It has been a while since I’ve touched on this topic, but I’ll get straight to the point – I love my death games. (Uh-oh – Ed.)
Danganronpa, The Nonary Games, Sweet Fuse: By Your Side, Fatal Twelve and Raging Loop are just a few examples of what we’re talking about here, where a cast of wildly different, complex and (mostly) likeable characters are put into a life and death situation with seemingly no possibility of getting out with their heads still attached to their bodies.
I’ve been a fan of the genre ever since I first encountered Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair a few years ago, and the freeware game Your Turn To Die caught my attention around the same time. And now I’ve finally managed to dedicate some time and energy to it, I can safely say that I should have gotten to it much, much sooner.
I’m here to discuss how it blows all the other death games out of the water; in my opinion, it’s the very best death game I have ever played — so let’s take a spoiler-free look at this sleeper hit.
Establishing Your Turn To Die
Your Turn to Die has us playing as Sara Chidouin, a schoolgirl on her way home late one night along with her friend, Joe. The two find themselves abducted from Sara’s home, waking up in a life-or-death situation where seemingly only one of them will be able to escape. From thereon, between 9 fellow comrades trapped in the same nightmare, they must decide on who can be trusted, and who must be voted out in a game of majority votes.
Your Turn To Die manages to encompass everything I’ve ever enjoyed about gaming. The title was made in RPG Maker MV, and that fact alone takes me back to one of the most exciting parts of playing video games when I was a younger gamer: exploring the many freeware treasures the Internet had to offer while I did not have my own source of income to spend on commercial titles. Who else shares the same nostalgia and love for other iconic RPG Maker games from back in the noughties, such as Misao, The Witch’s House, and Ib?
Your Turn To Die was created and developed by a single man known as Nankidai — and it deserves to go down in the Hall of Fame alongside the very best individually developed video games such as Stardew Valley, Undertale and Cave Story. Nankidai has been releasing the game episodically since 2017, and it is a consistently well thought-out product, no doubt due to how contained and well-paced the author has been able to be within the episodic structure. The game never runs out of steam, and it introduces new plot points that retains and increases the level of intrigue and mystery whilst answering lingering questions.
While the game has not been completed as of the time of writing, it has currently reached chapter 3, part 1-B, so there’s a fair chunk to explore. And the game is playable in English thanks to the translator, vgperson, who is responsible for having made many brilliant RPG Maker games accessible to English speakers — go explore their home page to find out more!
This covers the basics, now let’s get into the most exciting part – why you should be playing it!
Narratively wicked storytelling with an accurate portrayal of depicting grief
With each death game, a certain element feels amiss across the majority of them: characters aren’t given enough time to grieve. This is primarily for the sake of retaining the pace of story reveals, gameplay mechanics, and keeping the focus on the death game itself, but it means characters have far less room to breathe and express themselves.
Your Turn To Die, by contrast, puts this side of things to the forefront of the narrative, demonstrating a far more accurate representation of loss as a result, and giving characters arcs as they grieve and learn to move on from there.
Characters are always affected by the choices you make — and the consequences of those choices. For example, each character’s sprite is subject to change and be illustrated much more grimly or emotionally exhausted depending on who dies in your playthrough. It’s an especially clever way of demonstrating character development in a visual novel, and a great means of showcasing a character’s state. Even our main character is subject to these change, and each time it is shown, we get an immediate sense of her anguish and mental state — which is directly linked to a gameplay mechanic we will talk about in the next section.
Additionally, thanks to the brilliant translation, the dialogue of Your Turn To Die is exquisitely natural. The characters bond in a believable way and at a plausible pace, from showing a clear sense of unease and uncertainty with one another as strangers, progressing to putting trust in one another, and ending up establishing a unit based almost entirely of trust and friendship as the characters actively seek to save one another rather than bringing each other down.
It also exhibits characters we are most likely already familiar with for a death game type of experience — for example, the liar, the logical and stoic one, and the emotionally vulnerable — but they often go completely against their archetypes, making for plenty of surprising revelations and changing up of established tropes within the genre. Possibly the very best example of this is seen in the game’s enemies, whose own parts within the game can be quite poignant and emotional.
Your Turn to Die contains an obviously prevailing element of tragedy, which also affects even the most unexpected of characters, such as the aforementioned villains: the Floor Masters. While they may be twisted, their own situation is often outside of their own control, so much so that they themselves are trapped and are highly sympathetic despite their own words and actions. The characters’ true intentions and feelings are often never established before it is too late, bringing a certain amount of despair to the situation that manages to beat out even Danganronpa’s whole theme. But we haven’t even mentioned the very best part of the experience, so without further to do, here’s to its superb gameplay!
