"I would compare the gameplay with the classic To The Moon, though in this case I unfortunately felt no emotional connection to either the storyline or characters."
A creepy school, full of lonely souls. Gothic-Lolita inspired versions of Alice in Wonderland characters. Eerie and haunted dreamscapes. Tragedy. Mystery. ALL IN A HANDY 8-BIT STYLE! Starting with a brief introduction to the above-mentioned school then moving on to the students' personal dream worlds, Alicemare is a journey into some deep and disturbing material, such as child abuse and suicide. The player character in this tale, Allen, is meant to be a gender-swapped version of Alice, and other classic figures such as the Cheshire Cat and the White Rabbit make an appearance. In addition, the storyline and puzzles include many nods to Mother Goose rhymes and classic fairytales. As I've always been a fan of classic fantasy literature and dark, thought-provoking material, I figured I would enjoy this game immensely! Unfortunately, I can't say that was the case.
For a game that is so heavily focused on story, Alicemare disappointed me. The plot had the potential to develop into something very gripping and disturbing, but ultimately left me scratching my head. I have heard rumors that there is a light novel of this game available in Japan (sadly still untranslated); I would definitely be tempted to pick this up in the hopes of some clarification. On top of this, the characters are very forgettable. The Cheshire Cat and White Rabbit stand out partly due to their appearance (more on this later), and there is a set of twins with a sinister secret, but otherwise the rest of the characters feel interchangeable and lack meaningful and memorable personalities. Everyone is sad and mysterious and speaks with the same tone and vocabulary, and they all blend together as if they are just multiple versions of a lonely gothic kid with slightly altered costumes and backstoy.
Because of the exceptionally confusing storyline, I spent almost the entirety of Alicemare in a fog of befuddlement. The game's handling of the silent protagonist made it difficult to understand many of the conversations, and some questionable grammar did not help. Throughout the game, you collect notes that reveal pieces of the story, which would be really useful if it were possible to reread them to refresh my memory.
The game plays like a top-down adventure game made with WOLF RPG Editor, with puzzles and mysteries to solve along the way. Control-wise, I found the keyboard-only interface very easy to use, the only issue being that sometimes my character wouldn't line up with narrow passages or doorways, so I had to keep fidgeting. Overall, I would compare the gameplay with the classic To The Moon, though in this case I (unfortunately) felt no emotional connection to either the storyline or characters. I didn't find much variety in the puzzles, and while most were fairly simple, a few of the riddles were head-scratchingly difficult. A lot of this comes down to the poor grammar I mentioned earlier, as this meant I didn't always understand the instructions. One surprise I did enjoy about the gameplay is that there is a friendly kitty you can talk to if you'd like to play a bit of Tetris; a fun little bonus!
There are many surprising, unexpected moments in Alicemare where you can die, so I would highly recommend saving a lot. I had to restart a few short sections myself, as there is no warning (and no autosave) before these occasions. This was quite an annoyance for me, as I felt I wasn't really free to explore without running into a Game Over if I clicked on the wrong item or answered a question incorrectly. Having to go into the save menu every two minutes is a frustrating interruption.
Alicemare features several different endings, including character-specific endings and a few hidden ones. Unfortunately, the best endings are easy to miss, including a few which can only be seen after collecting hidden items throughout the game. Personally, this was a major point of annoyance for me — without consulting a guide I had no idea it was necessary to collect those items to achieve the hidden endings, so I did not search quite as thoroughly as I should have. On that note, I leave you with the following advice: keep an eye out for shiny things, and make sure to store up a handy collection of save files throughout various points in the game! Thankfully, the game is also incredibly short (I finished it in a little over 3 hours) which is handy if you missed some of the aforementioned endings and want to replay from the start.
The graphics are fairly cute, and I like the mostly purple color palette; it reminds me a little of playing something on my old Super Game Boy! Sadly, I found the 8-bit pixel graphics to be a little hard on the eyes in full screen mode, though I appreciate the option to change screen size. The character designs are very pleasant as well, and while many of the anime-style characters have similar faces, I love their Gothic Lolita inspired clothing designs. The Cheshire Cat and White Rabbit in particular have creepy and charming animal inspired attire which I would wear in an instant. There are definitely plenty of cute outfits here to encourage future cosplay or fan art! I think the music serves as another one of the highlights, featuring a collection of various classical pieces such as The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. The chosen music provides a lovely ambience to the eerie, gothic settings in the game, especially in locations like the graveyard.
I don't have too much more to say about this game: it's extremely short, with an incomprehensible plot and frustrating puzzles, but also has quite a bit of charm and a wonderfully gothic ambience. Because of this, I'd probably only recommend it to a hardcore fan of the Gothic Lolita style or Alice in Wonderland. I spent approximately $2 during a Steam sale to buy this title, as I generally enjoy the aesthetic; Alicemare was worth every penny, though not a whole lot more. Alas!