Mystery Legends: The Phantom of the Opera
from pixelStorm Entertainment Studios
So, first things first: this game is fucking beautiful. I often praise graphics in these kinds of games, because as mostly static screens they have to work hard to give us something pretty to look at for all that time, but this game is top-tier even for that genre. Look at this intro screen:
Gorgeous. The game does mostly stay static, but it incorporates more animation than other similar games I've reviewed so far, and that animation is well-done, without cutting corners or trying to create “pseudo-animations” that are just cleverly repeated still images. I can show you the visuals, but the other stuff that comes with them is also excellent – in particular, the music is terrifying and atmospheric, the sets and details are perfect, and the sound effects are goddamn nerve-destroying. This game aims to scare you, and it does that job very, very well. Of course, I hate horror, I really do, but this is such well-done horror that I have to like it anyway.
So let's get on to the actual plot, which I am also in love with (well, for now, anyway). The first cut-scene, which sets the stage for the events ahead, establishes that this is a sequel to the original Phantom story; Christine and Raoul are visiting Paris with their adult daughter, Evelina. It was pretty immediately obvious that Christine and Evelina look a lot alike, which means veterans of Phantom sequels will know where this is going, and will be unsurprised when Evelina receives a mysterious note that tells her to come to the opera house, and is obviously confusing her with her mother.
Interestingly, Evelina has no clue what this is all about, which must mean that Christine and Raoul never told her about the Phantom, or about the hair-raising events that almost got them both killed before they could run away into the sunset and start conceiving her. At least a third of the story from here on out will involve Evelina acting as a detective investigating her own past, trying to put together what happened however many years ago while also trying to, you know, stay alive.
This is an extra level of scariness for the entire proceedings: what if the Phantom finds out that the woman he's stalking and terrifying isn't Christine? What violent reaction might he have? Worse, what if he finds out that she's Christine's son with Raoul, and therefore the living embodiment of Christine's choice to leave him and his rival's “victory”? On the one hand, the player is frustrated and wants the Phantom to realize that he's kidnapped the wrong woman (not that kidnapping anyone is okay, but you know), possibly in the hope that he'll realize it and let her go. On the other hand, we don't want him ever to realize that, because this Phantom is completely and absolutely willing to murder and destroy everyone and everything that upsets him, and this is exactly the kind of revelation that might drive him over the edge. After all, believing that Evelina is Christine is probably one of the only things keeping her alive – he would never hurt Christine (or so he believes, anyway), but Evelina has no such protection.
Anyway, back to the story. As Evelina, we wake up abruptly in the opera house, apparently having been... magically teleported there? This is the biggest unexplained thing that happens in the game, but soon we'll discover that everything is hella supernatural anyway, so I forgave it eventually (although I was confused and indignant to begin with).
Recurring throughout the game is the Phantom's voice – powerful, angry, violent – shouting various things at Evelina as she desperately tries to figure out what is happening and make her escape. There are several phrases he yells at her, including “This time I'll make you love me!”, “You denied me love – I shall deny you freedom!”, “How could you leave me?”, “I gave you my music – I gave you everything!”, “Our love can never die!”, “You broke my heart!”, “You will never leave this place!”, and “I love you!”, and believe me, none of them sound friendly (especially not that last one, it could not be more venomous). The voice is always loud and sudden, enhancing the feeling of the Phantom being ever-present, and pointing out that the danger he represents is a very obvious and inescapable one.
The opera house that Evelina wakes up in is horrifying – obviously old and run-down, and clearly the scene of a former disaster, but the real terror is that it seems to be totally and unequivocably haunted. The Phantom is here somewhere – someone sent Evelina that note – and wherever he is, he's obviously not in a happy place. This is a Phantom whose redemption plot clearly did not succeed; he is unhappy (furious, in fact) about Christine leaving, and it seems pretty given that he didn't learn anything about respecting other peoples' needs or acting unselfishly in the name of love.
The opera house is also full of symbolic figures, most of them frightening and horrible. Dolls, mannequins, and puppets often have disfigured faces, perhaps suggesting that the Phantom is carrying around a seriously festering resentment as a result of his own deformity. Statues are often of relevant figures – skeletons, recalling the bony nature of the original Phantom, or angels, recalling his masquerade as Christine's Angel of Music.
The curtain there says Don Juan across it in large, angry letters, which is of course a reference to the Phantom's famously terrible opera Don Juan Triumphant. It, too, adds to the scariness of the situation; Evelina doesn't know this, but the Phantom of Leroux's novel claimed that he would die when Don Juan Triumphant was completed, and that it was too hideous to be played or performed for any other human beings besides himself. The fact that the show is splashed all over the theater and obviously put there by the Phantom's own, unstable hand suggests some very unpleasant events to come indeed.
It's hard to tell what that poster was originally advertising – possibly part of Wagner's Ring cycle, since the flying horses and skeletons might refer to the valkyries and Norse gods? Whatever it was, a date has been added to it: March 25th, 1896, which later events will tell us is the date of the previous Phantom story. It's a little late on the possible timeline for the original novel, which was probably closer to 1881, but the game won't tell us why it chose that particular year. Evelina also finds a newspaper article mentioning a chandelier crash at the opera that killed a woman – holy bananas, is that finally a modern Phantom sequel that acknowledges the new boxkeeper that replaced Madame Giry and remembers her death as the cause of the chandelier drop?! One for the record books, y'all.
