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Project 4
a horror/independent adventure game by lizardotaku
review by psy_wombats, posted in original form here

So what is it?

Project4 is advertised as a a horror/adventure game, and it definitely leads towards the adventure side with a heavy dose of surrealism. It's inspired by the likes of HOME and OFF, neither of which I've played, so my perspective might be a little odd... especially considering I don't play many horror games to begin with. However! I do like "walking simulator" games so let's see what Project 4 has to offer. It's advertised as "shortish" (~2 hours) and "complete" which are both things I appreciate.

I'll try to make this spoiler-free.


Project 4 opens with an intro story about a pair of twins who live isolated in a forest, surrounded by other children hunting rabbits. When the player takes control of Trost (Class: Actor) in a completely unrelated environment, my impression was that Project 4 is ruled by two different stories: a concrete one outside the game's environment, and a central conceit/metaphor story of the projects. The "real" story is updated as Trost progresses through each of the projects. Trost has an objective, and is oppposed to the projects and their worker denizens, etc. As the game continues, the story is wrapped up in the named engineer minions that populate the projects, but especially mystery characters like Emil that show up in each zone to support Trost. The relationships between the individual project managers (bosses, basically) are all interesting as well, especially the last two, Tris and Dell, which are unusual fights where Trost is the agressor. Each zone has a self-contained plot that plays out as Trost visits (and generally kills off half the project's residents), plus things like notes/logs that tie together a story between all of the projects, their former visitors, and dynamics between each of the project heads.

Exploring the projects

Then, after the last fight of Project 4, after Trost's rampage is finished, the concrete story from the beginning picks up where it left off to end the game. Confession time: I didn't fully get it. I spent a decent amount of time trying to understand how the narratives fit together (the conceit/metaphorical one inside the projects vs the one outside) but I couldn't parse the pieces. I could piece together who the characters were in the projects vs the characters in the conceit, but but by the end of the game, this wasn't new info. I felt like they're should've been a payoff at the finale, some sort of "Ah-ha!" revelatory moment where the meaning of the projects and the characters would take on a new light, but it just never came, even after I spent some time trying to refigure it out, including replaying the first half of the game or so.

The external story

My conclusion is that the timeline of the external, real story of Project 4 is wobbly and not really a linear narrative... more of a "master effect" feeling kind of thing. That's my biggest gripe with this game: the way the twins' story cuts into the projects' story heavily imply there's something crisp to be figured out, but really it's much muddier. Stuff I didn't understand includes an entire playable character "Blackmail" who shows up out of nowhere, the fate of Emil, the purpose of the big ghosty chase scene character, and generally what the linear timeline is to the story of Project 4. When for 90% of the game I think there's a deeper meaning to look for, and then in the closing minute, the meaning is just as vague or inscrutable as everything else... The rest of the story retroactively loses its impact.


In short: it's good. My initial interest in this game was almost solely from its title screen.

Red dead rabbit(-demption?)

If that's not compelling I don't know what is. It reminded me a ton of an animated short titled "Rabbit" I remember from a ways back https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iYAixjN9BQg. Either way, the game doesn't quite pan out like that. Black and red aren't the themes here, more "vivid color" on black, and strong tonal contrast in general.

A friendly face and an unfriendly one

I'm not sure how much of this is an idea from the inspiration sources of Project 4 (HOME/OFF) but it's executed really well. The four titual projects each have their own color theme, emotion, guardian boss, NPC attitude, etc. The first project feels a little empty (the only events for the first few maps are stream traps), but by the time I got to Project 4, I was really into it. The intro to Project 4 is the high point of the game -- there's a neat panning and title drop for each, and the one for Project 4 capture this rainy, melancholy feeling much better than I can put into words. It's super nice.

Some of the cooler visuals

The tiles all fit in with the themes -- they're straightforward and sometimes evocative. The tiny animations are very welcome, they make the game feel alive and they're subtle enough to be atmospheric without attracting too much expression. Facesets are also simple and effective, and the colors all match the project, a nice touch. I can't stress how much individual expressions helps convey the characters. Emil especially has an amazing faceset. The battle actors are (mostly) great as well. There are a lot of variants on the individual enemies, and towards the middle of the game, they start trending surrealistic. I definitely like the "strange" vibe vs the traditionally horror ones encountered in the second half of the game.

Speaking of surrealism vs horror, the few places where the game fails to live up to that title screen are when it tries to be a straightup horror game. There's an incongruous chase scene around midway that's not interesting, scary, or fun from a gameplay sense. The same character comes back later on and I still don't really get it. The disclaimered gore/language in Project 4 is alright -- it serves as a nice contrast with the environments anyway -- but it doesn't stand out too much.

