Neighbor & Lingering Memories Review

Title: Rinjin -Neighbor-
Original title: 隣人 -Neighbor-
Release date: 2008-11-21 (original)
2018-09-29 (remake)
English release date: 2018-09-29 (remake)
Developer: Rosalia (original)
Otusun Land (remake)
English publisher: Otusun Land (remake)

"Neighbor" is a short horror visual novel that came to the Western shores due to a very successful Kickstarter campaign. Otusun Land wanted to remake an old classic Japanese VN and they were really successful in their endeavour, earning more then twice the amount asked on KS. Of course, some people could contest the original VN being described as "classic", as no one had heard of that game before the campaign, which is not what a classic is. But anyway, let's look at the recently released remake and see if it can truly be called a modern horror classic.

"Neighbor" is one of those rare successful KS campaigns that not only raked in lots of dough, but also completed the campaign promises in a timely manner (a few years of delays is common on Kickstarter). The original "classic" was released ten years ago in Japan and had been out of public reach for a long time, so the lead writer, who owned the rights to the game, teamed up with Otusun Land for a remake. I have no idea how the game originally looked, so I cannot compare it to the modern iteration, so I'll have to dissect the "Neighbor" remake on its own merits.
Meeting the neighbours.
"Neighbor" is actually a kinetic novel, meaning there are no choices and only a single ending. That's not necessarily a bad thing, as it allows the writer to tell a more concise story, without worrying about alternative branches. There actually are some red-coloured pseudo choices, but clicking on them only provides newspaper clippings to read in order to supplement some plot points. Basically they serve as mini-tips. On the other hand, the visual novel is fully voiced, with even the most minor characters getting distinct voices. Most of the cast seems to be quite new to the VN voicing, as most of them do not have any other credits, but they actually do a pretty good job. The main cast is especially good, though some of the side characters tend to overact their roles.

Graphically I found "Neighbor" impressive despite the obvious small budget. The novel went for minimalistic artwork without any sprites, but with CGs to give life to the characters and photographic background to create a setting. The colour scheme is deliberately monochromatic with shades of blue and white, which actually works really well. There are very few splashes of colour and these are used to emphasize the moments of importance. The unique visual style hooked me from the very beginning, but the story wasn't really a disappointment either.
So, was the suicide really bloody, or are they just cursing in British? :-P
The protagonist of this VN is one Yuuki Kae, who moves into room 201 in a Châtelet Romane apartment complex. The room next to her -202- is reportedly empty, though Yuuki could swear someone opened the door and stuck out a hand when she went to visit her neighbour. Indeed, "Neighbor" is a very fast moving read. The supernatural happening start manifesting almost immediately upon Kae moving into her new apartment and get even worse over time. Kae hears banging on the walls and the windows, feels someone walking in her room. When her other neighbours from room 203 explosively move out, and Kae sees the members of the family to be nervous wrecks, she realizes, she is not the only one suffering from haunting in this apartment complex.

Some people might disagree with me, but I really liked the fast-paced nature of the ghostly happenings. I sincerely dislike how majority of the horror movies seem to drag out the protagonists accepting the evidence of supernatural. Usually, the strange happenings would be initially dismissed, and even if one member of the family (usually a child or a woman) starts believing them, they are also dismissed. Frankly, I find the whole disbelieving phase to be usually badly done and boring, thus the movies, or in this case games, that completely do away with it feel like a breath of fresh air. And Yuuki can do nothing but immediately suspend her disbelief, as the ghostly visitor is unusually aggressive and does not allow her to blame the wind for the disturbances.
Bonding over coffee.
Eventually the state becomes so bad, that Kae must seek shelter in her upstairs neighbour Hisamatsu Daigo's room. Together they decide to investigate the mysterious room 202 and unearth whatever grisly history it contains. Kae and Daigo are a great team-up. Not only they complement each other, but as the case progresses they seem to become more and more attracted to each other, despite Daigo being 7 years Kae's junior. There is also a smattering of social commentary thrown in, regarding the unfortunate Japanese stigma about women past 25. Kae is a carrier woman, who is not good about socializing, but still would like to find the second half. However, she is pretty sure she is already too old for Daigo to be interested in and is secretly disappointed about that.