As far as the game mechanics go, they're pretty standard; it's one part adventure game, with the player searching for items they can use on different screens to unlock new areas or complete tasks, and one part hidden object search, with cluttered screens full of objects that you have to pick through to find the relevant ones, with a dash of puzzle gaming thrown in now and then. These stock game mechanics are done really well, though – unlike many other games in the genre (LOOKING AT YOU, NIGHT IN THE OPERA), the objects to be found in the hidden-item portion are all suitable ones for the opera house setting, making the game feel more coherent and self-contained, and there are fewer cases of a found object being used for obvious nonsense or being discarded even though the character could totally still use it. Not no cases, but fewer. The puzzle mini-games are also tied to the game's plot, usually with a specific goal – for example, the first one represents Evelina trying to get the power turned back on in the ancient decrepit old house, because the only thing worse than wandering a massively haunted opera house where your mother's stalker is lurking is doing that in the dark.
There is a hint module (you can see it in screenshots on the lower left-hand side, looking like a mask behind a mirror), which is multi-purpose for the different parts of the game; during hidden object searches, it highlights one of the items you haven't found yet, during adventure-game wandering it either points out something in the room you can interact with or lets you know there's nothing there by having Evelina say, “I see nothing of note at the moment” (which is never true because she's in a really really terrifying haunted opera house but WHATEVER), and during puzzles explains what you're supposed to be doing so you don't have to try to figure it out from context clues. Once used, you can't get another hint until it “recharges”, meaning that even though it does help those of us who need it get through difficult areas, you can't use it to just lightning-swift cheat your way to the end.
Here's an example of one of the hidden object areas, complete with the Phantom's cluttered, baroque, obviously obsessed version of the front box office. Thanks a lot for this possible corpse or at least creepy mannequin in the box office, dude. Thanks so much.
Also, do you folks see that hilarious recolored Wicked playbill on the left? It's been altered to say it's an advertisement for Faust, the opera that Christine performed in Leroux's novel, but it's way too obvious to mistake it for anything but what it is. I think it's probably meant to be a tongue-in-cheek homage rather than just a lazy art department cheating off images on the internet – we'll see a few more over the course of the game. There's also a ticket... to Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera, so we also have a little fourth wall breakage from artists who are clearly having almost too much fun.
Speaking of cheating, if you're doing a hidden object search and you click on things that aren't on the list too many times, the screen suddenly “shatters” with a loud, nerve-jangling sound, which believe me is enough to make you leap out of your pants after spending all this time in the extremely creepy atmosphere. Obviously, the game wants to discourage you from not actually playing through it. Also, and I did not find this out until the end, much to my sadness, the game keeps track of your “accuracy” score, meaning that the more clicks you make on random things that aren't the object you were looking for, the lower your final score will be. It's gentler with the puzzle portions, however – if figuring out what order to push eight different buttons in isn't your thing, a “Skip” option is provided so you can automatically complete the mini-game and go back to what you were doing.
Basically, it handles all the functions of both adventure and hidden-item search games very well, keeping them familiar but also making them appropriate to its specific game, and provides both tools so that casual or less excellent gamers can still enjoy it, and safeguards to prevent the impatient from skipping all its beautiful content. A+ game design, in other words.
I am so glad I played this game during daylight hours, y'all. In order to even get started I had to find a ticket and give it to the creepy puppet at the front of the curtain, which caused the Phantom to literally suddenly JUST APPEAR IN FRONT OF ME and scare my daylights away. He's wearing a full-face mask, although its design doesn't appear to have borrowed much from any previous incarnations, and a hood, which recalls the Chinese Ye ban ge sheng line of films. This first image of him is also, terrifyingly, flickering, so that it switches between his deformed face and the mask above it in the blink of an eye. We don't get a good look at his face since it moves so fast and the hood is in the way, but we're left to imagine that it's way not comforting.
Now that we've figured out how to get into the opera house, the Phantom has apparently taken that as a sign that Evelina (Christine, in his mind) has decided to return to him, and launches into a monologue about what happened back during the first story and how upset he is about it. According to him, he burned down the opera house (as in the 2004 Schumacher/Butler film) after Christine left, and died in the conflagration. It's somewhat ambiguous whether he's being poetic – that is, he considers himself to have symbolically died, either because Christine left and he had no life without her, or because he burned down the opera house which was an extension of himself – or whether he actually died and we're being menaced by a real ghost. Evelina, being sensible and rational, assumes it's the former, but MY FRIENDS SHE IS WRONG AND WE ARE GOING TO DIE BECAUSE THIS GHOST DOES NOT KNOW HOW TO LET GO ALREADY.
Yes, this is a real, honest-to-gosh, we're serious this time supernatural Phantom. After spending his life pretending to be a ghost, he now actually is one – which means that Evelina is in deep, deep trouble, because while you can bamboozle or emotionally compromise or work around a living human, there is not very much at all you can do about a vengeful ghost. She's going to remain blissfully (well, comparatively) unaware that the Phantom is actually dead for most of this game... but oh man, we do not get that luxury. The game's tense, frightening atmosphere of it-feels-like-he's-right-behind-you is completely justified, because he probably is.
The Phantom plays an obvious cat-and-mouse game with Evelina, trying to lure her to come find him; he wants her to make her way into the opera house, retrace Christine's steps of old, and eventually probably end up in the cellars where everything horrible happened however many years ago. He self-identifies in his speech as both the Phantom of the Opera and the Angel of Music, and makes it clear that he's decided that being evil is his calling and that whatever happens here, everyone involved deserves it.
