Pitstop in Purgatory: a picturesque afterlife

Published and developed by solo creator Tymedust Games, Pitstop in Purgatory was originally made for the Otome Game Jam of 2022. Since its 1.3 update, the game has been made available on itch.io and Steam. The small entrance fee of £3.99 allows you to experience a subtly somber yet romantically intriguing tale that has the potential to further expand with more installments. And beneath its gorgeous exterior is philosophically challenging and moving stories well worth experiencing in an evening’s worth of a total runtime.

Before we really get into it, how about a vague, spoiler-free description of its story? Pitstop in Purgatory has players controlling Astrid Braid, a recently deceased young lady who finds herself in the titular Purgatory as its latest, unintentional resident.

She is greeted by The Guide, the charismatic, mysterious and worryingly attractive overseer of Purgatory, who quickly points out two important and unique aspects to Astrid and her current situation: the cause of her untimely death, which she can’t remember due to amnesia, and exactly what is preventing her moving on into the afterlife. Along the way, she will meet a small yet memorable cast of characters, grow closer to them and learn to better guide them through their struggles and pain. And in doing so, she’ll come closer to uncovering the truth about herself and the world around her by providing closure to those around her.

A visual novel, point-and-click mini-adventure

Pitstop in Purgatory

Pitstop in Purgatory marries together the visual novel and point-and-click adventure genres into something that works extremely well. There are plenty of opportunities to make choices, and in many cases the conversations allow three or more dialogue options to select from. This, in turn, helps you feel like you have plenty of chances to bond with the tragic souls found within Purgatory, spend genuinely fulfilling time with them and feel a sense of connection with them.

Some of these important characters have been in Purgatory for years, even decades. Learning about who they are, their backstories and discovering the explanations behind their particular quirks is the crux of the experience here. And the amount of dialogue breathes life into this tiny yet oddly cosy Purgatory, as each character hides their own hidden depth and storylines for you to explore and see develop.

You get to point and click around backgrounds and characters, proceeding between locations and people of interest to progress in the puzzle solving. There is a pleasing number of riddles to solve along the way, with some being extremely well thought out and original. A couple were so challenging that I did end up resorting to the free guide Tymedust Games had written up.

While these instances were too clever for me, I do still appreciate how splendidly implemented each one was while never repeating the same type of question or format. It made these eventual question-based challenges or fetch quests refreshing and entertaining each and every time. You couldn’t ask for more, really — it’s great to have a visual novel spiced up with puzzles that will take you a minute or two to ponder over, as it will give you a much-needed break from the heavier narrative and thematic features.

Philosophically cosy

Pitstop in Purgatory

Outside of the core gameplay mechanics, the best way to really sell Pitstop in Purgatory is to say just how much it will surprise you. For a game that takes around five hours to fully complete, its gradual unveiling of everything about its world and characters will still not truly prepare you for its grand revelation in its final route.

This persistent increase of intrigue never stops. The whole thing is eventually topped off with an extremely interesting and thought-provoking finale with its epilogue that flips the perspective of the main character to someone else to further add more lore and world building. You’ll be just as curious as Astrid herself by the end of her journey.

Alongside the emotional backstories and tragic reveals are plenty of humorous remarks and puns to appreciate, both from Astrid herself and the colourful cast around her. It makes for a welcome break from the more dramatic moments.

This is made all the better with the very clever, on-the-nose writing. The game even goes so far as to justify its own design decisions to the audience; since the game was created by a solo developer, the way the game makes it so that many characters cannot be seen at all is more than understandable. It instead doubles down on building its lore up rather than worrying about time and budget constraints.

The writing is excellent from a technical perspective, with solid punctuation and grammar throughout. This is especially noticeable with a character who primarily speaks in old English; the game even helpfully notes the phrases she uses in Astrid’s journal upon meeting her so that you can later go back and better understand her.

The characters are all as memorable as each other, despite The Guide stealing the show. He’s a mischievous, callous, total enigma, and seeing where the game takes his character in particular makes the ride as a whole all the more intriguing and mesmerising.

Design, system and sound perfects an already stellar experience

Pitstop in Purgatory

Pitstop in Purgatory is partially voiced, with its most emotional scenes (usually easily identifiable from their CGs) having fully voiced monologues. Each of these scenes carry the weight of their intended emotions, propped up by an amazing soundtrack. The exceptionally haunting, beautiful, slower track of This Moment With You by Jhove is one of the most memorable parts of the game for me.

The game also has a very distinctive art style. Each and every background, sprite and CG looks like a faultless painting and is worthy of a screenshot or ten.

Structurally, Pitstop in Purgatory has three acts, with the end of the second act presenting a pivotal choice for players to make: deciding between the two romanceable characters. You can go for the eccentric, old soul Rahel, or the melancholic, cold Locke. You can also choose not to pursue either, which takes you down the solo route, but this is best saved for last due to how story-heavy it is.

Upon completing all three routes, the secret route gets unlocked. Once you clear that, an epilogue will be selectable from the main menu, and that fully completes the Pitstop in Purgatory experience.

It’s easy to backtrack through all its routes, since you have instant access to the all-important route choice once you’ve cleared any one of them. It’s worth noting that Pitstop in Purgatory is linear aside from the route choice; the other choices do not result in any kind of different endings. This is not a fault, mind you; it gives the game a strong grasp of the story and themes it wanted to explore.

Rather, I have one real complaint in how the story is structured. While both the solo route and epilogue are wholly unique in story and relevance, both Locke and Rahel’s routes are somewhat squandered by having too much of the same dialogue and the same story beats. While both routes were intended to explore the characters in more depth, giving them completely different conflicts would have made the game a better experience.

This isn’t a dealbreaker, though, since the rest of the game is always revealing intriguing lore to paint a more complex picture around the workings of the afterlife and the mechanics of this specific Purgatory. It’s often macabre, but understandable.

A hidden gem that does not deserve to be hidden

Pitstop in Purgatory

All in all, Pitstop in Purgatory is remarkably brilliant in how it toys with your emotions. One moment, a route will be hitting your emotions like a truck, while another will completely counteract everything you thought you knew about a certain character. Pitstop in Purgatory reminds me a lot of Death Parade in this way.

There’s a particular sense of joy from a tiny game that embraces and showcases the importance of empathy, and the complexity of human emotions despite how ugly and troublesome they can be. It delivers messages such as how we should live with no regrets, accept that people make mistakes and learn to be at peace with what life throws at you. It’s never taken lightly in the context of the game. And there’s always light at the end of the tunnel.

Pitstop in Purgatory is macabre yet soothing. It’s a wholesome and, at times, wickedly cruel jab to your heart and senses that still manages to feel like a virtual comforter due to its sheer optimism about death — or rather, the celebration of life after death. With lovingly caring and considerate messages, memorable characters you’ll fondly appreciate and care about, and two key mysteries that will keep you interested and committed to solving from beginning to end, Pitstop in Purgatory is a must-play.

Please support the game to see more of the Purgatoryverse come into being. Furthermore, play the canonical browser-based game The Painting for even more Pitstop in Purgatory lore after experiencing this title. Finally, thank you Tymedust Games for the game code.

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Lilia Hellal
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