Sekai Project is one of the more well-known translators and published in the past decade’s uprising of visual novels in the west, along with a number of Japanese indie games from other genres. Until recently, though, most of the company’s projects had been focused mostly on PC.
In mid-2019, Sekai Project created an off-shoot publishing arm: Sekai Games. This new arm was intended to focus on bringing previously PC-exclusive titles to consoles. While much of their work has been in porting Sekai Project’s PC releases (of course), Sekai Games has also assisted in publishing other developers’ work.
The game we’re looking at today is one of those – an anime-themed horror title previously released in 2019 as a PC exclusive. While the developers published the game on Xbox One themselves a few weeks ago, Sekai Games was behind the wheel for a Switch release.
Developed by InvertMouse and published by Sekai Games, Clea was released on October 30th, 2020, for Switch.
The Chaos Inside
Clea follows the titular Clea, a young girl who finds herself stuck in a mansion overrun with monsters. Her parents had been conducting experiments on creatures known as “Chaos Servents,” but something has happened, causing them to be let loose throughout her home.
Clea must now take her brother and escape the mansion, hopefully finding her parents along the way. It won’t be an easy task, though…especially as the monsters in the mansion aren’t the only ones Clea has to deal with. She appears to have some…internal demons as well.
Most of the story is told through cutscenes between the game’s levels, with some side info filled in by finding books and manuscripts throughout the game. If the player doesn’t purposely seek out the latter, though, the tale of Clea comes across as rather shallow.
For such a small cast of characters, the game’s core story doesn’t do much to actually develop most of them. I came out the other end of the game hardly knowing anything about the cast, let alone caring about any of them. To actually get basic character development, you have to go out of your way to find special rooms and items.
Clea has the basic trappings of a survival horror game. Various creatures are roaming each level that have to be avoided, while collecting items and solving puzzles to progress. Clea has no way to defend herself – contact with any creature is an instant game over.
Between one hit kills and the fact that enemies can roam literally anywhere in a level, stealth becomes a key factor in survival. Clea has to move slowly, lest she make noise and attract a creature. The camera can be scrolled a screen ahead or behind her to see if anything lies in wait, and she can peek through doors before entering to ensure there’s nothing on the other side.
Possibly the biggest thing in your stealth toolbox, though, is sound. Wandering enemies make quite a bit of noise and, through the use of 3D audio, paying attention to your ears can help you predict where an enemy may be.
Most enemies are faster than Clea, making them incredibly difficult to outrun if you suddenly catch their attention. Luckily, though, their AI is just plain dumb: they’re easily bated by sound, and completely forget you exist if you go hide in a closet.
The wandering creatures in each level are utterly relentless. As mentioned, they can travel nearly anywhere in a level, often leading to situations that can feel just plain unfair. I can’t count the number of times I was being careful, panning the camera and focusing on the audio, only to peek through a door and find an enemy actively in the process of opening said door…leading to an instant death.
This leads to my biggest issue with Clea: holy hell the load times in this game are awful. Death is already punishing enough: unless you choose “unlimited” saves before you start a game, when and where you can save is strictly limited, and death can set you back quite a bit. To even load back up to a save after death, though, you’ll be sitting staring at a black screen for around half a minute.
Between the cheap deaths and unacceptable load times, I nearly found myself giving up on this game multiple times. Considering the game only has a run time of a couple hours…that’s not a good thing.
Clea is marketed as “a horror game without jump scares.” While this is true, it also seems to be a horror game without horror as well.
While the characters are designed decently well, in a generic anime fashion, their animations feel weird. Enemies often look more laughable than horrifying. They all have big, toothy smiles on their face and black eyes, which doesn’t do much for me. When they appeared on screen, I got more annoyed than scared; an enemy nearby meant I’d either have to run and hide ’til they decided to walk away, or I’d die and have to sit through another loading screen.
Clea tries to pull a few tricks here and there to build an unsettling atmosphere. There’s hanging bodies, occasional screen distortions, and some enemies that just track and chase you relentlessly Nemesis-style, amongst a few other things. I may just have a heart of stone or something, because nothing this game did ever made me feel unsettled or scared.
At least the audio is built well, considering that it’s a key tool to the actual gameplay. The 3D audio does legitimately help in navigating the levels and avoiding enemies most of the time.
Waiting for Scares
Overall, Clea goes for an unsettling style of horror and, at least for me, completely fails. The atmosphere never really “lands,” enemies are more frustrating than frightening, and I really just struggled to find the desire to even play this game.
I believe I’ve said multiple times in the past that games made to elicit strong feelings – fear, sadness, etc – are some of the hardest to make. The developers have to have a firm grasp on what draws those emotions from people. Even then, what stokes fear in one person may hardly even move another.
What is objective, though, is that the loading times in this game (at least, in this Switch release in particular) are absolutely unacceptable. I don’t even know what this game needs to spend so much time loading, there’s not much actually going on in any of the game’s levels.
Clea is a hard pass. There’s many, many other horror games available that are much more worth your time.
Review copy provided by Sekai Games for Switch. Screenshots taken by reviewer. Featured image courtesy of Sekai Games.