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Hamming it Up

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Andrew in Steamland:

Hamming it Up

 

 

Years ago, Max recommended a certain game to me, which I slotted into the “sometime this century” section of my backlog. It’s a horror-themed RPG Maker game that leads with a warning about the “scenes of violence and grotesque imagery” it contains, as if anyone is going to be disturbed by 16-bit blood smears. What sealed the deal is that the game is populated by fuzzy critters that could have stepped straight out of a late ’90s parody of Pokemon. I see what you’re going for, Mogeko Castle, and I won’t be suckered into playing a dressed up gaming creepypasta just because Max told me to. I’m onto your plans and I have more than enough bad games that people are upfront about.

Then I decided to slog through the requests that have piled up, and this was one of the oldest. I didn’t stand to lose much, considering it’s free, it’s short, and it isn’t one of those harem visual novels people think it’s endlessly hilarious to send me. It also slams the accelerator within the first few minutes and never lets up. The opening features Yonaka, a Japanese schoolgirl who falls asleep on the bus and wakes up outside a castle inhabited by Mogekos. Mogekos are adorable little guys with a fondness for prosciutto and rape. In fact, I was barely five minutes into the game when I triggered the first of many bad endings, one in which Yonaka doesn’t enter a door and is raped to death in one of the more honest examples I’ve seen of railroading in videogames. But despite the disclaimer at the beginning, this was presented solely through text. Is that the best you can do, Mogeko Castle? Please, I thought, don’t hold back on my account. I’ve experienced Gender Bender DNA Twister Extreme and Revolution 60; you’ll need to do better than that to get me!

 

Moge-ko is my favorite character, but there’s a strong case to be made for Mogeko, Mogeko, and Mogeko.

That’s the spice. The deeper I got into the game, the more I understood where it was coming from, and that the horror pretensions are merely the drapes keeping passersby from peeking in on the smorgasbord of black comedy. For Mogeko Castle is a comedy, and realizing this freed me from all my preconceptions. I mean, it’s still filled with cheap gross-out graphics, but past a certain point the repetition and monotony become part of the joke. Check out the screenshots and you’ll see what I mean.

But does it succeed at being funny? There isn’t much else to it, since despite being built in RPG Maker, the RPG mechanics have been pared down to the point that only the faintest whiff remains. There is an inventory, but without anything resembling a battle system, the only purpose of most items is having an amusing description. It’s difficult to say there’s gameplay at all, given that the only portions with a failure state are chase sequences based almost purely on trial and error. As far as challenge goes, it’s only a step above walking simulators like Gone Home. The only chase that gave me trouble is the last one, and that’s because the game attempted to compensate for the Mogekos’ stupidity by spawning in dozens more every time I started to outrun them, until finally RPG Maker put a stop to it by crashing. After a few more attempts I did manage to make it through, because I would be damned if I made it to the final half hour of the game and gave up before getting to any of the revelations that would allow me to make sense of the story.

 

Every Mogeko contains approximately 20 gallons of blood.

I didn’t think I would get invested in the story. At first, the only question on my mind was whether I could get all of this behind me before the back-to-back release of Genso Wanderer Reloaded and Sonic Mania Plus. While I did beat the game in time, it took longer to process what I saw. The core of the plot concerns Yonaka’s journey through the seven floors of Mogeko Castle as she attempts to find a way out and rejoin her brother at home. Each floor is protected by a special Mogeko who serves King mogeko as per the divine design of their savior, Lord Prosciutto. As she ascends the castle, Yonaka is joined by Defect Mogeko, a renegade wanted by the others for his non-conformity. This may sound like the setup for a commentary on societal expectations, when in reality it’s an excuse for Defect Mogeko to run wild with a rocket launcher.

 

Did you know some people consider this psychological horror?

While I was already sold on the game by that point, the fact that Yonaka has to go on a quest to retrieve a rocket launcher from the hospital where the Mogekos inexplicably store their weapons made me realize Max wasn’t just pulling my leg. Being provocative for its own sake is boring, but something that aims for clever juxtaposition can easily run the joke into the ground. Walking that tightrope requires a lot of creativity, which the floor structure of Mogeko Castle helps with. Each floor has its own atmosphere and unique NPCs, with some of them serving as filler. Sometimes you get to take a relaxing walk through a garden filled with friendly Mogekos, and sometimes you end up in a field of crosses with the bodies still nailed to them. The two tones need each other so that when a character like Moge-ko puts in an appearance, there’s some tension, and when the writing snaps back to comedy, it’s effective. Every Mogeko looks the same and most of them are simply named Mogeko, something that might be charitably interpreted as a running gag about the disposable nature of NPCs in games. That or it’s laziness, though I’m inclined to doubt that, given that the creator went to the trouble of remaking the game from scratch in RPG Maker VX Ace when the original, developed in RPG Maker 2000, became outdated. And then there’s the abundance of hand-drawn art, a lot of which will go unnoticed by players who don’t seek out hidden items and NPCs.

 

Here we can see a rare scalping-crucifixion combo.

My favorite aspect of the writing is that the Mogekos are completely aware of their situation and have nearly all reacted with varying shades of acceptance. The only things that seem to upset them are prosciutto deprivation and Moge-ko, the Mogekos’ experiment in creating a teenage schoolgirl. However, they used the wrong formula and created a psychopath whose greatest joy in life is torturing the castle’s residents. She assumes a role as the game’s true antagonist, as she’s the only one who drives events forward in any concrete way. With King mogeko and Lord Prosciutto as more window dressing than true characters, someone had to fill that roll, and Moge-ko is adequate, I guess. Every conversation with her eventually relapses into the old Japanese villain trope of wildly vacillating between cheerfulness and murderous rage. What pushes her characterization over the top and makes it funny is the Mogekos of her floor solemnly saying things like “Only one thing can save us… death.” Though their portraits never change, so they don’t look too broken up about it. It’s probably because you just can’t hate a face like this:

 


It was hard to pick just two.

And that’s why I find it hard to fault the game for splattering entire rooms with blood and dismembered Mogekos: if they had good lives, it wouldn’t be funny. It isn’t a happy game in general, for reasons I can’t explain without spoiling the ending. I don’t think it’s going too far to say that out of roughly a dozen possible conclusions to the story, only one can be construed as a good outcome. It is, not coincidentally, the only ending in which Yonaka realizes she doesn’t actually have to bother with this creepy rape castle nonsense. The two main endings are significantly darker, down to the method of selection: killing certain NPCs puts Yonaka on the Path of Paradise, in which Lord Prosciutto puts in a memorable appearance.

You know, I think I might have seen that somewhere before. Isn’t there an indie game whose primitive pixel graphics belie a dark, surrealist setting filled with outwardly cute yet secretly murderous monsters, into which a child is thrown without warning, and featuring an alternate, metafictional “true” ending for pacifistic players? I feel like I might have reviewed something like that. Well, if I did, it wasn’t half as entertaining as Mogeko Castle.

Finally, definitive proof that games are art.