Sometimes when we play a game, it’s easy to forget just how much work and frustration goes into making it. It’s even easier to forget that everyone had a starting point – a place where they had to start learning it all from scratch. In the afterword of the Alicemare novel, Miwashiba is blunt about their beginnings. Alicemare was their first game – born from a simple “I want to do this too,” after seeing other works. Frustrated with the unfamiliar software, it was set aside for years, and eventually picked up into a complete game. By now, there are more Miwashiba games – LiEat and 1bitHeart are both completed and can be purchased on Steam for $2.99 each, while The Faceless Double is currently in progress – but this first adventure is still purchasable and playable if you want to see where it all started.
Alicemare drops the player directly into a big mystery. You start the game as Allen – a young boy with no memories. Who are you? Where did you come from? Who is the teacher, and why are you there? As you begin talking to other children at the facility, it seems there’s a lot more than meets the eye. One night, you discover the impossible – another world, with doorways into the hearts of your new friends. Sent by a mysterious figure on a search for keys, it’s up to you to figure out how to escape.
On the surface, Alicemare is a fairytale-inspired, almost-horror game with a lovely artstyle, nostalgic gameplay graphics that feel like the old Gameboy game days, and a surprisingly incredible soundtrack. Dig deeper and you’ll find an incredibly disturbing set of tales about loss and loneliness.
It should go without saying that Alicemare isn’t a perfect game. There are some small control issues – for example, occasionally the space the character moved was far too big compared to the amount of space interactable items or narrow pathways took up, forcing me to readjust over and over again until I finally was placed just right. Some puzzles were also very clunky, with no hints and few chances (others, I’ll admit, were incredibly clever). Overall, there’s not a whole lot of gameplay – you’ll wander through a mostly linear world, solve a few puzzles, and move on.
But story, laced with compelling mysteries and surprisingly charming characters, more than made up for anything that was missing. If you’re still looking for answers after finishing, there’s actually an Alicemare novel. The original can be purchased in Japanese, but there is an unofficial translation available online (permitted by Miwashiba under the condition that no art was included).
LiEat, Alicemare, and 1bitHeart are all available on Steam. Miwashiba’s upcoming game, The Faceless Double, only has a prologue so far. When Double wakes up with no form and no memory why, he has to set off on a journey to find answers. I’m hoping that The Faceless Double carries the same air of mystery that Alicemare did, but I’m excited to play more of these lovely little games.