At some point in your life, most likely in high school, you’ve probably had to read The Yellow Wallpaper. The short story serves as a critique of how women’s healthcare was handled in the 19th century, but that’s not something that traditionally makes good video game material. Oddly enough it seems someone still tried. I can best describe Deliriant as a video game adaption of The Yellow Wallpaper, which was enough to pique my interests. Is that enough to make me want to explore Deliriant‘s household, or should I just stick to the short story?
You’re not given much context or story for Deliriant. As soon as you hit the start button you’re dropped into a white room with a door. Pass through the door and you’ll enter the house where you’ll be spending the majority of Deliriant‘s half hour runtime. Your goal is to investigate the house and figure out what happened to the people who lived here. There’s no bloody murders or horrible suicides plaguing the family, but rather just the simple mundane drama involved in a mother having postpartum depression.
You have free reign to explore the house as you want, letting you pick up and examine various objects littered around. These can help you piece together the story, though as you may expect a lot of it is going to be left up to your own interpretation. As you continue to explore the house and investigate its corners things begin to slightly change in weird ways. The wallpaper begins to get a life of its own, changing colors and starting to flow like water while a giant hole begins to appear in one of the walls. Ultimately, your goal is going to be to keep exploring until you can leave through that hole.
The problem is that the story doesn’t really hold much depth. The mother has postpartum depression and, well… that’s it. There’s no real advancement or signs that she did much of anything other than be depressed. You can learn a little about the father as well. I personally was picking up that he was an alcoholic, but once again there’s not much else beyond that. The game is a snapshot of a moment in the life of a future family, but there’s nothing here that says anything about these characters before the events of the game. I couldn’t tell you what either character enjoys, does for a living, or any detail about them other than “depressed” and “possibly alcoholic”.
This is where Deliriant ends up failing at storytelling. There’s no story here, there’s a pair of one-note characters living in a house. After you exit the house you have a quick sequence of running down a spiraling staircase, made of up broken pieces of the house, into darkness before you pass through another door and are unceremoniously booted back to the title screen with little reason or warning. The whole sequence felt like it was trying a little too hard to push some super obvious symbolism before Deliriant just stops rather than concluding in any proper way.
It doesn’t help that the game didn’t run very well during its playtime. I honestly may have missed parts of the game because details on the wall would vanish when you were looking directly at them. For some reason the texture of the wallpaper overlapped the textures of a kid’s drawings on the wall, leading to me having to squint at them from the corner of my eye hoping they would work. Lighting would suddenly brighten or dim for no discernible reason, while textures would take their time loading in when examining items. Opening and closing doors was also a struggle, as it seemed like a total toss in the air if I could actually get the door to respond to my inputs. At times I found myself doing awkward dances around doors trying to find a sweet spot that’d let me interact. I played through the game a second time to grab a few trophies I missed and found the soundtrack to be completely missing.
It’s hard to be too mad as Deliriant considering its humble nature and low barrier to entry. However, that doesn’t mean its a good game. While I really do appreciate that the game attempts to tackle some difficult subjects using a unique source material, the game doesn’t manage to do that very well. Unless you really want to see an attempt at experimental environmental storytelling with almost no investment, there are much better options available.
Deliriant was reviewed on PlayStation 4 using a copy purchased by the reviewer.
Deliriant's apparent goal of making a video game adaption of The Yellow Wallpaper is certainly unique. It just can't hold a candle to the original short story.
- Attempts to Tackle Unique Subjects
- Low Barrier to Entry
- Story Never Grabs Interest, Payoff is Weak
- Fails at Basic Narrative Gameplay
- Many Technical Issues
- Characters That are Being Studied Aren't Worth Studying