Japanese horror is one of my favorite genres. I’ll read Otsuichi or Junji Ito right before going to sleep. The weirder and gorier the story, the better. On the flip side, I like to have a little bit of a buffer between watching a horror movie and shutting down my brain for the night. Until I played Iwaihime, I couldn’t pinpoint exactly why this was. Now I know.
Imaginations get to run wild when we read horror stories. Our brains use memories to fill in those background bits of information, like the growls of hungry monsters lurking in the shadows. Maybe they’ll create blood-curdling screams echoing in that empty forest cabin. We’ll hear metallic clattering of dangling chainsaws.
Iwaihime starts off all sunshine and rainbows. The soundtrack features familiar background music, with light and cheery tunes during school scenes and walking about town. Melancholic moments are highlighted with more somber tunes. Like other visual novels, I am aware the BGM and sound effects are subtly enhancing my experience. Music aids in the shift of story tone in ways some people may be oblivious to making it such an essential part of entertainment.
When each story takes its dark turn, you know things are about to go down. Menacing compositions accompany haunting and disturbing imagery. But it’s the sound effects that really make your stomach turn. Whomever they chose as the foley artist for Iwaihime is a bonafide sound genius. The first night I played Iwaihime, it was the crunching and snapping of bones wriggling around in the back of my head that got me. I laid in bed playing sudoku for thirty minutes as I attempted to make myself comfortable, but all I could focus on was that horrible sound. The second evening’s sleep was marred by squishy sloppy suctions, the kind that make you grimace and gag.
By the time I finished my third session, I realized a palate cleanser between this gruesome visual novel and pulling the blankets over my head was a new requirement. Something needed to distract my brain (or perhaps simply “mute” it) in order to let my dreams keep me from worrying that I’d crushed my ankle again. Been there, done that, and still can’t walk on it for long periods of time.
Regardless, I am in love with this seriously messed up visual novel. Each girl has her own uniquely twisted tale to tell and, as Suzumu, I will save them all or die trying. And as soon as I end each session, I’ll hug my Umaru plushie real tight and drink some hot chocolate with a splash of something to calm my brain. Then, we’ll do it all again the next day until I unlock all of those Steam achievements.
Iwaihime is available on PCs via Steam worldwide.