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Complete Review & Description

Roberta Williams is famous in the gaming community for the King’s Quest series. Strangely, in an interview when asked what was her favorite game to work on was, it wasn’t King’s Quest, but instead Phantasmagoria. It probably was a fun project to work on for Williams. She got to try something new, see how all the gory FX was done, and say things to the actors like “this time with feeling.” I’m also sure that the fun quickly ran out when Williams and her team had to jerryrig some kind of game out of all those cutscenes and the result was 1995’s Phantasmagoria.

Phantasmagoria is a full-motion video adventure game. You point, you click, you point and click (though not necessarily in that order). Much pointing-and-clicking ensues when writer Adrianne Delaney and her husband Don move into their new home: a New England mansion with a gory history behind it. Shortly after the move, Don’s personality becomes increasingly menacing as the days go by. Players take on the role of Adrianne and investigate the mansion’s history and its former occupant: a magician named Carnovash who released an evil entity in his quest to perform real magic.

For a game that spans a staggering seven discs, there’s precious little game to discuss. Even for a point-and-click game it feels remarkably thin. Guiding Adrianne through the game is a lot less like an adventure and more like a tedious fetch-quest that only ratchets up near the end. You don’t solve puzzles so much as wander aimlessly through the house and surrounding area for something that’ll make your icon turn red, indicating something you can interact with.

A lot of this interaction equals inane cutscenes of Adrianne doing something mundane like opening doors, attempting to open doors, walking from here to there (presumably to open and/or attempt to open a door) and so on. As such, the time viewing said cutscenes can really add up and the only thing that makes it bearable is the ability to simply click through them even if the player does lose place of where they’re supposed to be going. And speaking of knowing one’s surroundings, it’s incredibly easy to get disoriented because you kept inadvertently circling the same areas. If any one game begged to have a map put in it, this is the one.

Not as if there was anything of particular interest ahead. Phantasmagoria has the opposite problem of its sequel, namely that far too little happens as opposed to too much. Practically half of the game goes by without anything scary actually happening, only subtle-as-a-sledgehammer flashes of anger from Don. The only thing accomplished in one of the chapters is finding five bucks to go into town and buy some drain cleaner with—not quite the action fans of horror and adventure games had in mind.

Some of the burden of randomly clicking on objects is alleviated with the inclusion of The Hint Keeper: a macabre-looking red skull at the bottom of the screen. Players that are stuck (as in pretty much everybody without an FAQ opened in their internet tab) can click on the shiny red skull and get some soundbite about what to do next. Something like “Find Don. Give him what he wants.” in regards to the previously-mentioned episode with the drain cleaner. This proves unhelpful, as players will know what to do—like giving Don the cleaner—but unsure of where the ungrateful S.O.B. specifically is in order to give it to him and continue with the story.

Story-wise, Phantasmagoria has nothing of interest to offer. It’s a by-the-numbers haunted house/demonic possession story with thinly-written characters. Throughout the game Adrianne does the research on the house that any normal person would’ve done well before actually purchasing it and can’t put two-and-two together when her idyllic husband turns into a raging psychopath, culminating in (what was at the time) a controversial rape scene.

As a game comprised of full-motion video sequences, no actors of significant talent were chosen to play the roles. Arianne is a bland, uninteresting protagonist and the actor that plays Don makes it his mission to crank up the cheesiness to eleven once he becomes possessed. And don’t even get me started on the two obnoxious characters Adrianne finds trespassing on her property and inexplicably gives them jobs. Suffice it to say, if any people in this horror game deserved to die gory deaths it was these two clods.

Phantasmagoria’s legacy is the same as a lot of “controversial” games from the ’90s—famous for lots of blood and sex, but ultimately little else. The game is easily outshined by other point-and-click games (including Williams’ own King’s Quest games) and Sierra has done a lot better. It’s one thing to have a good game with a bad story, it’s another when the game’s bad and so is the story. As it stands, Phantasmagoria is more of a curiosity than anything else—something to watch and make fun of rather than actually play.



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