Masochisia (a play on the word masochist) is a point-and-click psychological horror game based very loosely on the story of American serial killer Albert Fish; specifically focusing on his gradual transformation into an unstoppable monster.
The story follows a boy named Hamilton (though sometimes called Albert) during his descent into total madness. Hamilton’s life is horrible, with a physically abusive father and a mentally ill mother and brother in his home. One day he begins to have increasingly disturbing hallucinations, including the Gray Man, a faceless girl named Grace, a bloody version of his mother, and a man claiming to be the angel Michael. Michael promises him that he has a mission that God wants him to carry out, and with a little help from these hallucinations, he and the voice in his head set out to fulfill this heavenly assignment.
Masochisia really did need that warning because it presents these things in a very well-crafted and realistic manner.
Masochisia warns you at the very beginning that if you are upset by disturbing language, extreme violence, or have any experience with abusive relationships or mental illness, this game may be a bit much for you. And while that might seem like something that a lot of horror games caution their players about, I felt like Masochisia really did need that warning because it presents these things in a very well-crafted and realistic manner. My home life wasn’t perfect growing up, so I could really sympathize with Hamilton’s situation throughout a lot of the story. I know what it’s like to not want to approach a parent because they could be in a terrible mood with bad repercussions for me. I know what it’s like to want to swear and defend yourself but end up saying something timid and polite in the hopes of mercy, because you know that you’re a helpless child in the face of something much greater and more dangerous than you which cannot be successfully fought against. And above all, I know what it’s like to be in this situation and carry on most of your conversations with a voice in your head that is simultaneously cruel to you and everyone else in your world while at the same time offering guidance and working hard to protect you from further abuse that it just knows is coming. Those facets of psychological horror, Masochisia absolutely nailed.
The other horror aspects were, well, somewhat weak by comparison if I’m being honest. The jump scares became formulaic and predictable: a creepy image would appear on screen, the music would reach a crescendo, and the image would flash and move towards you in a series of stop-motion jumps. A random werewolf hallucination occurred several times but was never adequately explained. And the house that Hamilton’s family lives in was too creepy; not in the sense that it was too scary for me, but that there were literally pictures hanging on the wall with no eyes or skin, and one lady actually had a barn owl’s face in her portrait. Why include the werewolf or jump scares at all? Why not just have dark, judgmental black and white portraits hanging on the wall, giving Hamilton the same unforgiving look that the rest of his family uses on him? It felt like too much was tacked onto what was already a very creepy and competent horror game.
The music and art were both lovely and were what drove me to first try out Masochisia and then keep playing it. The sprites were all disturbing in their own way, with even the normal humans seeming twisted and repulsive, while the music was frightening when it needed to be and gentle when nothing creepy was happening. Hamilton’s house and the abandoned shed close by were appropriately off-putting and dark, yet the nearby woods, valley, and creek were all quite charming and peaceful in a sharp contrast. Above all, color was used everywhere and really brought Hamilton’s world to life for me. The environment was well-done and quite immersive throughout the game, though some elements of the family home were a bit much (why were all the windows broken if the family was still living there?).
The characters were a bit more of a mixed bag. Their designs were all aesthetically pleasing, with the exception of Michael who honestly looked silly because he was so obviously evil. Their personalities were somewhat flat; the dad was abusive, the mom was battered and crazy, Michael was manipulative, and so on. The only characters who really changes at all from start to finish are Hamilton and the voice in his head, during their descent into madness. These two have frequent discussions, allow Hamilton to express either pleasure or remorse from his actions, and just seem overwhelmingly better written and developed that the people around them. But since Masochisia is their story and the other characters are just there as witnesses to Hamilton’s madness, I didn’t really mind.
For some reason the majority of Masochisia has a visual overlay of a CRT monitor…
What did bother me were multiple issues with the game’s structural design. For some reason the majority of Masochisia (minus your moments in what appear to be a doctor’s office) has a visual overlay of a CRT monitor, minus the screen bending. This makes no sense given that the game is set in the early 20th century, and that the game itself does not appear to be emulating any retro art style. I wouldn’t mind a patch in the future that removed this overlay entirely. I also had issues with the inventory system; although it was explained at the beginning of the game how I could access my inventory items, it was never made clear how to use these objects. Most modern point-and-click games will let you put an item in your inventory and then just click on the object it’s meant to interact with; more rarely, you’ll have to open your inventory, click on the object, and then what you’re trying to interact with. Masochisia went incredibly old-school and actually requires you to open your inventory and drag the item onto whatever you’re wanting to interact with. This is not a major deal to some, but I really believe it’s something that should have been explained with a brief on-screen message because very few point-and-clicks released within the last few years use this method.
