As someone who has talked at length about why unhealthy relationship dynamics and toxicity in visual novels have plenty of right to exist, I’m putting my money where my mouth is and covering exactly why I love to see this sort of thing with a closer look at The Price Of Flesh. This visual novel released in early May of this year, but I only recently discovered it through the Steam summer sale; its initial release went under my radar despite me having prior knowledge of its creator Gatobob.
But before we get into the finer details, first things first: The Price Of Flesh is rated 18+ and warns the player immediately upon starting the game that it includes triggering material, mostly of the violent kind, including murder, gore, suicide and sexual assault.
Once into the game proper, if you want to know more you can explore a thorough and descriptive warning list for all three of The Price of Flesh’s narrative paths from its main menu. Here, you’ll get more details about which story routes feature which kinks and which explicit material, allowing you to safely pick and choose what you are and are not comfortable with.
So please do not play the game if you are not over the age of 18, or if you do not feel able to cope with the subject matter!
Survivalist horror meets visual novel
Developer Gatobob is one part of the collaborative team behind the infamously macabre and horrifying dating sim series Boyfriend to Death, and The Price Of Flesh is a spiritual successor. While Boyfriend to Death featured the worst kind of thrilling relationships to thrive after an unlucky encounter in a bar, The Price of Flesh skips the formalities; it’s all about getting abducted, auctioned off and sold to one of three deeply suspicious individuals, each fully intent on getting their money’s worth now that they own you. They’ll toy with you for their own entertainment through physical, emotional and psychological torture.
There’s no romance to experience here; the challenge in The Price of Flesh is simply to get out alive. Just try not to end up crushing on the perpetrators; remember that they put you through hell and back, though I guess you can be forgiven if you fail this challenge — I mean, look at them.
The Price Of Flesh marries the genres of survivalist horror and visual novel together to create a unique experience that is as challenging as it is terrifying. Each route offers something different in terms of kinks, characters, setting, resource management — you name it, all three are just as enjoyable as the other. They’re highly distinct from one another, too, with each path providing plenty of surprising material and narrative progression through unexpected deaths, the varied situations, and completely different tones and scare factors.
From a mechanics perspective, for example, the game’s status meters that track your health, sanity, food, energy and temperature levels are of varying importance depending on which route you’re following. Mason’s route, for example, emphasises the sanity aspect, while the fact you’re stranded in a desert in Derek’s route makes the food aspect more important. The time management aspect is most crucial in Celia’s route, since she traps you underground, and you never know when she may return, since you can’t keep track of the daylight.
It’s not just gameplay mechanics that make each route distinct; the game’s locations also give off completely different atmospheres, and provide an example of just how a broad a range of experiences an “escape game” can offer.
Mason’s path drops the player in the mountains, where resource management is of the utmost importance; a hide and seek kind of experience also kicks off as you’re hunted down by him. Celia’s, meanwhile, is a psychological thriller that plays out like a building floor’s worth of an escape room, where you’ll need to stealthily explore the premises for possible escape leads without being caught red handed while doing so. Finally, Derek’s path is an all-out death game, where thinking about when to rescue other potential survivors — and who to rescue — will be the only way to escape the desert. You’re not alone here, but that doesn’t mean that the threat is any less harrowing.
The price of dying is worth it
The Price of Flesh sells itself as an experience where you should explore each and every ending, including the ones that make you meet your untimely and gruesome death. It’s a bit like First Bite, only not anywhere near as comedic — that is, unless you unlock the final “memelord” mode, which is as worthwhile as it sounds.
Prior to that point, The Price of Flesh makes you overthink your every move and overanalyse the patterns of the three anatagonists to determine how best to avoid them — or, in the case of Celia, deal with her — as a means of getting the best endings.
In this way, each path of The Price of Flesh is refreshing; the focal characters are not simply “opposites” to one another, but they have varied temperaments that mean you can handle them in different ways, and the writers were able to enjoy extra creative freedom and divergences in how these characters were composed.
