesn't seem to want to haunt anyone much, and Abigail and Andreas very much alive and therefore likely to leave obvious evidence behind when committing murder. Too bad, we'll never know! And hey, remember the ghost of the ticket-taker in the box office? Did HE get released from this everlasting torment or did metaphysics, like his game designers, completely forget about his existence and never explain what he was doing there in the first place? We never even got his NAME.

However, in spite of all these complaints... this is a pretty great little Phantom game. It has lovely art and works hard on its atmosphere, it has engaging puzzles and searches, it has a resonant emotional core to its story, and it's nearly bug-free. It's a nice couple of days, especially if you enjoy the Phantom of the Paradise parallels, which I obviously do.

Which is great, because like a lot of games in the genre, this one has a bonus game! The bonus game is a mini-sequel to the current one and as a result does not unlock until you finish playing the entire game, at which point the little chains on the button evaporate fro the menu. Let's see if it answers any of our lingering questions!

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Man, I was almost not mad for a moment. Do you know what's behind the safe door in Gramps' office? DO YOU? IT'S THIS. (By the way, once you go through that door, the original game is gated behind you; while in the bonus game, you can only visit its new areas.)

As with many other things happening here, this doesn't make any sense. Okay, so Gramps did have his own theater where he performed "vision magic", a thing that sounds intensely boring to watch since it has no visual component for an audience; why is it back here? How would the public get to it? Is Gramps leading people creepily into his office, where he unlocks a steel door and ushers them through for a private show? This seems terrible in so many ways. Maybe Gramps' act is all throwing magic plates at peoples' heads, like I just did to Andreas. I suppose the silver lining is it's theoretically getting demolished in a minute (no one will address how I am still in the theater instead of being arrested, taken to the hospital, or prevented by the increased security around the site you'd assume would come with a couple people dying bloodily in it and also a SECOND HUGE FIRE), so I don't have to think about my grandpa's weird 1950s sex parties anymore soon if I don't want to.

Anyway, the plot moveth on.

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Just like last time, whoever is writing the Daily News around here doesn't quite understand how Earth newspapers work, because this is a hilarious mess. Okay, so... people are dying in their sleep... and the police are investigating a theater for that... and here's a picture of the Velvet Voice, even though no one mentions her either way?

Also, yes: look back upon the newspaper at the beginning of the game, the one that suggests that the 1960 fire was the result of A TERRIBLE CURSE but that now that you've played the entire game appears to be literally talking about nonsense because absolutely no curses were involved whatsoever in the saga of Abigail and Her Very Bad Plans.

Yes, it's time for Very Condensed Plot, but I am genuinely glad to see the Velvet Voice return. Like many other parts of this game, she seemed like a character who was supposed to have a larger role but got dropped for reasons of time, resources, or any of the other usual development hell concerns, and as our other obvious potential Christine character, she's a good thread to have back in the mix. I swear to god if Gramps was also sleeping with her I'm going to run him over with a combine harvester.

Anyway, a little investigation informs us that five people have died during Velvet Voice shows, each of them falling asleep while she sings and then never waking up again. That is surprising, although I'm not sure how it made the front page or why anyone is investigating a singer for... gassing her audience? What is it they think she's doing, exactly? I understand being concerned about the safety of the theater maybe, but I can't figure out what this ominous article is actually suggesting, unless the local newspaper is just a full-on Aliens Impregnated Me with Elvis tabloid.

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Obviously we need to talk about the pipe organ and its obvious Phantom vibes - did this belong to my grandfather, giving being the Phantom another run for it now that Abigail and Andreas are out of the way? - but it's hard to focus because when you walk into this area, a screaming female ghost pops out of the hole in the door there before vanishing. She's new; we've never seen her before and I don't recognize her, so she can't shed any light on our Abigail questions, but she is an unfortunate reminder that other people died here, and a big fat clue that the Velvet Voice act may not have survived the night any more than anyone else did.

