Game Review: Cursed Sight

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This review was originally posted to Steam.

December 21st, 2015

Cursed Sight game splash image, showing the game title and a girl with burgundy hair and fancy clothes, her eyes obscured by a veil with bells attached

The fundamental question behind the concept of fate is as old as storytelling itself. Do we truly forge our own path through the causality of the universe, or are we beholden to some kind of unknowable higher order? And if the universe is set on a specific course, maybe someone can steer it?

Cursed Sight is a visual novel developed and written by InvertMouse, it was released in August 2015 following a successful Kickstarter campaign earlier the same year. It's 45000 words long with four different endings and took me a bit more than three hours for 100% completion.

The story is set in a fictional medieval far-east-inspired nation where a select few people are born with the gift (or curse, depending on how you look at it) of fate magic. One of the central characters, a young girl named Miyon, can influence the tides of fate in her nation's favor, but everyone who looks into her eyes is fated to die within the week. Enter the protagonist of the story, Gai, a young boy sold into slavery by his parents. He gets assigned to do various household chores in the temple where Miyon is held.

First things first: I really liked this VN and I have no regrets at all about reading it. It has high-quality artwork and a fitting soundtrack – neither is deeply unique or special compared to other VNs, but they go together well to form a very cohesive whole, and I have to appreciate an inspired color scheme and visual design when I see one. It packs everything you'd expect from a modern VN, including auto and skip modes as well as copious amounts of save slots. As always, the multiplatform support is something that I personally greatly appreciate.

The story is an interesting beast, the premise sounds generic enough at first but the plot does itself a huge favor by avoiding romance-themed routes and most of the clichés that typically come with them, focusing on action and drama instead. The plot is beautifully rich and engaging, the events of the story could easily fill out twice or thrice the word count, and if there is one otherwise common problem that Cursed Sight deftly avoids, it's boredom. The introduction is short and sweet, the conflict comes swiftly, and there was never any moment where I felt like I wanted to stop reading.

Regrettably, the riptide of dramatic events is also the biggest problem I had with Cursed Sight. It has been said that a story needs a rhythm, an ebb and flow, to not push its readers away. If there's one thing for me that would have turned my somewhat shaky recommendation into a firmer one, it would have been a whole lot more ebb. Even though the story only features one explicit time skip, it feels like too much character development happens off screen. To its credit, the novel still manages to make the gradual change of Gai's and Miyon's interactions from mutual dislike to close companionship pretty believable, but if it had had more slice-of-life segments where the characters just simply talk to one another, learn about each other and clarify who they are and where they stand on various issues, I think that would have worked wonders to sell me more forcefully on the relationships portrayed in the dramatic scenes. Additionally, a minority of the endings also seemed unduly rushed.

I'm not sure whether I can put my finger on all of Cursed Sight's strengths, and it's hard to summarize what a new reader should expect from the story. Romance is hinted at, but not really explored. Political intrigue is also hinted at, but not really explored either. The worldbuilding is colorful and imaginative, but too coarse to really be able to make up your own stories in the setting. But perhaps the most glaring issue I had was with the weird colloquialisms and anachronisms sprinkled throughout the script (the worst offender: a quip about chainsaws) that are probably intended to be charming, but just come across as out of place.

I'm doing a pretty terrible job recommending a VN I liked, aren't I?

Let's loop back to something I liked about the story: I like being surprised (I have a bit of a soft spot for genre subversions), and a very positive surprise I got from Cursed Sight was the way it handles its main characters.

With many stories you get the impression that the setting shapes itself around the protagonist, hiding all sorts of plot conveniences just well enough to fool most casual readers, and in the end everyone gets what they deserve because that's how stories tend to work. Gai starts out in a position of complete and utter helplessness (and in hindsight the start of the VN does a great job at portraying the mindset of a ten year old boy who just had the belief strongly reinforced that, in the grand scheme of things, nothing he values is safe and nothing he does matters), and you'd expect a “hero's journey” style rise to glory as he overcomes his inner demons. But then that doesn't happen at all, Gai and Miyon simply keep being normal people with normal issues, tossed here and there by circumstance like plastic bags in the wind, and when you reach your first ending, chances are you won't find it satisfyingly fulfilling but rather just depressingly plausible. It seems that for someone imbued with fate magic, Miyon has tragically little control over her own fate – a bittersweet irony and one of the literary masterstrokes that make me like Cursed Sight as much as I do.

I'd love to go into more detail here, but more than that I want to give you the chance to read Cursed Sight spoiler-free. There's certainly enough in there to be worth a read, and unless you dislike fantasy as a genre (or you think that every fantasy protagonist needs to follow the “hero's journey” and be virtuous and just at all times), you probably won't be disappointed.


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