We talk about horror visual novel Death Mark with developers Experience Inc. and publishers Aksys Games.
Horror mystery visual novel Death Mark, developed by Experience Inc., launched in Japan in 2017, and its beautiful visual aesthetic, brutal and intense narrative, stark atmosphere, and its ability to constantly keep providing the players with unexpected turns quickly helped it endear itself to audiences at large. The praised adventure game is now out in the West as well, now available worldwide for all PS4, PS Vita, and Switch owners, and we’re quite excited to see how it does in a market that is growing increasingly style of visual novels. We recently sent across a few of our questions about Death Mark to the developers, and Experience Inc. and publishers Aksys Games reverted with some truly interesting responses. Read on below.
"Unlike with standard visual novels, Death Mark is more like a classic adventure that gives players the opportunity to fully immerse themselves in the story"
What can you tell us about the game’s setting?
Experience Inc: The game takes place in a certain city on the outskirts of Tokyo having a number of spirit legends. Spirits that were initially nothing but rumors gained power at one point, and have started to spread the Death Mark indiscriminately. Those who have been “marked” become a Mark Bearer, and will start to lose memory gradually after a certain period of time, followed by a gory death. After being marked, the protagonist (you) and other Mark Bearers will end up investigating the root cause of such spirits to avoid their death.
What are some of the ways in which players can interact with the world in this game?
Aksys: Unlike with standard visual novels, Death Mark is more like a classic adventure that gives players the opportunity to fully immerse themselves in the story. Each chapter of the game sees you investigating a haunted location. You are able to traverse the space, examine items, and take some along with you. These items become important for when you face off against the spirit in battle; you need to choose the correct combinations from the clues you’ve uncovered in your investigation or you have a real chance of dying. And it’s not pretty. Picking the appropriate Partner to take along with you will also help you gain access to important details and objects, so you need to pay attention. Each battle has two possible outcomes: You can purify the spirit and all is well, but you can also destroy the spirit with an incorrect decision and let’s just say that’s not the only misfortune that happens. There are also times in the story where the stakes for answering a question wrong can mean death. These Live or Die segments are quick, and rely on your character’s Soul Power, which runs out the longer you take to answer.
Is there a growing interest for Visual Novels in the West?
Aksys: Definitely. One key feature helping the genre to grow is that some of the newer visual novels have more interactivity than in the past. Death Mark, for example, requires players to investigate rumors, make effective decisions while under a fair amount of duress (answer quickly and intelligently, or die…), and recruit and work effectively with various partners to ensure their survival
Another aspect that is helping the rising popularity of adventure/story-focused games is a number of previously niche genres that fall under the nebulous “visual novel” umbrella are starting to gain a following in the West, such as otome (visual novels aimed towards those who want a healthy dose of romance and attractive men in addition to epic stories), and horror/suspense games like our Zero Escape franchise, XSEED’s Corpse Party series, and NISA’s Danganronpa.
"When we first saw the game being announced for Japan, it looked right up our alley due to it being an interactive adventure game with extreme horror themes. After playing and evaluating it internally, it only solidified that fact and we knew we had to localize this title for the West so that everyone could be just as intrigued and scared as we were when playing and enjoying the game."
What made you decide to bring the game over to the West?
Aksys: When we first saw the game being announced for Japan, it looked right up our alley due to it being an interactive adventure game with extreme horror themes. After playing and evaluating it internally, it only solidified that fact and we knew we had to localize this title for the West so that everyone could be just as intrigued and scared as we were when playing and enjoying the game.
Can you tell us what some of the major sources of inspiration were for this game?
Experience Inc: Infamous haunted places, deserted areas found in busy cities, past tragic events/history, etc. Each Spirit in the game is based on a bunch of documents, motif ghosts/spirits, urban legends, historical events.
Can you tell us a bit about the premise and story?
Experience Inc: As we mentioned, the premise of the game is the “death curse” called the Death Mark, which starts to appear in the 1990s when scary rumors as well as occult information are commonly talked about through word of mouth as if they hold some degree of truth. While it’s fictional, we decided it all takes place in H city, an ordinary sounding place to create a sense of affinity for the users. The story is about the protagonist and other mark bearers facing several Spirits and overcoming their fear to survive the curse of death, but it’s made so that the players feels as if they’re experiencing what the protagonist is experiencing first-hand as the focus of this game is to experience horror. For instance, a number of narrative tricks are set in places that will get triggered when the thoughts of the protagonist are in sync with the players’ subjective views.
How much choice does the player have in changing the direction of the story?
Experience Inc: Their small choices won’t affect the direction of the story very much; they merely reflect the player’s preferences in the current circumstances, or affect responses they get from the mark bearers they interact with. Choices that would greatly affect the course of the story would be a decision on whether to destroy or rescue the Spirits they’re facing and depending on what they decide to do, the accompanying mark bearer might end up dead. And such deaths would heavily impact the ending of the final scenario (example: normal or bad).
"There are no plans for PC or Xbox One at this time."
Are there any plans to release the game for the PC and Xbox One?
Aksys: There are no plans for PC or Xbox One at this time.
What would you say is the most unique aspect of this game that players won’t find elsewhere?
Experience Inc: Illustration of the victims’ bodies that are both beautifully/ominously drawn/described. Spirits are designed by our designer based on his own experiences or situations he deliberately put himself in. Spirits are designed so that their appearances vividly describe the story of their vengeful birth.
Next-gen is coming sooner or later. From a development perspective, what is your biggest expectation from PS5 and Xbox Scarlett?
Aksys: At this point they’re mostly names and rumors with very little in the way of any concrete information. It’ll be interesting to see what form they take, especially since Nintendo cannonballed into the market with the Switch, but we really don’t have any detailed information on what is coming for the next gen.
What is your take on the ongoing drama of loot boxes and microtransactions?
Aksys: Our games don’t really fit the microtransaction/lootbox model, so it’s not something we have had a chance to look at closely enough to form an educated opinion.