This bust: who is this? Is that Mozart? I know it's you, nerd. The weird thing about him is that he has automaton hands, which feels like something out of the 2002 adventure game Syberia with its heavy focus on robots, but doesn't make any sense here where we've only seen one robot (the fortune-teller) and she seemed likely to be prefab equipment. Who decided an eighteenth-century dandy needed to be able to reach out and grab people in this hallway? Who is making these decisions? (And why is it holding a statue of my grandfather and more importantly, oh my god was my grandfather minting tiny statues of himself what on earth is going on with him.)

The plot hook is that the organ is damaged, so I need to find the missing keys and repair it so that it can be played again, which appears to have something to do with getting into the locked room over here. As if to taunt me, my character reveals that she apparently loved this particular statue of Gramps as a child, which... okay, kids are weird, so it's not that I don't buy it, but what IS weird is that my character seemed to have never visited the Nightingale before but now is blithely talking about playing here as a child. I don't know.

I do know that the hacksaw hidden under the carpet is perhaps the most terrifying facet of this game so far, though. That's terrible no matter where you are, but seems especially ridiculous in context of ballet dancers with million-dollar feet running around everywhere. The trap door that's also under there is frankly far less surprising.

Here's the first piece of clarifying plot that probably should have been in the main game: I find a note here that makes it clear in no uncertain terms that Abigail was in love with frigging GRAMPS. I was just slightly off when I suggested that she was having a jealousy meltdown about Rose; it just wasn't about Rose and Andreas. I feel like I should diagram these relationships after this messy disaster zone, but I still don't even know what's going on with the Velvet Voice so it'd probably become instantly outdated. So Gramps is in love with Rose, but Abigail is in love with Gramps AND Andreas, and Andreas is in love with Abigail, and Rose is possibly in love with Gramps but possibly with Andreas, and also other people are there?

 

​​

 

 

This is the worst thig I've ever seen. At least it's accurate to the general sexual politics of most theaters and performing companies I've worked in.

Of course, since we are now in the post-Abigail-as-villain landscape, this begs the question: so was Abigail actually in love with Andreas at all, ever? Did she once love him, only to fall for Gramps and pull away? Was she always in love with Gramps and just stringing Andreas along because he's useful? Is she poly and she genuinely loves both of them, but is jealous of the idea of Rose also being involved with one or both of them?

Also, I know I keep saying it, but it just keeps needing to be said: GRAMPS, WHAT ARE YOU DOING. The note is not clear about whether Abigail's feelings are reciprocated or whether she and Gramps actually have a relationship as opposed to her just pining over him from a distance, but he's dating at least one of his headliners and I do no have a lot of confidence in him as a person. I suspect we're supposed to view this as Abigail being into Gramps but him being in love with Rose and ignoring her, thus causing her to get even more emotionally unstable and vengeful, but even as an attempt to absolve Gramps from blame, this falls flat. If Abigail is literally seeing that good ol' Granddad gives exclusive roles and top billing to the performers he's sleeping with, she may have felt that attempting to date him was her only option when it came to trying to advance (or even keep) her career. And given what we've seen of how he ran the place, she might even have been right.

Anyway, we have a little more insight into why Abigail snapped, and yet more reasons to feel bad about Andreas' entire life. Even if Abigail was actually into Gramps and not just trying desperately not to get fired for the crime of being the one he wasn't interested in sleeping with, the flashbacks make it seem like she was at least at the beginning of the relationship genuinely loving toward Andreas, too, so it's anyone's guess when she changed her mind or whether something happened that affected her priorities.

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So this is what the performance area looks like for Gramps' vision magic show. I don't know, y'all. Your guess is as good as mine. The hulking machine in the middle is giving me vibes of Weird Science, like this is some sort of riff on Christopher Priest's 1995 novel The Prestige, which would jibe with the vague explanation we got of Gramps "inventing" the technique earlier, but then again I apparently just inherited it naturally so who can really say. I guess if your entire act is "I know stuff that happened in the past but you can't see it", you need a lot of props? The other options are either space travel or some sort of cult and I'm too tired for either.

There's a neat game in here with six slots that have to be moved around to match images of characters from the game, which is entertaining because you get the complexity in combination from earlier games (for example, one slot has to match Abigail AND Rose), and because some characters weren't given good symbols of their own in game, so Gramps' symbol is like, a Mars symbol because I guess we can always fall back on gender presentation.

