So I Tried... Scarlet Hollow
Each edition of So I Tried… I will try a game that I have never tried before. Will I find something new to love? Will I make my “did not finish” list one entry longer? I’ll take a full half hour, no matter how bad it gets or how badly I do, to see if this is the game for me. This time I went for a spooky visual novel that is said to be one of the best narrative games you can play: Scarlet Hollow.
What I thought it was
I’m an avid watcher of let’s plays, and I stumbled across Scarlet Hollow when my favourite streamer/YouTuber uploaded a series playing the game. The beautifully hand-drawn art style and its interesting title caught my eye, so of course I watched about 10 minutes of the first chapter before heading over to Steam to try it myself. Visual novels like Eliza and Doki Doki Literature Club! have been some of my favourite experiences with the genre, and I was excited to play Scarlet Hollow as its description promised a gripping paranormal mystery, countless dialogue options, various traits to choose from, and charming characters who you can befriend or romance. It seemed like the narrative would go in many directions depending on how you play your character. But when games claim that you can make meaningful choices, I always take it with a grain of salt, since oftentimes “impactful choices” means that you get a slight variation in an epilogue or a one-off snippet of dialogue. From the little peaks I saw of Scarlet Hollow’s story, it already appeared to be more thoughtfully crafted than I was expecting, and I was more than ready to find out how its mystery would unfold.
What it actually is
Scarlet Hollow is an immersive horror-mystery visual novel featuring seven episodes, but only four of those have been released at the time of writing this article. The premise is that you’re returning to the titular small town for your aunt’s funeral, staying in the rundown family estate with your temperamental cousin Tabitha for a week. Your arrival is a buzzing topic around town as everyone already knows more about your family than you do, and what was supposed to be a simple trip quickly turns into an unsettling, paranormal dive into the town’s checkered past.
In the game’s opening moments, you get to choose your name, where you live, and the pronouns you’d like to go by. As for gameplay, you can select two character traits that will unlock additional dialogue paths throughout your playthrough; I chose Keen Eye, as it would give me the ability to notice small details, and Talk To Animals, since it seemed like a good chance to uncover some secrets only animals would know. In almost every conversation, you’re given opportunities to put these traits to good use. My character was able to talk to Frou-frou, a judgemental cat, and even a nervous little possum within the first 30 minutes. I also enjoyed that I could softly prod Tabitha and other characters for more details about their lives using Keen Eye. The characters are all very interesting and it doesn’t take long before you're going on adventures. In fact, a YouTuber named Stella invited me to go hunt cryptids with her in the woods — how could I say no?
Will I keep playing
Absolutely! I’m already in love with the music, writing, art style, and humour. It somehow manages to be light-hearted and unsettling all at the same time, and small town mysteries are right up my alley. It also seems like there’s a lot of replay value in picking different character traits as they give you significant branches of dialogue to explore. I imagine playing as a Mystical or Bookworm character would really change the tone of the narrative and alter how you develop relationships. A part of me wants to wait until all seven episodes are out to continue, but I’m so intrigued by the story that I’m definitely going to keep playing. If you’d like to give Scarlet Hollow a try, the first episode is available for free on Steam. I highly recommend it!