I finished this game in just under 18 hours over 4 days, and I’m still not sure why. I have had what could be called a very strange week with The Letter. After finishing the excellent AI: The Somnium Files, I was searching around for another visual novel with English voice acting. The Letter appeared over and over in my searches as one of the better ones, and so I decided to give it a roll.
The Letter is intended to be campy horror, which I think it does well, but it also strains itself relying on just one monster, a bloodthirsty ghost girl, for 18 straight hours. I saw so much of her that I stopped getting frightened about 3 hours in. Also, this visual novel is so, so much longer than it needs to be.
After a while, I realized that all of the introspection text between dialogue was kind of useless. It’s basically just people internally thinking the same thought in 15 different ways and then voicing it aloud. If there was a “skip to dialogue” button this would be getting a lot higher rating.
During the course of the story you’ll play from the perspective of each of the seven main characters, one after another, reliving some events from different points of view and then moving the story forward a day. You make 5–6 decisions per character that determine how the story plays out, and to its credit your decisions make a huge impact.
I can’t even imagine how much writing went into this, because testing out different decisions with different save files led me to extremely different stories (not just endings). The voice acting was pretty good, for the most part, although there was a lot of discrepancy between nationalities and accents (Ash was born and raised in the UK and Isabella was from the Philippines, yet both had American accents).
I liked some parts of it a lot, despite the mediocre YA horror prose and numerous grammatical errors. The characters were sort of endearing; Zach, Isabella and Hannah especially I commiserated with. Luke is cheating on his wife, impregnating random women, emotionally abusive, racist, and narcissistic to a degree I’ve barely ever seen. He is actually the last character you play as, so I was expecting to be disappointed when they tried to redeem him. Well, they didn’t. Getting inside his mind reveals that he’s an even bigger piece of trash than I had suspected.
Watching the relationship meters change depending on my decisions and seeing the ramifications of that quickly after is more than I can say for most choice-based games of this nature. The save system and “skip to unread text” button allow for players to easily experiment with different decisions without wasting too much time.
I guess my biggest complaints are that the story wasn’t very well-written, I wasn’t a huge fan of the art style, and I truly hated many of the characters I had to play as (such as Luke and Marianne). Yet, despite this, I was hooked. I found myself staying up till 3 AM on Friday and Saturday night with it. It was like… comfort food. It didn’t require me to think, nor did it require me to mechanically do anything.
I think I really needed that this week. I’m not sure that I recommend it, of even if it’s good, but I had a good time with these dumb kids and I only got one of them killed. I think today, I am content to take that small victory as I leave this strange story behind me.