Developed by Kemco and published by lover of Japanese titles, PQube, Raging Loop is a tale of gripping psychological horror not normally expected in the visual novel genre of gaming. Starting off as a charming though lengthy fish-out-of-water scenario, the narrative of murderous gods, mystery and bloodshed entices your attention the more you play, becoming a rabbit hole of thrills and revelations you’ll find hard to tear away from.
Raging Loop is available on Playstation 4 and Nintendo Switch on October 18th in Europe and October 22nd in North America, at select physical and digital retailers in each territory. For more full availability details, visit the official PQube site.
Playing as the hopelessly lost Haruaki Fusaishi, you find yourself in Yasumizu, a small village set deep in Japanese forestry, almost completely isolated from any hint of civilization. After meeting the large cast of characters who take residence in Yasumizu and are hinted some eerie subtleties, you’re eventually thrown into the deep end that is the story that is The Feast.
Werewolves have infiltrated the village. Once being one of five god-like animal guardians who’d protect the settlement from the underworld, the wolves are now fueled by a lust for vengeance against the village after the inhabitants betrayed them long ago. A mist has enveloped the village that stops anyone from leaving. Every night, the wolves kill a villager and the next day, those remaining have to kill one of their own in hoping to kill a wolf in disguise. In a game of cat-and-mouse, mystery and teamwork, Haruaki has to come together with the living villagers to help find out which are the wolves before everyone else is killed. The first night however, Haruaki, not yet fully understanding the situation, wonders out and meets a gruesome fate.
However, instead of staying dead, Haruaki finds himself back on the mountain road a day prior, as if time had just been rewound and retaining his memory of dying but not knowing why; the title “Raging Loop” earns its name and its appeal. In order to advance your goal of defeating the wolves, you need to die; multiple times in fact. Every time, Haruaki messes up and pays for it with his life, he wakes up back at the starting point with partial memories. With each death and new information that comes with it, a new story branch opens at a previously locked choice at a particular chapter, opening multiple avenues of intrigue as to where the story can end up.
Being a cynic with a self-deprecating sense of humour, Haruaki is an enjoyable every-man protagonist who’s not afraid to find the almost-comedic irony after his first couple of deaths; using his knowledge of the supernatural hazards ahead to reallocate his resources to his advantage.
Starting off with an incredibly slow burn, Raging Loop takes a little too much time in allowing the story to get going. By the time you’ll have established all of the settings, met some of the characters and been given some actual hints of the horror that’s to come, you’ll already be almost three hours in. Although, once you’re deep into the middle of the third chapter where the plot is at its best, the sluggish pacing from the beginning becomes a mere afterthought.
Villagers are also lent the powers of the four other animal guardians to aid in solving and surviving the threat of the wolves, being imbued each into a villager. The snake can find out if a named person is a wolf or human. The spider protects one person from being attacked by wolves for the upcoming night. The monkeys, of which there are two, know the identity of the other. Finally, the crow, knows whether a deceased was either a wolf or a human.
Incorporating the supernatural lore into this game of murder mystery sets for a unique journey of twists and turns, being a lesson in manipulation, psychology and cruelty of humanity. The day after each wolf killing becomes a complex but riveting mind game of logic versus finger-pointing, trying to outsmart the wolves amongst the villagers whilst trying not get tricked themselves into hanging the wrong person during the daily lynching.
Although, it can be confusing at first. As the rules of the animal guardians start to be hinted at in the story, vital exposition can be dropped in a clunky, uneven fashion. Unless seeing PQube’s promotional guides beforehand, its possible you might get confused as to what might be going on, leaving you perplexed with a hint of enjoyment taken out of the experience until everything is explained later.
Getting invested into the heavy stakes and complexities of the story might be intimidating at first, given the story’s slow pacing. Nevertheless, that’ll become less relevant the further you get. During what’s safe to deem as your “first play through”, Raging Loop becomes a pattern of someone getting killed and you getting to know more about the survivors, becoming closer with them whilst learning more towards solving the mystery. As the death toll rises, so does everyone’s emotions, along with the intensity of the pacing and storytelling. After being served with certain horrific endings that you may find unavoidable, the attachment you’ll have to some of these quirky, lovable characters will be almost painful to witness, being a testament to the writing talent at work here. No matter which ending you stick with in the end, Raging Loop’s events will surely stick out in memory for quite a while.
For players who are both veterans and newcomers when it comes to visual novels, Raging Loop goes the extra mile in being as accessible as possible for different play styles whilst offering copious amounts of freedom with its interface.
