Phantasmagoria is a horror adventure by Roberta Williams, creator of the King’s Quest series. It is also one of the earliest and biggest games of the FMV craze of the 90s. It had an astounding (at the time) 7 whole discs (that’s in CDs, if you crazy kids even know what those are anymore) and was said to contain some pretty controversial and highly graphic material. I’ve always wanted to try it out to finally know once and for all, the truth about Phantasmagoria. Well…it kinda sucks.
You play Adrienne, who has just moved into an absolutely unbelievably huge and complicated mansion with her husband Don. There is no way in hell that some magazine writer and photographer could afford this huge, elaborate place that makes the Stauf mansion look subdued, but whatever. Adrienne decides to explore the nutty house, which I guess they never bothered to do at all before BUYING THE FUCKING THING, and soon bumbles her way into a secret room to accidentally release a trapped demon that hops into her husband.
Even though Don starts acting really blatantly weirdly almost immediately, Adrienne is oddly unbothered by her husband’s sudden and drastic personality transformation. I mean she finds a secret ritual-looking room, reads a dusty old grimoire, which causes a glowing green smoke thing to pop out and fly away, then her husband screams right after and has some kind of mysterious blackout which causes him to act like a completely different person, and all these ghostly visions start appearing, but no, Adrienne doesn’t believe in that occult business and this shit is all so mundane that it’s not even worth mentioning, much less questioning or worrying about.
This goes on for almost a week before she even acknowledges that something weird is going on. A week during which Don kind of sort of uber-aggressively rapes her in the bathroom one night, but that doesn’t seem to do more than make her annoyed with him. No, it takes her comic relief hobo housekeeper (yes, really) performing a seance and vomiting up a pile of green slime that turns into a head and explains things to her, before she finally admits that maybe something weird is going on here, and even then she still doesn’t seem like she’s taking it that seriously. Sorry, but that is some seriously shit writing.
Most of the game up to that point, which is literally most of the game, just consists of you walking around looking at things and performing a few minor inventory-based “puzzles”. Hell, I wouldn’t really even call them puzzles. For example, you find that secret room behind the brick wall in a fireplace. You have a fireplace poker and a hammer, but no, you can’t use those to break the wall down that would be “TOO MESSY”. Instead you have to find a statue that has a secret letter opener inside it upon inspection and use that. This is extra great because you actually use the hammer to break down a different wall to a different secret room later without complaint. That’s as complicated as it gets in this game too.
One nice thing I can say for it is that the graphics were definitely very high quality for a game of it’s time. The environments are nice enough looking and so are the animations, but oh the animations…if you’ve played a game like this before you’ve probably noticed they tend to over-animate things and there are a lot of unnecessary and heavily repeated scenes of characters doing really mundane things like walking through doors. This game takes that one step further and just packs in as much FMV animation as humanly possible, just because, I guess. Adrienne inspects things painfully slowly, with a drawn out, confused look on her face, and usually doesn’t even end up finding anything of use for all her looking. She will go through lengthy scenes any time you click on any chair, none of which have any use, or check her makeup and hair at any mirror you happen to inspect, and so on. At least they put a skip button in there.
Anyway, like I said, nothing all that horrific really happens for the majority of the game. There’s just a lot of buildup to when the game finally sits Adrienne down and explains the entire plot to her face, despite it being painfully obvious what was going on to everyone who saw that first scene in the first video above. In the sixth of seven chapters you get to see a few visions of death scenes that start getting a little graphic out of nowhere, and then when you’re finally in the final chapter, Don flips completely the fuck out via some of the absolute worst acting I’ve ever seen, and chases you around for the whole chapter, which ends up subjecting you to a lot of surprisingly gory death scenes until you figure out how to survive this chase chapter and banish the demon.
These death scenes were really the only thing worth seeing in the whole game. This is sure as hell no Gabriel Knight 2 or 7th Guest. It’s not even a Harvester. The game isn’t all that long, so I guess I don’t feel that bad about the time wasted, because it was an interesting experience in terms of witnessing a piece of game/horror history, as terrible as it was. People often say mostly negative things about old-timey FMV games like this, and a lot of the times I disagree with them on that, but this time they were right. This is not a game I’ll ever be touching again.