Your Turn To Die, much like its inspirations, is not a straight-forward visual novel. You’ll encounter frequent minigames during the search sequences, and advancing the main narrative is often subject to the cast voting on actions to be taken. You’ll need to discuss the right topics of interest, present evidence and provide supporting or countering statements.
The minigames are of great importance, as being unable to succeed in them will have Sara and whoever is with her meeting their grim end through a gruesome illustration. The mini-games are almost always different in mechanics, making each one as tense as the other as players have to quickly become accustomed to carrying out the intended action to save Sara and co. You’ll be doing everything from button mashing to completing puzzles against a strict time limit, and even “spot the difference”.
Many of these mini-games make it necessary to go in with a partner, and many will change in difficulty depending on who you choose to go in with. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before, but a certain gameplay mechanic of Your Turn To Die effortlessly elevates the title into something far more impactful than all of its predecessors.
A beautiful lie of player agency
Here we finally come to the greatest feat of Your Turn To Die, a feat unlike anything we have seen within the genre before. As a visual novel, Your Turn To Die has many choices, but it’s never clear as to what is the correct decision — and the game can even sometimes deliberately steer you in the wrong direction. It can even go as far as certain tasks having to be purposely failed to avoid certain characters from dying, or setting up trials to save certain individuals but also leading to others perishing — it all depends on the choices you make.
The game is quick to set this twisted premise up with its very first trial, where a red herring is present. Your Turn To Die will fool you at every turn, and will mislead you no matter how far you think ahead – you’ll never truly have the game figured out, as it is always one step ahead of you. It makes certain moments all the more impactful, causing such an effective, visceral reaction when the death count starts racking up. And somehow, the next time is always worse than the last time.
Because not everything is as it seems here — and what is most impressive with Your Turn To Die is not its wicked trickery, but the gameplay mechanics the player utilises of their own accord, sometimes with unintended or unexpected consequences. One trial will make quick work of establishing that no one is safe, taking the player by surprise due to simply not having the foresight or ability to prevent a certain death from happening. Then we have the terrifying moments of the game presenting a first-person perspective whenever we have to sentence a fellow comrade to death — and these are some of the most harrowing moments within a video game ever.
The player is the one doing these actions at this point; the regret Sara feels and is burdened with is intimately linked with the player’s own emotional state through this one mechanic. It effectively plays on your own mind as you continue to play the game. It’s masterfully done, and deserves to be experienced first-hand to understand how powerful it really is.
Other elements needing commending
And the compliments do not end here. As previously mentioned, another critical mechanic is its sanity meter, which is introduced to the player later in the game. Depending on what players choose to select as a discussion point, or interact with during exploration, the possibility of disturbing Sara’s psyche is a threat at every turn. The visuals and dialogue are both horrifying indicators of this, and are so well implemented, with CGs and grotesque sprites of other characters jumping out at you to bring the majority of the game’s psychological horror in buckets at these key moments.
The art style is yet another exceptionally well-done creation, as the visuals are seemingly at complete odds with the grim narrative premise. They not only add another layer of individuality to the product, but do well in teasing the player’s expectations for what is to come. And this only gets more effective as situations become far less easy to stomach the further you progress.
And while character designs are simple, each one is striking, memorable and unique, representing the peculiarities of its cast well on your first meeting with each. The characters themselves are also incredibly complex, initially appearing as simple archetypes only to become increasingly more fleshed out and developed the further we see them being affected by the death game. They’re quirky, but deep.
Speaking of its characters, Sara is one of the most engaging and captivating main characters within the genre. She is exceptionally strong, but has her understandably going through many emotional hurdles and trauma throughout the game. There are multiple cases of her almost succumbing to her own mind. It’s wickedly cruel in how truly grounded and realistic Sara is, hinting at how Sara may be developing into more of a “sole survivor” mindset when her paranoia escalates and the situation gets even less hopeful.
The female characters almost always have more agency over the males, with certain women in the cast going through much more development compared to their male counterparts depending on your choices. My favourite example of this is with Nao, whose journey of becoming a stronger person for those around her when she was initially the most vulnerable of the cast feels truly satisfying and commendable to see play out. Overall, the cast is complex, and this makes us easily care about them — and this is what we need in a death game; those deaths (or potential deaths) need to have meaning.
Since the game is put together on a tight budget, there is no voice acting, but its music and sound effects more than make up for it, driving home the tension at its most critical moments.
There’s nothing more I want to say without going into spoiler territory, so for now, please play the game for free now either in your browser or by downloading. You won’t regret it – or maybe you will just because you’re as late to the party as I am!
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