The disclaimer that precedes My Lovely Daughter is both a warning and a mission statement from the studio. “The game is designed to upset and disturb you.” It concludes, after mentioning how some of the dev team’s own experiences growing up have inspired this twisted premise. In this regard, this indie simulation game by developer GameChangers is successful in achieving its goal. It disturbs in a way few games can.
It is hard to describe My Lovely Daughter as anything but a dark, uncomfortable experience. It’s a simple simulation title that invokes a mix of adventure games and dating sims. You play an alchemist named Faust who, after suffering from amnesia, finds his daughter is comatose and dying. Her soul lies empty, needing to be filled with emotions to be whole again. Faust, crazed in his desire to save her soul, uses his alchemic abilities to create homunculi, surrogate “daughters” filled with emotions that would fuel your daughter’s soul if you build them up efficiently.
Really, this is the crux of the game. You create life with alchemy, up relationships with your “daughters” and use them in town to gain money and level them up. This, in turn, makes their emotions stronger and more powerful before you kill them.
Simple as that. You murder these homunculi to harvest the energy of their souls. All to save your own daughter from dying. The game goes all in on the detail too, graphically describing the grisly details of Faust and the moment he slaughters his creations. It pulls no punches as you participate in this ever-circular tragedy.
This is, of course, the point of My Lovely Daughter. It is an indie title that uses the tropes of similar simulators to push for the uncomfortable narrative. Its an easy game in terms of its actual mechanics. You create, raise, do side missions, buy gifts and objects…it’s a small feedback loop of play that does get repetitive rather quickly, to the point of slight boredom.
This isn't a deal breaker per se, but it does make the game itself feel underwhelming when compared to similar titles. The bulk of the gameplay is having your homunculi do work in a nearby village, earning experience to level them up and increasing the power of their souls. You also earn gold to spend on gifts and alchemical materials. All of your actions are somewhat numbing. There is no real strategy in the game other than deciding where and when to employ your “daughters” based on their emotional affinity; so a fearful homunculus earns more experience in a job that involves fear, and so on.
There is really nothing else to the game in the end. The simulation gameplay is bare-bones and only services the actions you take as Faust. Yet, I couldn’t stop playing in small stints, mostly because of how captivated I was by the depths of depravity I was witnessing. It is a dark, brooding tragedy that is the players own doing, having Faust continue an endless, vicious cycle of obsession and violence.
My Lovely Daughter is bold in letting us play the villain of the story. Faust is complex in his emotions; obsessed with saving his daughter but simultaneously focused on perfect her, controlling who she can be. Faust cares for his daughter - his real-life daughter – to a level that is frankly borderline insane. The act of spending time with his homunculi, giving them gifts…it is all a ruse to simply increase their emotional power before you sacrifice them.
There is also no redemption here for Faust. How he lost his memory, what he paid to try and save his family, it is the quintessential tragedy. A literal “Faustian bargain” much like you would expect plays out. His own apathy to the village is just one example of that ambivalence. The insane prices paid to try and save his family from death is a look into his own psychosis. Faust is dark, sick and obsessed. You feel pity not for him, but for his daughters as they endure near-constant neglect from their father.
It is hard to sympathize with anyone in the game, and that's the point. Everything done by Faust is in grisly detail, right down to the feelings of indifference Faust has over his “daughters.” GameChangers gives each death of the homunculi impact through the narrative description while enhancing it further with sound effects. It is more than just the moody Gothic-style music. We hear the gentle sobs of a crying girl as you contemplate sacrificing her, or how about shrieking screams as you murder them. The sound design is fantastic in showcasing the games overall tone; it adds to the overall atmosphere and sense of unease.
The graphical design also helps this. In general, the visuals are bold black lines along yellowing parchment. The only hint of color being specks of red – mostly blood – strewn around in your workshop. The color palette is simple, toneless, and allows the red to accentuate the actions you take. The character models are simple but distinct, especially the designs of your homunculi, ranging from trees to fire to horrific zombies.
My Lovely Daughter is not a hard game to play. The tonal underpinnings make it effective as a gothic horror game, harkening back to the works of Edgar Allen Poe and E.T.A Hoffman, so the mileage varies depending on the experience players will be looking for. GameChangers doesn’t hide the fact that the game is designed to make the player feel uncomfortable. Everything in it, even what little gameplay there is, was handcrafted to fulfill that mandate. It is the perfect example of a game wholly focused on a singular theme, one that uses the entire game, from visuals to mechanics to push that theme to the forefront.
There are very few games out there that have done this. In terms of big budget titles, some examples could be Far Cry 2 or Spec Ops: The Line, where the mechanics compliment the themes of the world portrayed. These types of games are rarely massive successes to the masses because of how it explores themes that conflict with the mandate of having "fun." An exception could be the Souls series in how it synthesizes its gameplay to the game world, but it too is not a "fun" experience insomuch as a challenging one, an achievement to conquer for most because they can.
Indie titles are a bit more successful at achieving this goal, perhaps due to limited budgets and innovated gameplay choices. Papers Please and Limbo come to mind as two major examples, employing theme of stress and helplessness to great effect, and having gameplay compliment those feelings. My Lovely Daughter fits right into these categories; it is a game fully dedicated to its themes from all facets of its design. It just happens to be dark and depressing themes employed.
As a game, My Lovely Daughter is not the best simulation title out there. What it does have compared to its peers is a thematic vision that allows it to stand out. Players interested in seeing that vision on display, willing to suffer through the misdeeds of Faust and his obsessive quest, will likely enjoy what there is to offer here.
A review code of the game was provided by the developers for this review. My Lovely Daughter was played on the PC via Steam.
Purposefully dark and disturbing, My Lovely Daughter doesn't have much in the way of gameplay mechanics, but what it does have serves a greater purpose to the games overall themes.
- Dark and Disturbing...
- Excellent Use of Themaic Elements...
- Muted, Appropriate Visual Aesthetics...
- Moody Music and Sound Design.
- ...Which is Not to Everyone's Tastes.
- ...Ultimately Simple Gameplay Mechanics.