Disclaimer – A review code for Gloom and Doom was provided by Neo Tegoel Games.
I don’t often play, let alone review, visual novels. This is mostly down to bias, as the genre tends to lean heavily on fanservice drivel that, honestly, I’m not interested in engaging in. So when Neo Tegoel Games approached me out of the blue and asked if I was interested in playing their visual novel, Gloom and Doom, I was a tad sceptical. I’m glad I put those feelings to one side and went in with an open mind, however, as Gloom and Doom hit me in just the right way.
Of Hell-Spawn and Wraiths
Of course, I will keep the review as spoiler-free as possible, but I will be dabbling into some of the early stuff to get some context as to what is actually going on here. Gloom and Doom opens up with an inner monologue from a nerdy bloke called, and I shit you not, Roger Coxburner. As far as names go, being called Dingus Willy Fire is quite a humorous achievement. Mr Coxburner is lured into a haunted mansion with the promise of sex. Things quickly go all sorts of wrong, and the player is introduced to Gloom.
Gloom is, as the title of the game suggests, one of the main characters. What Gloom brings to the table is a plausible representation of what being an immortal bounty-hunting Wraith would be like. It’s boring. Gloom spends most of his unlife playing video games, brooding and shouting at inanimate objects. He’s the David Boreanaz (circa 1999) of Wraiths, and a bit of a shambles really. Throughout the game, you learn why he is what he is and why he does what he does. If you stick to the elusive canonical path, you even watch him develop into quite the lovable character.
The game isn’t just about Gloom of course, and Wynona makes up the other half of the dynamic duo. Wynona is, for all intents and purposes, the antichrist. The Doom Bringer. The Harbinger of the apocalypse. A catalyst of the End-Times. Unlike your traditional Damien character, Wynona doesn’t want to bring an end to mankind. In fact, she wants to kill herself before she transitions into a hellfire-bringing demon of Hell. She even has a diary filled with all of her failed attempts and a noticeboard littered with her favourite wristbands she obtained whilst touring the country’s mental hospitals.
This inevitably leads her to Gloom, and the story really begins. Gloom and Doom at its best is a gripping tale of two polar opposites who learn from each other to become better people/entities. The way Gloom and Wynona vibe and play off one another is excellent. Their relationship is the core of the game, and again, not wanting to spoil anything, makes the game worth playing.
Charming Cast Of Misfits
Gloom and Doom is a short story with only a handful or so of characters making up the supporting cast. Some of these are more important than others in the grand scheme of things, but they are all memorable. You have dog-punting wanker, literal rapist, clock-loving cowboy time shaman, and even the angel of wisdom riding a skateboard (made from Yggdrasil) holding a barn owl called Aristotle. How each character plays off Gloom and Wynona is almost as gripping as Gloom and Wynona’s own relationship.
Outside of the excellent character interactions, you have the themes that litter the game’s story. Wynona’s obsession with suicide is a heavy subject that is handled in two different ways. Gloom and Doom tries to be lighthearted and comedic and treats Wynona’s ideation of suicide rather jokingly for most of the game. This is intentional and not as horrifically tone-deaf as it sounds on paper. Remember, no spoilers.
Neo Tegoel Games made sure to take the issue of suicide seriously when it counts. On multiple occasions, they tactfully approach the subject and even give legitimate advice to those who might be considering committing the act. They tackle things like grief too and show a maturity that, like with a lot of Gloom and Doom, I was not expecting.
Fate, Destiny, Freedom
Outside of the obvious, a big theme in Gloom and Doom is free will and destiny. Wynona is the scourge of mankind – the bringer of death. That is her lot in life. She straddles the invisible line between both themes, with the various factions in the game pulling her towards one of the juxtaposed ideologies, which makes for some great internal struggling. This also feeds into some of the religious elements of the game’s plot. If you’re a devout, unflinching Christian, you might want to give this one a miss. Just throwing that out there. No spoilers though.
I’ve painted a mostly serious picture here, and that’s because the underlying messages in Gloom and Doom are rather serious, and are what drive the game forward. Gloom and Doom is not that dire or grim on the surface though. No, the game is surprisingly funny and managed to get more than a couple wayward smiles out of me during its duration. The end credits in particular were quite the hoot, let me tell you.
Not all the comedy lands, unfortunately. Gloom and Doom tends to rely heavily on pop culture references. You can’t go more than a minute or two before somebody drops an awkward gaming or movie reference that always felt out of place. Gloom and Doom was at its worst when it was trying too hard to shoehorn in these cheesy references, but thankfully, they are mostly nonsensical throwaway remarks.
There are several decisions to be made on your way to the finale, and this means there are a few endings to dabble in. Gloom and Doom makes it easy to mess around with these endings and scenarios as you can rewind time and finagle with your answers as much as you want. From what I gathered, most, if not all, choices affect an invisible morality gauge that determines how the game plays out. Considering I wasn’t always a saint, there is some wiggle room if you want to go for the canonical ending.
This might be my grumpy, twenty-something, old man bias shining through, but visual novels with an anime graphical flair just don’t do it for me. This is probably why I loved the Gloom and Doom’s direction. It’s much more akin to a western comic book in its design and relies on a few expressive, highly detailed character designs steeped in shadows and extreme lighting. The game looks fab, and there are even a few instances of animation that I wasn’t expecting. Backgrounds are not quite as interesting as the characters, and a few shots are reused, but overall, I dug whatever Gloom and Doom was peddling.
Music was also pretty swanky, with each character seemingly having their own track to coincide with their arrival. The soundtrack effortlessly flows between all kinds of moods, setting each scene perfectly. Not all tracks landed with me, and a couple were like the composer was taking a cheese grater to my eardrum, but overall, it did its job.
Gloom and Doom was right up my alley. It asked a bunch of important questions, gave satisfying answers, and did so with a cast of likeable characters who managed to keep me invested enough to complete the game in one sitting. Gloom and Doom is short at 5 hours, but I feel like that is the perfect length for this game. It didn’t feel bloated, and it didn’t feel rushed. A suicide focused Goldilocks if you will. The lack of fan service was absolutely appreciated, and if more games prioritised platonic relationships between Wraiths and Satan-spawn over heaving bosoms and panty shots, the genre would be a better place.
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