When you’re in a long distance relationship with another person, how do you maintain that relationship? How can you be sure the other person feels what you think they feel for you? Can their words be enough, or will they always leave something to be desired? And who exactly do you have a relationship with? Does the other person only exist as an idea in your mind, or are they something more than that? Would things be any different if the two of you met face to face? Perhaps most important of all, does any of this even matter?
When writing about games that consist only of boss battles, the general rule is that one presents those games as intense, difficult struggles. Titan Souls has been variously described as “comparably difficult” to Ori and Bloodborne, “a stiff challenge[…]to lose yourself in”, and as a game “requires patience, a keen eye, reflexes and skill – and the ability to accept that you will die a lot”. Furi has received a similar treatment.
However, I believe this rule misunderstands what draws people to games like these in the first place. Their appeal lies not in their ability to challenge us, but in their ability to ease our minds. Their heavily goal-driven nature gives us clarity and purpose we might otherwise struggle to find on our own. Moreover, with our minds set upon a single task we’ve devoted our entire being to, that task comes to occupy all our immediate thoughts, clouding out others that might prove too burdensome. What are these creatures, why do I fight them, what impact will their death have on the world – if these questions exist within the game, then I only consider them outside the fights that define it. Within those fights, my mind is set on defeating the enemy before me.
A common idea I see in Japanese horror stories is the idea that what scares us doesn’t exist out there in the world but is something we create in our own minds. You can find this in Yume Nikki, Silent Hill, Another, etc. Despite its prevalence, though, it’s rare to see a story really commit. Even if the source of their fear is ultimately subjective, the characters’ belief in its realness makes it real anyway. Strange Telephone is one of those rare stories, even if that wasn’t its intention. In attempting to create a lighthearted child-friendly horror experience, Strange Telephone drops us into a world that’s apathetic to our existence and completely beyond our ability to understand.