Written by Morpheus Kitami
You ever get a sign that you should do something? Its not something I frequently see or even think of, but sometimes it feels like these things just...happen. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn't. In the lead-up to this month's Halloween a game name kept cropping up. The Last Half of Darkness, well, there's no the, is there? I was randomly seeing the game crop up. Sometimes even, that image. If you don't know what I mean you will soon enough. Considering that 3 out of the last 4 professional adventure games I've tried were crap, we might as well see what the more amateur side of adventure gaming.
Back when I was a small, impressive child with access to a shareware CD I played a lot of shareware adventure games, with mixed results. The Hugo series was...the Hugo series. Elves '87 I wasn't terribly interested in actually playing and instead tried to play it as a beat 'em up. Uh, Dare to Dream and Weird Island were later. Come to think of it this disc didn't even have Hugo 2. Not really sure why in retrospect. Standards didn't apply because there was crap worse than Hugo 2. Then there was this.
Oh, certainly, there were other adventure games on the disc I had, and indeed more still on other discs, but this was the one I played the most at the time. I'm not really sure why in retrospect. It's not very special. Though I guess that really just describes shareware adventure games outside of Dare to Dream and maybe Plague of the Moon. Well, in Plague's case I haven't played it, but I hope to be able to blog about it some day. I guess there was Isle of the Dead there too, but I never mustered up the courage to play it. It wouldn't have been much fun anyway.
Out of all the titles I played, which indeed included the usual shareware classics involving violence and blood and guts. I handled Doom, Wolfenstein, that sort of stuff. But Last Half of Darkness scared me. With its figures tearing flesh from bone, and that image. You'll know what that image is soon enough. Maybe you even know what the image is.
The story is as follows:
Your aunt sure was a strange one. She was some sort of witch or something. A good witch though, practicing only good spells and magic. In fact, she was working on a potion just before she was killed. Now the secret will go to the grave with her... unless you can find the missing ingredients.
You, being her only living heir received news and came quickly to find out she had plans for you to continue with her work. You gain title to her estate and her fortune only if you continue with her studies in the field of magic.
"Killed", but why? How? What could have killed her?
I should note, there are many different versions of this game, which I'll get to at the end. Anyway, there are two lights in the mansion. I always thought it was just one in the attic, but apparently not. I think my mind had it much better.
A lot of areas are basically just for atmosphere. There's a porch and this entrance room. From here I can go to the hallways, kitchen and the rest of the house, or I can go upstairs. Since I remember how everything goes, we'll be headings towards the attic, which is locked, so I'll be going through the kitchen.
The key is in one of the kitchen cabinets. There's nothing here except that. How long ago did my aunt die? Certainly she wasn't in here anytime recently. I get money on-screen, I guess for score? I don't remember THAT. To the east is a cupboard, only containing a matchbox, which moves slowly back and forth.
There's a cheap padlock on the door, and once open, I find myself in a dusty staircase up, except there are footprints. That tracks with the light up there.
Well, here's the fireplace, and is that a painting of this house? Talk about cheap. "Looks like its out of a horror movie". Lame. I open a door to see if someone's there.
|It's funny, lady, this house is abandoned and somehow you're here and are taking a cold bath|
And...what is a naked lady doing in my dead aunt's house? Why is she acting indignant about this? Not important. She doesn't want me to be here and I can't hit her anyway. I'm just going to take this towel. Not like she's going to need it.
There was another doorway on the attic. I wonder what's here? A coffin? Let's open it. Anyway, you might want to look away in case the above didn't tip you off that this is a violent horror game.
|I always remembered this guy as having holes at the end of his fingers, but I guess those are his nails|
See, this guy has a minor issue with me, namely, that my internal organs are internal and not external. Funnily enough I remember this guy being more rounded and muscularly, guess that's just my memory playing tricks on me. What happens at some point is that we hear a scream, and the lady upstairs disappears. Presumably this guy does it, but we'll never know. Why? Because even if you're right outside the room when it happens you'll never see anything happen, and it won't trigger if you're in the room. Guess Fisher couldn't code that. That's something I can relate to. It is worth pointing out that he won't pop out if you open the coffin after the lady is dead.
