The Coma: Recut is a remastered 2D side-scrolling horror game that follows the life of high school student Youngho as he battles the pressure of academic success and social acceptance, which just so happens tol come to a strange and creepy crescendo on the day of his final exams.
Youngho struggles with his studies all through the night, only to miss his morning alarm. Upon arriving at school on the all important day, he learns of a classmate's attempted suicide from his friend, has to deal with the school bully and attempts to make the acquaintance of a rather abrupt and mysterious new student, Yaesol (who seems to know more than she is letting on). During his final test, Youngho again falls asleep, only to awaken and find himself in a twisted, alternate version of his school. Clues are scattered across the all but deserted campus, and things go from bad to worse when his once approachable and helpful teacher Ms Song becomes a demonic and ruthless killer, prowling the school's now dark and eerie corridors.
Despite Youngho himself having an innocent charm, the game's introduction uses many character tropes typical of teenage comics or anime, as well as some clumsy characterisation and heavy handed idiom filled dialogue. In terms of a concept, however, The Coma: Recut is an interesting blend of side scrolling adventure, survival horror and a liberal sprinkling of stealth to spice things up.
Once the game starts in earnest, you navigate the school campus and search for clues, keys and fellow students to piece together the mystery of what happened, but there's an added layer to the narrative with dialogue choices and side-quests. Various context specific icons appear to enable you to view, pick up or use objects, as well as go up and down staircases (along with a neat implementation of using foreground and background) or enter the multitude of classrooms. More importantly, you will also need to utilise cupboards and lockers to avoid your newly possessed teacher.
Youngho's quest to unravel the mystery of his school must be done so without weapons, so your ingenuity certainly comes in handy. While you can walk around and see in relative darkness, your flashlight must be on in order to discover objects. it also attracts unwanted attention, and once you are spotted, you will be hunted until you are able to hide or you'll meet a grisly end. Anyone familiar with Wii title Silent Hill: Shattered Memories should have a decent idea of the premise.
So you can't fight but in true modern horror game style you can run, dodge and hide, with the added ability of being able to hear her footsteps from behind doors. Crouching or holding your breath as your monstrous tutor walks past is also possible, but depletes your all important stamina gauge in the top left-hand corner of the screen. In addition, hearts can be also be restored by picking up coins and buying snacks from vending machines, so resource management is also imperative.
Your trusty school bag represents your inventory, with only six slots in your outer pocket for storing food, drink and the inside for useful items to access different areas of the school, or objects required for errands to aid other students in exchange for hints. To keep things In line with more traditional survival horror systems such as typewriter ribbons or a notepad and pen, The Coma: Recut fittingly uses classroom blackboards to record your progress.
Although points of interest are marked on your map, the increasing complexity of the three areas can sometimes be disorienting, especially combined with backtracking and using tunnels later on. While the constant threat of the killer does generate tension, heightened by a fittingly unnerving array of scratches, shrieks, screams and static, after a few encounters the game does develop a few cracks.
Firstly, while it is colourful and it's characters bold in principle, the juxtaposition of the horror genre with its anime art style is jarring at times. It doesn't quite strike the right balance between representing the subject matter and having a shocking visual impact. The animations of Youngho are smooth, and the environments are detailed, but the static, hand-drawn characters presented in a visual novel style accompanied by lengthy conversations slow the pace and as a result, the game loses its momentum.
The Coma: Recut is a text heavy game, not just with dialogue, but also with large chunks of backstory being presented as notes or journal entries written by other anonymous students. These are scattered everywhere, and range from romantic confessions and remnants of other weird incidents, to more philosophical musings. Even though after a while you might feel that picking them up becomes laboriously systematic due to their frequency, there are some genuinely thought provoking excerpts, along with some moral ambiguity from NPCs.
The main gameplay element of being chased by your possessed teacher also loses shock value easily. The intrigue and disturbing nature of the story is punctured by randomly placed encounters with the killer and dilute the atmosphere or loses any skill required to not be found. The process of run, dodge and hide until the coast is clear becomes an overly intrusive element to your progression, and the fact that no one confrontation interjects with the narrative in any impactful way turns the horror element of the game into a frustrating and repetitive exercise. The game becomes as much about merely scouting for hiding places to prepare for an inevitable ambush as it does uncovering the mysteries of the school and its students.
The Coma: Recut is interesting in concept, but flawed in its execution. Mixing survival horror with stealth and visual novel elements provides a unique side-scrolling experience. While the anime art style and slow pace might detract from the horror, along with the main mechanic becoming repetitive instead of scary, there is still enough narrative content to get invested in the twisted tale of Sehwa High.