Review: theresia… (Nintendo DS)
by Alex Lucard on November 10, 2008

theresia…
Developer: Arc System Works
Publisher: Aksys Games
Genre: Adventure
Release Date: 11/06/2008


In case you missed my interview with Aksys last week, this game is a double first for the series. It’s the first time the series has leapt from cell phones onto an actual gaming system and the first time North American audiences are getting a chance to play this spooky point and click series.

I’ve been quite excited for this one due to the buzz I’ve heard about the series across the Pacific. “It’s like Rule of Rose story-wise but it doesn’t suck to play.” “It’s like Shadowgate but without those bloody torches” “It’s like what Dementium could have been if it didn’t suck in every way possible.” So of course I’ve been quite interested to see how this game goes.

It’s been an amazing year for adventures games. The Sinking Island, The Lost Crown, and Nikopol have been amongst the best games of the year, regardless of genre. Alas, those have all been PC based. The DS however has had to deal with slightly lackluster adventure games like Unsolved Crimes and Time Hollow. Does theresia manage the first really good Adventure game for the DS in 2008, or does the PC manage to dominate this genre once again?

Let’s Review

1. Story

theresia actually gives you two completely different stories to play through, but you have to beat the first in order to access the second. The first story is called Dear Emile and it will take about five hours to beat. You are playing a character named Leanne who has awoken with complete amnesia. She doesn’t remember her name, her age, who she is or anything. (You know her name from the back of the package). She also finds herself in a strange room with a journal fragment. As she explores the room she discovers a few traps and that the main door is locked. Why would someone place razor sharp needles in her room?

Once you get out you learn it’s not just this room. There are traps and puzzles everywhere, but are they actually meant for you? Perhaps they are keeping something away from you rather than keeping you out.

As the story goes on, you start to have flashes of memory. Are they yours though? And what about these research notes you find involving a great plague, and orders to kill anyone infected on site? Are you infected? Are you not infected and being locked up to keep you safe? And what is theresia? Is it a place? A person? A state of being? You’ll have to discover that for yourself.

As for the second game, Dear Martel is a standalone adventure that you can play on its own. It is however, utterly entwined with Deal Emile and it answers many of the questions raised in the first game. All I can really say without spoiling both games is that your main character here is a doctor who was trying to stem the infection mentioned in the first adventure. Although he found a cure for the disease, the side effects of the treatment were far worse than the original problem. Now the good doctor was find a way to right which he hath wronged.

Both games are amazingly well done in terms of plot. The game constantly gives off a creepy vibe and every step or movement you take in the game fills you with a feeling of foreboding. Unlike other would-be horror games like Resident Evil that are just action games (albeit it good ones) with a lot of gore and cheap “something jumps out at you! Eeek!” cheap thrills, theresia focuses on true terror. Loneliness pervades the theme of both stories. There is a lack of both you and the main character knowing who you are. With each flash of memory, you almost wish you hadn’t due to their perverse and creepy nature. Each time you learn more about the epidemic, you find yourself interested in the story mainly due to morbid curiosity over the well being of your character.

The game is a little bit of Saw, a little bit Clock Tower, a little bit DarkFall and a lot of Shadowgate, Uninvited and Deja Vu. I was really drawn to the characters and their depraved back stories. theresia boasts one of the best plots of 2008 and it’s up there with The Lost Crown for creepiest.

Story Rating: Unparalleled

2. Graphics

theresia is a mixed bag graphically. The majority of the game involves you traversing down long corridors that are very poorly done. We’re talking nearly Atari 2600 level of detail. Everything is nondescript, blocky, and downright ugly. If this was what the game looked like throughout, then this would be the ugliest game I’ve ever played. Thankfully this isn’t the case.

The rest of the visuals, being cut scenes and the rooms you can enter, are stunning. All of these pieces are hand drawn works of art, which is a nice alternative to the static images a lot of Adventure games are known for. Each piece of art sublime in its ability to be beautiful why still showing decay, corruption, doom and despair. Whereas the hallway graphics are just ugly, the rooms are ugly but purposely so and one finds themselves marveling at how pretty something gross can be. The cut scenes, which you get every so often, come in the forms of memories or in artistic metaphor. These are once again, beautifully done and they really showcase what the DS is capable of.

