It’s almost the end of spring semester and I’m real tired. I got four projects to finish within the next two weeks and one of them is a ten page research paper. I’m in hell. So, because of that, I decided to look at some short stuff that I had on my backlog, since I don’t have the time to play anything longer.
Sacrament I and Sacrament IV are games by melessthanthree and they’re meant to act as a lead-up toward his bigger upcoming action game, LUCAH.
First, a quick disclaimer. I kinda consider melessthanthree a friend on Twitter, so there’s a conflict of interest. But also, I’m not above hollering at friends and being mad over their bad takes on Twitter, so take it as you will.
The first Sacrament was released November of last year, presenting a visual novel-esque experience.
Anna and Naomi are among other angelic beings living in Sanctum, a fortress against nightmares that haunt the outside world. The place is not quite a sanctuary, though, as for them, it is an abusive environment. Anna dreams with Naomi as a form of escape, fantasizing of something better.
Outside of the dream sequences, Sacrament I personally felt uncomfortable to play. I mean, that is not exactly a bad thing since that’s what the game seems to be going for, but it stuck to me more closely. A large part is its themes of religious abuse. Anna seems to be part of a heavy-handed religious group, her and Naomi being forced to identify as things they aren’t. The environment is controlled, under the watchful eyes of an abusive mother figure that becomes angry when they step out of line. It is something that I relate to and boy, did I not walk away with good vibes, especially with the game’s ending. But again, intended reaction.
The game plays around a lot with word presentation, conveying story mood in interesting ways. At times, words are peppered around the screen, either conveying a carefree attitude or a panicked one. “FASTER,” the screen chants all over, urging you to click around, sharing the same sense of desperation as the characters. Toward the end, Anna becomes unstable in light of her circumstances, sentences appearing in an irregular order while words are chaotically spread across the screen, regular presentation returning after it all comes to pass. It all just adds to the sensation of the game’s world feeling off.
But, what if you prefer something with more action? The fourth Sacrament is there for you. Sacrament IV released in January 2018. You may be wondering, where’s the second and third one? I don’t know. There’s probably meaning to this, but you know, naming a sequel a number other than 2 or calling a game a sequel despite lack of predecessors is always a power move to me.
Advertising itself as a calamity occult-horror RPG, the game takes place in a city after it is devastated by an unknown calamity, with a pristine school surviving at Ground Zero. You play as a soldier named K and his squadmates, C and AA, on their mission to investigate, for the Glory and the Power, Now and Forever.
While Sacrament IV shares its narrative elements with the previous game, it plays around with visuals more and introduces more interactivity with turn-based battles. The battle system is kinda simple and easy to understand, which is good since it just kinda throws you in there. You have some semblance of power in the first two fights, commanding your guys to beat back at these nightmares – which serves to make the last two battles feel hopeless, as they are more or less scripted.
The game is an interesting contrast to its predecessor. In the first, Anna is initially powerless but eventually finds the strength to fight back against her circumstances in the midst of tragedy. For K, he starts out strong enough, but becomes more powerless in light of his situation. He is implied to be of the same religious order as the one where Anna was trapped in, but if that’s the case, K and his squadmates represent something more righteous, fighting against a genuine, if ambiguous, threat. It’s a perspective shift that shows LUCAH’s world to a bit more complicated.
The first Sacrament already had an uneasy atmosphere, but the fourth is more explicitly in line with horror. The nightmares are unnatural and never-ending, the third fight an unwinnable pit of despair. K also grows increasingly unstable and it’s kinda ambiguous whether or not it’s just him or if the nightmares are affecting him in some way. He’s got a bunch of abandonment problems and issues surrounding friendship… which I also find relatable. Jeez.
Something that I’m mixed on for these games is the art style. The art is really abstracted, faint figures and buildings decipherable through the lines. At times, it felt messy looking. In others though, it felt purposeful, lending an air of ambiguity that goes along with the general sense of unease. I also feel that it is one of those instances where the art looks better animated than seen as static stills. The battles in Sacrament IV demonstrate this, with everything pulsating in a characteristically unnatural way that goes unappreciated if just seen as an image.
What I’m not mixed on, though, is the music. Your look into this abstract world is accompanied by a soundtrack by Nicolo. A lot of the games’ music mixes beat heavy rhythms with ethereal tunes, which I feel captures the aesthetic of these games; the theme that plays during a dream sequence from the first game is a bit of a divergence, but it is a nice, chill tune to listen to that is a perfect fit. The music in the second game has a more action-y feel to it, music styled more toward SMT-esque battle themes that I’m fucking all about.
Overall, the Sacraments share an unusual aesthetic that feels very personal. The narratives, too, tries to be personal through their character conflicts. Sacrament IV is ultimately more about K’s own struggles with himself than the bigger mission at hand.
The Sacraments are short, interesting looks into the upcoming world of LUCAH. It gives a taste of a world ruled with unease and religious doctrine – yet, as LUCAH advertises, it’s ultimately about finding one’s self in the midst of it all.