No matter how many times a ghost makes you scream, you're still somehow never prepared when they just materialize in the front row of the theater and look back at you imploringly. If you'd like to join me in the galaxy of frustration I currently inhabit as a sole and mad god, you can now know that this new ghost... looks like Abigail. We only get a few flashes to see her, so I could be wrong about this one, but since Abigail just did die, is she stuck here now after her death? That would be poetic, since she got stuck right when Rose escaped, but it would also be very sad. Abigail spent her whole life dealing with the trauma of this place; it sucks that now that she's dead she STILL can't get out. (Alternatively, it might be someone else - perhaps the Velvet Voice herself, or a character we haven't met yet.)

Speaking of Abigail, we found another bit of her diary that clarifies that she started dating Andreas because she saw that Gramps and Rose were so firmly into each other that she didn't have a chance at getting his attention instead, in case there was anyone left who needed some more tragedy heaped on Andreas. Weirdly that brings us all the way back to my older theories: if Abigail was in love with Grandpa and he loved Rose instead, she might have flipped her lid even harder if she thought Rose was taking Andreas, her consolation prize, too.

(A side note about Abigail and Andreas: in hindsight, I think there's a chance that we're supposed to assume that Abigail, queen of poisons, is the one who gave Andreas the pills he's taking. This would make sense, since he clearly needs an outside source for drugs if he's stuck living in a burnt-out shell of a building and even if he's not Abigail's True Love she's likely to want to help him not die of agonized wounds she caused. It leads on, however, to the much less savory implication that she's intentionally drugging him in order to use him as a weapon or tool; if, as the game seems determined to suggest, Andreas is being affected by psychological side effects from the medication, it seems like it's telling us that Abigail knew this and did it to him intentionally in order to make him easier to control and less likely to question her. I'm not sure how I feel about this theory; on the one hand, it avoids some of the implied problems of ableism against addicts by having Andreas be a victim of Abigail rather than an intentional user of something dangerous, but on the other hand that just reinforces that the writers felt he needed an "excuse" to take drugs for his injuries to remain sympathetic in the first place.

 

If Abigail HAS been strategically drugging Andreas for decades, you gotta ask what she's been having him do for her and why it was important enough to not do the much smarter thing and just poison him to death as well before he accidentally gives away some detail of the disaster to another human. Maybe some people had to get their legs broken for her to become mayor. You also have to ask if Andreas was ever that into Abigail to begin with or if she was also drugging him to get or keep his interest, but thankfully that horrible possibility seems unlikely when we've seen flashbacks in which he seems genuinely smitten.)

We have more masks and more dichotomies - both at once, actually, which a mask that has one white and pink and pretty half decorated with roses, and another sinisterly green and covered with spikes. You might think this is about Rose and Abigail again, but the two halves of the face are labeled: the white half says "Velvet" and the green half "Demon".

Okay, I made a lot of possession jokes in the game proper, where they were jokes because nothing supernatural was actually happening in the game, but man, Phantom video games go directly to demonic possession almost instantly whenever they do a bonus game, don't they?

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I initially assumed that this bedroom, which we finally managed to get into after some more minigaming, would belong to my grandfather since it was next to his theater and that's the only one nearby, but it isn't; it's the Velvet Voice's room. We discover in here that her real name is Darcy, which is cosmetically funny but not actually related to the villain D'Arcy from the 1962 film. It's also not funny at all that when you click on that portrait of her, it briefly changes color and moves, becoming demonic-looking for a split second before it snaps back to normal.

Well, shit. Yes, it's time to get Faustian up in here again, which was really the only element of the original Phantom story we were missing here. This is an objectively hilarious decision for the plot: make an enormous, intricate game about finding out about the history, romantic dramas, and politics of this particular theater and its performers, and then just as like a blink-and-miss-it addition tacked on at the end add, "oh, also there's a malevolent demonic force loose upon this earth." The people who decided to do that are possibly the most self-confident people ever to have walked the planet.

A fix I didn't know I was waiting for, though: a red-eyed, demonic rat briefly pops out from under the bed, which makes me realize that all the red-eyed grumpy animals, which became the only kind around once we got into the theater, were in fact actually affected by demonic powers and serving as foreshadowing. I mean, I still hate it because now I have to know that demons were watching me from trees and shit the entire time, but it makes sense!

