Horror games have become somewhat of a gaming staple lately, with plenty of titles to choose from and many more in development. Finding that unique balance between jump scares, instilling terror and telling a great story is not all that common however, with some games shining in one area while being lacklustre in others. Naturally, this isn’t true of all games in the horror genre, just enough that it’s pretty easy to separate the great experiences from the good ones.
Horror stories that grace our shores from the Far East tend to be heavily built around traditional folklore and malevolent spirits. And this is much the case when considering the themes of The Coma 2: Vicious Sisters, Devespresso Games’ Korean survival-horror adventure which has already seen overwhelming success on Steam. Thankfully, the decision to bring it to consoles was a great move.
Let me tell you why.
The Coma 2 thrusts its player into the shoes of Mina Park, a typical high school student who comes into ownership of a strange pendant from her best friend Youngho, who mysteriously fell into a coma three weeks prior to the start of the story (for those who have played the predecessor game The Coma, you’ll remember Youngho is the original protagonist). Taking place in the Sehwa district on the eve of the Blood Moon, things go awry quickly for Mina as she becomes tangled in a living nightmare where her only way to survive is to unravel the mystery whilst avoiding certain death.
Starting out at Sehwa High School, Mina’s curiosity pulls her into a situation where everything around her changes. The once safe hallways of her real-life school take on a sinister and distorted tone, leaving Mina to fend for herself and try to survive the night while being chased by Vicious Sister, an unrelenting and terrifying supernatural monster.
Gameplay consists of guiding Mina through various locations in side-scrolling fashion, with the ability to navigate between several floors and rooms across various locales throughout the game. Mina herself can interact with various objects and NPCs in her surroundings, sprint (tied to a stamina bar) and dodge. You’ll also have access to a four-slot backpack to begin with to carry various items, which can be accessed on the fly. The control scheme is pretty comfortable, and you won’t need to utilise your fingers too much beyond a couple of button presses to get Mina to do exactly what you need.
Wandering around the halls is quite unsettling, with darkness being the players only friend, and Mina’s means to lighting the way being a small petrol lighter that you grab early in the adventure. Naturally, there are some nasty things hiding in the darkness too, varying through clawing hands protruding from the ceiling, exploding poisonous spores, swiping monstrous bodies and of course, the Vicious Sister herself. The Coma 2 does tension very well, with each encounter being pretty terrifying and beyond a couple of scripted areas, completely random. What makes it even more effective is the use of environmental sounds to build unease, like entering a room and suddenly hearing the tap of the Vicious Sister’s shoes in the hallway getting gradually louder and then going completely silent. I remember spending ten minutes in one of the classrooms early on, wondering whether I’d be walking into death.
Most typical environmental hazards can be avoided with a well time dodged, but that’s easier said than done in the darkness. The various monsters you encounter are drawn to your light, so in some cases it’s best to put the lighter away. That said, Mina can’t interact with things in her environment whilst the lighter is off, so management of the appropriate times to use the lighter is key to surviving the Vicious Sister’s onslaught.
The Coma 2 is a survival-horror in every essence of the word. You see, Mina has no access to weapons per se, she’s facing something completely supernatural and in keeping with the theme, is incapable of fighting it off beyond effectively hiding herself away. There are plenty of moments in Mina’s journey where she’ll encounter the Vicious Sister, or shadows, which are facades of real people that have succumbed to the Vicious Sister’s influence and have degraded into mindless killers, intent on relieving Mina of her life.
Avoiding these encounters makes for some hectic moments, as you try to sprint your way to the nearest hidey-hole. These come in many forms, with the undersides of tables, lockers and bathroom stalls being the most regular ones you’ll come across. Whilst in hiding spots, a directional button quick time event takes place to emulate Mina controlling her breathing. Some of these can be a little tough, so don’t be too dismayed if you fail a couple of times. Should Mina be grabbed by Vicious Sister, it’s pretty much all over unless your carrying around mace, an item that gives you the ability to shake off the Sister and run for cover. It’s really well balanced, and whilst challenging, it never felt cheap with the occasional time that I did fail coming down to shock or forgetting where I was going.