Having seen horror movies before, I spent a lot of time playing this game yelling “DO NOT GO IN THE CELLARS, EVELINA, DO NOT EVER GO WHERE THE GHOST'S MOST POWERFULLY ANGRY MEMORIES ARE,” but she never listened. Of course, she has no idea what's going on, so that's hardly her fault. All she knows is that some raving and dangerous dude has kidnapped her, dumped her in an abandoned building, and is stalking her while she tries desperately to get out and find her family. (By the way, no word is ever given on whether anything happened to Raoul and the actual Christine; while it seems all too depressingly possible, later, that they might also have been drawn into the opera house, it may be that they're just frantically searching Paris for their missing daughter, probably both with very ugly subconscious suspicions that they don't want to think too hard about.)
Evelina also keeps a journal throughout these proceedings, although when she has the time and the nerves of steel to sit down, write a few paragraphs about all the sounds of doors opening and closing in the distance and the terrible threats being made to her by an unknown presence, I don't know. The journal's an essential part of the game for the player, though; Evelina's thoughts on what just happened often illuminate clues or additional information that you couldn't have gotten from just playing on your own, and give you valuable clues about how to do some of the mini-games. It's also neat, story-wise, to read her thoughts as she slowly tries to unravel the mystery of why she's here and what happened in 1896, although also frustrating since we already know and we just want the poor girl to escape alive.
The idea of freezing cold is a strong one throughout the game; although the cut scene at the beginning with the de Chagnys happily traipsing around Paris seemed to be in a temperate climate (at least, no one was wearing coats), the opera house is sunk in solid frozen winter. Floors are covered in ice, doors are frozen shut so that Evelina can't escape out of them, and the windows look out on three feet of still snow outside. The idea here, I'm sure, is probably partly to play on the cold of the grave, since this Phantom is actually dead, and partly to suggest the preservation of the opera house and its events through the years as if “frozen”, and also probably partly homage to the original Phantom himself, who even when he was alive was as cold to the touch as death anyway.
Did I mention that every freaking room in this dismal and terrible place has a chandelier? Because THEY DO. Also, poor Evelina is very relieved to have light in here and justifiably proud of her ability to jury-rig the switchbox to get the electricity back on... but she seems not to have noticed that a lot of these rooms are also lit by candles and fireplaces, and that since she didn't light any of those, someone else must have.
Evelina keeps saying that things she notices are “interesting”, in a conversational tone of voice. Lady, yes, everything here is interesting, that is not our problem. Our problem is that things are TOO interesting, and we need to go somewhere much less interesting as soon as possible.
We discover here, mostly because the Phantom's ghostly voice thunders down upon us to make demands about it, that there are several black roses hidden throughout the opera house, and he wants us to collect them and give them to him in order to “prove our devotion”. Obviously, giving the Phantom any reason to think we like it here and want to stay is a terrible idea, but since Evelina can't get out and can't find any other way to get him to open new doors for us, she's pretty much stuck doing it. The black roses (mysteriously still fresh, as if picked recently, despite being entombed in various parts of the house) obviously call back to the Phantom tradition of giving Christine roses, but the switch to black is indicative of his new connection to decay and death, and of his desire to draw Christine into that world with him.
Evelina happens to eventually, as I'm sure we could all have guessed she would, run across a painting of her mother on the wall. She almost mistakes it for herself, again emphasizing how alike she and Christine looked at this age, and it's obvious that the painting is the only alive-looking one in the entire place. She's creeped out, and I don't blame her.
Here's one of those mini-games I was talking about: most of them are about memorization, with a complex order of operations that must be completed perfectly to unlock them. All the black roses are also hidden behind complicated mini-games, meaning that our quest to get them and hopefully run as soon as the ghost-Phantom opens a door is also based on solving these kinds of things:
Luckily, most of these can be solved with brute force – just clicking until the right order or combination occurs – and there is of course also the Skip option for the really complicated ones. Thank goodness someone was thinking of the sad, bad-at-math people like me.
Evelina eventually manages to find the opera managers' office, which unsurprisingly sets off the Phantom into an angry rant about how he showed them “how real his cruelty could be”. Considering how horrifying everything is and how very much I can imagine all kinds of scenarios to fit that bill, I mostly spent my time hoping that the managers survived and fled the premises with all due haste. Their office has a lot of significant items in it – a poster on the wall for a show called The Green Fairie presages the involvement of absinthe in solving some of the puzzles (and also gave me a nasty fear that Evelina was going to be drugged, although thankfully that didn't happen), and the objects in the regular room and the search screen are again nicely relevant to the game's plot, often having to do with French history or appearing to be something I can easily believe the managers might have had and left when they ran out in a hurry. There's more than a little hint of preservation about the scene, as if the Phantom has either recreated or preserved things exactly as they were – there's even still cigarette ash in the ashtray.
There is also a chessboard in here, with only a king and four knights on it, none of which can be moved. Evelina finds it disturbing, and I'm right there with her. At this point, I spent some time theorizing about the possible hidden meaning of the four knights – is the king the Phantom? If that's true, who are the knights – people from his past, or oh my god are there extra ghosts in here are we dealing with more ghosts?
There's also a library nearby, which other than a broken window looks like the most well-maintained room in the whole building. The Phantom has always been all about acquiring knowledge, so that isn't very surprising. It's in here that we see a really cool running motif begin: Egyptian mythology, specifically the myths of Osiris, Set, Horus, and Horus' sons, which will reappear over and over throughout the rest of the game. A book Evelina glances at in here refers to Horus and his four sons, which of course immediately made the king and his four knights come into better focus. Evelina realizes she needs to find several canopic jars – ancient ceramic vessels used during the mummification process to store the deceased's organs, which were always considered “protected” by one each of Horus' divine sons – and we'll see several of them, complete with the names of their guardian deities, as we go about our business.
