Episode 1 of Scarlet Hollow managed to wow me not only with concise yet rich writing but also in the seamless incorporation of unorthodox gameplay mechanics (for visual novels) without detracting from its narrative substance. Bold and adventurous, Episode 1 truly captured the essence of a remarkable visual novel opening, elevating itself far above its contemporaries. But an introduction can only get you so far, and with an ambitiously planned length of seven total episodes, the follow-up is just as, if not more, important than the introduction. Fortunately, Scarlet Hollow – Episode 2 manages to be quite the satisfying continuation of the story.
Beginning immediately after the dire encounter with the Ditchlings, freakish creatures that herald oncoming disasters, you and the group find yourselves in a race against time. It appears to be no coincidence that the Ditchlings appeared right before your aunt’s funeral, and the sheer number of them seems to suggest an approaching catastrophe of untold proportions. It’s crunch time for everyone and, unless you’re able to find answers soon, the nasty stares from the locals are going to be the least of your concerns.
The biggest improvement Episode 2 makes over Episode 1 is the cast. For all the flair and depth Episode 1 offered in its dialogue, it mostly amounted to little more than fluff. Stella was really the only character of significance to the story in terms of progression. Even the ‘talk to animals’ trait added only a few more interesting detours from the main plot, leaving the central story mostly devoid of other meaningful interactions. Episode 2, on the other hand, introduces a variety of new townspeople into the narrative, from the chief librarian to the disgruntled teenagers of the town.
Admittedly, I wasn’t a fan of all the new additions to the cast, namely the teenagers who were a little too obnoxious for my taste. I understand the intention of presenting the hormonal and “it’s not a phase mom” energy that all of us experience at some point during puberty. However, the teenagers here come off as caricatures more than anything and make this part of the story an unusually cumbersome read in an otherwise deftly written episode.
Speaking of the writing, I have to commend the huge step up in the gravitas of your decisions throughout the story. The choices in Episode 1 were mostly cosmetic because the focus was on setting the foundations of the story, but seeing the payoff of this setup as early as Episode 2 is simply delightful. Punches are not pulled here, and the slew of meaningful choices given at many of the pivotal moments kept me engaged and interested enough for several playthroughs to see the different outcomes.
Episode 2 continues on in much the same manner as Episode 1. It has consistently high-quality writing, which makes for an engaging experience all the way through. Barring occasional hiccups with some of the new cast members, Episode 2 manages to improve upon its predecessor in every way, from the expanded range of choices to the overall narrative structure of the unfolding plot. The months-long wait till Episode 3 will be a painful one, but if the quality continues in this manner, I’m more than happy to wait.