All right, let's go through the rest of this game as normally as possible. Proceeding through the second floor, or is it first? You never know with these haunted mansions and their obtuse way of using floors. The Nine Lives of Secret Agent Katt had a weird floor layout, Legacy had the European numbering despite being in America. Wonder what it is here. Anyway, this bedroom is fairly nice-looking. Really, all the backgrounds in this game are incredible, despite seemingly being so amateurish. That portrait there is apparently dusty and I have a towel.
|You can't tell it in the screenshots I'm showing, but apparently there's a one pixel change on the drawers at some point|
Using the towel on the painting or perhaps just using the painting reveals a secret area...where there's a book. What's inside is as in the screenshot. I tried writing grave backwards and what-not, but nothing sprung to mind upon doing so. Nothing else is very interesting, but the plant on the right is the rare Gi-Gi flower, which I suspect is a clue.
|Is it broken?|
Room no. 3 contains a desk, a mirror which doesn't show reflections, and a locked box in a drawer. The paintings aren't important and I can't look under the bed. Good. No, the mirror doesn't do anything with the book.
Room no. 4 doesn't have very much interesting in it. One of the potraits is of my aunt's friend, who looks like a ghost. Oh, I guess there's the closet...
|Remember, act casual|
Oh. I don't remember this. Examining her is the only way I get something interesting. I do believe this is the woman in the upstairs bath. Someone might ask the question, Morpheus, how did she get here? Weren't you walking back and forth between rooms? I don't know. What's more interesting is that its possible to not have unlocked the door before finding the corpse here. Translation, you and I care too much about silly things like logic. Fisher probably saw some Lucio Fulci films and tried to emulate them as much as possible or something.
|I have several questions|
There's a bathroom, which apparently hasn't been used in quite some time. You can turn on all the faucets in this place, and they won't turn off. I don't think I'm going to be getting five hundred dollars out of this place. I also note that after I leave the room, the corpse in the closet is gone. Actually gone, because I assumed it was a glitch, but no. Opening and closing the closet and it disappears.
|What, a witch in Hawaii?|
The ground/first floor, at least in my mind, is divided into two sections, the kitchen and dining area where there's not much, at least nothing I haven't already explained, and then there's the back half of the house. Where the fun begins.
The hallways here feel a lot creepier than in the last section, perhaps that's just foresight because of what's about to happen. There's another room with a mirror which doesn't help with the book either. Probably missing something there.
|I wonder about the design of this particular area, for reasons which are about to become very clear|
This is a perfectly mundane hallway. The room on the left leads to a nursery. Why is a nursery so far away from the regular bedrooms? Do I look like a mansion designer? Let's go through the middle door first.
Here we have a garden of rare plants, like the rare African 'Judeo Armo', 'Panzoria Fern', and a peach tree. Oh, we have the fountain of youth back there, I'll just take this watering can and take some of it. You never know when that'll come in handy.
|Wow, a signed copy of the Bible, and a CIB copy of Emanuelle 2, such treasures|
The other closed door leads to a study. You build this huge mansion for such a small room? Oh, well. "I'm going to kill HER!" "Its just your average chalkboard." Then i examine a table and find myself reading a book. There's a book there? Bookmark one has red of liquid, heat of flame. Give a drop to become quite tame. Okay, I didn't realize witches needed to rhyme. Does this mean that for this entry I should speak in rhyme? Er...what do you think this time? "Blossom green of sweet Gi-Gi. Add to red and heat up thee." "Give a drop to girl soon dead. Blossom drop will raise her head." So I need to create green liquid to resurrect that girl? Assuming I can find her again...she disappears like a whirl.
Anyway, the book finishes by telling me the secret lab is behind the blank bookcase. That's...fine, I guess. What's in here? Why, a dead mouse. Good thing they don't show it. Some countries don't like animal cruelity and things like it. A beaker, which I think I need for some potion. Yeah, that has the liquid I need. A computer locked with a passcode I don't know. The cabinet there?