But anyway, once Kae and Daigo put their team efforts to the task, they start quickly unraveling the mystery. I would say even too quickly. "Neighbor" is very short, as I personally finished it in 3 hours, which obviously doesn't provide a lot of time to flesh out the story more. The way the plot unfolds makes Kae look like she's born under a lucky start. Everywhere she goes, she somehow manages to retrieve some crucial piece of information to further her investigation. And that's the main problem I found with the story - the investigation moves so quickly, it's over before you can even appreciate it.
Oh my... Kae is a secret fujoshi.
On the other hand, "Neighbor" has a few strategically placed humorous scenes to alleviate the tension, and I gather to slow the pacing a bit. The highlight is our heroes visiting a drag queen bar and the contrast in how the two react and behave. Kae seemed to be completely at ease, chatting and joking with the staff members, while Daigo looked like he wanted the Earth to swallow him. I don't think he'll be visiting again... unless Kae drags him there. :-)

At least the ghostly happenings are legitimately creepy, even more so than hauntings in slow paced movies. Still, I wouldn't actually call the VN scary, and the ghost seems to be inconsistent in its actions. It seems to do something only if it furthers the plot along. Once it even displays the ability to teleport Kae to another place... and then never uses it again, because it wouldn't be convenient to the plot and would make it too dangerous.
They seem quite determined.
Additionally, there are a few loose plot points that are never neatly tied and are simply dropped.
» Click to show Spoiler - click again to hide... «

Despite being a horror novel, "Neighbor" has a good ending. And not a mostly good ending like many horror films, but a total saccharine-sweetness-rot-your-teeth ending, where everything is unicorns and rainbows. Call me weird, but I don't think it's really fitting, as I believe there should be a price paid for everything that happened. Such sweetness just does not mash together with a horror novel. In order to create the sweetness, the writer dropped even more plot points that would have created an uncomfortable bitterness. I'm talking about the fact that the epilogue completely and almost certainly deliberately refuses to acknowledge the existence of Daigo's sister. She simply... just disappears from plot and is never mentioned again.... What the hell, writer?!
The ghost should wash its hands...
And of course, Kae and Daigo are together during the epilogue. However, if "Speed 2" taught me anything, it's that relationships based on intense experiences never work. I'm sure they will have broken up by the time the sequel comes out. What's that? You are telling me the sequel failed the Kickstarter campaign, despite the predecessor doing so good? Damn, sonny, maybe people didn't like "Neighbor" as much as I thought. On the other hand, I did like the game with reservations. It didn't broke any new ground as far as horror stories go, the mystery became kinda predictable after the first few in-game days, and I think the investigation would have benefited from a slower pacing, but I did have fun overall.

And with that note I decided to try a tangentially related DLC "Lingering Memories" and see if it is a worthy side-story to "Neighbor".

Title: Kioku no Zanzou
Original Title: 記憶の残像
Alias: Lingering Memories
Release date: 2012-06-14 (original)
2018-10-31 (remake)
English release date: 2018-10-31 (remake)
Developer: Rosalia (original)
Otusun Land (remake)
English publisher: Otusun Land (remake)

I already knew that "Lingering Memories" will be an even shorter read than the main game, thus it probably won't surprise you that it barely took me 40 minutes to find all the available endings. But was it an enjoyable 40 minutes? That's the main question.
That's a weird occupation.
We follow Andou, a writer of an occult magazine, as he is asked by his superior Uchiyama to spend the night in a supposedly haunted apartment and write about his experiences. Now, while Andou was mentioned in "Neighbor", he never appeared personally, though Ushiyama did appear and had a pretty important role. So, Andou travels to Maebara Heights 103 and decides to sleep in the haunted apartment. He suddenly awakes in the night outside the flat and notices a creepy note, demanding "the return of a treasure".

"Lingering Memories" is really an escape room game. Your goal is to escape the Maebara Heights unharmed and possibly uncover the mystery of room 103. There are six apartments in total in Maebara Heights and you have to visit them all in a certain order based on the clues. Every room has a certain object within it, and one of those is the supposed "treasure", which you have to give the restless spirit.
A torch is a must if you are a character in a horror movie.
It might surprise you, but there are actually more than one good ending, as the spirit seems to accept more than one object. However, some object are definitely wrong choices and will get you killed.

The order of the apartments you have to visit is based on some clues, but I frankly failed to deduce the clues and it was simply faster to do it all in a trial and error way, rather than wrangle my brains trying to solve the puzzle. You can find the solution and the list of endings below.
» Click to show Spoiler - click again to hide... «
That's a corpse? I thought that's a child's drawing.
In the end, I didn't find "Lingering Memories" to be scary, creepy or memorable. It's over before you even start enjoying it, and if you actually know the required order, rather than trying to deduce it like me, it will probably be over in 20 minutes or less. I believe LM should have been a free DLC, because it currently costs more than some legitimately good and long games. Not really recommended. Stick to playing "Neighbor", unless you can get the DLC for free.

Links of Interest

Visual Novel Database (Neighbor)
Visual Novel Database (Lingering Memories)
Official waybacked Japanese site (original)
Official site (Neighbor)
Official site (Lingering Memories)
Purchase Neighbor on Steam
Purchase Lingering Memories on Steam

Final Verdict: 74% (Neighbor)
40% (Lingering Memories)


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