Those books whose titles we can see in the library – as part of another puzzle, of course – are all appropriate and creepy ones for the Phantom story. We see Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, another classic of French literature; Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White, a novel about romance, intrigue, and condemnation of the mentally ill, which has its penultimate scene set in an opera house; and Edgar Allen Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart", an early story of guilt and psychological horror. Also joining them on the shelf is a book with Don Juan scrawled on its spine in childishly smeared red ink, recalling the Phantom's handwriting in Leroux's novel, and reminding us that all things here are under his control.
I know I praised the hidden object searches in this game, but sometimes they're actively out to get you. “Newton's Law” is a search item on this screen – what the fuck is that supposed to look like?! (Answer: the formula, written half-obscured on a wall.) Some searches actively try to mess with you, such as when the search items might be “Mars” or “Jupiter”, but the search screen includes models of planets AND astrological symbols AND statues of Roman deities, meaning you'll have to be really sure which one of those it wants. This feature is, I assume, for those people who want to score really high on their accuracy and want a little more challenge than the normal hidden object puzzle could offer.
Now we have to forget about all these petty trivial things, though, because Evelina finds a breezeway leading down to another room, and WHAT THE HELL IS THAT
I recognize that I'm supposed to search the breezeway for important clues, but how am I supposed to focus with a CREEPY HUMANOID FIGURE just like RIGHT THERE? I actually gave up on the breezeway to go find out what it was, because I figured the peace of mind would be better than waiting to find out while it just sort of observed me from afar.
This was the wrong choice.
Okay, so obviously it's just a statue, and I paused to take some notes about how the angel imagery, appropriate for a vengeful ghost who once impersonated an angel, was being reiterated throughout the opera house. But then I looked back up at the screen...
NO THANK YOU GOODBYE FRIENDS
I never even saw the fucking thing move – in fact, I NEVER saw that, even when I steeled my nerves enough to stare at it for a while. It just sometimes moves when you're not looking, and then you look back at it and realize that your soul is leaving your body in response to the level of fear you are experiencing. It's like Doctor Who's Weeping Angels, except worse because those assholes just send you back in time, and I have no idea what this terrifying thing is doing.
The game proceeds to force Evelina to come through this area over and over again while she's doing other things or looking for clues, which mostly made me dive from screen to screen as quickly as possible because christ.
After leaving the den of the possibly-living, definitely-terrifying cherub, Evelina finds her way outside... only to confirm that she seems to be surrounded by a snowy wood, and would probably freeze to death if she tried to run off and escape that way. I wondered, since there is that apparent climate discrepancy with the beginning of the game, if it's actually snowy out here, or if this is some kind of illusion or alternate reality the Phantom is projecting; it would be sad indeed if Evelina could just have walked out this way at any time and found herself back in Paris, but didn't because it was too convincing. There are several graves in the snowy ground nearby (all of people we've never heard of), so that's not really encouraging her to go running into the wilderness, either.
But she does venture up the path far enough to find a small cottage with lit windows, which again she doesn't seem to realize probably wouldn't be lit by her electrical adventures back at the opera house.
There's a lot of mysteriously uneaten yet preserved food in here, which makes it seem like someone might have been here recently, and keeps poor Evelina thinking that maybe the Phantom is alive and doing things that living people do. The Phantom yells “You will curse the day you betrayed me!”, which sounds suspiciously like a line from Lloyd Webber's musical, but there doesn't seem to be much other influence from that show here; this is mostly drawn from Leroux, the better to make it scare peoples' pants off.
Evelina notes, as she heads back inside, that she feel as though the angel statues throughout the building are watching her, prompting me to suddenly panic at the realization the oh god MORE of them might be moving, am I just not noticing? Is every statue in the building looking at us sometimes? GET US OUT OF HERE, EVELINA.
There are a few reused search screens in this game, where you go back and do another hidden-object search somewhere you've already done one. There aren't very many, though, and they have you search for different items each time, so it's not too aggravating (although more unique searches would always be nicer).
We've finally found the powder room, which is good because Evelina has been here for an hour or two at least and may need it, but unfortunately it's terrible.
The eyes on the head on the front of that sink follow the player's mouse wherever it goes, or if you're not moving, go back slowly to center to just stare directly out at you. Also, the floor is electrified and Evelina nearly dies. ALSO, the Phantom appears to us again, being terrifying and blurry in the mirror, and I again remember that I wish Evelina knew what was going on so she could realize that she should be avoiding rooms with mirrors at all costs.
Wisely, we back slowly away and try the ballroom at the end of the hall instead. Which ALSO turned out to be the wrong decision.
Holy SHIT. I'm with you, Evelina, what in the FUCK why are we HERE can the Phantom please get his shit together and leave us the hell ALONE?
For those of you at home, that's a creepy organ grinder puppet on the left, while hanging from the central chandelier is a bound and gagged puppet made to look like Raoul (Evelina's father, need I remind you), and two more puppets in the likeness of the Phantom and Christine waltz in the skies nearby. It's horrifying enough for me, who is the Atlantic Ocean and over a century away from it; imagine how Evelina must feel, discovering these horrifying mannequins of her family in strange, suspended animation. The Phantom actually mentions Raoul by name for one of the few times he does so during the game, simply to say, “Raoul will die.” Evelina, understandably, does not take this well.