We'll come back to Darcy here in a moment, but we need to detour back to Abigail first because some more of her diary is in here. She writes about spiraling into angry despair and eventually resolving to just take whatever Rose has, which she sees as just because Rose has taken everything that mattered to her (the star role and the director boyfriend, presumably). The writing is pretty good for bonus material that has to fit into about a tweet's worth of space, and the tone is more sad than disturbing, finally pivoting around to Abigail's point of view after spending most of the original game in Rose's and Andreas' (and by proxy Gramps').

The disturbing part comes around when we get the wardrobe open (which, might I mention, requires the use of DARK SCRIPTURES so I didn't have much hope that there would be anything nice in there) and find more pages, in which Abigail finally reveals the missing part of the plot: she met Darcy when she was miserable and pining over Gramps, and shortly thereafter Darcy taught her how to brew poisons, and other characters immediately began to notice that Abigail Seemed Awfully Different Somehow. Yes! In a photo-finish win, out of nowhere, Evil Christine swoops in at the very end of the bonus game to be the actual main antagonist AND set a new standard by being the first reviewed work to have true twin Christines in the mold of the twin Phantom trope. Darcy is in it to win it.

A neat part about this is that it's clear that, however weirdly cut-together other parts of the game may be, this plot was already written and foreshadowed throughout the main game, making it a continuous story that gives the player additional things to discover in retrospect. This is also a first; previous games have unanimously used the original story as a jumping-off point, but then embarked on plots that could literally be seamlessly removed from context and still be perfectly self-contained because they had nothing to do with the game proper. It's not bad for a bonus game to have a standalone plot, necessarily, but it's definitely very good to have a whole connected story and more opportunities to notice fun things.

All right, so: Darcy. I don't know what's going on with Darcy, but I know that whatever it is, it's hardcore. This is a woman who sleeps with a gargoyle six inches above her face every night. This is a woman who has copies of Dark Scriptures just lying casually around her dresser. This is a woman who has two voice-activated handles labeled "Sleep" and "Death" in a box on her vanity. Darcy is so over-the-top demonically evil in her design that I will seriously argue that she is consciously intended to be a sort of Anti-Christine figure, with the implied pun that mirrors the original implication of Christine as divine savior from Leroux's novel. Where Christine is sweet and innocent, Darcy oozes wickedness and knowingness. Where people find Christine's performances sublime, Darcy's literally kill them. Where Christine saves characters from themselves, Darcy ensures that their flaws become their downfall.

So, obviously, she's a delight and I love her. This game's plot is like if someone with a lot of skill but questionable decision-making powers decided to make the highest-quality thing they could with the most fanfiction tropes they could possibly jam into it.

If you're the kind of player who suffers through the adventure game elements so you can get to the hidden object searches, this bonus game is where you get the most bang for your buck. Because it's small and probably had an amount of development time equivalent to "until three days before we ship", the bonus game uses hidden object searches liberally, and does fairly well with keeping the repeated screens different enough to be worth doing twice.

The notes keep coming and they somehow continue to be progressively weirder when they do. This one is a note from Gramps, who writes that he thinks it was Darcy who started the fire that destroyed the theater in 1960, and that he remained behind to investigate, meaning he didn't flee directly to Reykjavik as soon as he woke up. This would be confusing anyway - we actually saw Andreas accidentally ignite the fire in our much-lauded past vision - but when Gramps mentions that he thinks Darcy did this "with her powers", the sheer audacity of the line elevates it to absurdist comedy instead.

My pondering on the subject of whether or not I'm about to find my grandfather's corpse in Darcy's armoire is cut short when I get a past vision, notably the only one in the bonus game. We are instantly thrown for a loop to see Darcy not as the hilarious goth queen we've reconstructed but as a woman lying curled up on her bed, sobbing. The scene suggests that she is heartbroken by something, and we know that the time period is around the 1950s because the portraits surrounding the bed include those of my grandfather and also Abigail (as opposed to the present day, when they're all strangers). The notable detail here is that a sharp implement has been stabbed into the portrait of Grandpa, who the game informs us took Darcy in at some unspecified time in the past when she needed help and who has always been very close to her.