I also found some mechanics to be utterly extraneous. You can take pills to soothe Hamilton’s madness, which for the player just means stopping the pounding heart sound and making the screen stop wobbling around (which frankly can give you a headache). There’s also a set of needles that you can use to prick your hand to “save yourself” from a truly horrifying situation, but I only used these on two occasions, both of which were prompted by the story telling me to rather than any real fear for Hamilton’s safety on my part. By the last two chapters I wasn’t using either technique, and I don’t feel like it added anything to the overall story (other than perhaps indicating that medicine can’t fix all problems or referencing Fish’s documented self-harm with needles) so I personally would have cut that out. It’s not annoying or anything; it just felt wholly unnecessary to me.
Besides this, I had several technical issues. You have to click on people to talk with them, and you do this by moving your mouse over the character and waiting for a yellow outline to appear, whereupon you can click on them. Multiple times I attempted to talk to a character but had to move my mouse over a very specific region of their body, rather than being able to click on the whole sprite. Why? And later on, when I was attempting to put an object into a furnace to burn it, simply dragging and trying to drop the object just caused the furnace door to open and close. I had to look up a video and eventually found out that I needed to let the fire burn for a few seconds, drag the item over the fire, hold it there for a moment, and then release. Again, why? Other than this, my only big problem was that the woods region could be kind of confusing, since one area actually had two statue paths with the one I needed being hidden all the way on the far right of the screen.
However, I will add that none of these issues were game-breaking problems or issues that were severe enough to make me want to stop playing; once I worked out the problem I was having at a given moment, I could and did quickly continue on with the story, albeit a little more frustrated than I might have liked to have been. The only other thing that really bothered me was the ending of the game, when it suddenly exits you to your desktop and has a few final lines of dialogue run across the bottom of the screen. It’s supposed to be creepy, but in this day and age a gamer’s first response isn’t, “Wow, that’s so creepy!” it’s “Oh great, did the game crash?” or “This better not be putting any crap onto my computer,” (it does, in the form of a few text files). Oldblood, if you make any more games in the future, don’t do this. Please, please, don’t ever do this again. It’s annoying and somewhat upsetting if I’m being totally honest, especially for people doing let’s play videos that might have tabs open on their computer that they don’t want viewers to see. You’re hurting yourself for the sake of a cheap gimmick.
So, the story, art, and music were all pretty good, the tone was excellent, but there were a few technical issues. Overall, do I recommend this? That’s hard for me to say. Part of the reason that I liked Masochisia (and I really, really did like it) is because I could identify with coming from a broken home and struggling with depression and mental health issues. The story felt real and genuinely unsettling to me as a result, and I couldn’t help but play it through to the end. But those parts of my life are periods that I try not to think about much now because I’ve moved past them; as a result, the game didn’t frighten me but rather made me quite uneasy for most of my playthrough. I imagine that people who’ve been in similar situations could relate and find the experience quite immersive as a result, but as the game warns in the beginning, it can be upsetting to those still struggling with these issues. People who haven’t experienced those problems might have a harder time immersing themselves in the story or even think some parts are quite ridiculous. So the people who would get the most out of this game are also the ones who are most likely to be upset by the story and how it showcases mental health, medication, abuse, and self-loathing. In the end, I’d recommend it with a caveat that you should not play this unless you feel like you are in a safe, stable mental place right now. On that note, big points to Oldblood for including a link to a hotline for domestic abuse victims in the main menu of Masochisia, but might I also suggest adding a link to a hotline for mental illness as well, such as the NAMI helpline (1-800-950-NAMI (6264)) or the National Suicide Prevention helpline (1-800-273-TALK)?
Masochisia is available on Steam for $8, but is currently on sale for 10% off. It takes just over an hour and a half to beat, which isn’t a bad deal (and frankly I like my horror games to be shorter rather than longer, so I felt the price was fair). The art and music is more than enough to support the game for me, plus the psychological horror elements were largely done quite well too. I look forward to seeing more from Oldblood; in the meantime, my cautionary endorsement for their first project stands firm.
The developer of Masochisia supplied Storycade with a code to do this review.