A group of teens go camping in a set of woods and tell ghost stories to one another, what could possibly go wrong? For Saki and her group of friends, a fair bit to be honest. After Saki finds a romantic haiku that she believes is from her fiancé Sen, he flies into a jealous rage that their friend Yuuka wrote it to steal his girl. An argument ensues and Yuuka runs into the forest.
Attempting to sleep off the ill feeling among them, Saki wakes up to find all of her friends gone, and an old abandoned train has appeared where it wasn’t before. Exploring the disused train, she soon finds that something is deeply wrong via the telling moments of blood rushing from places it shouldn’t, sudden creepy laughter, and things appearing and disappearing as she wanders the carriages.
Taking control of the horridly slow-moving Saki, you have to find her friends whilst solving the mystery of the train, with only a flashlight for company because, well, horror reasons. For this you wander through the train, examining and collecting objects of varying creepiness levels, and talking to the sprinkling of NPCs or reading notes to make progress through the adventure.
The main gameplay comprises of working out the bizarre puzzles littered throughout. These start as simple as lock and key puzzles, such as finding a doll that belongs in a noose for some creepy reason. But they soon develop into puzzles that need the actual writing down of details in real life to solve, such as notes to play on a piano or combinations for numeric locks.
Players will also find various child’s drawings throughout the cabins and corridors that give clues as to the next objective, or even a solution of the next puzzle to decipher. This means that if a player considers what they know and possess at any given time, it is almost impossible to get lost or stuck here, with only a quick reference to Saki’s diary needed to push you forwards.
One of the more fascinating ideas of the game is the use of time, transporting the player between the present day, and the last voyage of the train back when it was in use. Some puzzles and story elements stretch across both spaces in time, with clues for progress being in the past that you enact in the present. Needless to say that the train itself has been a site of worry for a while.
The interesting thing with Re:Turn is that the explorable area is actually quite small, being only a train and the surrounding area. But, what it does with this space and the fashion with which it lets, or doesn’t let, you progress only lends to the tremendous atmosphere the game has. Whatever evil holds this train occasionally affects doors or areas, requiring new solutions to progress.
Re:Turn may be a 2D pixel-art game, but these simple visuals bring out a real sense of horror from their surroundings. They sometimes switch to an anime-style aesthetic to better portray a scene, but normally the pixel-art works well to create a sense of unease, especially as the light from your flashlight only reaches so far and this train is obviously pitch black most of the time.
The developers have paired this with some incredible sound design to complete the atmosphere. There’s always little sounds and snatches of movement you can hear just outside of your range of vision. Doors knocking, children’s laughter, and the screeches of something inhuman litter the soundscape of the title, even resulting in the occasional jump scare if that’s your thing.