This is the part where I really wasn't sure exactly how horrific this scene is. Bad enough if Evelina has to watch the Phantom enact his horrible fantasies of killing her father and wooing her mother, complete with a creepy puppet audience... but where are her actual parents, anyway? We never see them again after that intro scene, except in flashbacks to the events of the previous story, so we're left wondering whether they escaped or are looking for her or what. What if these “puppets” aren't puppets, but in fact corpses or toys made from her real parents (much as the Phantom in the 1974 Levitt/Cassidy film turned his victims into automatons)? Did returning to Paris spell Raoul's and Christine's doom, without Evelina ever knowing it? Is she standing beneath her father's hanged corpse right now without realizing?
The strongest evidence against this is that the Phantom would presumably notice if he had Christine AND Evelina in the same place, and probably figure out that he was stalking the wrong one, so he wouldn't still be confused into thinking he was talking to Christine. Then again, he's obviously not operating on full thrusters and is dead anyway, so he very much could have killed Christine and preserved her in the ballroom, and then stalked her daughter, whom he can't distinguish anyway, without recognizing what he actually did.
The point is, this is scary and horrifying and if this had been made into an intensely faithful sequel film I could not ever have watched it.
Unable to do much about the horrorshow in the ballroom, Evelina ends up having to go back and give the Phantom the rose she found for him, which I continue to hate because he is, indeed, taking it as a sign that she wants to stay here with him and is “proving her love” to him. Well, we can't always be choosy when it comes to what we do in order to try to trick murderous ghosts into letting us escape.
I should note that I like the fact that this game autosaves constantly, so you never lose progress and can restart wherever you were when you quit. I only don't love it when terrible things are happening, because I keep nervously wanting to save before anything happens, only to realize that you can't manually save because it's already done it for you.
Upon giving the Phantom a rose, he always does a jump-scare where he again “cracks” the computer screen (an attempt by the game designers to make it seem like he could come from the world of the game into the world of the player, and sadly one I was prone to fall prey to), and then gives us a short flashback to complain about the things that happened in the last story. These are usually in washed-out sepia or grey tones, the better to illustrate that they happened a long time ago, and function as an alternative search mini-game.
These are neat because they have the same “find the things” theme as other parts of the game, but switch it up by using faint, faded backgrounds and symbols, as well as just seeking several of the same type of object instead of a bunch of random ones. Hi, there, managers. I still hope you made it out alive. You look like generally nice people. Once you've solved the flashback puzzle, the game goes back to full color and there's a brief cut scene that establishes the Phantom's extortionate activities when it comes to the opera house.
Evelina is way braver than me, because after the mirror in the powder room shatters and she sees that there is a creepy passage behind it, she climbs right up there to go down and see what's going on. Still sensible, she notices that it appears someone used to use this little nook to spy on people in the powder room, and believes that her stalker must still be doing the same thing; of course, the Phantom did do that when he was alive, but being dead now, she's not quite correct in thinking that he still has to haunt the in-between, behind-the-wall passages exclusively.
She also finds a note written by Buquet, the old stagehand of Leroux's story, who says that he's seen the Phantom, figured out some of his hiding places, and plans to expose him to the management. When she reads it, the Phantom ominously shouts about killing him somewhere nearby, making me again wonder what Evelina always thinks is happening if he's a living person (is he on ye olde loudspeaker, or something?).
The Phantom obviously seems to want to tell her his story, a very classic behavior for a ghost story; presumably, it's the events of the previous story that made him so angry and/or evil that he remained a ghost after death, and like most ghosts in these stories, he wants to tell someone about what happened and then take revenge or lash out as a result.
I spy another Playbill up there! Also, that's “L'Orax” brand detergent, which presumably speaks somewhat faintly for the trees.
There are plenty more Egyptian mythological symbols scattered around here, including the ankh (symbol of life and the goddess Isis), the falcon (symbol of Horus, who also has a falcon's head), and the cobra (symbol of the goddess Wadjet, and protector of the Pharaoh's kingdom). I'm genuinely curious about the use of Egyptian myth here; is this presented as a connection to the passion play of Osiris? In very short, simplified form, the central myth of later Egyptian religion was that the god Osiris, lord of fertility and justice, was killed by his brother Set, lord of chaos. Set and Osiris' son Horus then had a massive battle for the succession, which Horus eventually won, and Osiris was relegated to becoming king of the underworld, since he was dead and could no longer venture into the world of the living.
While we normally see the Phantom in a Greek myth metaphor, usually as Hades to Christine's Persephone, this story's position as a sequel means that the themes of death, rebirth, and revenge inherent in the Egyptian passion play might be appropriate, especially in regards to the Phantom choosing them for himself. Osiris dying but still being in a sense “alive” makes sense for the Phantom's haunting of the opera house, and his fixation on Christine recalls the part of the myth in which his wife, Isis, cannot resurrect him but instead uses sorcerous powers to have sex with him and conceive a child anyway (even non-dead, the Phantom might have wishfully empathized with that story). Osiris as a king wrongfully divested of his kingdom might appeal to the Phantom's feeling that Christine's “betrayal” and the subsequent burning of the opera house is other peoples' fault, and Isis and Horus taking revenge upon Set might seem to him to be a parallel to his own opportunity to now take vengeance against Raoul and Christine.
I also want to note that I was hugely confused, on this search screen, about what a “conductor cap” was and how I was supposed to guess what a conductor was wearing on their head, until I realized that they meant a train conductor, not an orchestral one.