The unique nature of the visuals really make theresia stand apart from other adventure games, as well as other horror games. Although the hallways are where you’ll spend most of your time as you cross from one room to the next, and they are some of the worst graphics I have EVER seen, the rest of the game’s visuals are wonderful and really captures the melancholy mood of tragedy of the game.

Graphics Rating: Mediocre

3. Sound

There’s not a lot of sound in the game here. The game is eerily quiet at times, which fits the mood of a lone person wandering around a place where nothing else appears to be drawing breath save for you. Occasionally, you’ll get a bit of creepy voice acting, such as when you dig the barb wire of your necklace into your character’s flesh causing her to pray, but these noises are rare and as such, add a lot to the game. I’ve always found background music to do more harm than good when you’re playing a game that is supposed to be scary. The lack of noise, after all, if far scarier than a musical score.

That being said, there IS music in theresia. There are only a few tracks, all of which are eerie and feel like they came out of something like Suspiria Both fit the mood of the game quite well and I appreciate that they cut out at times and let your character’s footsteps be the only thing you can hear.

Sound effects are very well done. From the sound of something sharp piercing your flesh, to the moan of your character as she is electrocuted or stabbed, everything sounds realistic and creepy. Whether it’s the sound of rushing water, or the chopping or the churning of a machine, theresia really uses sound to enhance the spooky factor of the game.

A great job done here by Arc System Works. The sound effects, score, and occasional mutterings truly enhance the feel of theresia and make the game exceptionally creepy, even to those who might find point and click a little dull at times.

Sound Rating: Great

4. Control and Gameplay

Like most adventure games, the emphasis is less on action and more on thinking skills. theresis plays very similar to Shadowgate but without spells and torches. The game is played from a first person perspective and you’ll be using the touch screen to move your character and interact with objects.

The core of the game is puzzle solving. Use your stylus to act like a mouse, you’ll use the eye icon to look at things on the screen, the hand icon to touch things or add items to your inventory, combine items to make something new to help you out, and use the arrows on the bottom of the screen to move around. If you’ve ever played an adventure game before, the point and click nature of the controls will come very easily to you and the game will move quite fluidly. In fact my only complaint about the controls is that I couldn’t strafe right or left and instead had to turn then move. There are rare occasions where you can strafe, but these are only in a few select rooms and it’s just an illusion of this sort of movement.

One of the things that made me fall in love with this game is that it punishes you for the age old adage of “click on everything possible on the screen to see what happens as you might inadvertently solve the puzzle.” that adventure games are known for. In theresia, this is a very good way to get yourself killed. There are traps everywhere and touching an object might lead to you to getting shocked, stabbed, or poisoned. With this simple twist on gameplay, you have to think about what you tough, and the sense of terror and dread is heightened.

You might have also noticed I mentioned you can die in this game. This is a rarity in adventure games, even horror adventure games, and because of your little life bar, theresia spooky factor continues to rise above others in both of its respective genres. Your life bar will slowly be depleted throughout the game by making foolish choices or getting yourself injured. The game generally warns you that an action will lead to injury if you use the look icon first, so remember to always do that. If the game says “I see a needle” or “This looks really sharp” it’s probably a good idea not to fiddle. That being said ,there are items that can injure you (like a knife) that you’ll need in order to advance, so you’ll have to figure out how to touch something without actually touching something.

Although both Emile and Martel have very different stories, the controls and gameplay are exactly the same. This is great as Martel manages to feel familar and yet utterly new at the same time.

theresia managed to be the best adventure game I’ve played on the DS in terms of controls and story. Titles like Hotel Dusk and the Phoenix Wright series have been good, but for the most part unimpressive when compared to adventure games on the PC. Because theresia started off as a cell phone series, it was able to combine the best aspects of handheld games and PC point and click titles. The DS release is the culmination of the series, and it lacks the slowdown and occasional glitch that can be found in a PC Adventure game when your computer isn’t maxed out. It also lacks the somewhat lackluster controls and mediocre puzzles the DS adventure games have developed a reputation for amongst the more hardcore point n’ clickers. One could easily make the case that theresia is the best adventure game for this generation of handhelds, and I’d be hard pressed to disagree with that.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Classic

5. Replayability

The fact you have to get through Emile in order to unlock the Martel storyline is a big reason to keep playing theresia. It’s nice to see two fully fleshed out complete adventure games on a single cartridge. Because both stories are as compelling as they are creepy, one can easily go back and play the tales again and still enjoy how eerie they are.

