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A Great Game that's Often Overlooked

Like many rpgmaker horror games, Cardiophobia is a mix of good and bad, and though Cardiophobia contains mistakes that could potentially be deal breakers in other rpgmaker horror games, Cardiophobia has many unique and intriguing aspects that outweigh the bad and make for a fun and scary experience.

Cardiophobia, unlike some other horror rpgmaker games, doesn't hold the player's hand in the search for clues or push the player in one direction, making it a game that is wonderfully (and sometimes irritatingly) open. There were many times during my first playthrough that I wandered through all the areas available to me, wondering what to do with this item or another, or how to reach a certain area. It took some trial and error and a peek or two at the few playthroughs of the game that exist on Youtube, as I never was able to find a walkthrough for this game. Given that Cardiophobia's puzzles are sometimes confusing because of the lack of clear puzzle hints and because of one particularly hard-to-see item, I took away half a star.

Despite the confusion of being set free in the game with almost no direction and poorly-hinted-at solutions to puzzles, the game, for me at least, was hardly ever frustrating or boring, and it was definitely scary. The game mechanic that causes Felix, the main character, to see spooky things the more scared he gets is incredibly intriguing, and I often found myself taking the advantage of his being close to scared-to-death to explore areas just to see how they had changed. The game has excellent random scares that are actually scary, and are so well-executed that I found myself walking with caution into areas that I had already explored because I never knew what I was going to find, which always kept me at the edge of my seat and entertained, even when I had no idea what to do next. The medkit system also forced me to be cautious because there was a real consequence to being scared in the game, and, while I found the medkit system well balanced, I can see how an incautious player could get themselves stuck if they don't adequately prepare for exploration. Combined with the great music and visuals this game provides, this system makes for a very creepy atmosphere.

The plot of the game is also intriguing, but the player is kept in the dark for a large portion of the game, where the player is just finding items, solving puzzles, and being scared without moving the story forward much. In fact, much of the story is locked away in the second half of the game (which is technically optional), and can only be figured out if more obscure puzzles are solved. Given that the game gives almost no hints at how to get the better endings (and the paths to the better endings contain the most of the plot), I would say that it is impossible to not get a bad ending on one's first playthrough.

That being said, being forced to play a game multiple times to get any answers out of it might be a deal breaker in some other rpgmaker horror game, but the atmosphere and random scares give Cardiophobia great replay value. I have played the game three times so far, and each time I had been scared by something I hadn't seen before. One's first playthrough teaches the basics of the game, such as where to find all of the important and hard-to-find items and the solutions to difficult puzzles, so that one can avoid unnecessary scares, make different choices, discover more of the truth of what is happening to Felix. Basically forcing players to replay a game in order to get a significant amount of story out of it is generally a bad idea, but I think that Cardiophobia pulls it off due to its immense replay value.

Cardiophobia has its good points and its bad, but I do think that it is a good horror game that has a genuinely spooky atmosphere, is challenging, and has an interesting and engaging plot if you are willing to put the time into figuring it all out. Luckily, the game makes itself easy to replay, so putting in the time to replay it doesn't feel like drudgery as so many other games that have multiple endings do; however, expect to have to look up the solutions to a few of the puzzles!