Thursday, October 4, 2012
Beware of The Black Page in Wii's Calling
Of the many Wii horror games in which I have been indulging as of late, the hardest one to locate and purchase was Calling, which was developed by Hudson Soft exclusively for the Wii and released in the U.S. in 2010. Despite its status as a Wii exclusive, the game didn't receive much publicity and its distribution was very limited. I can understand somewhat why this happened, since Calling is not a typical video game. Calling is less of a standard survival horror game and more of a multiple-perspective ghost story that is told through a series of three-dimensional, interactive environments; hence, I noticed that many reviewers had no idea what to make of it, even to the point of despising the game for its obtuse approach to horror gaming.
Calling has a few problems, but I found the overall gaming experience to be very rewarding and I could appreciate what the developers were trying to accomplish in making such a unique and unusual horror game. Read on for my complete review.
Calling centers on "The Black Page", an Internet chat room that, according to urban legend, allows users to communicate with the dead. During the game, you play from the perspective of four characters who find themselves stranded in various dark, abandoned locations after using The Black Page. The characters include Shin Suzutani, a teenager who is interested in anime and the occult; Chiyo Kishibe, an elderly woman who accessed The Black Page to communicate with her deceased husband; Rin Kagura, a college student who was drawn to The Black Page in the hope of finding someone who vanished six years ago; and Makoto Shirae, a journalist who is looking to solve the mystery surrounding a colleague who died while investigating The Black Page. The stories of each of these characters overlap as you play through the game, piecing together clues about The Black Page, its true purpose, and how it connects to the locations in which you are isolated and the ghosts that haunt them.
The game's format alternates between first-person perspective interactions with environments and lengthy cut scenes. You use the Wiimote to aim your flashlight, interact with objects, and fend off attacking ghost; the Wiimote also serves as a cell phone, which plays an important role in how you navigate between locations, receive messages from other characters, and decipher bursts of static that contain hidden clues.
For starters, Calling is a very Japanese game: the locations, details and customs that are depicted in the game all stem from Japanese culture, which may or may not impact how American gamers will feel about this particular gaming experience. In fact, many of the concepts and themes in Calling reminded me of Japanese horror movies such as Ringu (1998), Kairo (2001), Ju-on (2002) and Chakushin ari (2003); if you're a fan of any or all of these movies, then I strongly recommend that you add this game to your Wii collection. Along those lines, the game presents you with both an English audio track and a Japanese audio track with English subtitles; given the uneven quality of the voice acting in English track, I recommend that you choose the Japanese track before starting the game.
The best parts about Calling are its multi-layered story and the amount of details that have been incorporated into its locations, which include a hospital, a school, and a beauty salon. Indeed, the locations themselves are the creepiest and bleakest aspect of the game. Hallways appear to stretch forever into immeasurable darkness, and the constant reverberation of echoes emphasizes how alone you are no matter where you go. Even though glowing, blurry ghosts attack from time to time, you will more often be startled by an occasional shadow that dashes in front of you or a distant background noise (the breaking of glass, the thudding of a fallen object) emitted from some unseen source.
It's not just the major details that make Calling worthwhile; it also has some extra features to reward gamers who pay attention and make the extra effort. For example, each location includes a plush black cat doll. You can use the doll to save your game when it glows blue, but when a spooky event is about to happen the doll will stop glowing and slowly close its eyes until the event passes. The game will also add eerie items to your Wii message board depending on what you do in the game. If you die and restart the game at certain places, a grimy, battered envelop that contains a ghastly picture will appear on the board. If you happen to glimpse of a particular ghost that looks like a woman wearing a red dress (a.k.a. "the Woman in Red"), a red envelope that contains an ominous message will appear on the board. (Even though she never attacks, I thought that the Woman in Red was the most unnerving ghost in the game.)
Because it is a story-driven game, Calling requires you to find the right items and be at the right places at the right times to trigger the cut scenes that are necessary to progress through and complete each chapter. Unfortunately, the game is not too intuitive in guiding you to where all of the necessary items and locations are and in which sequence you need to find them, which means you could be searching for a long, long time in the larger environments just to make it to the next chapter. This problem permeates the game, which means that you should use a walkthrough guide to help you navigate through the game (I used the one posted on GameFAQs) to get your time and money's worth.
Even though there are four playable characters in Calling, the story largely focuses on Rin and Makoto. To complete the game's entire story, you have to play through it twice: the first time centering on Rin, and the second time centering on Makoto. Playing as Makoto adds extra details to the game that enriches the story that you've already seen through Rin's eyes, enough so that the ending of the game changes when you finish playing it the second time. This is a clever idea that I really enjoyed, but the problem with it comes when the game encourages you replay some of Rin's chapters again in between Makoto's chapters. I thought that this was needlessly repetitive; replaying Rin's chapters reminded me of certain details that I didn't think to connect to each other earlier, but it really wasn't necessary and I think that the developers should've dropped this option.
In spite of its shortcomings, I think that Calling is one of the best and most unique horror games available for the Wii. I was impressed with how the developers weaved the game's story into the characters, locations and items so that the player has to piece the whole story together as if it were a puzzle. Furthermore, the story itself is as poignant as it is chilling, and having two different endings (three endings, if you count the one for Chiyo) enhances the game's pathos.
If you're looking for a survival horror game that involves plenty of high-intensity action, Calling is not for you. However, if you love Japanese horror movies and enjoy games that are narrative-driven and feature a strong element of mystery, then Calling is a game that you should play while copies are still available.