If you’ve ever had a friend excitedly praise whatever TV series they’re currently watching only to have them, almost apologetically, say “it starts off really slow but gets really good about 12 episodes/chapters in” then you’ll have a really good idea of what it’s like to play Raging Loop.
Initially, Raging Loop’s premise seems really promising; it's a visual novel that’s a mash-up of eerie Japanese folklore and the party game 'Werewolf'. If you’ve never played it, then allow us to explain; the object is to find the werewolves among your group before they kill everyone else. This simple objective, however, opens things up for all sorts of mind games where the wolves can bluff and double-bluff to throw everyone else off the scent until either most of the villagers are no more, or the villagers have managed to find and execute both wolves.
Raging Loop’s take on this much-loved party game places you in the shoes of city biker Haruaki Fusaishi as he finds himself trapped with the residents of Yasumizu – a tiny rural village enveloped in a thick mysterious mist. During this period, no one can leave the area alive. According to the ancient folklore of the land, the mist will only be gone once the ominously-named ‘Feast’ has been performed. Essentially, this is a game of werewolf played out with much higher stakes. And if anyone from either side breaks any of the arcane rules, then they’re quickly killed off by the ‘corruption’ which turns them into grisly hunks of meat. Yum.
In case you’ve never played a visual novel before, as the name suggests, it’s a genre that’s primarily text-based with illustrations showing the characters and certain scenes. At best, they can be utterly absorbing despite the lack of interactivity. At other times, they can be about as much fun as watching a freshly-painted wall become touch-dry.
The first few hours of Raging Loop will draw you in as it builds a suitably creepy and mysterious atmosphere, introducing you to the villagers and a couple of reporters working on an article about the local cuisine. However, when the mist descends, the tension dissipates thanks to the mechanical dialogue which never manages to fully realise the gravity of the situation you’re in. Hours can pass by with nothing but characters spouting reams upon reams upon reams of exposition that quickly becomes tedious to read.
The promised 50 hours of playtime here quickly turns out to be not much more than wading through pages of text that repeats information you already know. As both a player and reader, you’re not given a chance to feel like you’re an active part in this story. It's hard to say whether or not this is intentional, seeing as Haruaki is himself trapped in a folklore tale he has to see to its bitter end, but the result is the same. Many hours will pass before the game will ask for your input, and even then, it never feels like you've made much of a difference.
It doesn’t help that Haruaki, the character you play, is almost totally unlikeable (a common problem with Japanese visual novels, sadly). Early on, he's cracking jokes about overpowering the first woman he meets in Yasumizu, then later he blithely dismisses the horrific and sudden deaths of other characters. There’s also a swerve into some unexpected transphobia with one character in particular; it's more insensitive than outright malicious, but it leaves a nasty taste in the mouth all the same.
All of which would be forgiven if this was a gripping tale to read through, and at times it can be. However, the absolutely glacial pacing gets frustrating very quickly as the game holds back on answering the mysteries surrounding Yasumizu – mysterious you're keen to get to the bottom of. Without getting into spoiler territory, the initial playthrough raises far more questions than it answers and once you realise what the game is asking of you, it’s hard not to feel more than a bit cheated. Though it offers plenty of branching options, they’re closed off to you until you wander down enough of its many dead ends, forcing you to reach an ending that delivers precisely zero satisfaction.
This isn’t to say that Raging Loop is entirely without merit. The premise is genuinely creepy, it’s accessible to everyone no matter what skill level they’re at and it has some really impressive artwork depicting its characters and locations. It can skip between being playful and light to showing the consequences of what the 'Feast' stands for. But over the past decade, games like the Danganronpa trilogy, Virtue’s Last Reward and – more recently – One Night Stand have shown what the visual novel format can be capable of.
Raging Loop is a promisingly creepy title in the vein of Silent Hill and Danganronpa that fails to deliver thanks to the sluggish pace of its storytelling and lack of meaningful choices. Fans of visual novels will no doubt get something out of this, but the rest of us will lose patience early on. If you’re looking for some light reading which you can dip in and out of over the space of a few months or so then you might find something to like here, but while Raging Loop may lure you in with its many branching storylines, you’ll be frustrated long before you reach the end.