Even if you are caressed by its touch just once…
You cannot escape the curse it binds upon you…
In the gallows of the dark, your fear shall not cease – you shall lose everything else…
And in the end, even your life shall be taken from you.
“They’re everywhere… It’s just that no one knows they’re there…”
In the corners of alleys… that sensation of dark… in the streets of the night…
And without you knowing, it might have already crawled its way right behind you…
Rougoku No Niwa (牢獄の庭), in English, Prison Garden, is a horror-themed visual novel created in 2013 by the group Tactical Sympathy. In the game, we follow the narration of a high school student by the name Irina Range who was invited by her close friends to visit a haunted, dilapidated house in the nearby mountain forest that skirted the town they lived in. Naturally, as anyone can easily suspect – everything goes horribly wrong after their visit…
The game heavily relies on its gloomy, dreary and unsaturated visuals together with its gripping sound effects and music to permeate a lingering pall of insecurity that somewhat enhances the effect of the jump-scares that it usually employs, though these moments are sometimes ruined by the novel’s favourite phrase which dampens the effect of each scare by preparing the reader for it.
And while Prison Garden certainly has a gripping story that makes the reader keep thinking “Why in the world is this happening!?”, it has some questionable plot points that also has the reader wondering why the devil is the main character doing something so silly even though she knows that the Dark Shadow messes up peoples’ minds and makes them commit suicide? Could it have been her bravery? Could it have been the power of love? As I read the story towards its end I was quite convinced that Irina was frankly completely terrified… yet it feels puzzling that she decides to visit the haunted places over and over again anyway as she digs obsessively for information about the Dark Shadow.
Still, the characters of the story, though thoroughly suspended in fear throughout the story, are quite likeable (to me at least) for their odd quirks that seem to be too convenient. But perhaps criticizing Prison Garden is a bit too harsh. It is Tactical Sympathy’s first work after all.
But perhaps it would be incorrect to describe Prison Garden as a complete work. Once the end of the story is reached, the reader is bound to be left with more questions than answers. What exactly are these Dark Shadows? What the deuce does RCH mean? Whois Hiyoko? And who is Kotori? Why are they even mentioned in the first place if they don’t make much appearances?
No, Prison Garden doesn’t give you the answers to these questions – it was simply created to give you the willies. But why does the story give us these questions even though it doesn’t answer them?
Well, that is why Prison Garden is only the first half of the story – and is naturally incomplete.
Prison Garden prepares us for its longer sequel, Hakoniwa No Uta “The Song of the Small Garden” which was released free-of-charge by Tactical Sympathy a month after Prison Garden – which answers most of the pressing questions that we are bound to be assailed with after finishing Prison Garden.
Nonetheless, Prison Garden is in no way a low-quality work for a free game in spite of its lack of voice acting or an original soundtrack or branching routes or even different endings (all of which are expected for industry-standard visual novels in the market).
The character artwork done by En is rather aesthetically befitting of the game’s theme and motif, and though the writing, which has one or two plot-holes here and there, can shake off the otherwise eerie atmosphere of the story, it still bears the ability to engross and grasp the attention of the reader. Simply put, no time is wasted in Prison Garden – every moment keeps you clicking away to find out what happens next. If Prison Garden were a book, it would be a page turner.
For students of the Japanese language, Prison Garden is a good starting point for picking up easy Japanese literature since it only occasionally implements the more advanced and colloquial aspects (i.e. Japanese youngsters speaking to Japanese youngsters) of Japanese, and does not frequently use difficult words that are more prevalent in the other more established, complex and profound visual novels.
Prison Garden is a linear two hour long game that can be downloaded free-of-charge from Tactical Sympathy’s webpage.
All Images Courtesy of Tactical Sympathy