Alicesoft is a company that is generally well-known for their Eroge that are actually fun, going against the grain of the public perception of the genre at the time. Their most famous series would of course, be Rance, both in Japan and the Western world (due to being one of the few games by the company available as a fan-translation)
In the 90s, Alicesoft was on the rise, and decided to branch out into other directions. This is not a unique occurance, as seen with companies like Squaresoft creating games like The Bouncer in 2000 in order to get out of their “RPG” typecast.
Atlach-Nacha is a Gothic Horror Visual Novel short story that was originally included as part of Alice Mansion 4.5.6 (Alice Mansion is a periodic package of games the company considered too short or experimental to warrant its own release.) It was by far the most popular game in the batch and thus later released standalone.
Plot Teaser which you can find on plenty of websites!:
In ancient times, there lived a Jorogumo (Spider Yokai, a supernatural creature) named Hatsune Hirasaka who preyed on the nearby village for sustenance. One day, a monk named Shirogane barged into her nest and attacked her in retaliation. Both of them were injured in the ensuing battle and Hatsune went into hiding/hibernation to recover…
Hundreds of years later, Hatsune awakes in the modern world in a school’s warehouse just in time to save Kanoko, a shy insecure schoolgirl from being raped. Hatsune decides to spare Kanoko and establishes her new nest under the school, seeking to gain more power in preparation for a future rematch with her nemesis…
As a budget, experimental game, Atlach-Nacha does not have “gameplay elements” usually found in most Alicesoft games. It is, for the most part, linear and divided into several self-contained chapters, although events from the past may affect choices that you can make in the future. The stories involve Hatsune using her cunning and wit to stay undetected, get rid of people getting too close to the truth, or simply gambits to add new thralls to her nest to strengthen herself.
As per VN norms, once in a while, the player is given choices to make that will determine the fate of the characters in the tale. Characters may end up happy, free of the main character’s influence, they may end up as her unwilling puppets and thrall and last but not least, they may end up dead. After the end of every chapter, you are given a “recap” screen summarizing the current status of all characters, just the game’s way of reminding you what a huge jerk you are (or how nice you’ve been, if you play it that way.)
Despite that, the game is still pretty engrossing to read, and one of the big reasons is because unlike many other VNs, the effects of your choices are dramatic and instantaneous: Instead of giving you a “game over” 5 hours in the future because you failed to “build up enough relationship points” with the selected heroine, just one choice in Atlach-Nacha could be the difference between saving someone’s life and making him only suitable as bug chow.
While the main character is technically a “spider youkai”, perhaps another Western supernatural creature would be best used to describe the nature of the story: The classic Vampire. Atlach-Nacha, despite being named after a Lovecraftian Elder God, has no real thematic links to Lovecraft’s style of horror. Instead it harkens more to the Gothic Horror style of vampire literature.
No, sorry, go back before Twilight screwed the genre, into the days when Vampires were instead portrayed as tragic figures.
The inherent tragedy of Vampire protagonists is that they are, by their very nature, predators. In order for them to live, someone else must suffer, and even the most controlled, sustained usage will eventually bleed their victim dry.
So then, does the vampire seek to minimize the damage as much as he can, which due to circumstances, is usually a futile effort? Or does he simply revel in his power, figuring that if he is damned anyway, he might as well go out the way out and abuse it? What’s that? Maybe the vampire should just be killed to save everyone else? Does a vampire not have the right to life (unlife?), considering that most vampires don’t choose that lifestyle willingly?
The main character, Hatsune Hirasaka, is one of the most interesting VN protagonists IMO. Cool, calm and collected, she’s capable of great cruelty… and compassion. Undeniably an evil monster, but yet also a compelling human being.
Also notable is the fact that she’s a female protagonist who’s bisexual, probably one of the first examples in the history of the genre, usually known for having male main characters that are bland cardboard cut-outs for the player to self-insert into. That’s probably not a criticism you can toss at this game.
And now, for a bit of a sidetrack.