Sound is a mixed bag. The menu stuff is generic enough except for the dialog scroll tick (nice). Music is from a variety of free sources and generally used well, although I don't like recognizing tracks in game from other places (such as with the Presence of Music) but it's alright. I winced everytime I heard scream.wav though.


Combat is not this game's strong suit. I've never, ever seen a single-character combat system work well in an RM game, or even an RPG, outside of roguelikes. And Project 4 is single character for the vast majority of the game. Worse, there's a single dominant strategy: spam the "PARALYZE ENEMY" skill. It locks down the enemy for a solid 2-3 turns, by which it's easy to paralyze other enemies on screen as well. It trivializes the boss fights too, as everyone is equally vulnerable. It also seems an odd design decision to have skills cost no MP - that would've put a limit on my paralysis spam, at least, although having no skill cost basically meant I was using an ability every turn rather than mashing the attack button like most RM games. At least there are no random encounters, and the fights are quick -- I didn't get bored.

There, spam that one on the left. Then you'll never need anything on the right

There are a ton of items to be picked off the ground, mostly restoratives, and a character that sells healing items as well. None of these are relevant, of course, because paralyzed enemies do no damage, but even if they were, an issue: One of the items for sale costs 1 gpmoney. So I bought a hundred Fish Piece items at the first shop, thinking I was clever for finding an infinite healing exploit, aaand then never touched my fish stick stack for the rest of the game. Oh well.

Apart from combat, there's the one previously-mentioned chase scene (I had to restart three times but the solution is "hold the down arrow key") and a fishing minigame. I was pretty amused by having the game tell me the height and the weight of the keys I fished out of the sewer but I didn't exactly get why this game has fishing in the first place.

The "wait, what?" puzzles

There are a few puzzles and timed maze sort of challenges, most of which are passable. I didn't appreciate a screenshaky one in Project 4 where I couldn't tell where the exit was, but the most egregious thing in this game is a "enter the code" type challenge at the end of the game, also in Project 4. It uses the Hero Name Entry system to take a passcode, and if it's incorrect, starts a battle. Okay, to start off the battle is trivial because all combat in Project 4 is trivial, but expect to fight this fight a thousand times because there's no indication that the passcode is a numeric passcode, or indeed any indication at all of how to figure it out. There are numbers in the surrounding room ("There are zero good reasons to trust anyone, not a single one") but they're vague, out of order, and include terms like "several" which apparently means 7. Anyway, even after basically reading instructions for this puzzle on the gamepage, I still had to cheat to figure it out. Just skip this one, seriously.

I'm not sure if Project 4 would be improved as a pure "walking simulator," without the combat. The violence is a theme, at least. I wonder if there's a good way to rethink the combat to make the single character fights interesting, but the rest of the gameplay cruft could be safely cut along with the straight horror elements (the chase scene, basically).


Project 4 is an interesting, unique, game. It's short enough where if you're still reading it's probably worth playing. I only wish I could recommend it more strongly, but the conclusion just lacked the power to make the game memorable. I really did enjoy exploring the world of the projects, the purple Project 4 especially, but the whole thing almost seems like a "cargo cult" exercise in a surrealist game -- it has a lot of well done aesthetic elements there, plus some neat characters and an overall sense of mystery, but because that core story comes off weak, it's not possible to put meaning in any of those things. I can't decide if I want to see this game with a revamped/revised conceit with the story of the twins, or just some of these environments show up in a tighter, punchier game, but either way, I appreciate about half of what's here, even if it's only the nucleus of something that's really great.


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Nice review! I tried picking this up last month, but dropped it soon after the first project - I sympathised with the project people too much to continue. Reading others' thoughts on it is certainly interesting.

Though, as someone who did play OFF (and also dropped it for similar reasons) I should say that yes, "The four titual projects each have their own color theme, emotion, guardian boss, NPC attitude, etc." is exactly the way OFF did it: even the way the camera scrolls up at the start while showing the project's name is taken directly from OFF. The plot/gameplay elements are less similar (OFF had both random encounters and companions, for instance, and was more self-contained, with no cutscenes that directly felt like "an external story".) but still sufficiently close that this often felt like a fangame. So, if you liked this, you probably should check out OFF as well, especially since it's about as long as this game.
Good to know, I'll give OFF a look.

Re: sympathizing with the characters, it was maybe a good skip then -- it doesn't let up the entire game. Which was interesting for me, anyway, and also worth noting it was never the same gimmick twice.
It wasn't the same thing twice in OFF as well. Though, it was probably subtler about it, to an extent, in that it had fewer openly sympathetic characters, and if you avoid exploring too much, I suppose you might even stay convinced you were fully in the right. Until you get to the ending, that is, where resorting to metaphor is practically necessary to justify your actions.
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