(I didn't take a screenshot of this, but its really lame, so I'm not going for one, the snake just appears on the screen and the text is about how you've been turned into a pin cushion)
There's a giant snake in there. Of all the deaths in this game, this is the most, "Aha, you sucker!"
|Isn't that a lot of greats for someone who died 100 years ago?|
Moving onto the left, the nursery. I don't really want to do this, but I guess I must. I remember when I first played this my system was so fast that the playing of patty cake here was a blur of hands. I like the text description that completely ignores what I'm seeing in front of me. Who are these people, game? Is this their presence? Its not obvious at this moment, but the second I walked in I was screwed. I try walking out or speaking, and its the same thing as if I strike them.
You have to understand that there's a worse reaction to this compared to some other random game where you get a third-person view. Keep in mind at the time this would have taken up as much of the screen as you see here. That means this would have been much bigger than you see at the moment, since this was back when I played DOS games full-screen. Anyway, now as an adult...it's still creepy. I seem to remember blood on that dagger though, and the arm looks wrong. Also, that's probably not a little girl. That looks like an adult with a bow in her hair. Ultimately, I guess I've seen worse when I watched Dawn of the Dead and The Howling, and I'll see much worse over the years, but this hits harder.
And I should point out, back when I first played this, I wasn't expecting it at all. I assumed it was some "fun" horror game, like the Hugo series where things weren't so serious.
|My uncle was quite the hunter, and apparently my aunt had her cat stuffed|
Moving on, there's nothing I can do yet. I remember looking up a walkthrough years later and discovering that you don't do anything to her, you just do something else and they disappear. Guess even indie games don't want to show a ghost vampire kid getting killed. In the hallway out, I find a dropper. By going back and lighting the beaker, I can get a red liquid. What can I do with this? I can make people tame. That's code for something. I hope it isn't something unpleasant.
I should point out that while I haven't been talking about it, the game has a lot of flavor hotspots that more or less expound on my dead aunt and uncle. I assume the uncle is dead, be it by natural causes or...something in this house.
Outside there are a couple of paths, I'm taking the right one first. This leads to a shack.
Inside is this fellow. He's got an axe. Despite being hostile to my presence, he's nice enough not to murder me straight off. I can't say anything to him, because he just stands there if I do. More polite than certain other characters. So I hit him.
That's shocking. What's the axe for then? I feel like this was an attempt to not just be lazy, and he couldn't really draw the guy swinging an axe. I have no complaints, its still pretty good. Just an observation.
What I was really supposed to do was use the dropper on him. It's a sleeping drug. This place is empty. Very empty. Why is he guarding this place? There must be some hidden doorway or something, but if there is I don't think you can find it. I can't even examine this guy, or his axe, but I can take it. Now to take the other path.
Hey, somebody is here. That's funny. You know, for what I assumed was a decript, abandoned mansion sure has a lot of people here. This here caretaker is someone I wasn't told about. I try talking to him, and nothing happens. "Your words go on unoticed." I assume one of the later versions fix that. Well, he must have a good reason to be digging up something in a graveyard.
I continue exploring the graveyard, I see my aunt's grave. "She died asleep". In this house? Did anybody perform an autopsy? I feel like someone should have performed an autopsy. What's with the rhyming tombstone? She really likes her rhymes.
Finally, we have the guest house. I like how the outside implies that the caretaker is a cannibal, while also making a spelling error. Actually, let's examine this for a second. From a meta perspective, I am the nephew of a witch, presumably related by blood rather than by marriage. In order to get this far I have to have not entered one room I had no reason not to enter, not open one drawer I had no reason not to open, and use a magic potion I assumed caused a sleeping effect on some random dude with an axe in my shed. Oh, and one minor, unimportant detail, THERE'S A DEAD GIRL WHO'S BODY HAS GONE MISSING. Either the axeman or this guy killed and moved a girl, and I'm just casually walking around...entering his house.