The silent and brooding Mason and the energetic, boisterous Derek are foil characters to one another in terms of their juxtaposed temperaments, while Celia has much more going on as far as her characterisation is concerned. She has a larger script than the men, which in turn made her feel more “human” despite everything she puts you through.
Derek is a thrill-seeker who does something beyond nasty with our body involving firecrackers, while Mason just wants a satisfying hunt no matter how much you try to seduce or please him — believe me, I exhausted all those options. Probably the best aspect of The Price of Flesh is how it often surprises you narratively, with interesting titbits of dialogue adding depth to the characters and situations depending on the path you’re following.
Mason got the short straw to a certain extent here, offering us only a vague explanation as to his hobby of human hunting. Derek’s path featuring the largest ensemble cast means that there’s an impressive amount of significant plotlines going on, simply due to how many characters are involved. This ultimately leads to one of the most interesting best endings in the game due to a particular revelation I’ll leave you to discover for yourself.
Celia, meanwhile, is easily the most complex character with the best exploration through the narrative — all despite your interactions with her mostly being limited to one room. An impressive achievement in itself.
Each path has its own strengths and weaknesses, but the ultimate result is an experience that most players will be able to derive immense satisfaction from in one way or another. My personal favourite path — and the one I’ve replayed the most so far — is Mason’s, not just because he’s my type, but because I found its setting of the cold and secluded mountains to be the most scary. The resource management aspect also made it the most challenging route to survive.
With so many endings to discover, it’s always satisfying to work out how to achieve various conclusions or discover them by chance. My favourite endings allow the player to take revenge on their kidnappers if they manage to think ahead of them, make use of specific items and use the map movement to your own advantage. At the other end of the spectrum, there are a wide variety of other possible outcomes to encounter, making for plenty of replay value. Many of these maximise the bleak, disturbing aspects of the game — in some cases even seeing the player accepting life with their buyer due to their sanity being completely broken.
A wildly entertaining and rewarding horror
For a game all about trial and error and the accumulation of experiencing every single death end one can manage to find, The Price Of Flesh never gets tedious. As previously mentioned, there’s both a completionist and challenge appeal in aiming to 100% the game, and after nearly eight hours of my own gameplay time, I still have a few more achievements to discover through its death ends; I’m more than willing to throw my masochistic main character at these situations for my own self-gratification and peace of mind.
The best endings are complex to achieve, with very specific requirements that must be achieved during a single playthrough. And with so many possible endings, you can imagine how many choices there are along the way; you’ll need different approaches each and every time in order to locate all of the numerous endings.
The endings are varied in their results, too, with gruesome but imaginative deaths taking advantage of both their settings and the perpetrators. They’re already a terrifying set of opponents, but even then, there are plenty of surprises to discover. For example, a certain ending scared the bejesus out of me; it was an event and CG I would classify as an unintended jump scare. Friendly advice: don’t bother to catch a fish or eat the red berries if you want to save yourself from losing a slice of your own sanity due to this moment.
There are over 150 CGs to discover in the game, which provides plenty of incentive to complete every single dead end, and further rewards for competionists come in the form of features such as character bios, concept art and the aforementioned memelord mode. The latter turns everything about the game’s gore and violence into a comedy — which is a great send-off for the game when you’re done with it.
The Price of Flesh’s sexual content is optional, and whether or not you have it turned on does not affect your completion status of the game, since all achievements are unlockable regardless of setting. And with gender-neutral writing and selectable pronouns, it’s a game that can be enjoyed by anyone and everyone who enjoys horror — with the additional option of adding erotic scenes. That said, the developer themselves warns players to expect mostly dicks if you’re going in search of that erotic material; there are two main male characters and just one female, after all. Not like I’m complaining.
Cap all that off with gorgeous art, a soundtrack that drives home the tension of its most nail-biting moments and an entertaining dead end track that plays whenever you’re hit with one, and you have a frightfully entertaining time ahead of you. So if that’s what you’re in the mood for, treat yourself right now to a copy of The Price Of Flesh via Steam or itch.io.
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