The Bathhouse from Chilla’s Art brings us small-town Japanese horror

Chilla's Art

It’s been a while since the last Chilla’s Art game, The Closing Shift, but it’s always a pleasure to see a new one — particularly as this latest one, The Bathhouse, comes just in time for “spooky season”. That means you can almost certainly expect to see all your favourite VTubers playing this one over the course of October 2022, since VTubers looooove Chilla’s Art games.

It makes sense, since your average Chilla’s Art title can be played through in a single sitting and is thus ideal for your average VTuber stream, which tends to last for about 2-3 hours. Many of them — including The Bathhouse — have multiple endings, also, which provides a bit of replay value and incentive to explore them further beyond a single playthrough. But is it any good?

The Bathhouse by Chilla's Art

At this point, The Bathhouse provides exactly the sort of experience Chilla’s Art veterans will expect. Its initial release is, like most of the brothers’ earlier works, a little janky on the technical front, but this will likely be patched in short order. Its PS2-inspired, VHS-infused look is atmospheric and quasi-realistic, the horror angle is intriguing and unsettling and the narrative, while based on that distinctly Japanese take on horror, is accessible to a worldwide audience. So yes, it’s good; Chilla’s Art fans can safely jump on board with this one and have a good time.

For the benefit of those who are new to the work of Chilla’s Art, though, a more detailed rundown is in order.

In The Bathhouse, you take on the role of a young woman who has quit her job and moved to a tiny Japanese town in the mountains. You’ve been offered the opportunity to stay in a dingy old apartment building for free if you work at the local bathhouse, and, keen for some rest and relaxation, you’ve accepted the offer. The distinctly unsettling landlord is, however, keen to emphasise that the apartment building has no bathing or toilet facilities, so you must make use of the bathhouse for your own ablutions, and the foul-looking toilet out front of the building for all your excretion needs.

The Bathhouse by Chilla's Art

You get started at work right away, noting that the small town appears to play host to a shrine, a candy store and a hardware store. Visiting the shrine brings you into contact with a local monk, who offers to bless you on the grounds that “something” appears to be following you around. Pausing for a spot of fishing also allows you the opportunity to indulge in a Chilla’s art tradition: finding things that celebrate the brothers’ Patreon backers, in this case wooden ema plaques that have been sunk in a nearby pond.

Stepping into the bathhouse for the first time brings you into alarmingly close contact with the landlord, who informs you that the job is pretty self-explanatory: all you need to do is follow the customer requests, then clean the place up at the end of the day by completing the tasks listed on the whiteboard. From hereon, your time is split between handing out towels and soap to bathhouse attendees, scrubbing the filth they leave behind, and investigating a mystery that gradually comes to light over the course of several in-game days.

This being a Chilla’s Art game, inevitably all is not quite as it seems in this quiet little mountain town. The residents keep saying unsettling things just within earshot of you, and you get the distinct impression that despite having seemingly been welcomed into the community as the new bathhouse attendant, you do not entirely “fit in”.

The Bathhouse by Chilla's Art

The exact details of what this all means are something we will, of course, leave for you to discover, but suffice to say that this time around the game combines elements of both the supernatural and the plausibly realistic. This is a contrast from The Closing Shift, which focused entirely on “real” happenings — outside of one peculiar sequence which can be interpreted as a nightmare, of course. Here in The Bathhouse, things start out in a relatively mundane manner, but they get considerably weirder as you approach the finale.

One of the nice things about The Bathhouse is that it follows the mould of both The Convenience Store and The Closing Shift in particular by juxtaposing the absurd and the uncanny with the utterly mundane. Your “job”, such as it is, is so boring that you can get away with napping in the middle of your shift — but occasionally peculiar things happen. Sometimes this is a seemingly inexplicable event, while at others there are plausible explanations, usually emphasising how awful human beings can be to one another, and how little provocation they need in order to be complete dickheads.

Of course, bad things happen in The Bathhouse, and naturally for the most part it doesn’t feel like the victims of said bad things really deserve what happens to them. Unlike The Closing Shift, however, which ended on a bit of a downer regardless of the actions you took, The Bathhouse does feature a “good” ending that implies you successfully escape from the situation as well as ensuring no-one else has to suffer — it still leaves plenty of interesting questions, though, as is usually the case with Chilla’s Art games.

The Bathhouse by Chilla's Art

The one nitpick I would probably have with The Bathhouse is that the conditions for getting said “good” ending are bafflingly arbitrary, being dependent on locating a missing cat and successfully answering a sweet potato-themed quiz from a passing merchant, causing you to then have to carry a sweet potato around for most of the rest of the game. There’s a timed memory puzzle later in the game, also, but your performance in this seems primarily related to whether or not you get an achievement rather than which ending you get, making it feel a tad out of place.

Still, these sorts of bizarre requirements are nothing new for either Chilla’s Art games or Japanese adventure games in general, so it’s small (sweet) potatoes either way — just be aware that you may not find yourself getting that “good” ending without a guide, and it might take you an attempt or two to get it to register, too.

The Bathhouse arguably isn’t Chilla’s Art’s strongest game, but it’s by no means their weakest either. It’s atmospheric, well-presented and offers an intriguing story — albeit one which perhaps could have been developed a little further to answer some lingering questions.

It’s a good horror experience, though, and a representative example of what the development duo are all about. So if you’re yet to explore the weird and wonderful world of Chilla’s Art for yourself, this is as good a place as any to start your paranormal investigations.

The Bathhouse is available now for PC via Steam. You can support Chilla’s Art on Patreon.

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Pete Davison
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