Thursday, June 10, 2021

Paper Dolls: Original and Paper Dolls VR

Paper Dolls: Original/纸人

A very dear friend of mine recommended me to play Paper Dolls: Original after I streamed Little Nightmares 1 and 2. I remembered Scarlett's stream of it and wondered if I would want to buy the game. 15 USD was a price I did not need to think twice about even though I wondered if I should buy both Paper Dolls 1 and 2 or just the first game. I went with the first option because I did not expect to like the game much. Now I regret it since I'll be definitely buying Paper Dolls 2.

Paper Dolls/纸人 is supposedly a first person (survival) horror game from Chinese studio Litchi Game. Why supposedly? Games are often labeled with tags or a type but it does not necessarily need to reflect what the game is about. In the past year I played more horror games than in my whole life but I would not actually call any of those games a horror game. There are two games I'd call horror games - Silent Hill and Resident Evil (a bit less). None of the games I played lately gave me the same vibes (I was seriously out of my mind when playing some of the Silent Hill or Resident Evil games) or experiences. In this case I'd call Paper Dolls just a puzzle game, not a horror nor an action-adventure game. On the other hand, what makes a game a horror game?

Yang Mingyuan is driving his daughter Molly to her mother. He didn't take his medicine before leaving because he thought the meds were the reason for strange dreams he was getting. While driving he hears different voices in his head while you can hear Molly's voice asking him if he took his medicine that day. Then we can see a light flash and the car crashes right after it. Then there's just darkness and silence. Yang wakes up and opens his eyes to see a silhouette of a child. Yang stands up and finds himself in an old mansion, next to him there is a paper doll of a man who was beheaded. And you wonder if that was a living person or it is some very creepy art.

When the cutscene ends you can start playing the game. The first thing you will find out is that Yang moves really slowly. It is normal that in games you can walk at relatively slow speed and then run at a reasonable pace. In this game though you literally crawl at snail's speed. While this may be in theory an advantage in VR, it's not in a traditional PC/console game. There is a run button but it means that Yang will do 2, 3 or maybe even 4 steps and then needs to catch his breath to run again.

After you familiarize with the controls (which puzzled me more than majority of the game's puzzles) you will find out that Yang keeps a diary. After reading the entries you'll find out that Yang seems to suffer from some kind of a mental illness. I'd say that he's not actually insane but rather experiences the call of the mansion or something along these lines - being the one to uncover the horrible mysteries that happened in the Qing Dynasty mansion. Either being Yin descendant or something like that...

In the first room, just close to where Yang wakes up you will find your first clue. There are clues and notes scattered around the house that will help you solve puzzles and progress in the game. The first one is very easy to understand - just find a vinyl disc, fix it and get a reward. The reward is a key to a door. This pretty much sums most of what you'll be doing in the game - finding things, solving puzzles and getting keys to unlock door.

When you start walking around the mansion you'll soon meet the very first ghost - Chen - that will attack you. You might think these are just some kind of hallucinations that Yang has, but they are very real and will kill you after one hit. Soon after encountering Chen you'll walk past a door from which you'll hear Molly's voice. This door will become sealed and you won't be able to enter - it's the last door you will unlock.

In order to finish the game you'll have to solve all puzzles, unlock all the door and seal all ghosts. On your journey you will learn more about the Yin family and what happened in the mansion. Many question will stay just unanswered even after completing the game.

The graphics is not awesome but it's not bad either. It's good enough to create a very good atmosphere - or rather very creepy one. When you light up candles you can see the scene being lit by a nice warm yellow light and it looks great. When a ghost is nearby the light turns green which made me feel bad every single time it happened. There are some items that are very well done which also includes the moving paper doll ghosts.

The sound on the other hand is bad. Yang's and Molly's voice painfully reminded me that I'm playing a Chinese game. The voices of the ghosts are better. The sound effects in general are pretty bad which is something I didn't mind that much in Original version. In VR though, it just jarred on my ears. The worst is the sound of door being opened. Since you'll be walking through them very often you'll hear this jarring sound very often as well which breaks the immersion. As for the music (there's not much of it) I actually liked it. There's more silence to add to the atmosphere and when there is music it does exactly the opposite though

After my first hour of playing I didn't like the game because the controls were giving me a hard time, I moved very slowly, I had no idea how to save, the sound effects were terrible and I had no idea what was going on. With time though the game grew on me. I concentrated more on the items in the mansion and looked forward to another puzzle. I recognized game items easily as they stood out but I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do with them. What you have to do is follow the clues exactly and at specific order otherwise you can get stuck. If the game doesn't allow you to proceed, you missed something.

In the middle of the game more or less it becomes a survival horror game - hide and seek game - because you need to avoid the ghosts. It frustrated me a bit but since it's easy to run away (correction, walk away in slow motion) you will get used to being there with the ghosts and it adds to the eerie atmosphere. The puzzles are something I enjoyed with maybe one exception which is just illogical as there are other ways you could have done this and the game doesn't allow you to do it. Also note that there are two puzzles that will throw Chinese text at you. I read some reviews before buying the game and it seemed to puzzle many players so I was afraid of them. I solved both without much issues but I can read Chinese characters and write them. I did not even look at the clue for one (I finished the game without finding/using 3 clues for the puzzles) and the other one was not much of a puzzle.

