“Hidden Gems” is a monthly post series highlighting visual novels that have fewer than ten reviews on itch.io and/or Steam and have been available for at least one month. Read on to see which visual novels I’ve found that are diamonds in the rough!
Platforms: Windows, Mac (itch.io)
WATCHING YOU is a simple game, you are a person and you are going to sleep.
HE wakes you up and you fix him ramen.Danica Evel
Watching You is a psychological horror visual novel centered around a protagonist named Desi and the unsettling events that occur one evening. The story is quite intriguing and full of mystery and unease—the perfect seasoning for psychological horror. What first attracted me to this game was the unique art style and the cover image featuring a character in a striped suit and sporting a nefarious grin; it’s a twisted yet intriguing mixture of Beetlejuice meets the Cheshire Cat, and I like it.
I think the art style really makes this game stand out. The backgrounds have an almost chaotic energy to them in their sketched-out, half-colored matter of completion that makes scenes feel more anxious and urgent. It’s scary looking, but that’s the point! There’s plenty of CG art scenes in this game as well as a fantastic selection of music that help amplify that thrill. I felt very unnerved the entire time and I was eager to know what the relationship and backstory was between Desi and Doug.
Watching You has a lot of choices that allow you to explore and interact with your environment in an effort to unravel the mystery at play. There are over six endings altogether, so this visual novel has a good amount of replay value. The downside is that there are a few bugs that impeded gameplay for me, but were resolved upon restarting the game. If you’re looking for your next horror thrill, I recommend trying out Watching You.
Into the Toybox
Platforms: Windows, Mac (itch.io)
Pietra has lost her bear, and her mother doesn’t have time to help her find him.
In a strange world full of toys, can you help her find what she’s missing?IntoTheToybox
Into the Toybox immediately feels like an old children’s book, and what’s great about the story is that it takes an interesting turn almost right away. Pietra embarks on a journey to find her lost teddy bear, but instead finds herself traversing through the vast, whimsical world within her toy box. The story is incredibly sweet, creative, and something I could see receiving an immense amount of positive feedback if enough people find out about it.
This has easily made it to my top five list of favorite visual novels. The story is so well done that I can’t commend the developers enough on how they have weaved every aspect of this game to create something beautiful. The writing, the art, and the music all come together to tell Pietra’s story. Her encounter with Monte brought tears to my eyes; everything about their relationship is so sweet. Into the Toybox manages to reference hardships that many of us face, whether it’s losing a family member or a pet or even a toy, and illustrates this through the eyes of a little girl.
Into the Toybox is a highly imaginative story that reflects the childlike nature of the game. This is a story that’s especially great for kids to read, but it’s enjoyable for people of all ages; I found myself very immersed and amazed as the VN covers heavy topics such as loss in a profoundly comforting and gentle way. I can’t wait to see what else these developers have in store!