Review: Lethophobia

Lethophobia is a textual storygame by Olivia Wood and Jess Mersky hosted on StoryNexus. Nominally, it’s horror, but I didn’t find it very scary. That was hardly a problem, though — it works just as well as a puzzle game. You can play it over here. All spoilers in this review will be covered — hover your mouse over them to read them, or on mobile, tap on them.

Gameplay: 2/5
Puzzles: 4/5
Atmosphere: 5/5
World: 4/5
Story: 4/5
Resolution: 1/5
Bonus: +7.5% for potentially LGB player character
Overall: 7/10

A typical storylet in Lethophobia.

Mechanically, Lethophobia is a little annoying to play. The game’s depth of world modelling is not well suited for StoryNexus’s storylet system. To move from one room to another, you have to click on the pinned travel card for that room, then select your destination from a menu, then click through a consequences screen. Interacting with objects in a room is worse; you have to draw the object’s card from a deck into your three-card hand, and while most rooms don’t have more than three objects in them, and many times related actions are grouped together into a single storylet, this was frustrating several times over, especially since after playing one option on a card, you must usually draw it again in order to play a different option. The game is definitely not very well suited to StoryNexus as a platform.

Lethophobia is, however, very good at establishing its atmosphere and telling its story. You play as a newly-conscious spirit (gender selectable) dropped in front of a house. Apparently, it’s their own house. Your job is to figure out who you are and what you’re doing there by collecting your missing Slivers of Self-Awareness. Along the way, you pick up two accomplices: one male and one female, who are love interests or siblings, depending on your multiple-choice past. (There is no obstacle to playing a gay relationship here, and although I’m not sure whether polyamory is accepted, I didn’t see a check on either for it, so I doubt it.)

And then the story trips over itself at the ending. Reunited with your boyfriend/brother, girlfriend/sister, the Cat, and the Librarian, you encounter the Medium and unmask them, revealing them to be… a shambling mimicry of your own appearance. Then you open the box they were hiding to find more multiple-choice past. It is far too late for that at this point. You can choose the tragedy you suffered that forced you into this state to begin with, and then how you deal with it now — an altogether more appropriate choice to put at the ending, though I’m still annoyed by last-second ending choices in general.

Overall, I’d say Lethophobia is confused about whether it is a fairly literal description of events or a metaphor for the protagonist’s suppressed memories. Much of the game seems to lean towards the more direct interpretation, periodically interrupted by scenes that could be taken either way if the spirit world is given some leeway — then, the ending leans hard into the metaphor until you rescue yourself from your own mistakes in at least one ending, in a way that is clearly conveyed as extremely literal. If it were more solidly one or the other it would do beautifully. As is, though, it’s a disappointing conclusion.

Or, perhaps all of that only applies to one ending. I doubt it, personally, since there was no obvious branching until after many of my complaints appear, and branching is usually very obvious in StoryNexus games. But it could be.