In overall the game creates a good atmosphere, has few jump scares, has a mystery that you slowly uncover and has decent well thought out puzzles for you to solve. It has bad controls that you can't change, bad sound breaking immersion, and some decent graphics. If your expectations of games are not high, you don't mind playing a game that was not meant for western audience, you can probably enjoy the game. The game is short which may or may not be an advantage.

Paper Dolls VR

Since I own a PCVR I wanted to try the VR version too. I played this one before Paper Dolls Original which might have been a mistake. On the other hand since this is a stand-alone game you buy it should be also done in a way that makes it possible to play it without knowing the Original version. I expected the game to be a direct port of the game but then the game would either launch in desktop more or VR, not being a stand-alone version.

The first thing you see is the logo of the developer studio followed by a menu that looks pretty ugly. Just recently I learned that the intro screen including the menu is something game designers should pay a lot of attention to because it has to grasp the players attention. Well, this one grasped my attention with how badly it looked. After trial and error of trying to start a new game and checking settings if I can switch to left hand I clenched my teeth and prepared myself for what was to come. It set my expectations very low.

You start the game as Yang in the room with the beheaded guest paper doll too. In the first room there were few things I imagined to be important game items but they turned out not to be. It made me a bit confused why some items are obviously emphasized and some are not while neither does anything in the game. I learned later that they are important items in the Original version and that there is content missing in the VR version . When you will try to walk you'll probably be a bit perplexed, at least I was. It seemed to suggest that I'm supposed to press triggers alternately in order to move. I remembered Westworld Awakening with similar locomotion and hoped this was something I could change in the menu. After you figure out how to move you will notice that you move way slower than you are used to. I have a high end computer but still suspected the game to run badly at this point. It ran just fine though. You just move very slowly and can't go any faster.

When I crawled to Chen's encounter my confusion was even bigger. I crawled under the table but Yang was stuck and I suspected the game just bugged out. I didn't die in the encounter though so I just continued on.

Later on I found out that key items cannot be dropped and that is why I struggled a bit with the first puzzle. I also wondered if I can use two hands or not but didn't figure out how to put the light away (this one is in the help though). While trying to figure out some clues I opened the diary and looked at all the Chinese text. The diary looked great though and this is how the menu should have looked like. The look should have been matching it.

Around this time I also learned that there is an inventory. It's up very close to your face which was rather unpleasant.

Graphics is decent and I enjoyed roaming the mansion and looking at things. Breaking some stuff and playing with swords was nice so I'm glad they added this kind of interaction. The paper dolls and ghosts are great too. They are scary. The sound was really bad and reminded me of one game - TimeLock VR. Actually it reminded me the game with more aspects because it's also meant for Vive, the controls are terrible, there's not much information about how to play the game, UI is atrocious, locomotion is just like 'what the hell?'. For few minutes I walked around trying to get rid of the painful memories from playing TimeLock VR and really hoped that Paper Dolls would be a way better game.

Hours passed and I started to like the game. It was nice to encounter the ghosts from time to time staring at me, hiding in cabinets, enjoying the warm light from the candles when not being green. There were few scares here and there, could be more. The biggest scary element was Ding that chased me almost everywhere.

When I finished the game though I felt that it was a nice experience and was worth playing. I streamed it which meant that it was more fun for me. The game lacks many things and it is sad because even with just little bit of work this could have been a decently good game. But this way I can't really say how good it is. Since there isn't many good VR games I can actually say that this is one of the better games out there and is worth playing. Playing the game blind like I did though is something I can expect people to think the game is really bad as it won't tell you how it is played nor will give you any more clues about the puzzles or how to progress in general. And if you'll be like me, not knowing that you can see English translation if you bring the journal closer to your eyes, you may just decided to give up way too early.

The game has very bad controls, no hints or reasonable tutorial or help, not great graphics, not great sound. All this feels worse than it is when played in VR which is a huge problem. The puzzles and tasks, even simplified, are actually better than in many other games but since there are no hints apart from the game's clues they can be difficult to solve. The content itself is good but may become frustrating for those that can't read Chinese characters. The story or rather the mystery is a nice addition and it was sufficient for me and made me hungry for more, but I can imagine that some people can miss some parts, distract the ghosts or simply not be satisfied with it. The game doesn't really have an ending because it just ends with ' be continued'.

I would recommend this game only to those that have patience to survive the horror of figuring out how to play this game and those that can follow the game's clues. Each clue has crucial information about what you have to do but this can be disregarded by the player easily as it does not necessarily need to make sense the moment you find it. If you played the Original game and wish to experience some of it in VR I'd recommend playing it too but be prepared for the controls figuring part.

If you'd like to skip the whole Paper Dolls game but still want to get the vibes from similar game I can recommend you a VRChat world that is inspired by Paper Dolls and done right. It's up to 4 player 1-3 hour horror game called Obsession-執念- and was created FlowersRite (don't worry it has English subtitles). Or you can watch my playthrough^_~.

Thank you for reading
Ren (stsungjp on Twitter)

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