Anyway, the caretaker's house is very dusty and dirty. The bed is so dusty I refuse to even consider it. Now, do you see what I have to get? Yes, the candle. Even better, you can't examine it. Now let's deal with the caretaker.
Jesus, this guy's face is nasty. To get his attention I need to try to take his lantern. Why couldn't I have just walked up to him? I don't know. Trying to talk to him reveals why I couldn't say anything to him earlier, he can't hear. Anyway, let's take his shovel.
(I didn't take a screenshot of this either, trust me, you just see him shoveling dirt in a hole...vaguely)
You know, I never saw this death before. It's really lame. What I actually need to do is hit him with the axe I just got. You know, like a normal person thinks of doing. I suspect the caretaker is a ghost, so I didn't murder him. At least I don't think that applies to ghosts? I don't think the legal system is prepared for witchcraft.
Oh, lame. Well, now I can take his shovel. What did I need his shovel for? Why, to dig up my aunt's grave. I'm not sure this is what my aunt had in mind. What's in the grave? A bone. What did I need it for? We'll get to that. Hang on, wasn't she killed and didn't naturally die? Surely you wouldn't screw up something as simple as this.
|Yeah, apparently there was just one bone in the coffin|
Now seems like a good time to start clearing up loose ends. I use the water on the Gi-Gi plant to no benefit, I light the candle. Then I realize that the password is evarg, rather than needing to find any words that look like grave reversed. This gets me this rhyme and some magic words. HABACAS OJECA MISTO. Now what?
Well, I check the nursery. Aha! We're now in the entire map. What else is there. Wonder why they just disappeared. What were they guarding?
|I mean there are a lot of horror stories where children are put in peril...|
A closet. You know, this would have been funny if I ever reached here as a child. Well, it's not a secret how I'll get past here. Axe on boards.
Hey, this is new. Less moody though. We have the girl again. Wonder how she got here. Probably not important. She's not an interesting object though. I don't have the green liquid, because I don't have the blossom. Better go get the Gi-Gi Blossom. Only, there's a problem. Watering doesn't do anything. And I hear a dog barking. I guess I better get some more water from the fountain of youth or whatever.
A dog. Hang on a minute....This is the same dog that would appear in Nine Lives of Secret Agent Katt!
|What is that stuff supposed to be connected to my arm?|
|Fun for all ages. (reminder, yes, it is supposed to be for all ages)|
Down to the death scenes. I've been robbed! Oh, you throw the bone at it if you want to get past here, but otherwise it's not important. No, it's not the caretaker's dog, this apparently appears regardless of your previous actions. But what was I doing wrong? I check a walkthrough and I was watering the wrong plant. Ah. Now I can create the green liquid. Better yet, I killed the caretaker and defiled my dead aunt for nothing!
To win, I have to say the magic words, creating a plank...
|I died, so that's all I have to say|
And then put the dropper on her lips.
|A small picture is more than I expected, actually|
Total Time: 2 hours 40 minutes
A few notes. There is an option to use the Covox Speech Thing as a sound device, which apparently involves some voices in-game. I don't particularly care for testing this since judging by the text imitating what is said, is really lame. I also really don't want to figure out how to get it working.
As I've mentioned that the game seems strange several times, I thought I should check some of the other versions. First, I got out my old disc with a copy on the game on it. It was a bit broken, I suspect by the author of the disc. It demanded that the disc be in the drive, despite being one random shareware game among many. There's nothing about it that's obviously different, so my memory is just failing me. Well, I am told the function keys, and the text here is actually from Nine Lives of Secret Agent Katt.
Meanwhile the VGA version's only differences is that it includes a somewhat fancy GUI background. There was music in the death screens for both, but eh. The intro text changes with each version, as well as the options, but it doesn't really matter. None of the in-game graphics change, and I'm sure the spelling is fixed.
