There should always be room in our lives for fun, pulpy rubbish. Sometimes you just want a Nic Cage movie, a packet of prawn cocktail crisps, or the works of Limp Bizkit. Video games can definitely be in that category too, and Vera Blanc: Full Moon could be classed as so-bad-it’s-good. In places, it’s in danger of teetering into just ‘bad’.
Vera Blanc is a visual novel from Ratalaika Games and Winter Wolves – the team that brought us Roommates only a few months ago. You are the titular Vera, a 16-year old who has the power to read people’s minds, but only the thoughts that are rattling around their skulls in that moment. This psychic power is the byproduct of an operation to remove a brain tumour, and you pester your father to put it to good use. Being the good parent that he is, your dad chooses to put you in the care of a lusty private detective called Brandon Mackey, who then ships you off to Germany to look for murdering werewolves. Parenting 101, obviously.
This plays out in a visual novel stylee, with reasonably regular and divergent choices. But the utter, utter brilliance of Vera Blanc: Full Moon comes in how the game showcases your powers. Every so often, you’ll find a victim whose mind you can root around in. This plays out as a game of Wheel of Fortune (or Hangman, please choose your reference), as you fill out their thoughts. Complete the phrase in no more than three mistakes, and you’ll use the resulting information to gather clues and progress the game.
I’m not going to lie, I loved these sections. There’s an option to turn them off when you start Vera Blanc, but I want to shake you and say PLEASE, please don’t turn them off. Without them, Vera Blanc: Full Moon is a shell of a game, and they’re the tacky joys that make the game remotely passable.
It feels like Winter Wolves have got a copy of Take A Break in their office waiting room, and circled some puzzles to put in their game: as well as the Hangman sections, you get spot-the-differences, a card-flipping memory game, and another memorisation game that centres on numbers. These all crop up in the most tense sections of the game. Someone chasing you? Have a memory game. Finding the way through a dark path? Play spot the difference. It’s so, so bizarre that Winter Wolves would want to undermine their own story in this way, but I found them to be the highlights. Want to read the mind of this cop, using Wheel of Fortune blank-filling? Hell yes I do!
That’s not to say that these puzzles are flawless. You could get a similar joy from popping into your local newsagents and buying a copy of Puzzler. And aside from Hangman, they are inexplicably shoddy. The spot-the-differences don’t actually change the picture; they just sprinkle some pubic-like hairs on top and ask you to spot them (would it really have been so expensive to create two different pictures?). The number-memory game is like someone telling you their phone number and asking you to remember it, which is about as fun as it is in real life. But the fact they’re here, gatecrashing a horror novel, tickles me a wee bit.
As a story, this is risible rubbish, really. There are plot holes that you could push an Xbox Series X through (nothing in the opening thirty minutes makes the remotest sense, especially when you think back to them after the end’s twists). The lecherous, sleazy way that the game handles Vera – a 16-year old, remember – gets pretty uncomfortable, let alone how women are generally handled. And the quality of the writing, when it’s not slathered in typos, is less than great. The build up to the final act’s plot twists are simultaneously predictable and deus ex machina tosh.
And yet, when you’re dealing with a psychic-investigator on the trail of a werewolf, you might want your dialogue, plot and characters to be nonsense. You want to have fun, and for the whole thing to rattle past in an entertaining few hours. If it evaporates out of your head the moment you finish it, then it’s not always a bad thing. If that’s the mood that you’re in, then Vera Blanc: Full Moon might be your budget-priced slab of fast food.
A note on an infuriation that’s easily resolved, as long as you’re prepared. Vera Blanc: Full Moon kills you. It actually murders you with abandon, and does it completely arbitrarily. You can be in a police station, walking down some stairs, and you’ll meet a grisly end. This can be rage-inducing if you don’t know how to manage your saves and the LB ‘back’ button. Make sure you save regularly, and use all of your save slots. If it looks like you are about to die, you probably are about to die, so also make use of that LB button. You can skip back to the choice that put you on this fatal path and take another fork. Rather unfairly, Vera Blanc doesn’t let you LB back if you actually reach the death end-card, so make sure you anticipate the deaths in this way. It’s rubbish game design, if we’re being honest, but these steps will save you.
Slapping a score on Vera Blanc: Full Moon on Xbox One and Series X|S is difficult, as it’s undeniable cobblers. The story is nonsense, and the dialogue is half-baked plus scattered with typos. As a visual novel, the actual visuals and novel are both awful. But salvation can be found in the bizarre decision to turn Vera’s psychic powers into puzzles: a quick stint of Wheel of Fortune and spot the difference. No designer in their right mind would interrupt the tense moments of their story with a word problem, but it works. Vera Blanc will be so-bad-it’s-good for a lot of people, but if you’re after something substantial and competent, you might want to investigate elsewhere.