Misao: Definitive Edition

"[Misao's] slapstick approach to amorality makes it a hard game to dislike."

Misao doesn't make the best of first impressions. Developed in Wolf RPG Editor (a freeware alternative to Enterbrain's RPG Maker), it uses a mix of creative commons and original assets, neither of which are particularly enticing. Its promotional materials and opening sequence paint a picture of well-worn territory: a ghost girl's grudge has transformed an everyday Japanese high school into a haunted hell. Can you and the other students soothe her rage and escape, or will you all face certain doom?

The setup is essentially Corpse Party, the RPG Maker contest entry-turned-multimedia cult hit that inspired a wave of imitators and fangames. It would be easy — forgivable, even — to write Misao off as yet another Corpse Party clone and be done with it. However, there is more here than meets the eye: despite all appearances to the contrary, Misao is in fact a fairly witty and amoral satire of the "high school horror" subgenre.

You may think the objective in Misao is to help the titular ghost girl find peace and save your friends from her wrath. You'd be half right — the group of students you're trapped with are a bunch of hateful turds who bullied Misao relentlessly until she took her own life. The story often flashes back to these instances of bullying and attempts to portray them in a serious light, but the writing is so hamfisted it's hard to feel much of anything. Misao is at its best when you're right there in the moment, and you begin to pick up on the fact that these people are not meant to be saved, but rather sacrificed. Attempting to play the hero generally doesn't work out for you, as you're meant to watch these jerkwads die in increasingly ridiculous ways. You hunt 'em down, then stand at the sidelines like a nitwit while they get taken out. It's an amusingly morbid reversal.

While titles such as Corpse Party pride themselves on their vast number of bad endings, Misao lampoons this by turning bad endings into the game's collectible. There are over 40 ways to shuffle off this mortal coil, some goofy, some gory, and some just weird. You can get caught by a zombie crawling around the floor, you can partake in all-you-can-eat curry until you've fattened up enough to serve as the next meal, or you can get squished by something as innocuous as a rogue stadiometer. They're brief, to the point, and delightful in a slapstick kind of way. A noticeboard on the first floor fills up as you collect them, eventually awarding a Steam achievement, and the shift key quicksaves to encourage experimentation. It's a bit of a bummer that quicksave data is deleted when the game is closed; permanent saves can only be made by speaking to the otherworldly Student Council President, a misplaced design choice that, despite the game's short length, frankly didn't add anything but frustration. Furthermore, quicksave and dash are both keyed to shift — press to quicksave, hold to dash. This can't be reconfigured. C'mon.

Misao was initially released as a freeware game back in 2011, and while Definitive Edition sharpens up the art, adds some endings, and allows players to choose the protagonist's gender (the original hero was a girl), it's pretty much the same game as it was then. It's built on very basic lock-and-key puzzle design with a little bit of monster evasion along the way. Misao is not a game to be played for its challenge or its mechanics, but its slapstick approach to amorality makes it a hard game to dislike. Budget priced and easily completable within an afternoon, Misao is one to keep in the back pocket for when you're feeling particularly misanthropic.

This review is based on a free review copy provided to RPGFan by the publisher. The reviewer also previously worked with this title's translator on an unrelated project prior to accepting the task of reviewing this game. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer's opinion of the game or its final score.

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