Tied By Numbers by MustacheSkulls is a horror visual novel created for the 2nd annual Spooktober visual novel jam. Follow Safira as she struggles with the difficulties of adjusting to life with a new stepsister. Will she be able to maintain her friendships and uncover a dark mystery, all while trying to keep the peace in the midst of a cyberbullying storm?
A review was requested for this game through the VN Game Den review request form.
The story of Tied By Numbers is an intriguing one. You play as Safira, a high school student whose life gets turned upside down when her stepsister, Amber, exposes the popular girls’ secrets publicly on the school’s website.
These girls, known as the A+ Squad, are social influencers whose popularity doesn’t seem the least bit affected by their secrets being exposed. Aside from one of the trio crying her eyes out in the bathroom, we don’t get much more exploration on how their life has been affected by Amber’s actions.
Instead, we see the events through Safira’s and her best friend Alex’s eyes. Alex wants nothing more than to impress the A+ Squad and continually laments on how sad the cyberbullying event was. Things in the story progress rather quickly and sometimes almost without any transitions at all. Character feelings are told to us rather than shown, which leaves the story feeling shallow in some parts. Time skips are rather abrupt, taking us from major event to major event with little description in between. At points, things begin to feel too convenient. Characters start to accept certain facts almost too quickly and with little explanation.
That said, I’m willing to overlook some of these pitfalls because the developers only had a month to create the game. The fact that a cohesive story at that length could be told in the amount of time they were given is impressive enough.
There are sections of the story that are quite enjoyable, specifically in regards to the choices. The game blatantly states when you’ll be siding with one character or another, so you know what you’re getting into. At the same time, though, you don’t know the repercussions each decision will have, especially if you’re undecided on who to support. It leaves room for replayability as well as builds suspense.
This game is worth downloading for the amount of quality art alone. The sprites are beautiful. Each one looks unique despite them all wearing the same school uniform for most of the game. They also have additional outfits for a sleepover scene, which is a nice touch.
The CGs are plentiful. These help to further illustrate the horror scenes in the game. They’re a great feature that works to strengthen the story.
The developer markets the game as horror, though I’d put it in the thriller category. Horror games are usually categorized by the intention to spook or gross out the players. While there are definitely elements of that in Tied By Numbers, the story becomes less scary as it goes on. Instead, the friendships between the girls take center stage.
For MustacheSkulls’ first game, Tied By Numbers is well made. It tells a mysterious story full of intrigue and suspense. There are some elements that you have to suspend your disbelief for, but overall the experience is enjoyable.
If you’d like to play Tied By Numbers yourself, you can get it on itch.io for free.