Microreview: Dreams in the Witch House

Here’s a brief review of an interesting retro-style point-and-click adventure game that just released a few days ago on Steam [LINK] and I’ve found enjoyable, although perhaps not flawless.

At a first glance, one could just think this is just another point-and-click game, with the only particularity of being based on the Cthulhu Mythos. But there’s a bit more than that.

On top of the classic mechanics of the genre, Dreams in the Witch House has an interesting twist by adding survival/RPG mechanics to the formula.
On top of solving the puzzles, the player has to deal with the main character needs like in The Sims: having to get food, obtain wood to keep his room warm, get clothing (based on the weather) and take proper rest in order to avoid handicaps and even death.
And like in Bully or the Persona series, the player has to study different subjects and pass exams to continue being a member of the Arkham University.

In my opinion, these hybrid mechanics are an interesting idea to enrich and make more immersive an otherwise purely puzzle-solving narrative game.

The problem is that they don’t really fit with this specific story, that doesn’t make the survival angle interesting: Playing as a college student that has to do some chores to pay rent and eating every morning is not very exciting and doesn’t open space for interesting or memorable decisions.

So ultimately, the mechanics end up simply getting in the way of solving the mystery, but don’t provide any fun.

In my opinion, these RPG mechanics would fit much better a story where the character is a vampire or werewolf, for example, where feeding would generate dramatic situations that could build sense of tension and danger.

In fact, I believe the chosen story is one of the biggest issues of the game.

You see, Dreams in the Witch House is based on the Lovecraftian story of the same name.
It deals with a college student that rents a room that happens to be haunted, and one of the main themes is the realization by the protagonist of witchcraft being ultimately related to quantum realities and advanced maths.

The story also got an TV adaptation in one episode of Netflix’s Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities

To be honest, it’s not the most exciting of Lovecrafts’ works.
This is specially true if considering it from an adventure perspective, because it’s a fairly introspective tale that doesn’t feature particularly powerful and memorable moments, and lacks the epic and gravitas of other, more cosmic horror-focused tales.

As a consequence, the story presents situations and challenges that are fairly mundane and tedious, such as having to find a specific book by it’s library code, having to recover a library card, or finding a hammer to put some planks and cover a hole in the room.

Not really as tension-building as feeling as feeling that an entire city is against and after you like in Shadow of the Comet or CoC: Dark Corners of Earth.

I understand the decision of the creators of wanting to be original by adapting a relatively unknown Lovecraft story different than the ones already featured in many games, like the Shadow over Innsmouth or Call of Cthulhu.

But in my opinion, there were other, much better stories to chose from that would have generated more opportunities for an interesting adventure, like At the Mountains of Madness or The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath. They could have also mixed together many of the stories in an original thing, like Prisoner of Ice did.

Ultimately, I’ve enjoyed the game and I think it’s obvious that it has been done with a lot of love for both the original material and the point-and-click adventures.
I hope the creators continue releasing games like this one, just perhaps based on stories and settings that offer more opportunities for memorable and epic situations.

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