The Convenience Store and the horror in the mundane

Chilla's Art

Night Delivery, a first-person horror game from independent Japanese developer Chilla’s Art, is an enjoyable experience despite a couple of technical issues. It was certainly enough to pique my interest in the developer’s other work, including The Convenience Store, the subject of today’s article. And when I saw you can pick up their (current) complete collection of titles for less than the price of a brand-new full-price game… well, I had to bite. And so, dear reader, you’re coming along on this journey with me. Bring a torch.

The Convenience Store first released in February of 2020, and markets itself as a “J-horror game about a college girl on a night shift”. Aside from a few technical details, the game’s store page doesn’t give much else away which, as always with horror games, is part of the appeal.

The Convenience Store

Like Chilla’s Art’s other games, The Convenience Store adopts a deliberately retro-style aesthetic. Like in Night Delivery, what we have here is environmental design and character models that bring to mind the classic PlayStation 2 era of horror games, coupled with an optional VHS-style filter overlaid on the whole experience. The latter can be switched off if you prefer, but with it present it adds quite a convincing “found footage” feel to the whole thing.

The Convenience Store essentially plays as an immersive sim where you take on the role of the aforementioned college student as she works a series of night shifts in a small Japanese town. Each evening, you wake up in our heroine’s flat, get ready to go out and walk through the run-down part of town in which she lives in order to reach her place of work, the titular convenience store — something of a shining beacon of light and modernity in the area, and one which looks oddly out of place amid all the wooden shacks and collapsing staircases.

Despite the visuals deliberately paying homage to older games, there’s an impressive amount of environmental detail on display. And a great deal of this tells something of an unspoken story.

The Convenience Store

From the very outset of The Convenience Store, we can determine a few things about our protagonist from the way her apartment is arranged, for example — her bedroom and living space is cramped but cosy and comfy, filled with warm light and a few touches of her personality, while the kitchen and toilet down the hall are filthy, unlit and in something of a state of disrepair, suggesting that she doesn’t make use of either unless she absolutely has to.

The town in which the protagonist lives is rendered in enough detail that you can just go wandering around peeking at people’s houses before you make your way to work — and indeed, during the game’s introductory sequence, where it’s not entirely clear where you’re supposed to go, you’ll probably end up doing this anyway.

With each passing night, though, you’ll be more and more likely to remember the optimal route from our heroine’s house to her place of work — much like when you work a real job and eventually figure out the best and quickest way to go that ensures 1) you can lie in for as long as possible before having to leave the house and 2) can get back home as quickly as possible when it’s all over.

The Convenience Store

This emphasis on the mundane is part of what makes The Convenience Store so effective as an immersive sim. Over the course of the several in-game nights, you really have to live the life of the protagonist. You take your time getting to work; you make small talk with your colleague as you hand over for the night shift; you decide whether or not you’re going to take on the tasks your manager has left for you, or if you’re just going to stare blankly into space until a customer shows up — if a customer shows up.

There’s usually something to do that means you don’t have to stand around waiting. You can take on the aforementioned tasks from your manager, you can spy on the store and the surrounding area using the CCTV system, you can head around the back and investigate the mysterious taped-up area behind the store or you can play with things like the automatic doors and toilet.

There’s this constant sense of discomfort, though, just like the feeling anyone gets when they’re alone at night in a place that isn’t “theirs”. The fuzzy graphics — particularly when coupled with the VHS filter — often give you the impression that you’re “seeing things” when really there’s nothing there, or that you’re mistaking something immobile for a person. And when someone does finally emerge from the darkness, there’s a real sense of unease; are they actually a customer? Are they going to try and steal things? Is that old lady ever going to come out of the toilet?

The Convenience Store

That constant sense of quiet, subtle, non-specific dread is what makes the more explicitly “horror” elements towards the end of the game all the more effective. There are some genuine surprises to discover along the way, and a subtly told narrative to discover — one which can be easily missed or dismissed if you’re not paying close attention.

But if you do pay attention to what’s going on and interpret some things you discover over the course of the game, you can come to some conclusions about what’s going on — and the reason behind some of the more seemingly unexplainable happenings towards the game’s finale. And once you figure that out, you can make an appropriate decision when it comes to the final action you have to take in the game — the one choice that actually determines which of the two endings you will get.

Like Night Delivery, The Convenience Store is intended to be played through in a single sitting, and will likely take you about an hour to do so. There’s only one real “puzzle” in the game that might stump a few players, but most people will probably figure it out eventually — and if not, there are, of course, online guides that explain what you need to do.

The Convenience Store

The game’s short length means that Chilla’s Art chose not to implement a save system, meaning that you have to play through the whole thing in one go — and, of course, if something goes wrong, you’ll have to start again. Thankfully, I encountered none of the technical issues I came across in Night Delivery with The Convenience Store, and thus the single-sitting play session worked well; do bear in mind the lack of ability to save if you’re considering playing this for yourself, though.

On the whole, The Convenience Store was, like Night Delivery, an experience I’m glad I had. The game won’t be for everyone due to its slow pace and emphasis on mundane activities before juxtaposing those with the more horrific elements — but if you’re into the idea of an unsettling interactive short story with a surprisingly immersive little world and an interesting narrative, this is definitely a creep show you should get yourself a ticket for.

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Pete Davison
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