Well, that last House In Fata Morgana piece certainly blew up, didn’t it? I wasn’t expecting my diary entries to intrigue anyone except the people who already care about the game, but I guess that’s what happens when you talk about the only Switch game with a perfect Metacritic score. If you haven’t read Part 1, this probably won’t make much sense, so you should read the first diary entry for background on what this is all about.
For those of you who still want to find out more about The House In Fata Morgana: Welcome to diary entry two…
I think that I am beginning to approach an understanding of how The House In Fata Morgana earned its small constellation of 10/10s. I am having a wonderful time with it. As I said in the other diary entry, though, directly comparing this to Breath of the Wild — beyond the fact they’re both great Switch games — is a little disingenuous. They’re in totally separate genres, with their own merits and style, and no one would come into Fata Morgana expecting a sprawling adventure game. As a visual novel, though, it’s a spectacular story.
Now, I can’t tell you much more than that, because it’s a story that plays its cards so close to its chest that you’re not even sure it has any cards at all. So far, it’s teased about ten different mysteries — including a rose, a mirror, a stained glass window of an archangel, a weird maid who knows too much, a white-haired girl who may or may not be immortal, and my own identity — and I don’t think I’m any closer to understanding any of them.
Spoiler time already
But let’s get back to the story. We left off with Bestia, a man so convinced that he’s a beast that he becomes one — or, perhaps, he always was one. Through the love of the White-Haired Girl (whose name we still do not know), he almost breaks through his own self-loathing, but it’s a slippery slope back to beasthood when his happiness is threatened.
The interesting twist is that we get to see him through someone else’s eyes, and we realise — far too late — that our perception of him as a smoky, red-eyed monster was informed by his perception of himself, and not his true form. Goddamn.
There are a bunch of other twists, too, and I don’t want to spoil any of them, but I will say this: as I travel through the centuries in this strange house, I’m starting to feel really sorry for the White-Haired Girl, who by far is getting the worst deal. Time and time again, she’s cast as rehabilitation for broken men, from the meek Mell who bends to his demanding sister’s will, to a man whose sense of self is so warped that he loses everything.
Her latest story is about Jacopo, a wealthy and unpleasant young man who might be considered “new money”, as an investor in the railroad. He has a massive chip on his shoulder about it, so when he’s married off to the White-Haired Girl, who comes from poor but noble stock, he treats her terribly, going from neglectful husband to downright abusive jailer who locks her away from the world.
It’s easy to hate Jacopo, just as it was easy to hate Bestia, who killed and ate people, but The House In Fata Morgana shows you a kind side to both. Bestia loved and cared for his garden and the White-Haired Girl; Jacopo is desperate to prove himself, and terrified to lose everything. His position is precarious, so he takes out his fear on his wife, and then feels awful about it.
That obviously doesn’t excuse him, but rather than rooting for the White-Haired Girl to escape him forever, I wonder if there’s a way that Jacopo can fix his damn self and be the husband she deserves. Did therapy exist in the 1800s? Probably not.
In this house, we support the White-Haired Girl
Then again, I do hope that the White-Haired Girl gets her moment. All the men in the story have been abusive at worst and unhelpful at best; the White-Haired Girl is overdue a rather righteous burst of anger after hundreds of years of people taking advantage of her kindness.
Again, I don’t know what Fata Morgana is truly about yet, but right now I’m hoping that the White-Haired Girl becomes a Vampire Queen who eats bad men like popcorn. Or maybe I’m the White-Haired Girl, and I’ll get to go on a fun vengeance-themed roadtrip where I turn all the people who’ve ruined my life into meat pancakes.
But, to get all personal for a second: it’s been a wild ride to watch these stories that don’t seem relatable, because they’re about monsters and fantastical time-travelling houses, and yet — they are. I have anxiety, so I see myself partially mirrored in the way Bestia seeks peace, yet reverts back to his old ways when he feels that his way of life is under threat, like a cornered, scared dog. I am not an abusive millionaire railway investor like Jacopo, but his strive to prove himself at all costs, and his fear that people are laughing at him behind his back, is unavoidably human.
Monsters and men
There’s a recurring theme in the game, of The Terrifying Other — how we see unusual or unfamiliar things as something to be afraid of, or worse, something to exterminate. This manifests itself in a number of ways: xenophobia, racism, sexism, classism, all the -isms, really. Society is all about deciding who we like and who we don’t, who is welcome and who is not, and we’ve invented all sorts of awful shortcuts to make it easier. Otherness can mean monsters, but it can also mean people that we’re willing to turn into monsters to save ourselves.
But the game is firmly told by those Others, as we see through their eyes, and witness the abuses, fears, manipulation, and loneliness that drives them to become the monster that others fear they are. I’m only a few hours in, but time and time again, these people are driven towards horrendous actions by circumstance and cruelty. And, among it all, like a freshly bloomed rose, is the White-Haired Girl, dragged into the story over and over again in some inexorable Groundhog Day. I want to know more about who she is, and why she is so vital to these men, this house, the curse, but I think answers will be a long time coming.
The thing is, the White-Haired Girl is othered as much as anyone else, and it never changes her — she is always as sweet, patient, and kind as ever. People call her a witch; her family abandons her; men fetishise her; yet it has no effect. She keeps trying.
If this were a Disney film, she would eventually win, like Snow White or Rapunzel overcoming evil and jealousy to find their own happiness. Because this is The House In Fata Morgana, I don’t know if she’ll ever triumph, because the stories so far have all been so nihilistic and heartbreaking.
A slow beginning unfolds
The House in Fata Morgana, by which I mean the literal house, is a place for outcasts who find themselves drawn towards that front door by fate, or the curse, or something else. I have no idea yet, as I’ve covered in the last diary entry — other reviews mention choices and branches and endings, none of which I’ve seen yet. They also often state that the first part of the game, which I’m still in, is an “anthology”, and that it puts many people off with its uneven pacing and lack of interactivity.
This isn’t a review, though, so I’m not having a solid opinion on all of that yet — although I will say that the pacing can be frustrating. There are a lot of bits where people say a lot while saying nothing, or where story beats either repeat themselves or drag out for a long time. I had a lot of trouble myself with the rather stiff writing of the first couple of stories, too, although now that the game has entered the mid-1800s, the dialogue is loosening up quite nicely. The characters even swear now, which is pretty thrilling.
So, where are we now with Fata Morgana? I still haven’t made that many decisions, but I’m enjoying myself — although perhaps that’s not quite the right word for an anthology about murder, abuse, and incest. Still, the twists and the surprises come thick and fast, and it’s quite something. I find myself itching to end work and sit down for another hour or two of play, although I usually have to have a little lie down afterwards. Seriously, I’m loving it.
Tune back in soon for the next diary entry, in which (spoilers) things finally start to really heat up, and the reasons why so many people love this game become more immediately apparent…