Review: Decarnation – We’re Not In Kansas Anymore

Set in 1990s Paris, Atelier QDB’s Decarnation tells the story of Gloria, a cabaret dancer who is facing struggles in both her career and relationship with her lover, Joy. One night, Gloria is visited by a stranger at the end of her show who offers her a career opportunity that she cannot refuse. However, when Gloria goes to meet the man in a local park, it’s revealed that this was only to lure her into a kidnapping plot.

Decarnation constantly switches between what’s going on in Gloria’s life in the real world and her vivid nightmares and hallucinations, which reflect her mental state. Despite using retro-style graphics, Decarnation does a splendid job with its creative visuals and creates some really disturbing scenes in the Lovecraftian world Gloria visits in her dreams.

20230523225855 1
The Lovecraftian Paris which Gloria visits in her dreams.

One of Decarnation’s biggest boasting points in its marketing material is the collaboration with Japanese composer, Akira Yamaoka, who is most known for his work on the Silent Hill series, The Medium, and Lollipop Chainsaw. Although the ten ambient pieces that Yamaoka has crafted are perfect for most of Decarnation’s gameplay scenes, there are several pop-style French tracks used while Gloria is dancing or playing music which felt really out of touch with some of the scenes where they are used. These would play at really odd times and, for some reason, the volume would be much louder than the rest of the game’s score, making them feel pretty obnoxious. On top of this, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the sound effects used in Decarnation. A lot of them felt overused, which was especially apparent in the nightmare segments where Gloria will traverse whatever hellhole has been conjured up in her mind and scream at monsters to make them go away. The same scream sound effect is used each time and becomes quite repetitive.

Where Decarnation really shines is through its story. Although I felt it difficult to dive into Gloria’s sad tale of her failing career and relationship, once she is kidnapped and needs to find a way to escape her situation, I felt my investment in the game rise dramatically. I honestly wasn’t sure if Gloria would make it out of her captivity or not, and this kept me going right up until the end.

20230528162810 1
Decarnation has some gorgeous visuals.

Decarnation also uses its 15 types of gameplay as a selling point in its marketing material. However, I would say that the gameplay was where my enjoyment of Decarnation dropped off. On top of segments in the dreamscape where you will avoid enemies or send them away with your screams, Decarnation also has several minigames which occur at various points in the game. These include rhythm-based minigames, balancing tasks when Gloria does yoga while being held captive, and more.

It felt like too much of the little things. Not enough focus had been put into a core part of the gameplay to make Decarnation actually enjoyable past the story progression. In fact, some of these minigames were quite confusing, as it’s often not made clear what you’re supposed to be doing and it’s a task of mashing random buttons until something starts to work. On top of this, a lot of the minigames will finish and the game will continue regardless of whether you succeeded at them or not, which makes them feel even more like they’re just tacked on for the sake of adding further gameplay.

20230528161018 1
These things will dart across the room at you with lightning speed…

As mentioned above, a lot of the gameplay in Decarnation consists of avoiding enemies. These are usually shadow monsters which will hunt you in the dark. You must run to the nearest light source where they cannot get you. This is all well and good – until you take into account how awkward it is to maneuver around Decarnation as a pixel, retro-style game. There’s so many invisible obstacles on the map which aren’t wholly obvious because of the graphics, which makes these segments where you have to quickly run away from one-hit-kill enemies really frustrating. There’s also a few boss battles, but these don’t come up until nearly the end of Decarnation – again, feeling tacked on rather than a consistent presence in the game.

I also felt like Decarnation could have done with some button mapping settings. Although there’s not an awful lot to do in terms of controls, this kind of adds to the problem of button mapping. To play Decarnation, you simply use the WASD or arrow keys to move around and the space bar or Enter key to go through conversation text and interact with objects. It’s not a massive issue, however, with so few controls, it would have been a bit more comfortable for the interaction button to be closer to the movement keys – in a lot of games, it will be the [E] key. But this is just a nitpick.

20230528151215 1
Decarnation has some really disturbing scenes…

When I finally reached the end of Decarnation and the conclusion of the story, I did encounter a problem where the game just didn’t know when to end. There’s a party, and you must go around and interact with some of the guests before the you can finish. Some of these guests will suggest you play MORE minigames, and, because the option to pick yes or no for these appears at the same time as the text bubble, and lags slightly, I kept on accidentally pressing ‘yes’ when I just wanted to skip the text. This was very frustrating, and it took me 20 minutes just to finish this scene and get to the end credits. I’m done, please just let me go!

Decarnation offers an engaging story and fantastic Lovecraftian, macabre visuals which really make the most out of the retro graphics. Unfortunately, its gameplay lets it down, as Decarnation doesn’t seem to know what kind of game it wants to be.

Jess played Decarnation on PC with a review key provided by the publisher. Decarnation is also available on Nintendo Switch.

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments