Visual novels are often given short shrift in the gaming world; many feel it’s akin to reading a book (who does that anymore eh?). There’s a lot of variety out there though, with something for everyone. If you’re fascinated by vampires then Crimson Spires has you covered, while Vengeful Heart gets serious with social and political issues during a dystopian future. Heck, if you just want to drool over CGs of food, Strawberry Vinegar can satisfy your needs.
So what exactly does Gloom and Doom bring to the table? Apparently, it’s a throwback to those excellent slacker movies from the ’90s, albeit with a supernatural edge. In truth, developer Neo Tegoel Games delivers all that and then some, but that doesn’t mean it will resonate well with everyone.
Gloom and Doom begins in the year 2000, where a wraith is doing what he does best – killing demons. That’s Gloom, a former angel who made terrible life choices and now spends his days as a demonic hitman on behalf of highly ranked angel Michael, hoping to atone for his sins in order to return to Heaven. Meanwhile, teenager Wynona is lamenting the hand she’s been dealt in life; she has no friends, lives with foster parents, and gets little satisfaction from working part-time in a video store. Oh, and Wynona has this recurring nightmare where she brings about the end of the world, dubbing herself the Doom Bringer. As a result, she’s determined to end her life before it comes to fruition.
A chance encounter and a cryptic prophecy draws the two together. You see, Gloom is given one last job… to put an end to Wynona. Given the mental state of the latter, this is a win-win situation, right? Not quite.
Without spoiling anything else, the core of the narrative is excellent due to the budding relationship between these polar opposites. The common factor, their respective loneliness, is what makes it even more interesting though. Stripping away the supernatural stuff, the story promotes ways in which to deal with depression or anxiety and helps shift the focus away from demonising such issues. On the whole it’s very well written to the point where every interaction they have feels natural. The awkward silences, the teenage attitude towards a much older being, the apprehension from Gloom as he tries to comprehend fearlessness of this girl, and the disagreements over pop culture.
Pop culture actually plays a pretty big role here, because barely a few screens of text roll by without referencing a film, video game, or piece of music from the ’90s and earlier. It brings a smile to your face when a statement is made about something you can relate to, and there are a lot of those moments if you’re a 90s kid like myself. Whether it’s Sonic the Hedgehog, Golden Axe, The Cure, or something else, the nostalgia is strong. Rather strangely though, every reference uses a fake name, like Pro Evolution Soccer does with unlicensed teams. Sometimes it’s tricky to work out what it’s alluding to, which isn’t ideal; especially when there’s a quiz in-game to test Gloom’s (your) knowledge.
Supporting the main duo are a real cavalcade of noteworthy characters too. Every single one is fleshed out enough to garner interest, whether it’s the aforementioned Michael, who gets Gloom to do the unsavoury tasks; the cool as hell skateboarding angel Nathaniel; the incredibly cunning demon, Lucia; or the Time Shamen and gaming buddy Mr. Yesterday. You won’t necessarily be fond of all of them, which is fine because you need a few unlikable folk to root against.
As for how the events in Gloom and Doom transpire, and well you just have to press a button to advance the text dialogue – there are no voiceovers sadly. There are also the options to auto-advance and rewind if you skip ahead too quickly by mistake. Aside from reading, there are choices to be made; some are minor, while others could affect which of the multiple endings you reach. The fact that you will probably deliberate each decision is a good sign and the different endings add a little extra longevity to the otherwise four hour experience.
Visually, Neo Tegoel Games decided upon going for a graphic novel type vibe, with heavily emboldened outlines aiding the characters in standing out. Putting a handful of strange looking faces to one side, the overall designs for angels, demons, and humans are done to a good enough standard to become memorable. The backgrounds are fine for the most part, however the generic settings like the streets and the spooky house are a slight let-down.
Gloom and Doom is a very engaging visual novel that tackles tricky subjects head on and integrates them brilliantly with a supernatural narrative. You’ll no doubt ponder the decisions which could have a major impact and have fun with the many pop culture references – as long as you know what they are, of course. The artwork is pretty darn good, but it wouldn’t half be great for the scenes to be brought to life with voice acting. Given the high price point, I think it’s a tad on the short side too.
Despite the depressing themes at times, it’s not all doom and gloom in Gloom and Doom. Give it a chance, for it may surprise you with a heartwarming tale full of wit, charm and totally badass characters.
Gloom and Doom is available from the Xbox Store