In the next room, we find a sarcophagus hanging from the ceiling, which is horrifying but again brings the myth of Osiris to mind; in a later Greek version of the myth, Set killed him by tricking him into getting into such a sarcophagus before throwing it into the Nile and leaving his brother to drown. It seems likely that there may be a body in there, perhaps the Phantom's own, although luckily it's being held up halfway into the flies by ropes and we can't figure out how to get it down yet.
The Phantom is intentionally leading Evelina to “set the stage”, restoring parts of the opera house to working order, sending props up onto the stage and so on, all of which suggests he's making her help recreate the past that so angers him. It also again ties back to Egyptian legend – ancient Egyptian cults performed passion plays depicting the death and crowning of Osiris regularly.
Down under the stage, there's another mirror, and the Phantom appears and frightens my wits away again. STOP BEING IN MIRRORS, you douchebag. HAVE THE DECENCY TO AT LEAST DISAPPEAR AFTER SCARING ME INSTEAD OF JUST BEING THERE, STARING, EVERY TIME I GO IN THAT ROOM. Evelina, who is far cooler than I am and would probably survive this awful ordeal way better, refuses to be intimidated and rifles through the junk in the room while he leers at her.
For some of these searches, you really have to have some music knowledge – for example, you'll need to know what a brass mute looks like, and be able to identify basic relationships between notes on a staff. Also, sometimes there are ambiguous items, such as when you're asked to find a “torch”; ah, the classic old question of whether this game was made by British-influenced people, which would mean you're looking for a flashlight, or American-influenced, which would mean you're looking for a long wooden pole suitable for lighting on fire. (For the record, it was the fire kind of torch.)
After doing something complicated and using a statue of Horus and the canopic jars representing his sons as props for the stage, the sarcophagus is finally brought down to our level, much to my dismay. Evelina, still tough as nails, reaches into a hole in the surface of the sarcophagus, and finds a black rose... which she takes from the mummified hands of whatever corpse is in there. SEND HELP. I thought this might be the Phantom himself, in keeping with the imagery, but Evelina's journal suggests that she thinks it's probably Buquet. Once we give the rose to the Phantom, he confirms this, stating that he strangled him as in the original novel, and frighteningly insisting that he did so “for our love”.
It also becomes apparent here that the player isn't the only one seeing these flashbacks – the Phantom is apparently giving Evelina visions of what happened in the past. He seems desperate to force her to remember, believing her to be Christine and that she has forgotten him or what happened then, while poor Evelina is still confused and just trying to survive the psychic onslaught. After the Phantom vanishes, the mirror again breaks behind him... but this time, there's nothing behind it but blank wall.
In the rickety old elevator, we discover a note that says it's for the “casting director”, but refers to the person being written to as “Daroga”. Huh? Well, I guess I'm glad he's here at all, although this is all we'll hear about him. It's interesting to theorize about what a story could do with the idea of the daroga as actually part of the opera house company or crew, but we're not going to get any depth on that here.
But speaking of Persians, check out this bear's hat:
It's a small thing, I know, but the game refers to all the productions put on by the opera house as “plays”, consistently. Which is not what they're called. Sigh.
As Evelina progresses, she stumbles across more and more notes for the crew and staff of the opera house, reminding us of the Phantom's traditional modus operandi when it comes to getting people to put on operas the way he wants them to go. I'm also slightly reminded of Lloyd Webber's Phantom, and the way he micromanaged the shit out of his production of Don Juan Triumphant.
Somehow, I went into Christine's dressing room and like a COMPLETE FAILURE did not expect him to be there, menacing the mirror. Facepalm. Evelina and I beat a hasty retreat as he yells some more about wanting more roses.
At this point, Evelina's choices were either to go up to the rooftop or down into the cellars. Considering that she still has very little idea what happened in the previous story, she doesn't know that this is probably a choice between bad and worse. We tried the roof first, where, predictably, the Phantom was being extremely whiny about Christine and Raoul falling in love up here without his blessing. There's almost a bright spot in the game here – Evelina finds an old love note from Raoul to Christine, and it's very sweet, although it does touch off another angry Phantom tirade.
Evelina takes Apollo's bow from the statue (this is a smaller one than the real one, obviously), the better to be armed while she prowls the opera house for escape. But, unfortunately, that leaves us really only one more place to go that we haven't been yet...
This seems like SUCH a bad idea.
Every time I think I've heard all the hair-raising noises this game has to offer, some more appear, apparently orchestrated specifically for whatever new and hellish zone I have just entered. Exploration of the cellars and sewer reveal that there is definitely some kind of evil magic, demonic shenanigans, or terrible blood rituals type of thing going on down here, and I'm prettttty sure there's a human heart on an altar in at least one of these rooms and what the hell are we even doing here. There's definitely also the number 666 prominently carved on one wall, and a Ouija board tucked away in the searchable junk.
I don't actually know what all this means – is it suggesting that the Phantom was a devil-worshiper, and that's maybe why he's still haunting the place? Was some other evil person down here, and they caused all these problems? Are we equating the Egyptian mythology stuff above with Satan worship (because no, don't do that)? Is it just supposed to be frightening us?
I don't know, and I also don't know how Evelina is both conscious and not catatonic by this point. She is so impressive.
After much wandering around, we finally locate a chapel, which seems like it might be a nice and less-evil place to be but, after working hard to get the lights on in there, is NOTHING WHATSOEVER OF THE KIND. HELP, IT'S ANOTHER CONVENTION OF POTENTIALLY EVIL ANGELS.
