Horror games have a very specific appeal to a certain subset of gamers. Visual Novels have a very specific appeal to a certain subset of gamers. Thus, The Letter: A Visual Horror Novel, you may be surprised to learn, is most definitely a niche title. However, for that small audience, it’ll most certainly provide several hours of intrigue and genuine thrills.
The Letter: A Visual Horror Novel’s installation size – weighing in at 1.74GB on Xbox Series X (version tested) – is predominantly occupied by the high-resolution artwork featured in the game. And boy, is it pretty. A somewhat generic anime styling is complimented by some elegant animation and visual effects. But, of course, given that The Letter: A Visual Horror Novel is, as the title suggests, a visual novel, you would hope that it at least gets the visual part right.
The story has you play as several different characters, each with their own chapter. The first, Isabella, is a real estate agent attempting to sell a mansion. As she explores the property to prepare for her selling efforts, she discovers a strange letter. This sets in motion a series of very unexpected events.
You will also take on the roles of several of the characters Isabella meets during her story. Playing through the chapters as different characters allows the player to experiment with many different personalities. This is important to the way in which the game unfolds. The decisions players make and how they engage with other characters will affect the path taken through the storyline. Yes, there is a branching story. And for completionists The Letter: A Visual Horror Novel provides a tree to showcase each decision point. When revisiting it’ll signpost you took a turn that could otherwise have led the plot in a different direction. However, the developers have seen wise to label this as a potential spoiler pitfall; view it at your own risk!
Other in-game menu options allow you to view past conversations and notes, as well as the relationship status of the playable characters to everyone else in the game. This, combined with the plot tree, will allow players to determine how they could behave differently to encounter alternative elements of the plot. It’s a well-developed system that does encourage replay.
Outside of the relationships and decision making, the only other gameplay mechanic to speak of is a series of QTEs. They add some meaningful bulletpoints to the plotline. QTEs are not to everyone’s liking, though. And so they can be made easier or turned off entirely for those who simply want to enjoy the story. This is a nice touch, as the QTE difficulty can vary wildly, but their infrequency hardly places too many demands on the player. The Letter: A Visual Horror Novel is about playing a role predominantly and is certainly not an action orientated experience.
Playing through the story multiple times from different characters perspectives is very interesting. Over the course of the first three of four chapters you’ll get to know the timeline intimately. However, beyond that The Letter: A Visual Horror Novel starts wearing a bit thin. The characters start feeling somewhat one-dimensional and the scares become lukewarm at best. It’s a shame, as this is additional content the developers have devised to offer value for money, but for many the opening chapters of The Letter: A Visual Horror Novel alone would be enough to satisfy their purchase.
The Letter: A Visual Horror Novel ticks all of the right boxes. It’s a gorgeous and occasionally horrifying visual novel, with a number of unique touches that make it stand out. It’s not going to convince Resident Evil fans that this is a better way to do horror, nor will it convert romance novel fans to the genre. But for that niche that crosses both horror and visual novels, The Letter: A Visual Horror Novel is an easy recommendation.