Under advice from a couple of people, I am obligated to warn potential interested parties that this game contains rather “dark” content, some “evil actions” are even performed by the protagonist herself! (This is apparently much more frowned upon in videogames). If you’re the sort of person who wishes that everyone in the world will always have rainbows and lollipops and don’t like to see people in despair and tragedy… yeah, you might want to skip this.
Visual Novels with sexual content has always been a misunderstood and prickly issue for most people, even ones with non-objectionable sex scenes. I believe the biggest misinterpretation however, is related to games with “dark” content.
Many people on the Internet would rush to bring up how absolutely “sick” said games are, and how the only people who could enjoy such games HAVE to be sadists, misogynists or rapists themselves. This is not helped by the countless number of “CG rip” websites that has popped out all over the internet, which package and upload CG event screenshots from said games devoid of proper context. They cherrypick their “facts” and lord their superiority over people who they feel to be “inferior” and “subhuman”, never once taking the time to do any form of proper research before spreading their hatred.
Not true, of course. While there may be games that certainly fetishize such content, there are also plenty of others where usage of taboo themes can create tragic or heart-rending scenes. This is especially true in the modern age, where gamers have almost been completely desensitized to death and killing.
There are a sizable amount of games where you supposedly play an “evil” character, such as Dungeon Keeper or perhaps several Bioware RPGs. However, they almost always tone down these aspects in several ways, such as…
1) Portraying the “victims” as being more evil, greedy and self-centered than the supposed “evil” character, thus making it “morally justifiable” to kill them without guilt.
2) Depersonalizing the victim, either by using “cartoony” graphics or simply having them be completely undeveloped “randoms” to be hurt by collateral damage.
3) Include a game mechanic tied to alignment, thus making it simply an issue of min-maxing to get the “powers” that you want, like Dark Side force powers in Star Wars.
All the fun of being “evil” without what it means to truly know “evil”!
You don’t find many commercial games that take the time to develop said victims, probably because then their protagonists would actually be evil, and then people might get angry and not buy the game or something. And the only thing we care about is money, right?
Games like Atlach-Nacha (and other indie games, such as the Interactive Fiction game Fate… unrelated to the Stay/Night one) thus present an interesting conundrum: given your set of circumstances (where self-preservation is the goal), there isn’t really a happy ending for everyone. Where do you, the player, draw the line?
I encourage people to play these games with the intention of “roleplaying” the characters rather than powergaming the system in order to try for the “best/happy ending.”
Perhaps you might try your best to preserve lives unless absolutely necessary? Or perhaps you only “kill terrible people who deserve death?” Or is that last one a mite bit too hypocritical and ironic?
Or maybe you could pick the choices that lead to a more dramatic, interesting narrative stories rather than pick choices based off what morality you believe imaginary fictional characters should adhere to. That’s always an option.
If nothing else, the games make an interesting litmus test into your own personality… if you don’t quit 5 minutes at the first sign of “moral outrage”.
If there’s one thing that will outlive the game itself, it’s probably the music. The main theme of Atlach-Nacha, “Going On”, played during the climatic final battle with Hatsune against her nemesis, has a ridiculous amount of remixes floating around the internet, including a 45 minutes Youtube medley video
The rest of the music is no slouch, ranging from nostalgic, heart-pumping action, foreboding and so on. Due to the budget nature and presentation of the game, it is truly the music that is the glue that holds the production together. It conveys the mood of the story perfectly.
Atlach-Nacha may not have the most lavish production ever seen, nor does it have a mind-breaking plot that deconstructs the genre and utilizes all its tropes to unique effect. It’s just a simple, solid horror VN with some rocking music that came into being and achieved a modest success just when the company decided it wanted to branch out. Sort of like Suikoden 1, I suppose.
Considering the oversaturation of fluffy, romantic vanilla VNs though? Maybe that’s still an accomplishment on its own. In Japan, Atlach-Nacha is considered a cult-classic along the likes of games such as Type-Moon’s famous Tsukihime, which also happens to be a cult classic in the English region. Perhaps one day, someone might take it upon himself to translate this game and thus bring about the same result?