Last year in May, the teaser trailer for Paper Ghost Stories: Third Eye Open was revealed. This May, an even more exciting revelation follows. As part of this year’s LudoNarraCon happening on Steam, Malaysian indie studio Cellar Vault Games and publisher Chorus Worldwide Games unveiled the playable demo (and a new trailer!) for the second installment to their Paper Ghost Stories horror anthology. I have previously reviewed the first installment, Paper Ghost Stories: 7PM, which laid down solid foundations for an intriguing and culturally rich story for the series. This time, let’s take a look at the second installment’s demo fresh from the oven and see what more creepy tales await us.
Same Same, but Different
With the same Southeast Asian shadow puppetry-inspired paper aesthetics for its visual design and the same focus on a group of children for its narrative, Paper Ghost Stories: Third Eye Open feels right at home in this anthology of narrative-driven horror adventure games alongside Paper Ghost Stories: 7PM. Yet, even in its 25-minute demo, Third Eye Open clearly stood apart from 7PM.
First of all, the opening scene where three children were seated together talking about strange encounters is a familiar sight to those who have played 7PM, but the demo hints that the story of Third Eye Open is going to be longer and more in-depth. In Paper Ghost Stories: Third Eye Open, you play as Ting, a Chinese Malaysian girl who can see spirits. While you get to play the beginning arc of Ting’s story in the demo, you will soon notice that some segments have been left out. In their place are summaries telling you what those parts will be about in the full game. I was disappointed there weren’t more segments included, though that only goes to show how much the demo has piqued my interest in Ting’s story. I also look forward to the surprises that the other undisclosed venues would bring as I enjoyed walking around the current two venues, both of which already have noticeably larger layouts and exploration areas than those present in 7PM.
Just like 7PM, Third Eye Open uses Manglish and colloquial Malaysian English for its dialogue lines. However, much to my delight, the demo highlighted the characters’ multilingualism more strongly than before. Ting’s mother, for example, knows Bahasa Melayu and Cantonese on top of English and Mandarin. While this means the game would have to add explanatory footnotes in order to be most accessible to players who do not know these languages, I do find the resulting dialogue texts culturally significant and flavorful.
Third Eye Open follows the same narrative pattern as 7PM, where it starts with a tranquil tone and later dips into something spooky and unsettling, though I felt much darker undertones from the second installment’s story. In the demo alone, two of the mini-games involved hiding from the wrathful eyes of a violent alcoholic ghost. Even Ting’s ghost friend warns her to be more careful as she does not know about everything out there. Knowing the context of 7PM, I am actually a little apprehensive to watch how Ting’s story will unfold. Nevertheless, the leads found in the demo so far were promising, especially since they seemed to point towards some possibly shocking and emotional twists down the road.
Visual and Audio Aspects
At first glance, Third Eye Open did not look like its visual design had undergone any big changes since 7PM. The longer conversations are presented in the same visual novel ADV style from before, with a prominent text box at the bottom center and the half-body character sprites of the speakers placed at the sides. The helpful visual effect of making the current speaker’s sprite bigger and immediately obvious is also retained.
Once I headed out of the room where Ting and her friends were initially, I began to notice more interesting visual details added that were not found within 7PM. Perhaps it is mainly due to the fact that the venues seen are coincidentally more spacious and have more sophisticated layouts, but I was quite impressed with the sleek camera movements that follow Ting as she walks around. Even though players still cannot control the camera in this 2.5D game to, say, turn elsewhere when the view becomes blocked by a wall, the preset field of view coupled with the good range of angles have made exploring the two given venues more dynamic and fun visually.
Another curious visual detail newly added into Paper Ghost Stories: Third Eye Open, as seen in the demo, is the small speech bubble that sometimes pops up over a character sprite’s head. So far, they appear during moments when you are in control of the playable character. They help facilitate an active conversational scene that is different from the static visual novel-like segments where all character movements were paused. A downside, though, is since the speech bubble follows the movements of the speaker, I sometimes find it difficult to read the text in the speech bubble properly until the speaker stops moving.
As for the audio aspect, there were not enough samples heard in the demo for me to make a substantial comment. The most prominent part of the audio work is the ample sound effects, one of which is the environmental soundscape depicting a lively neighborhood. However, what lingers in my mind are the lonely footsteps echoing off the cold walls in the deserted location.
Built with the same engine (Unreal Engine 4) as 7PM, Paper Ghost Stories: Third Eye Open uses the same set of keyboard controls. Sadly, there is no tutorial prompt in the demo, though I would assume there will be one in the full game. Nonetheless, the keyboard controls scheme is easy to pick up and generally intuitive: WASD is used for moving the playable character, the spacebar advances the lines in the visual novel-like sections, “E” is used for interacting with applicable objects and characters, and the “Esc” key brings up the in-game pause menu. Third Eye Open also includes a handy journal listing the current finished and unfinished tasks, which can be assessed with the “Tab” key.
There are about five mini-games in the demo, including a sequence of Quick Time Events (QTE). The controls for most of the mini-games are pretty explanatory as conspicuous prompts are shown on screen. However, the controls used in two of the mini-games, which share the same game mechanics, took me more time to figure out. They rely on the left mouse button only, but I did not realize that instead of clicking the left mouse button, I was supposed to hold it and then release it in accordance with the on-screen cues.
The demo for Paper Ghost Stories: Third Eye Open may be short but it surely provided enough insights into its story, gameplay, visuals, and the audio direction players can expect in the full game (slated to release this year). It is a demo well worth playing to get a taste of the Paper Ghost Stories series’ spooky stories set in Malaysia.
PAPER GHOST STORIES: THIRD EYE OPEN (DEMO) IS WORTH PLAYING
Many thanks go to Chorus Worldwide Games for an early demo PC code for this title.
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A person with many hobbies (and even more WIPs), KuroKairin plays, playtests, and reviews PC games. She loves games with good stories that bring her on an emotional and thought-provoking journey. Her favourite genres include otome visual novel, point and click, puzzle, and RPG. Follow her @KuroKairin.