Aside from that though, theresia suffers from the same problem the adventure genre is known for. Due to the linear nature of the games and the obtuse aspects of the occasional puzzle, it’s hard for anyone but the most ardent of adventure gamers to play one of these titles more than once unless they have multiple solutions and/or endings ala the classic Maniac Mansion. Theresia is a wonderful game and I’d recommend it to anyone, but like other adventure games I adore like Barrow Hill or Secret Files: Tunguska, it’ll probably be a year or more before I pick up this game again.

In case you’re curious, the Clock Tower series is where to go for adventure games with a ton of different endings so as to increase replayability.

Replayability Rating: Poor

6. Balance

Most adventure games ending up having one of two flaws. The first is that the puzzles don’t always have a logical solution and so you find yourself scratching your head when you end having to use a hollowed out beaver carcass as a funnel. Yes, that actually happens in Dracula: Origin. The other flaw is that you some people just go through a guess and check process, clicking on everything and matching items together in an attempt to hurry through rather than think through the puzzles. That’s not the case with theresia.

Most of the puzzles in this game are fairly obvious. You also have a hint option if you ever get stuck – just use the necklace on yourself. At the same time the game punishes you for the guess and check method. By taking damage and eventually dying from this method, a gamer has to learn to use their analytical thinking skills.

I found the game to be a lot easier than most Adventure games, but then I play nearly everyone sent to us here at Diehard GameFAN, so that could be why. With a massive amount of elixirs spread throughout the game, it’s very hard to die unless you forget about your health bar. This means you can explore to your heart’s content and even purposely trigger traps just to see what happens, which is oddly quite fun, as morbid as it seems.

This is by far the best designed adventure game I’ve had the pleasure to play on the DS. The puzzles are an active part of the game and actually contribute to the story unlike a lot of others. The fact you are punished for treating the game like a normal point n’ click title goes a long way and although there is an occasional bit of difficulty in the later stages of both adventures, all you need to do is use that Eye icon frequently and remember to check every room if you get stuck.

Balance Rating: Great

7. Originality

As I haven’t played any of the cell phone text adventure games in this series, I can’t be sure if Emile and Martel are entirely new stories, or remakes of previous titles. What I can say however, is that theresia is a highly innovative and original game, managing to one up similar games in this genre. It is spookier then any of the other M rated titles on the DS. The life system and story are superior to Time Hollow. It gives you a bit of nostalgia with the feel of Shadowgate but without the being trapped in the darkness and being eaten by grue (Well, what else kills you in the dark?). The stories are so twisted and creepy, you don’t find yourself scared by them as much as you are unnerved at the thought people like this could ever exist. The game is scary because it is far too close to reality for our own comfort level, not because Pyramid Head is about rape your ass or because Nemesis is running around with a rocket launcher moaning, “S.T.A.R.S.” This is Clock Tower or HellNight level terror here, and I applaud Aksys for remembering that survival horror needs to focus on the scary first and the action aspects second. Thanks for bringing this stateside.

Originality Rating: Good

Addictiveness

I was pretty glued to this game. Generally when I’ve hyped up a game this much in my head, it is hard for it to live up to the hype. Not so with theresia. From the moment the game started, I was intrigued. When I went down the pipes and was rewarded was an artistic and freaky animated sequence involving a flashlight and a river of skulls, I was hooked. When I had beaten Dear Emile and moved into Dear Martel, I was in love and knew I’d have to request Aksys to localize and publish the previous games in this series as well. What can I say? I love that classical Victorian/Lovecraftian/cerebral creepiness and theresia has it in spades.

The game is gripping for many reasons. It’s artsy. It’s compelling. You want to know more about the characters and why they are in their respective situations. You want to absorb every nuance of the world. You want to know what the hell theresia means and while the first game is called Dear Emile, when that’s not the name of your character. So many sublime mysteries, and only you can solve them.

