Indie Game of the Week 125: Goetia

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Eh, Indie enough. Goetia is a 2016 horror-themed (or really just horror-adjacent, more on that in a moment) adventure/puzzle game published by Square Enix's "small games" division the Square Enix Collective, which also put out The Turing Test, Children of Zodiarcs, Tokyo Dark, and others. It is named for the Belgian-born singer best known for his 2011 single "Somebody I Used to... OK, wait, late breaking news. Let me start over. Goetia is a Latin term to mean "to summon," and specifically refers to the 72 demon lords discussed in The Lesser Key of Solomon. I've seen this text, or references to it and its various archevil aristocrats, in a number of video games before: the one that springs to mind most readily is Shadow Hearts Covenant, which - true to its name - tended to involve a lot of demons and the summoning thereof.

In Goetia, you assume the role of the disembodied spirit of Abigail Blackwood: an extremely precocious child who tragically died young at the turn of the 20th century, leaving behind her sister and parents. She awakens forty years later, as concerns about the Blitz of World War II has driven many away from the countryside surrounding your family's ancestral estate in the south of England. Fortunately, you don't spend too long figuring out who you are, how you died, or what year it currently is as the game quickly hurries to the more interesting mystery: what happened to your family after you passed, and where the heck are they?

In many regards, the game feels like a 2D side-scrolling version of Fullbright's Gone Home with a more overt spooky supernatural angle to it, given you literally play as a ghost and must figure out how to dismiss the demons that have captured various parts of your manor as their dominions. That the game focuses on a sister protagonist with "black" in her surname, takes place in a stately manner that at times feels abandoned and at other times suggests there's a presence in the very next room, and has a heavy emphasis on epistolary storytelling: that is, a narrative delivered almost exclusively via letters and notes written by other characters. There's also a little bit of Ghost Trick's spectral puzzle-solving, as several puzzles require that you possess an inanimate object and use it where it's needed to make progress or learn a new piece of information. There's nothing that requires quick reflexes or the like, so it's safe for those less adept with traditional video game skillsets, but there's plenty of puzzles that still demand a keen perception, deductive skills, and a degree of situational awareness - remembering points of interest in the game's moderately-sized maps is paramount for determining solutions, especially when you're dragging objects around from screen to screen. Annoyingly, the game also requires you know things like solfege (a.k.a. the scales for singing) and can replicate rhythms heard elsewhere on a musical instrument, which is the surest sign that the game designer has a musical background and/or a sense of rhythm and simply assumes everyone else does too. Kind of a big no-no for games like this in my view, but then everyone has different ideas of what constitutes a tough but fair puzzle to suss out.

This big face is one of the few NPCs you can talk to; the journey of Ghost Abigail (Abighoul?) is narrated almost entirely by her own thoughts.
This big face is one of the few NPCs you can talk to; the journey of Ghost Abigail (Abighoul?) is narrated almost entirely by her own thoughts.

That being said, Goetia's relatively high puzzle difficulty is kind of refreshing in the same way something like Fez was. The game does a fine job collecting your protagonist's thoughts in a journal - including a form of side-quests which usually leads to more lore - so you never lose the thread of one particular questline, though it's often recommended you have a pen and paper ready for the occasional code or password that the game won't remember for you. The game also opens up shortly after breaking the first of the demonic seals, allowing the player to take on the next four seals in any order they wish. These alternative paths also serve as breaks if the player becomes stuck in one place and is starting to feel mentally taxed: if you're stymied by one course, there are three others to dig into, and you'll occasionally acquire new ghost powers like the ability to trace where a possessed object's been that may provide new hints for these stumpers. It's a well-considered branching structure that does its best to avoid "bottleneck" roadblock puzzles, though you'll probably still bump up against some real humdingers that might need some trial and error to solve.

The other aspect I appreciate about Goetia is how unhurried it feels. You have all the time in the world to explore the mansion and its surrounding areas, read its texts, solve its mysteries, and absorb the atmosphere. It's not like the heroine is getting any older, and some of the environments are very photogenic to float through in spite of their eeriness. There's also some neat concepts for area designs, like a maze of enchanted photographs that move from layer to layer like the movie Inception, or a formerly bustling village left abandoned by the advent of war. The lack of any actual supernatural peril might be disappointing to some (not too dissimilar to Gone Home, in fact) but it's a game far more interested in striking an unsettling tone and letting you ponder its enigmata than it is forcing you to jump through hoops because one of your home's resident demons decides to chase you around for something to do. If you don't mind your adventure games a little on the languid and challenging side, Goetia might be worth summoning up.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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I am really glad you wrote this review, I had noticed this game in my Steam library and had assumed (based on the thumbnail and font) that is was some cheap bundle game that had magically appeared. This game really looks like it is worth giving a try.

Thanks for your insights.

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