Decarnation is the latest 2D adventure horror game from French developer Atelier QDB and publisher Shiro Unlimited. The game impressed me with incredibly vivid body horror depictions and intense metaphorical messages with symbolic meanings. However, some of its gameplay elements provided a mixed and jarring experience that sometimes affected the overall experience.
Set in Paris in the year 1990, Decarnation follows Gloria, a passionate cabaret dancer whose stable work life and relationships are thrown into disarray one day when she loses her main gig at the cabaret and her relationship with her girlfriend ends abruptly. Luckily, she’s approached by an affluent fan and is given a job opportunity of a lifetime, and in her moment of vulnerability, decides to take it. Unfortunately, that vulnerability is quickly exploited, resulting in both the players and Gloria being plunged into the depths of her psyche to encounter several demons and insecurities, all in order to cope with the events that have happened to her and those that are about to unfold.
The game’s story starts brilliantly by first giving players a glimpse into Gloria’s regular, seemingly joyful life as an adored dancer. It then slowly showcases her plunge into despair as everything she so far holds dear is gradually taken away from her when she’s captured and totally stripped of her freedom leading to several mental breakdowns and anxiety-ridden experiences which players have to play through. The game heavily implements subtle but symbolic imagery throughout the game, but primarily when exploring Gloria’s psyche. Several enemies are David Lynch inspired grotesque monstrosities of their human counterparts that seemingly mirror how Gloria sees them in real life. Her environments during these sections are often bizarre but highly intricate and reflect how Gloria remembers them in her head.
The game also wears its inspirations on its sleeve.The concept alone is similar to Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue as it also explores the struggles a woman in the spotlight often encounters and faces and how badly the effects can be on their psyche. For the most part, Decarnation does justice to the concept with its eloquent and artistic depictions despite not provoking an alarming sense of danger like many similar media do. Moreover, the transition between days in the real world and the time spent exploring Gloria’s psyche is shockingly seamless, as the game uses several methods to shock players by transforming everyday life events into nightmarish experiences.
In terms of gameplay, Decarnation doesn’t have much to offer. The game’s earlier parts include a rhythm minigame whenever Gloria dances, but quickly pivots to its psychological horror segments, where they’ll have to solve many puzzles to progress. There are also moments where players are prompted to interact with whatever’s going on on-screen during the less intense moments, like pulling on the sticks to get dressed, work out, or swim. Unfortunately, none of these segments made sense, and they all felt like they were tacked on to prevent the game from feeling less like a visual novel. Moreover, the rhythm game segments also felt a bit unnecessary. There’s only one song for basically the same rhythm game played several times, and despite some being more challenging than others, they’re all pretty straightforward; even if you fail at them, there aren’t any real consequences, so I always felt like I was wasting my time engaging with them. Thankfully, there is a silver lining via the game’s several puzzles.. While none of them were particularly challenging, they each had something to offer in terms of creativity.
Visually, Decarnation is impeccable. The 2D pixel sprites and models are incredibly detailed, with surprisingly emotive facial motions. The art direction also does justice to its atmospheric horror elements and features several grotesque images and unsettling backgrounds that evoke an unnerving feeling in the player. The soundtrack is also excellent and sports many ambient tracks from Silent Hill’s composer Akira Yamaoka that supports the game’s unnerving experience quite well.
Overall, while having several useless and unsatisfying gameplay elements, Decarnation still features one of the best stories I’ve seen in a horror game with a fantastically portrayed message both visually and narratively and lots of excellent references. So if you’re a fan of psychological horror and are looking for something unique and interesting, then Decarnation is worth checking out.
Abdul Saad is an avid gamer and computer scientist. He's been writing for four years on news, reviews, previews, and more on multiple gaming sites. When he isn't writing or playing the latest JRPG, he can be found coding games of his own or tinkering with something electrical.
Despite several useless and unsatisfying gameplay elements, Decarnation still features one of the best stories I've seen in a horror game with a fantastically portrayed message both visually and narratively and lots of excellent references.