Addictiveness Rating: Good

9. Appeal Factor

Adventure game enthusiasts will no doubt love this game as it’s a novel twist on the usual adventure game motif. Fans of Shadowgate and Deja Vu will be ecstatic to discover a spiritual successor to the series, and horror fans will be happy there’s finally a game this year out for something other than the PC that focuses on SCARY rather than the erroneous belief that “being able to kill a horde of monsters is somehow more frightening then being defenseless against something truly hideous and inhuman.”

Adventure games have slowly but surely been returning to mainstream gaming after years of being less than a niche title like 2-D fighters and shoot ‘em ups. As a fan of this genre since a small child in single digits with games like Zork, I’m really happy to see Adventure games getting a Renaissance even in the face of the modern day game reviewer lacking the ability to appreciate a game that requires wits over the ability to shoot oncoming hordes in the face of crappy camera angles. Give me a site like Justadventure.com or Gameboomers.com over the awful treatment adventure games get from mainstream would-be “journalists.”

If you like classical tales of terror from authors like Poe, Maupassant, Le Fanu or Robert Chambers, you will love theresia. If not, you’ll still be able to appreciate it for its hand drawn art and the creep factor. This is one of the most accessible horror games I’ve played in a long time and it is one of the few “M” rated games that probably should have only received a T rating as it’s not gorey – it’s just dealing with very mature mental baggage.

Appeal Factor: Good

10. Miscellaneous

Although a contender for horror, adventure and DS games of the year, I honestly don’t see theresia winning any of those three awards – mainly because the other nominees we’ll be having are vastly superior. The Lost Crown, for example, is widely hailed as one of the greatest adventure games of all time and also one of the scariest. That doesn’t mean theresia doesn’t deserve equal billing, but it’s getting very little attention and it’s from a small indie publisher that even big stores like EBGamestop won’t allow you to preorder. That kills a game right there and so far the only place I’ve seen that has actually shipped this title with both speed and quantity is Amazon.com. I don’t want to use this section as a soapbox to discuss how gamers need to break free from their sheep like mentality and stop playing games they are told to play by publications that have their reviews purchased by companies with a large ad budget and to get out and find those obscure publishers with the fascinating games you’ll never hear of from the mainstream outlets. But it’s true and each an everyone of you need to eschew the A level titles from time to time because that A rating only relates to the size of the company and how much you buy the hype rather than the quality of the titles themselves.

theresia is very much a low radar game, but aside from some ugly travelling graphics, this game does nearly everything right. It’s a wonderful bridge between hardcore and casual gamers. Between the DS and PC adventure gaming audiences. Between fans of spooky games and games where you have to use your brain over hand to eye coordination. It’s a title that transcends both its genres and it deserves the level of attention instead given to underwhelming titles with a big brand name like Dracula 3: Path of the Dragon. Okay, well it’s a big name in Europe anyway.

Although Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia is more action packed, Pokemon Platinum is more engrossing and My Japanese Coach and My Chinese Coach are in my DS more than any other titles, theresia is certainly superior to all four in terms of artistic direction and story. That’s pretty impressive company to be keeping.

Very high recommendation here people. If this review has you intrigued in the slightest, order this game, because it’s going to be Atlus/Working Designs hard to find in only a few weeks.

Miscellaneous Rating: Unparalleled

The Scores:
Story: Unparalleled
Graphics: Mediocre
Sound: Great
Control and Gameplay: Classic
Replayability: Poor
Balance: Great
Originality: Good
Addictiveness: Good
Appeal Factor: Good
Miscellaneous: Unparalleled
FINAL SCORE: VERY GOOD GAME

Short Attention Span Summary

While not the best game I’ve played for the DS this year, theresia is damn close. It features one of the best stories you’ll find in a game this year, some amazing hand drawn art, creepy puzzles, and an atmosphere second to none. It’s easily the best M rated game the DS has to offer, so for those of you still looking for something spooky in this post-Halloween season, then you have no better option available to you than theresia. Casual games, hardcore gamers, adventure gamers, survival horror gamers, or anyone looking for something outside the box will find something to love in this overlooked little gem.



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