Upon closer inspection (again, something I can only be impressed that Evelina does without fainting), these turn out to be statues of skeletal, hooded angels, all apparently performing some kind of creepy still-life ritual. Obviously, the smart thing to do here is to ARM THEM, or at least so the game tells us by having Evelina need to place a dagger in each skeletal hand in order to unlock the door and move on. And, of course, that door leads out to... a graveyard
HOORAY, LOOKS GREAT. I wondered if we were going to find the crypt of Daddy Daae, to further tie us in to the events of yesteryear, but apparently not. This seems to actually be the Phantom's crypt, leaving me wondering who buried him, and whether this is some very meta thing where he created his own memorial after dying and becoming an omnipotent ghost.
After delivering another rose, we go into flashback again, and see Christine's celebrated performances back when the opera house was operational. I'd love to know who's singing for her here, since she sounds great, but alas, the game refused to tell me. What's really neat about this flashback is that we get to see the Phantom when he was alive, and he does not look the same – he has a different mask, this one not covering his mouth and looking much more reminiscent of the masks from the 1943 Lubin/Rains film or the 1990 Richardson/Dance miniseries, and looks much less like a terrible inhuman monster.
The Phantom yells some here about how killing Raoul will “set Christine free”, which is pretty much opposite day, but he's always been a little delusional about that. It also adds to my “is everyone already dead” theory, but okay, no, I'd prefer that wasn't true, please.
I hope all of you know who Xochipilli is, because you'll need to for one of these search puzzles. (He is, in fact, an ancient Mexican god, associated with fungus, particularly psychotropic fungus, and the enlightenment that it was believed getting high off these mushrooms could give.)
Some of the rooms in this opera house don't look like they were burned in the disaster, but rather smashed by someone intent on destroying them; it's again a clue to the fact that the Phantom is basically a violent poltergeist instead of a dude at this point, but Evelina's still in the dark.
By the way, the music for this game, already very good at being creepy and setting the scene, just gets more frightening as you go along. It started out sort of tingly and unsettling, but progresses to urgent and dangerous the closer you get to your goal (which is, of course, the Phantom's goal, since he's the one hurrying you along).
We finally get into Christine's old dressing room, and man, she was just as nervy as her daughter. This is the most goth opera house ever.
I just want to note that when you click on the closet in here, you get a note that blithely tells you that it's empty. YEAH, I'M VERY SURE, THAT SEEMS SO LEGIT.
Anyway, the Phantom seems to be waiting for the endgame here in Christine's dressing room, so Evelina backs out of there and goes back to investigate the Phantom's tomb, where she discovers that there is only a rose in the actual coffin, no body. She's been starting to get a bad feeling about his status as a living person, considering that he has a crypt, but it's also confusing that there's no body. And we won't find one later – wherever it is, we aren't going to find it or discover what happened to it. In a sense, the opera house itself is the Phantom's “body”, so a separate corpse would be unnecessary for any dramatic impact anyway.
Because Evelina is awesome and isn't willing to let the Phantom get away with all this fuckery, she manages to purloin a decorative sword and return to the ballroom, where she uses Apollo's bow to shoot the Raoul puppet down (where it lies crumpled pitifully on the floor, but at least it's not hanged anymore) and to cut the Phantom and Christine puppets apart, grimly saying that she can't let them stay in this hideous mockery. The Phantom, as you might suspect, goes somewhat berserk when she does this, howling, “Is this how you repay your Angel of Music?”, again letting us know that he doesn't realize that Evelina isn't Christine. When the puppets are separated, the falling of the Phantom puppet knocks its mask loose, a symbolic re-unmasking by Evelina in the footsteps of her mother's original.
This is one of those few places where I was mad at the game developers, because using the sword and bow to liberate the puppets “uses” them both up, leaving Evelina weaponless again. Do you all realize you can use things like swords more than once? Help this poor woman out, she is trying to survive a horror game here!
For the final door key, the Phantom sends Evelina on a scavenger hunt through the opera house, looking for small crystalline hearts. The symbolism is just the slightest bit wistful, and again, the Phantom seems almost desperate for her to find them, determined that she should succeed and hear the rest of his tale.
As you can see from the title, this is the door to Box Five, which is pretty terrifying and which we mercifully only go into very briefly. Evelina tried to use a pair of opera glasses here to see what was on the stage, only to have the Phantom suddenly appear right in front of them, causing their lenses to crack and me to have a mild heart attack. As a matter of fact, Evelina never finds out what's going on on the actual grand stage; we can't get there in the game, the doors are firmly boarded and frozen shut, and we fail in our attempt to peer into the area. I really assumed we would eventually get to see it, and was surprised that this wasn't where the story culminated; but, we can possibly read into it another parallel to Don Juan Triumphant, which was written by and for only the Phantom, and which, as always, he claimed could not be beheld by any other person.
By the way, Evelina only made it to Box Five by climbing up the outside balustrade of the main hall like a boss, but even she's had enough when the Phantom is just appearing and disappearing for the express purpose of scaring her. I sympathize with her cries of “Will this nightmare never end?!”, although she's still wondering what he wants and even if Raoul and Christine never told her about him, I feel like he's left enough clues now for her to get some inkling.
I'm embarrassed to say that it took me until this point in the game to realize that, while doing the hidden object puzzles, if you hover over the name of an item you're supposed to look for, its silhouette appears over in the hint panel. This is a very nice, helpful touch, especially if you don't know what an item you're supposed to find looks like, or it could have a lot of different ways of being depicted. (It would definitely have helped me back there with Newton's Law...)
