Game Review – The Strange Men Series

I have a deep love for RPGMaker Horror games.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, there are a whole bunch of indie games (most of them Japanese translated to English) that have a cult following of their own.  I’ve talked about the game Ib in a previous post before, and that’s one such example.  Today, however, I’m going to be talking about a trilogy of games known as The Strange Men Series.

Made by creator Uri, the Strange Men Series (as of this post) consists of three games: The Crooked Man, The Sandman, and The Boogie Man.  I discovered these games when Markiplier played The Crooked Man a long time ago.  I went and played it myself and then found there was another game in the same series called The Sandman, and after I played that there was a trailer at the end of the game for the next game in the series, The Boogie Man.  Only recently did I find that that game was out, and so I spent all night playing it.  And now I’ve decided to revisit the other two games and do a little review on the series as a whole.  So, let’s jump right in and meet these strange men.

Cover

The reason I want to talk about all three games together rather than individually is because, being a series, they are tied together thematically and, to some extent, through story (or more like character arcs).  With The Boogie Man especially, it’s important to know about what happened in the other two games.  Not to mention, all of these games are relatively short, so I don’t think a single review of any of them would end up all that long, so.  Review of all three, whoo.

TheCrookedMan
The Crooked Man

The Crooked Man is about a guy named David Hoover.  He has just moved into a small, somewhat dilapidated apartment at his friends’ behest.  Strange things start happening as he lives there: noises in the night, strange messages on the mirror and the floor.  He finds old scraps of paper, presumably left by the previous tenant.  We find out David’s mother is in the hospital with some sort of awful dementia or something, as she doesn’t recognize him and she goes into violent fits.  Along with that, David is also getting over the fact that his fiance broke up with him not long ago.  When David finds a scrap of paper with an address on it, he decides he wants to look for the previous tenant and get some answers about all the weird things happening in his apartment.  And thus starts the actual game.

The most striking thing about this game, to me, is how similar it is to Silent Hill 2, a game which I dearly adore.  There are several locations in this game that are very similar to locations in SH2 (not to mention the hotel you go to being referred to as a “special place”), David’s portrait looks quite similar to the protagonist in that game, and other things, but I’m not going to write an analyzation about how the two games are similar.  I just wanted to make mention of it because I think that it’s one of the reasons why I so immediately connected with the game.

Gameplay wise, it’s rather simple.  I played through the game twice (for reasons I’ll specify later), the first time reading all the dialogue and watching all the cutscenes, and the second time skipping it all.  Though it’s pretty normal for games of this caliber, I was struck with the fact that the gameplay pretty much just comes down to wandering from room to room to find keys or other items to get you to the next room until you reach the end of the level.  That is essentially all the game is, if we’re talking gameplay, though there are a couple “action” scenes where you have to fight or run away, or think on your feet in a timely manner before you die.  All of this was much more noticeable when I wasn’t bogged down with story and just focusing and getting through the game as fast as possible.

But this is a story driven game, so gameplay, in the end, is not its main focus.  I’m going to talk about the title, now.  The Crooked Man himself.  A monster you find in the basement of the hotel in the first area of the game.  When I first saw this monster, I was initially very disturbed by its appearance.  I dreaded every time he appeared.  He chases David everywhere he goes, and David always finds a way to fight back.  But it’s not until near the end of the game that we get some clue as to what the Crooked Man actually is: a manifestation of the depression and suicidal tendencies someone might be having.  There are clues that anytime someone is having suicidal thoughts, the Crooked Man is there to drive them over the edge until they think the only way to be rid of him is to die.

And really, that’s what this whole game comes down to: It’s about depression.  About feeling empty and unfulfilled in your life to the point that you don’t think you have anything left to live for.  But David’s story isn’t about succumbing to that.  It’s about finding a reason to live even when it doesn’t feel like there is one.  Despite all of the terrible things you find in this game, it has a hopeful message in the end.  The man you’re looking for eventually did succumb to the Crooked Man, but in seeing his life, which was so similar to David’s, David realized his problems and decided to face them instead of run from them like the man he’d been chasing after.  When you beat the game for the first time, you can do a “2nd Playthrough”, which will give you just a tiny bit different of an ending, and it drives the themes and ideas of this story home further.

David may have overcome the hardest time in his life.  His story may be finished here, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be seen again.  In fact, it was his sudden appearance in the next game that made me realize that all of these games are actually connected.

jacket
The Sandman

The Sandman stars a girl named Sophie Grundler, who is a high school student and an insomniac.  She deals with bullying at school and a somewhat absentee father, and she just can never get a wink of sleep at night.  And then she finds out that everyone in the world is asleep but her.  Well, almost everyone, it seems.  She finds her friend, David, also roaming the town awake, so they try to figure out what’s going on.  Eventually Sophie discovers that David is not who she thinks he is, and that everyone is asleep because the Sandman stopped time and sent everyone into an eternal sleep, but Sophie, being an insomniac, was too stubborn to sleep herself.