Other encounters in the game are far less instantly deadly, and Mina has access to five bars of health at the start of the game. There are various afflictions that can affect your health including bleeding and poison. Bleeding essentially blocks off a health bar until you restore it with a bandage, and poison will slowly chip away at your health until you take an antidote.
Stamina also plays a big part in the adventure, as you’re going to spend a lot of time running away from stuff. Stamina is limited and replenishes reasonably slowly. That being the case, there are number of drinks that can provide you with instant replenishment, or even increased stamina gain and these are just as important as health items, in the way that they can offer you a way out of some very sticky situations.
You’ll be happy to know though, that you can grab most basic items out of vending machines and there’s still plenty of cash lying around for you to make said purchases. That said, items can be expensive, so knowing when to use them is vital. I really enjoyed this element of the gameplay, because it drew a healthy equilibrium between challenge and fun. I didn’t ever feel out of my depth, but I was equally always cautious of what may be around the next corner and made sure I was stocked, even if I only had four inventory spaces I could fill. At the end of each story section, Mina will encounter an unavoidable brush with the Vicious Sister that can cause her critical damage, meaning she’ll go into the next area with one less permanent health point. This can be avoided by using a crafting bench to create a weapon or trap to negate the damage, so there’s a real welcome element to exploring each area thoroughly and ensuring your overall survivability.
You’ll get the chance to visit a plethora of areas of the Sewha district during the game, including a market, police station and hospital. Each area has a distinctive feel, and you’ll also be regularly flitting back and forth between them at points in the story. As you progress, Mina will eventually have the ability to use ‘Wight Burrows’ to traverse between locations with ease, as well as access to items that will get you into previously inaccessible areas, like the crowbar. The locations are so well knitted together that navigating them is kind of fun, even if there are moments of shock in between. Also, it’s worth mentioning that the locales aren’t static, with each area changing to reflect a particular point in the story, making each return trip a potential killer.
There’s a couple of puzzles here and there to keep things fresh, and while not exceptionally tough, they offer an otherwise enjoyable break point between the story and consistent survival elements. There’s plenty of lore to underpin the story in The Coma 2 too, coming in the form of torn pages that can be found strewn about the place. Picking these up unlocks an entry in the journal that allows you to read these pages, fleshing out the events of the Blood Moon and the story behind it.
Visually, The Coma 2 is really very beautiful for something that tries to convey corruption and decay. It’s almost eldritch in design, instilling thoughts of horrible grasping tentacles that would feel right at home in Lovecraft. Despite this, the focus on malevolence and spirits is enough to show that this horror experience has its roots in Korean ghost folklore, as well as being fantastically detailed to boot. The attention given to the environments plays an exceptional part in setting the scene, and the brooding music and sharp, frantic sound effects really make for something truly terrifying. How many bodies do you see without heads? Am I right?
Start to finish the game takes around seven to eight hours to complete with all the added extras you can do. Whilst this isn’t incredibly long, it’s ample to tell the story put forward in The Coma 2 with enough diversion to leave you walking away satisfied. If I had one issue in my entire time playing the game, it was that the terror element isn’t quite as captivating as you’d see in a first person horror, simply because it’s harder to connect with the fear when you don’t feel like your undergoing it yourself. That said, the strong narrative and ambience is more than enough to deliver a great experience, even if at times it can feel a little detached.
The Coma 2 surprised me in many ways considering I’m pretty well versed in the horror genre. Its unsettling story, attention to detail and panic inducing moments left me feeling fulfilled but uneasy at what might be lurking in the dark.
In spite of its occasional inability to truly express real feelings of fear, I had an absolute blast with the game and there’s so much to enjoy that I can safely recommend it to anyone who’s a survival-horror fan.
The Coma 2: Vicious Sisters is both disturbing and unnerving, in the absolute best way!