Well, here we are. Eight months after The House In Fata Morgana's release, and six months since our first diary entry of "the game better than Breath of the Wild", it's finally time to actually, finally review it.
Fata Morgana is an subject of bafflement, a tantalising enigma, and a frequent point of mockery, all because its Metacritic score (which was a perfect 100, and is now a measly 97) elevated it into being described as "one of the best games of all time" on Switch. This placed it alongside such classics as the aforementioned Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey, and Hades. PC Gamer included it in their latest "Top 100 PC Games" in September. Visual novel fans already knew this, of course — it's well-reviewed for a reason — but anyone outside of that genre sphere was left to wonder how good an anime visual novel could actually be, and point out that Fata Morgana's high score comes from just nine critic reviews, as opposed to the dozens those games above have to their names. There has to be a catch, right?
After 40+ hours with the game, we can comfortably say that The House In Fata Morgana, at the end of it all, is legitimately as fantastic as they say... although with a few caveats.
If you're a fan of visual novels, you likely already know these caveats. The Dreams of the Revenants edition of Fata Morgana — at around 40 hours for the main game, plus 15 hours for the Requiem for Innocence prequel DLC, plus 8 hours for the Reincarnation sequel DLC — demands a lot of your time, especially as the DLC unlocks sequentially.
A significant proportion of that time is spent waiting. Waiting for things to make sense, waiting for the story to pick up, waiting for certain parts to be over. The beginning, in particular, is slow and boring, with a bunch of unlikeable characters that get themselves into predicaments because of irritating personality traits. People will repeatedly walk into painful situations out of inaction or poor decision-making at the beginning, and it can be frustrating.
A darker caveat is that Fata Morgana can be incredibly, potentially upsettingly dark. The story deals with abuse, bigotry, sexism, torture, and basically any kind of mistreatment you can think of. It's grim. But it doesn't feel like torture porn, as with something like Danganronpa, because Fata Morgana doesn't revel in its misery; Fata Morgana firmly places you in the shoes of the suffering. But it does drag it out something fierce.
The final caveat is that this would not, perhaps, constitute a "game" for many people. Quite frankly, that doesn't matter for this review, but if you're not into largely static, pretty hands-off visual novels, then this certainly isn't going to convince you of their worth — in the same way that blue cheese is fantastic, but someone who hates dairy is never going to enjoy it. That doesn't make blue cheese any less delicious to those who like it.
But with the caveats and the cheese metaphors out of the way, it's time to talk about everything that makes Fata Morgana worth the glittering praise, and the title of "one of the greatest visual novels ever".
The House In Fata Morgana's story is hard to describe without spoiling it, but it begins with a house, a Maid, and you, the protagonist, who can't remember who they are, where they are, or why they're here. There are also a wealth of supporting characters, from the central mystery of the White-Haired Girl's identity, to the men and women in her life who support and use her. Throughout the next few hours, the story slowly unwinds as the Maid circuitously starts to explain things to you — emphasis on slowly and circuitously — and eventually, you'll get to fill in some of those gaps in your memory. But you might wish you hadn't.
And yes, the first few hours are slow — but the payoff is so, so worth it. It requires an investment at the start, and a large part of that investment is just believing it will get better, but not knowing how. After a few twists — at least one of which is an incredibly organic one that will send chills down your spine — the momentum starts to build, spiralling the story away from the tedious stuff into thrilling, captivating heartbreak.
It's incredible how fantastically well-written and well-translated the game is, considering the sheer amount of words contained within. A lesser script, or a poorer localisation, could make the story feel overwrought or utterly piteous, but Fata Morgana's story, even in its slow moments, even in its slightly goofy dramatic moments, always manages to keep you on the hook. By the time you're around ten hours in, you won't be able to put it down.
The most outstanding thing about Fata Morgana, though, is its use of novel narrative techniques — which we shan't spoil — to bend the rules a little bit. Unreliable narrators and untrustworthy memories abound, and it can even get a little difficult to follow exactly what's going on at points, but for a story that's pretty much only told through images, music, and text, it's remarkable how much it can play with those tools to surprise you.
Fata Morgana will, at times, feel like therapy. You will be asked to examine situations that seemed black-and-white from every angle, until every story seems like nothing but bleak, Shakespearean tragedy. But the game is ultimately not about sorrow — it's about overcoming the things that have happened to you, through no fault of your own, then using those painful experiences to shape your own sense of empathy, and be a better person to people. Frankly, it's a lesson most people could do with learning.
Listen, there's a lot of good and bad in this review, and you might be wondering how we came to such a glowing conclusion with a game that has flaws... but Fata Morgana is truly a diamond in the rough. You just have to be prepared to uncover the diamond, that's all. Not everyone has the time or patience to stick with it, which is totally fine. But if you have 40+ hours to luxuriate in a story this good — even if it could do with snappier pacing at points — you'll hopefully be willing to overlook the pain points to appreciate how gloriously, unflinchingly human this game is.
The House in Fata Morgana is over 40 hours long, and in those 40 hours, you'll maybe get to make about three decisions. It is a visual novel in the strictest sense of the word, and you must be prepared for that going in. But with a fantastic, original, slow-burn story about love, loss, hurt, forgiveness, and recovery, it's one of the best visual novels out there — and your patience will be paid off in the end.