Finally, Evelina finds the last rose and is taken through the dressing room mirror by the Phantom, just as he took her mother so many years ago. We have our final round of flashbacks, including Raoul proposing to Christine, and look at these cutie-butts:
As we can see, Christine's got the famous brunette curls popularized by Mary Philbin in the 1925 Julian/Chaney film and Sarah Brightman in Lloyd Webber's musical. Raoul's wee little ponytail might also be a callback to Patrick Wilson's hair in the 2004 movie, as well. We also get a better look at the living version of the Phantom, who still has hair and is visibly much more human than our spectral aggressor. Of course, he's being all vengeful and emo over Christine liking someone else better than him, but I think we've all come to expect that at this point.
Evelina, having finally figured out what was going on, here protests to the Phantom that she isn't Christine, but the Phantom ignores her, assuming that she is Christine but has forgotten those events, and tries even harder to “remind” her by subjecting her to flashbacks. It's an interesting choice; while of course it's weird that he would think that Christine had forgotten the whole debacle, he is a ghost, not exactly known for holding on to a lot of rationality, and further, the original Phantom did always have a sort of fear of being unimportant, and it's not a huge stretch to think he might be so beneath Christine that she could literally forget all about him if she weren't right next to him.
Then we get a big old splash screen, which gets all expositiony and explains that the Phantom seems to have realized that Evelina isn't Christine at last, but decides to keep her with him in order to make her parents suffer (which, one hopes, means they're still alive somewhere... assuming he didn't do something terrible to them and then forget about it). The narration claims that Evelina will have to find a way to “warm the fragile and reckless heart of the Phantom”, which I guess sort of makes sense since this version of the backstory didn't have Christine doing that... but seriously, there could not be a better illustration of how terrifying he is and how much it should not be Evelina's job to make him feel better than this game.
And you know what, up until this part this game was in solid A+, absolutely fantastic territory, and then it ruined everything. Because that splash screen is the END OF THE GAME.
This is complete garbage. The story just stops, without any kind of satisfying ending or even a reasonable lead-out in just text, and after Evelina's awesome skills and brave heart overcoming all this terrible stuff, it's a slap in the face to take her agency away at the end and basically say, “So then the story is over and she lost.” She didn't even get to be defeated onscreen; it just decided it was over and that she had no more power to affect events. I yelled “How dare you” so loud I had to apologize to the workers next door who heard me over their power tools.
The only way to not see this as extremely poor writing is to assume that this was done in order to leave room for a sequel, wherein Evelina escapes from her captor (or at least tries), but it's been almost five years now and nothing has surfaced, so things look grim. Ugh. What a disappointing end for such a well-done game. WE WERE ALL ROOTING FOR YOU.
The game does include a nice selection of extras, including the entire text of Leroux's novel (the de Mattos translation, I assume, since that's the one in public domain) for those who would like to read it on their computer screens with spooky musical accompaniment. There's also a scoreboard, where it appears that I was competing with the other characters in the story all along (this is where that accuracy score comes in):
I totally got a kick out of seeing Sorelli and Jammes on there. I assume the other manager was knocked off the bottom by my own kickass performance.
Now, I bought the Collector's Edition of this game because I figure I should be as thorough as possible, and it also has a Bonus Game in the extras section. I don't know for sure if this bonus game came with the non-collector version, although some quick internet research suggests that it did not. So I opened it up, and lo and behold... it's a continuation of the game!
Evelina is now in the Phantom's dungeon, which appears to be somewhere in the Paris catacombs, with may skulls and bodies lining and embedded in the walls. As feisty as ever, she literally sets some dynamite down here in her quest to escape, although sadly this only blows her through to find some more clues about the Phantom's past and current damage rather than opening up a hole to freedom. She does, however, finally get her hands on a gun, which while probably of limited use against a ghost still made me feel a little better.
Unfortunately, she used it to shoot down a gem from the ceiling (a “shard of the Phantom's soul”, apparently... this section's a little weird), and it was “used up” just like the sword earlier. SIGH.
Further searching allows Evelina to find the Phantom's shrine to her mother, which appears to contain everything she ever touched in a giant, carefully-tended tangle. It's very creepy (even more so for Evelina, I imagine, whose mother this is and who looks just like her, and includes another large portrait of her. It's also here that, confusingly, Evelina hears her mother's voice whisper in her head (so IS she dead, then?!), saying, “Be strong, but be gentle with his frail heart.” MOM. NOW IS NOT THE TIME FOR YOUR STOCKHOLM SYNDROME.
The Phantom is again demanding that Evelina find and present him with another rose, and to her credit, she's not sure that's such a great idea, but she can't find anything else to do and the game designers didn't give us any other out. From the way the end sequence is set up, with two different boxes that need keys found to open them, one terrible and toothy, the other beautiful and reminiscent of days long gone, I thought that this might give us two different options, one containing something used to escape and one containing the Phantom's rose... but apparently not, so off we go to give this asshole his rose again.
And then, just like last time, NOW it's the end. AGAIN. THEY DID IT AGAIN.
What was even the point of the second ending if it was going to be exactly the same as the first one? The tiny ending cut scene has Evelina asking the Phantom who he is and him yelling at her that she belongs to him know and that what she sees is what she's going to get, and then we're done. Nothing new happened! It was just the exact same ending after three more additional search screens! I HATE THIS.
So, overall, this game was hard to grade because its production values were high, it was gorgeous in its execution, I liked Evelina a lot, and it was a blast to play. And then the ending was terrible. So, in the end, I kicked it down from A+ to A to illustrate the whole experience, and slouched disconsolately off to hope that the next game doesn't let me down so hard.