Gramps. I'm so tired. Are we seriously going to get confirmation that you are the plot nexus of this entire series due to your tragically overpowering sex appeal? Is that where this is going? Do you just do "past vision" science as your side gig in between rounds of your main occupation of Orgasm Wizard?

All right, so: as was tragic but inevitable, it appears that Darcy has fallen prey to the same unstoppable allure that took out Abigail and Rose, although without context it's possible that she could be mad at Gramps for some unrelated reason. (My personal favorite theory is that Darcy is in love with Abigail and is acting out at Gramps as a result.) This is interesting because Darcy was set up as so overwhelmingly evil that it would have been easy to use her as a cartoonishly evil-for-evil's-sake villain, and the decision to immediately humanize her drags us right back down into that tragic emotional core that the game has maintained throughout. She's still rocking a very goth vibe, but her portrait does not become demonic when clicked in this flashback, suggesting that she might not have been evil yet then.

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This is an excellent example of the "fiendish yet beautiful" approach this game takes to its minigame design. I wish it were more visually accessible - this minigame is probably straight-out impossible if you have some visual disabilities, for example - but the artwork is still lovely and at least we've got the skip button for when we're tired of squinting at watercolors.

I think a second to appreciate the creepy portraits surrounding Darcy's bed is also appropriate. In the present-day, we don't know who any of these people are; but we can see five portraits, which probably means these are the five people who died during Darcy's shows. If she killed them, it's pretty metal of her to sleep amongst their accusing faces; if she didn't, it's very sad, like a sort of memorial she's keeping to the dead out of penance. It also raises the question of, since we apparently have supernatural powers in play here now, whether these people are dead dead or stuck in their portraits somehow, which would really make being in her creepy bedroom fully terrible at maximum high score levels. There's a sixth frame in the room, although it's off to the left and we can't see it because furniture is in the way; I wonder if this is an implication that a sixth death occurred but wasn't linked to Darcy's shows, or if it's foreshadowing for the plot of the sequel being about stopping her before she strikes again. Or maybe it's Gramps.

After all our struggles, we've finally gotten the phonograph working! This is very exciting because obviously we always like to hear a Christine sing, and I wasn't expecting to get that in this game due to our other Christine being a ballerina, and also because it's bringing in the Music Too Terrible To Be Played theme from Leroux's novel by implying that Darcy's music (is it her voice itself, or just the kinds of songs she performs?) may be able to knock out or kill people and that we're taking a terrible risk by listening to it. The parallels to the original Phantom's Don Juan Triumphant, which he claimed might drive mad or kill an unprepared person who heard it, write themselves.

And then...

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Oh, fuck you, game.

While I personally do not like using the beginning of the next game in a series as a teaser, I understand why it's savvy advertising. Of course, I didn't pay these knuckleheads money for the privilege of being advertised to, but it was after all bonus material, and I did get a full game that didn't appear to be skimped on first, so I'll throttle down my grumpiness.

Speaking of bonus content, it only unlocks after the bonus game has been completed, and provides a nice selection of little media goodies for the player. There's music from the game, so that you can play its haunting background tracks; wallpapers for computer backgrounds; all the cut scenes in one place so that they can be replayed at the player's leisure; all the concept art in chronological order; and even a few bonus puzzles for those who really want more. I would bet that these bonus puzzles were rejects from the main game, since they're on the simplistic side of the game's "logic chain" minigame model and don't use as thematic elements (one is about growing a plant, a thing notably not involved in this story anywhere), but they're still nice if you enjoy that sort of thing. I did them all to be sure, but alas; while you get a nice little "you did it!" badge on them when you complete them, they do not change or level up, so while you can do the bonus puzzles as many times as you want, you only have a few of them.

And then, dear reader... we are finished. In spite of the obvious hopes for a lush sequel or even series to follow, this was the only game ever made in this series, and while Blue Tea Games is still active, it seems unlikely that they're interested in following it up after a decade of inactivity. So, alas, we will never know what in the fuck is going on with Darcy or why Gramps just can't keep his pants on for more than fifteen minutes. We'll never know.