Puzzles and Solvability
Every puzzle is completely reasonable, except using the dropper on the axeman. I'm not certain I like "quite time". I feel like the only way one could think of it reasonably is to try using it on the dog and failing. That probably should work anyway. My issue is that while every puzzle is reasonable, it's in retrospect. I didn't remember the towel on the painting, but I think if I didn't have the towel it never would have occurred to me, and it's incredibly unlikely that I would have had the towel the first time through.
The entire outdoor area was optional and unnecessary, and turned my character into some psychotic asshole rather than someone trying to survive. All for dealing with some random dog. I feel like this would have worked much better if these tied into dealing with the little girls, who basically only appear at the whims of the developer. That should have factored more into the game, since they are clearly some of the most memorable characters in the game.
Taking that out, everything else is incredibly mundane. I remember that the time I originally played this, I got most of the non-outdoor area done, except perhaps opening the secret door. I think that speaks volumes about the game's difficulty. At times it feels like a good introduction.
Interface and Inventory
It works. I like the function keys serving as a way of selecting all the actions. But that said, I didn't really need all those actions, did I? Hit basically only came into the question to get killed, while speak only functioned as a red herring outside of the very end of the game. The cursor's loose and actions have a nasty habit of happening twice with one mouse click. This is more a issue of the engine's speed than the interface, but it applies. The green dollar bills are a distraction.
I like the concept of the inventory more than I like it in practice. It's nice having items fill up my inventory, and it's nice being able to look at them, but the accidental double-clicking screws with inventory items. Each use of the operate command activates an item for one time. So if you miss, you have to do it again.
Story and Setting
Your aunt wants you to create the last potion she was working on. Except that its pretty clear that she already created it. She wants you to resurrect someone who died. Except that the person who died was alive at the start of the game. And assuming everyone else is a ghost, there's still someone living 'in the "abandoned" house. She died in her sleep except she was also killed. Then there's all the acts I have to do to avoid getting murdered. This is basically unimportant compared to the puzzles and feel of the game.
Still, despite some obvious issues with the house's layout, I thought the house itself was well-realized. It felt like every other room had something that expounded upon the history of my dead aunt and uncle, or events in the house. It's in these moments that the house really feels like an abandoned mansion, who's inhabitants have long ago left. Except when the game points out that no, they're still here.
Sound and Graphics
We get a nice intro tune and then no sound. Okay, I could have had Covox Speech Thing sound, but I don't think I missed anything.
Despite the very amateurish graphics, it's a very good-looking game. The author knew what his strengths were and tried to keep to them as much as possible. Like I said, there are frequently issues with the figures, like the caretaker just standing up after getting beheaded, but I think for the most part he dealt with them well.
Environment and Atmosphere
This is where the game succeeds best. As I keep saying, this game really gets the most out of itself. The mostly limited palette of deep, rich blues makes it look dark without compromising visibility. This place feels like you're really there, in that abandoned mansion. The figures often feel quite close and personal, not even because they are so keep on invading one's personal space. I'm even willing to forgive the odd off drawing. My only issue is that again, sometimes events don't quite feel like they should have happened even accounting for the loosest of logics.
Dialogue and Acting
A small handful of sentences that don't really matter.
It is what it is, a short title with enough interest to keep one entertained for most of the game's length.
It's clear why this game has recieved such a cult following over the years, even if the game doesn't have much substance in it. The same seems to not be said of its many sequels and spinoffs. Maybe, since apparently one of the later entries in the series is going to be on the main game list, far in the future. What I do know is that this series is incredibly confusing.
- We have this game, released in 1989, and redone in 1990 and 1991. One says it's VGA but isn't.
- In 1991 there was also another, actually VGA game, which was a remake of this one.
- Then we have the game's sequels, II and III, the first of which was EGA and the second was VGA.
- In 1994 we have not really sequel The Romantic Blue, which shares the same visual look and general style of the series, but isn't an actual entry. It's setting would be used later on in the series.
- Then in 2000 we have another remake, of which I am not very clear on the details.
Anyway, I'm going to resist the urge to blow through this series, instead, we'll be seeing some other titles this Halloween. Hopefully some interesting ones.