It’s the year 2083, and your protagonist, a young woman named Mei, is heading to a date in Neo Hong Kong. Once you arrives at the bar, though, you’re suddenly thrown back 100 years in time. The bar is now an abandoned block of flats, haunted by the ghosts of past residents. All of these spirits have been warped by a cloud of dark energy, turning them into demons, and you’ll need to fight your way out and put these souls to rest in order to survive.
The dank halls are decrepit, and contrast to the neon encased future from which you came. With a distinctly quiet – and in some parts entirely absent – soundtrack, there’s a natural emphasis on every creak of the floorboard, ghostly moan and thunk of old doors ready to fall off of their hinges. This only adds to the suspenseful atmosphere, drawing you in until you really feel that you’re the one stumbling through the neglected halls.
The cutscenes appear slightly brighter, and have clear reference to a manga strip, helping move the story along without relying on the jolty animation style. The dark artwork, the use of the foreground and the shadows combine to make the derelict halls feel haunted, even before you see any of the spirits. It feels like it was destined to be haunted.
As you start to discover souls trapped to this world, you find a chain of puzzles that need to be completed in order for them to be ready to be at peace, often overlapping with each other much like their lives would have done. These puzzles range from working out number combinations for padlocks – always highlighted in the journal of notes you collect as you explore – to rearranging furniture to reach inaccessible areas, and even distracting angry cats. Puzzles in video games can often feel convoluted and absurd, obviously not fitting with the concept of the game, but everything in Sense felt holistic and very realistically human, as if everything really had been left as they passed away.
You explore this world as a side-scrolling point-and-click adventure, in which you need to inspect absolutely everything, or you may miss something vital to a puzzle – this is really the only thing that caused any trouble with finding solutions. Of course, some of the sequences of puzzles were more difficult than others, but none of them were so particularly hard or felt impossible. If anything they were too easy.
There was a very clear inspiration from a range of East Asian cultures throughout the game. The neon future references Japanese pop culture, while the past has clear reference to the Chinese language, folklore and religion. The folklore and religion, particularly, play a large part in the storyline, using ritual practices and prayers to help guide the spirits on.
Despite this game being a horror game, the individual storylines of the fourteen lost souls make it truly feel like a tragedy, with not a single one of them dying happy. Their stories include unrequited love, a sex worker hating their body, a woman being spied on by her building manager and suicide. This game displays one tragic life after another, however the dark topics explored remind us that while there isn’t always a happy ending in real life, belief in the spiritual can help you find a happy ending in the afterlife. Of course this game is still a horror, despite these tragic elements, and multiple times while playing I realised my heart rate was increased, the depth of immersion I found myself in was truly impressive.
Unfortunately, despite all the excellence of the artwork, storyline and puzzles, one issue I did run into was the amount of times the game crashed. It’s lucky that the game allows unlimited saves, not because I kept dying, but because the game kept crashing and losing progress. Take this into account when playing until the game is patched to address this.