I have always been enthralled by the spooky ghost stories that come from southeast Asia. They are always brilliantly told and at times absolutely terrifying. Paper Ghost Stories: 7PM is part of an anthology of ghost stories that tells a Malaysian tale, feeling like a bite-sized prologue to some upcoming releases which are due to come. And neatly, the price reflects this. I jumped into this short experience with nerves ready to be shocked and the curtains closed…
Ghost month is a time in Malaysian, Buddhist and Taoist culture when ghosts roam the world of the living and deceased family members pay a visit to their relatives. People prepare incense, burn paper money, and have food offerings to appease the roaming ghost. Paper Ghost Stories: 7PM is set in this month and focuses on three children living in an apartment block in the city.
The three children are Wen, Ming, and Lun and they are – at the start of the game – awaiting a stage show that focuses on ghost month. They are told a story by Aunty Fung, who tells of a true story of horror and mystery. The children then have some tasks to do around the small neighbourhood which leads to some strange and ghostly experiences of their own. What the game does well in terms of narrative is tell a short tale (a playthrough might only take an hour) but it manages to capture the feeling of the world and mythology brilliantly.
The dialogues that you have with individuals around the flats, through the mini-stories and with characters appear bewitching and nicely written. Even though you spend time with all three of the children, the time you have with one of them is much more substantial than the others, which is a bit of a shame.
Paper Ghost Stories: 7PM focuses on moving around and exploring the world, following leads and tasks you get from certain characters. Sometimes it’s easy to get a bit lost, but you won’t be for long as you go about interacting with characters, playing through dialogue trees. Other elements include the likes of throwing stones, collecting items, or running away using directional controls so as not to get caught. There is a lovely section where you help a street vendor prepare their orders, attempting to put the correct items in order to ensure you can make the perfect wrap.
Other elements don’t work quite so well, like an annoying lockpicking section, but there are enough different elements to keep the game interesting. It doesn’t feel like anything new or fascinating gameplay-wise, but the world and characters are captivating enough to keep this experience enlightening, all the way through its short runtime.
The visuals have a very unique feel to them, mostly because they use paper art aesthetics. Think of a mixture of pop-up children’s books and the Sackboy games on PlayStation and you will get an idea of the world. It helps Paper Ghost Stories: 7PM feel alive with characters and that visual style perfectly captures the essence of a neighbourhood block of flats. The way the design incorporates architecture and fantasy is fantastic and makes the whole experience a pleasure to explore. The soundtrack is good as well with some lovely flourishes and subtle effects throughout.
Paper Ghost Stories: 7PM is not a particularly long experience, feeling like a prelude to a much bigger world. But for the very cheap price, it is well worth giving it a go. The Malaysian world is intriguing to walk about in, and the story and settings are great. There are some good game mechanics included alongside some less decent ones, but it all comes together through the lovely paper visuals; something which feels very clever.
It’s exciting to see where the Paper Ghost Stories tales take us next; hopefully the next instalment will be a bit longer.
Paper Ghost Stories: 7PM is on the Xbox Store