Still going strong with their Vita releases, Aksys has just come out with Death Mark – a horror mystery that also came out for the PS4 and Nintendo Switch.
For a while there, I associated Aksys with the amazing BlazBlue titles they released on multiple platforms, including the Vita. Continuum Shift Extend and Chromo Phantasma Extends are still arguably among the top 3 fighters for Sony’s handheld, which is impressive considering that Continuum Shift came out way back in 2012.
In 2018, however, it seems like Aksys has shifted its focus firmly towards the visual novel genre. They released a trio of them over the summer during the “summer of mystery”, and now we’re getting Death Mark around Halloween. I didn’t play this summer’s releases, but enjoyed Death Mark’s setup and story.
In Death Mark, people get “marked for death” – which also causes them to lose their memories, including knowledge of basic things like their own name. Even worse, you’re also heading towards a certain death – as an invisible countdown steers you towards a confrontation with a violent spirit at the end of each chapter/episode. In order to prepare yourself for this encounter, you need to gain knowledge about the spirit so you’ll learn how to fight it when the time comes, which basically means finding out which vulnerabilities there are and which attack exploits them.
Ghost Mark also features “life or death” decisions that occur prior to these fights, where the wrong answer can end the game prematurely. Due to the nature and setting of the game, these are tense situations – echoing the overall mood and atmosphere in the game, much of which takes place inside a house with other Death Mark-wearing victims.
Gameplay-wise, the bulk of Death Mark is a traditional visual novel, featuring plenty of reading (in a story campaign that’s over 15 hours long). There are also sections where you search for objects and story elements inside an adventure game setting though, which are nice breaks from the reading but not exactly developed well enough to make them especially memorable. If you’re not into visuals novels then Death Mark’s other sections (fights and adventure bits) won’t sway you – you’d be better off playing a dungeon crawler or an adventure game like Day of the Tentacle on the Vita, or Broken Age if you prefer a more modern approach.
Death Mark’s almost episodic approach (with interconnected stories) works very well in breaking up an otherwise very long game, which is an often-heard criticism of visual novels. In addition to story elements that connect the various parts of the game, there is also an overarching sense of dread that is well-conveyed in an intriguing story – aided by visuals in which the character design supports the plot especially well. People you meet generally aren’t feeling too great on account of the mark that’s been put on them, and it shows visually as well as narratively.
Although I wouldn’t put Death Mark on the pile of classic visuals to grace the Vita, I definitely enjoyed my time with it. Its setting, especially considering it’s the Halloween season, makes it somewhat unique, and the narrative is engaging and it uses various non-visual novel elements to mix things up. Great to see another quality Aksys title on the Vita, let’s hope they continue the trend in 2019.