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AKAI NOROI Video Game Review

Written by Ryan Noble

Developed by Aza Game Studio
Game released on 24 July 2020
Platforms: PC (Steam)

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Review:

Asian horror is, and likely always will be, one of my favourite types of horror, so I was truly excited to get a key for AKAI NOROI, translating to ‘red curse’, a first-person survival horror inspired by Japanese folklore.

You play as Akio, a downtrodden 39-year-old man who struggles with addiction and has just lost his job. After returning to his apartment in Tokyo on a stormy night, he soon finds himself dragged into a nightmare in which he must explore the pasts of missing residents of the haunted and abandoned sleeping quarters.

Visuals and scares worth screaming about

You begin in Akio’s bedroom, thunder and lightning booming atmosphere into the room as you take in the various photographs and notes, each adding more narrative to the ambiguous story of the game.

AKAI NOROI lands on the hyper-realistic side of environments and this certainly adds to the tension in the earlier sections of the game. It is so realistic, in fact, that my gaming laptop barely managed to run it without using the ‘potato computer’ setting, which did give me a chuckle… at my own expense.

Throughout the abandoned rooms you explore, you’ll find a number of items used to progress, like keys to unlock doors or notes with hidden codes that help you unlock doors later on. The notes you find also flesh out the narrative of Akio’s life, along with the pasts of the missing residents. I can’t say they’ve had happy lives, and they’ll want to tell you all about it…

A malicious spirit soon roams the sleeping quarters, orchestrating a series of heart-stopping jump-scares before switching to an outright chase from its final resting place through the darkened hallways to your potential escape, if you can make it there.

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Three stories to be chased through

Once the game switches over to these fast-speed chases, it’s no surprise that you find yourself hurtling towards its conclusion quicker than you may have expected, but there’s nothing wrong with a short, sharp scare on occasion. I could see this game being at its best in the dark, with a few good friends, taking it in turns to see how far you make it.

With three potential endings, there’s certainly the opportunity for replayability, adding more value to the game’s modest price tag. However, while multiple endings are always a fun addition, I can’t be entirely sure how these other endings are found since I feel like I did everything I could have done.

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Fumbling in the dark

My main issue with AKAI NOROI is that it’s dark. Really dark. Even on my laptop’s highest brightness setting, the game is often far too covered in shadows, even while holding a candle and turning on multiple lamps throughout the world. While the darkness obviously adds to the spooky atmosphere, I also often missed key objects, including the candle I just mentioned and an important key needed to escape the first chase.

In addition, the dark also hides notes, photographs, and art, included in the first place to embellish a world you can’t see all that well. It is in this regard that I wouldn’t even know how to find another ending as I collected everything I could see, which wasn’t always much.

My other issue was also bumping around in the dark with me. After finding the poor, hanged corpse of one of the previous tenants, I was chased through the sleeping quarters by its angered spirit. While it was tense at first, it soon became almost comical as the ghost chased me with such speed that it sapped the air of all tension. Asian horror, in particular, is known for its slow sense of dread, but I felt like this was lacking here.

A studio that’s quicker than the spirits

One thing that I have to applaud is the speed at which I have seen the studio jump into action to fix any bugs mentioned in Steam reviews, doing everything that can to create a better experience for their players. In fact, a couple of patches went up between me receiving a key and writing this review which did exactly that, such as making a key easier to find and resolving an issue where players couldn’t save their game.

This feels like a skill that indie studios need to have to build a community of loyal players, and Aza definitely has it.

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A short, sharp scare in the shadows

AKAI NOROI does what it came to do; scare you silly using Japanese-inspired jump-scares and folklore. Its premise contains more potential than I’d say it delivers in terms of Asia’s mastery of horror, with much of the game’s tensions being sapped by speedy spirits and an environment that’s often so dark you become desensitised to shadows.

As a game you can complete in one sitting, three potential endings keep the scares coming for a little longer and I could see it being fun to play with friends to see who gets which ending. As a solo experience, however, I found that AKAI NOROI lacks the tension or subtlety that I’ve come to expect from Asian-inspired horror, even if it did get my heart racing.

AKAI NOROI is available on Steam and you can keep up with their upcoming projects on their official website.

Image Gallery

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Grades:

Story: threestars Cover
Buy Steam
Graphics: fourstars
Gameplay: threestars
Sound: four stars
Replayability: four stars
Overall: 3 Star Rating

About The Author
Ryan Noble
Staff Reviewer
If Ryan isn't watching, reading or playing some form of horror, he's probably writing about it. He used to be an Editor at Indie Game Magazine so he has a soft spot for independent creators, especially when they're creating fear. Whether you're one such creator, or a fellow horror fan, let's speak about spooks on Twitter or email.
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