Starting a new game, you’re met with one of the game’s characters, Rikako, but in an adorable chibi form compared to normal, taking the lead as a tutorial guide. Also, giving you the option to skip everything and go right into the story, you’re offered a full list of topics of what you might want to know. Being free to pick and choose what you want Rikako to inform you of, you can learn the basics from visual novels actually are, to the game’s standard and special functions, video sharing or tips on how to progress through the game.
Even adding cutesy tips, like to not lose too much sleep, wearing headphones whilst playing the game out of respect for others, or making sure you know to discern the difference between fiction and reality, is a charming touch. After my first death, a cartoonish-ghost-sheep creature popped up as an extension of the tutorial, saying “if you get stuck, try dying!”. After that, he would appear again after each death telling me where I went wrong. This all shows Raging Loop goes out of its way to provide a fun and approachable experience despite its genre.
With its premise of the player having to actually die, start over again at the beginning and make use of what you learnt upon death to progress further, it’s easy to think that you would have a long, arduous chore of gameplay ahead. Luckily, Raging Loop is not the case. An implemented scenario chart system, detailing a constantly expanding chain of events keeps you on track along with the additionally added chat log, also works as a fast travel map to take you back to where you’ve been before. With the map diverging each time a choice is made possible, there are many different pathways you might want to revisit; especially if it’s because of a poor decision you made lead to a dire outcome.
Did you get fatally wounded out because of your recklessness all the way in chapter 3? No problem. When thrown back to the start of the story where Haruaki is yet to find the village, you merely have to open the chart option that’s always present on screen, and select to be fast-forwarded right to a scene to correct a wrong choice you made. Being a campaign at about 50-hours in length thanks to the many possible story branches, you’ll eventually find yourself relying on the details of the chart more and more, wanting to trying out different possibilities.
Encouraging you to find as many keys as you can, the game is actually encouraging you to find ways to get yourself killed because that’s the only way you’ll be able to find new ones. There being 20 keys in total, there are 20 different story possibilities to unlock that could get you to solve the mystery. Scattered through a labyrinth of storytelling, the urge to find different keys to unlock an almost-alternate timeline, is almost addicting. After getting invested in the lives of the Yasumizu inhabitants, the idea of unlocking a chance to save the live of someone who met an untimely end, it’s fascinating to see and compare the various chains of events that unfold.
New game plus is another big selling point of Raging Loop in what’s “Revelation Mode”. Once initially clearing the game, starting again will let you see the inner thoughts of the characters you’re speaking to, helping you unlock new scenes and understanding more about their motivations, giving you even more value in multiple playthroughs.
Graphics and Audio
When it comes to a visual novel, traditional gameplay expected of a video game takes a backseat, letting you simply read through and experience the story; It’s up to the design of the art style and audio to assist in the immersion of the world you’re playing through.
Raging Loop is no exception. An abundance of talent has been injected into the back drops and character models put on display, the former immersing you into a false sense of tranquility and peace with detailed illustrations of the forested Japanese settlement, before the additions of gore and murder shatter your feelings of ease. On the other hand, after playing for over ten hours, a lack of range of backdrops for certain scenes is noticeable. By the third or fourth day, seeing the almost-bare, white wall of the room Haruaki is staying in for the 15th time, especially in an emotional context, a lack of illustration setting the scene becomes slightly frustrating. Character models are wonderfully well-crafted; from lead, Haruaki to the village’s obscure crazy old man, each looks like they’ve been torn straight out of an anime or coloured manga. Paired with audio of well-casted voice acting, the constructed aesthetics of Raging Loop do well to submerge you into its pleasant-to-chilling narrative without too much confusion.
As clear as it is that Kemco put a lot of heart into it’s design, there are limitations that go noticed. Audio tracks that further illustrate the environments of a scene, like the sound of a burbling river or chirps of the forest, play on a continuous loop that meets you with a gap of dead air on completion before repeating. When taking your time through a lengthy scene or deciding to assess your options, the noticeable audio cycle definitely throws you out of the immersion momentarily.
Another is the illustration of the murders or lack thereof. Examples come from Haruaki happening upon the mangled corpse of the wolves’ first victims. Although providing detailed written descriptions of the brutalised remains, the most that we get to see as players are vague silhouettes, coloured red with black backgrounds in attempting to have us recognise the bleak reality this scene is meant to convey. For a game with a Mature rating that’s been heavily promoted as a horror game, it’s a shame to see developer, Kemco, pull one of its punches that it was so sure to land. Whilst the context of scenes and graphic descriptions help sell its proposed psychological horror setting, actually showing the at least partly, if not fully, uncensored states of the horrific deceased would have fully submerged a player’s immersion into the perspective of the protagonist, feeling the full scale of the fearful stakes at hand; especially during the game’s first few chapters where the story is still gaining momentum.