In Blood is a mature gothic romance otome game with Lovecraftian horror elements from Jaime Scribbles and PMscenarios. You follow the story of Ellie as she’s whisked away to another dimension by a cosmic horror she drunkenly binds herself to in a blood pact. While stuck in a mansion surrounded by an impenetrable swamp, she has two options: wait it out or escape. Surrounded by both the strange and the shockingly familiar, Ellie must learn how to get back home, who to trust, and, ultimately, how to survive with her identity intact.
With the game currently available as a demo, the Kickstarter for the full release of In Blood is, as of writing, 65% funded. While we received no financial compensation for this review, we are doing it on request as a way of supporting the indie visual novel development community. The author of this review also happens to be a Kickstarter backer for this project.
Gloomy Set Pieces for an Eerie Tale
From the first scene, In Blood reveals itself to be highly visually polished and aesthetically strong. Even the brief setting in the “real world” sets the mood to be one that’s uncertain, dangerous, and otherworldly. Outside are green, hazy skies and dark, tangled trees that reach all the way to the horizon. Inside are damp gray walls punctuated only by the occasional hearth fire or lantern. Everything is in a state of regal disrepair, making one question what this mansion our heroine is trapped in could have looked like in better days—assuming those better days ever existed.
While the game ostensibly only takes place in one location, the exquisite painterly details in each of the backgrounds expands the feeling of the physical space considerably. Though some of the rooms have a little more personality than others, you can frequently see shades of the inhabitants in them and feel their collective melancholy in the more neutral shared spaces.
A Gripping and Magical Soundtrack
Where the backgrounds have to naturally end in setting the scene, the score picks up masterfully. The combination of acoustic instrumentation and synth walks that line between both the horrors of the known and the unknown. According to their Kickstarter profile, audio director Tim Reichert describes the soundtrack as “music for the eldritch gods,” and this is astutely accurate. It is driving and tense, creating a wonderful ambient fear that, when it breaks, makes you release a breath you had no idea you had been holding.
Flush with Choices
It’s fortunate that the music and visual aesthetic can support so much of the tension that horror requires, because that is one place where the writing, at a line-by-line level, can get a little inconsistent. It’s not poorly written, and the character dialogue in particular is extremely good, but the feel of the writing is missing something that’s a little difficult to pinpoint to a specific phrase or a specific line. The suspense just simply isn’t always there when it needs to be. Without the art and music, I don’t feel like the writing would stand on its own as a horror piece very strongly. Luckily, it doesn’t have to, but that does mean it occasionally reads as a little clunky.
The overall story, though, is wonderfully gripping and has a lot of intrigue. I care immensely about the well-being of our poor Ellie and want her to be safe. You also get a lot of choices, and it really feels like you’re interacting with this world she’s stuck in. There’s a personality quadrant mechanic that will eventually change Ellie’s appearance, but even before then you can see it in the conversations and Ellie’s reactions. It’s not fully realized in the demo so far, from what I can tell, but it promises to be a really interesting way to implement choices in the full game.
An Outstanding Cast
Where I think I had the most fun playing In Blood was in direct interactions with the characters, particularly the love interests. The first time you really start interacting with them, the game is quick to remind you that at its core it’s still an otome game and some version of romance is very much on the table.
These characters are delightful. Horrifying, but delightful.
The instant you meet them, you know you’re going to either love them or hate them. Their “monster design” is extremely well-suited to each of them and they have strong personalities both in text and voice acting. While there were a few scenes where I found myself questioning some minor directorial choices, the cast and director overall delivered phenomenal performances. By the end of the demo, I was already struggling to pick a favorite.
In Blood is an elegant and personal story wrapped up and delivered in a tidy package of psychological horror. Even at this stage of development, it promises to be an excellent tale of loss and identity that sticks with you for a long time.