Devespresso Games is a company that takes joy in challenging the players of its games. The last release by the developer, Vambrace: Cold Soul, was a sparklingly polished but brutally hard take on the Darkest Dungeon formula, a game that chewed up and spat out those who ventured into the icy wasteland underprepared. The Coma 2: Vicious Sisters is a similarly challenging take on the world of survival horror. A sequel to The Coma: Cutting Class, the first game created by the independent developer, the game thrusts the player into a frightening world of Korean folklore and fables.
Mina Park has been having a rough couple of weeks. Her best friend Youngho is trapped in a coma, with nothing able to rouse him. Her grades are slipping, and the obnoxious baseball star Myung-Gil will not stop pestering her for a date. All that brings her comfort is a locket she got from Youngho, a shiny silver trinket with a picture of a strange woman inside. On the night of a blood-red full moon, Mina leaves a late-night study session to find the world twisted and warped around her. Thick vines crawl across desks and chairs, and the ashen-faced figures of her classmates are frozen in a thick layer of wax. She has slipped into The Coma, a mystical realm where one’s deepest desires and fears are made flesh. An entity known as the Vicious Sister wishes to escape The Coma into the waking world, and will destroy anyone who gets in her way. Fleeing the high-heeled menace, Mina desperately searches the coma world for a way back home, finding out more about Youngho’s fate and the nature of the cursed realm in the process.
As an average high school girl, Mina has no weapons on hand to defend herself with, instead relying on her wits to survive. The coma is full of danger: misshapen creatures swipe from the ground or fall from the ceiling, seething masses that hide just beyond the reach of her lighter’s glow. Such beasts can be evaded by running or jumping aside, but if Mina makes too much noise one of the more deadly creatures might be alerted to her presence. The Vicious Sister has flesh thralls following her commands, entities that can follow Mina from room to room and make short work of her pitiful life bar. These enemies, along with Vicious Sister herself, can only be thrown off the trail by finding a good hiding spot, such as inside a cupboard or locker. Different objects offer different levels of cover, with Mina needing to pass a trickier quick time event to stay silent under a desk than inside a toilet stall. Thralls grow more aggressive the longer Mina stays in an area, requiring the player to always keep an ear out for incoming footsteps.
In the brief respite between monster attacks, a good deal of Mina’s time is spent exploring the coma world, gathering up items and trying to find a way forward through the maze-like maps. Quite often an objective will be quite straightforward, such as ‘go to the Biology lab’, but the main staircase is covered in vines, necessitating a long loop around to reach the destination. Once Mina finally reaches the door, another wrinkle appears: the door is locked, so she needs to search for the key. That key had been borrowed by another teacher entirely, so Mina must figure out which class they teach to find the item. As such, the path through the levels is long and complicated, especially when monsters need to be avoided along the way. In other cases, Mina may need to memorise a pattern or discern a location from snippets of a scrawled down argument. These puzzles always give the player a clear sense of purpose, which is important to have when the monsters will beat Mina down over and over.
Players can expect to die a lot in The Coma 2: Vicious Sisters. While the difficulty curve is not quite the slap in the face that Vambrace: Cold Soul delivered, the game is challenging from beginning to end. Mina has five points of health, which can be permanently reduced if certain actions are not taken in each level. Carrying out those actions is also risky, however, as it requires further exploring through the levels while a mini-boss is on the loose. Mina’s health can be restored from snacks bought from vending machines, but money is also scarce, with running out of money entirely mid-game a real possibility. Save points start out frequent, but become more and more sparse as Mina ventures further into the otherworldly realm. Any attacks from Vicious Sister herself are a one-hit kill, no matter Mina’s condition.
This brutality, however, serves a purpose. The player feels weak and fragile, so every victory is a heart-pounding triumph. One can become easily desensitised to the presence of a villain, but by putting the player at such a disadvantage, the click of Sister’s heels induces terror with every occurrence. The length of the game, roughly eight hours, is also just right, short enough that the scares do not lose their impact.
A few small mis-steps did, on occasion, tip the balance between hard and frustrating. In the third area of the game, Dokkaebi market, a key needs to be found by examining a drawing. The picture did not resemble the location of the key very closely, and the icon showing that it could be picked up was a very faint magnifying glass, as opposed to the bright icons used for everything else in the game. Adding the same sparkle that is used for other pick-ups to the key would have helped greatly. In the same area, an enemy is introduced that does not seem to follow the rules. This creature, a four-legged fleshy monstrosity, is able to attack Mina when she is hiding in cover, even when she is behind a door. Bad guys can also attack when Mina is examining something or in conversation with a minor character. Since the player does not have access to movement controls in these circumstances, allowing enemies to attack then seems overly harsh.
The intense impact of the coma world and its inhabitants is amplified by the gorgeous visual design. Lead artist Minho Kim has a distinct, highly detailed style, and his work creates a cohesive vision for the otherworldly plane. Cutscenes are displayed piece-by-piece in comic book panels, striking in their intense colours and line work. The contrast between Mina’s innocent gaze and the horrors she encounters is just right, a clear indication she does not belong to that world.
Sound design is also a vital aspect of the game experience. Each sound imparts important information: Mina catching her breath, the footfalls of a pacing enemy, the shifting of a hidden tentacle. Background music adds to the creepy atmosphere, with distorted versions of everyday noises keeping the beat.
No knowledge of the first game is needed to enjoy The Coma 2: Vicious Sisters, as the story stands alone for most part. As much as it is a horror story full of Korean mythical creatures, the game is also a tale of personal growth. Mina starts out as a wide-eyed and unreliable person, but gains confidence in herself and her abilities as she faces down the terrors of the night. Returning players will have more investment in Youngho, as he does not get much development here, but considering the short length of the game the focus is rightly aimed squarely at Mina.
The Coma 2: Vicious Sisters is a terrifying, well-executed fusion of survival horror and adventure game sensibilities. The game is extremely tough, but also rewarding, and will forever create an association between the sound of high heels and danger.
Reviewed on PC.