This game, unlike the previous game, is much tamer and not quite a horror game.  It feels more like a dark fantasy or fairytale, and it’s clear it’s slightly geared more toward a younger audience.  Though it still deals with tough themes in Sophie’s difficult life situations, it’s got a much more fantastical feel to it.  I personally identify with this game due to Sophie’s sleeplessness, and because I just love the concept behind all of the fairies she meets.

The gameplay in this game is much more involved than it was in the previous installment, as you’re not just running around from room to room to grab keys to get to the next room.  There are more involved puzzles and action scenes, and it’s clear the creator had really improved on her skills with this one.

While Crooked Man technically had multiple endings, I don’t really consider them quite the same as the multiple endings in this game.  (All the “bad” endings in that one were basically immediate game overs for choosing a wrong decision, whereas this one it’s based on actions you take throughout the entirety of the game and it doesn’t feel like a game over then).  I did in fact get all of the endings, but obviously the “good” ending is the best, and seen as canon, but it’s recommended with any game of this caliber that has multiple endings to see all of them, because you always get extra tidbits of either story or character arc.

Just like Crooked Man, this game has a very hopeful ending (for its good ending), and it leaves you feeling warm inside.  When you get the good ending, there’s even a bonus scenario at the end that gives you even more story, which is highly recommended to go through.

My favorite part in this game, though, was so short and I desperately wished I would have seen more from it.  There’s a point where you’re hiding in the closet, but just before you leave, a green hand with long, sharp fingernails rests on Sophie’s shoulder, and you hear a voice (rather than seeing text) saying, “Hi there, sweetie.”  It’s absolutely terrifying, and even more so when you later find out that it was the Boogie Man.  I went through the rest of the game wondering if I would meet Mr. Boogie again.  I didn’t.  But then when I got to the extras menu at the end, there was a trailer for the next game in the series, and I was absolutely thrilled and couldn’t wait for its release.

jacket
The Boogie Man

Keith Baring, a grizzled old detective, is given some forced vacation time.  He’s given tickets to go on a tour of some weird old castle, so he goes along with his wife.  On the tour he also encounters Sophie Grundler and her father, along with David Hoover and his wife.  At first things seem to be going well, but when night falls, everyone goes missing from their rooms.  Keith finds a note and goes out to the reception hall to meet a strange man with long fingernails who calls himself the Boogie Man.  He tells Keith that this is all an elaborate game that he’s set up, and Keith’s objective, as the “player”, is to save all the hostages and “catch” the Boogie Man.  From then on out it’s a race to find everyone and save them before they’re murdered by this horrifying serial killer.

While this game is going slightly back to its roots as a horror game (as opposed to The Sandman),  it feels less like a horror than Crooked Man and more like a thriller mystery (that’s not to say there aren’t some horrific parts to it, though).  One thing about this game, as opposed to the other two, is that it was fully voice acted.  While the voice acting isn’t great, as many of the actors said it was their first time doing it, it actually brings something interesting to this game.  There’s one part in particular that would be lost on you if you didn’t have the voice acting, because the tone of voice is very important.

This game makes a lot of references to different movies, and one in particular was important to a certain scene.  If I hadn’t seen Se7en before, the significance and horror of the scene would have been completely lost on me.  (As a side note, you should watch that movie, it’s great.)

The gameplay for this game is similar to Sandman in that it’s not just running from room to room to find keys to get to the next room, but this game is also a bit more involved than Sandman was.  It all takes place in just one (albeit large) location, and you rarely backtrack.  There are much more “action” scenes, and quite a few different endings depending on things you do (or don’t do) during your course of playing.  (played all day to get every ending).  Obviously the good ending is the canon ending, but all of the other endings provide interesting insight on both the plot and characters, particularly Keith.  And, as usual, the “bad” endings are absolutely horrifying, while the “good” ending is much more hopeful.

I really like how in this game it brings the protagonists from the other two games back and harkens  back occasionally to those games as well.  It almost feels like we’re getting extra closure with those games.  Those characters weren’t just tossed aside, and we get to see into their lives some more, even if they’re no longer the main characters (and in some ways it’s more fun and satisfying to see them that way).

It’s incredibly important to play all of these games in order, especially in the case of The Boogie Man.  It almost feels like things were leading up to this point since the first game.  There are mentions of the Boogie Man, a monster in the closet, throughout both The Crooked Man and The Sandman.  And finally it all ties together here.  Ironically it- oh, but that would be a spoiler.

The Strange Men Series is important to me for a load of reasons: it initially reminded me of a game I already loved, it plays along with genres and themes that I love, it has characters that I can relate to.  Most importantly, it knows how to tell a good story, and keep that story going all the way through even with different protagonists each time.  It talks about important issues and how to deal with them in ways that you might not have ever thought about.

There is a trailer at the end of Boogie Man for the next game.  I don’t know when it will be released, but you can bet that when it is, I will most certainly play it.  I can’t wait to see what The Hanged Man has in store.

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