Looking back on psychological horror legend Ib

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Horror classic Ib was first released in February of 2012, and it got a remake in 2022 for its 10 year anniversary. This week, said remake had English support added, opening it up to a worldwide audience. While the remaster is no longer free as the original game used to be, it’s undoubtedly the definitive Ib experience — and I suspect most players of the original would have been happy to pay good money for it anyway.

With improved graphics, UI and resolution, better optimisation, additional artwork pieces, brand new puzzles and BGM tracks, plus even more new gameplay features such as the zoom mode and conversation system, it’s a very special time for fans of Ib, both new and old. So let’s celebrate its past and present!

This article is spoiler-free.

2012 to 2022

Ib was one of my earlier PC gaming experiences as a young teen, and remains a beloved cult classic for countless amounts of us. For many including myself, it was our first exposure to RPG Maker games, and it was also the main reason that the appeal of indie creations like this spiked during the early 2010s. Ib enjoyed widespread Internet attention, fame and notoriety, and was further popularised by Let’s Plays from prolific YouTubers such as PewDiePie, Markiplier and jacksepticeye. It’s been an inspirational title for many people, too; in my own case, it kickstarted my lifelong appreciation of fanart on sites such as Pixiv.

As you might expect for an RPG Maker game, Ib was made by just one person during their free time: Kouri. As such, the original game is simple in premise, gameplay and overall design, but its the attention to detail and breath of life felt throughout the game that makes it feel so authentic and distinctive. It’s a cult classic with good reason.

For the unfamiliar, players take control of the titular Ib, a quiet and silent protagonist who becomes trapped in a different dimension within an art museum. While attempting to reunite with her parents, she meets two other individuals in this strange other world, known as Garry and Mary. Their goal is to escape back into the real world together, while simultaneously keeping an eye on and protecting their own personal sources of life: their colour-coded roses. If all the petals fall from their rose, they are dead, and it’s an automatic game over.

The game features multiple endings according to your choices and actions throughout the game, featuring varying degrees of satisfaction, horror and melancholic outcomes — but regardless of which one you get, each is as emotional as the others, with the very best send-offs featuring illustrations to accompany the final lines, just to truly deliver those emotional gutpunches.

A cult classic that deserves every bit of acclaim it gets

Ib

When discussing the many appeals of Ib, one of the game’s biggest and most obvious strengths is how it caters to any kind of gamer. It’s quite a casual experience for those less inclined towards demanding gameplay mechanics, with no combat featured. Instead, Ib has to solve puzzles to progress through the story and discover new locations after sweeping and exploring different rooms. Any encounters with enemy characters have to be avoided to keep Ib’s health stable, setting up one of the earlier examples of games that took a similar virtuous and friendly approach to its gameplay, such as Undertale.

At the same time, those looking for the quintessential indie horror experience should look no further than Ib. It is an extremely atmospheric game, with subtle scares hiding in every room, and things never seem to stay the same from one visit to another.

Alongside this persistent feeling of unease and ominousness is an impressive soundtrack that never fails to reinforce the terror and unsettling nature of its otherworldly setting, alongside various aspects of psychological and survival horror. This is topped off with a truly frightening, unforgettable finale featuring imaginative world design that comes totally out of leftfield, and the journey to it is worth every second.

But that’s not all there is to it; its characters are incredibly well-written and relatable, too. Garry, for example, is an effeminate individual who is always protective of Ib throughout the game — he’s become an icon for the LGBTQ+ community over the years, and he can be interpreted either as a homosexual male or a non-binary individual with regards to how he speaks.

Regardless of how you see him, he is undeniably one of the most progressive representations of a non-toxic male character in a video game: he’s comfortable in who he is, he displays both typical masculine and feminine characteristics over the course of the game, and Kouri has mentioned that he cross-dresses.

Ib and Mary, both encompass the game’s main themes of sentimentality, loneliness, and morality. There is a tragic, unassuming and twisted villain who is far more than meets the eye. They have great depth to their character and intentions, and are simply a well-crafted, original character that deserves to be sympathised with. They’re flawed, yet they exist in such a penetratingly powerful sense of persistent isolation and fear, which is a consistent theme that affects every main character.

You’ll come to easily care for the game’s major characters for all their positive and impressive traits, be it Ib’s surprising bravery, intelligence, and persistency, Garry’s kind, supportive and comforting existence, or Mary’s oddball, eccentric self. Each one is as fleshed out as the other, with their bond to one another being of the utmost importance.

Thanks to the sublime dialogue (and excellent translation), the game brings the best out of these unforgettable characters. Additionally, the purchase of this remaster is worth it for one reason in particular: Kouri once noted how he wanted to implement far more conversations between Gary and Mary in the original to reinforce the all-important bond between all three, and thankfully, the remaster does just that!

Please experience this game as many times as possible

Ultimately, the more blindly you go into Ib, the more you’ll enjoy it, and I’ve kept this piece as spoiler-free as possible as a result. If you’re yet to play it, you should do so sooner rather than later — and now’s a prime time to do so. It’s a touching and reflective experience, and remains a treasured experience for everyone who originally experienced it first time around.

So please, if you haven’t already, play this short but sweet game on Steam today!

Header art by strsouko, original source seemingly no longer online.

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Lilia Hellal
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