It’s pretty tough, being good.
Lilli knows that better than anyone, living as she does at a convent school under the vigilant eyes of a strict Mother Superior. Following the rules to the very letter does nothing to stop the flood of harsh criticism constantly coming her way – nor does it improve her relationships with her fellow students, almost none of whom seem to think of her as more than a weak-willed and perhaps slightly creepy teacher’s pet. Perhaps it is just as well they have a way of disappearing when Lilli follows directions, each replaced by those funny little gnomes that nobody else seems to notice, painting diligently over unpleasant things with a cheerful candy pink.
Only her free-spirited friend Edna seems to understand Lilli’s true heart – but when a dark figure from Edna’s past appears to threaten her, Lilli must draw on all of her ingenuity to find a way for both of them to escape the convent and strike out for the dream of a new life.
Mechanically, Daedalic Entertainment’s sequel to Edna and Harvey: Edna Breaks Out is a classic point-and-click in every respect. Sequelphobes need not fear if this is their first introduction to the Edna and Harvey universe: while references are made to the first game’s events, it is quite easy to pick up on what’s happened previously, and Harvey’s New Eyes stands well enough on its own.
Puzzles of the “use inventory item here” variety are ubiquitous, interspersed for variety with an assortment of minigames ranging from grid-based logic puzzles to cunning deployments of syllogisms to a kind of battle chess. A degree of credibility-straining “adventure game logic” is required on occasion (a late-game example involving a pizza comes to mind), but this is unlikely to bother fans of the genre – and may in any case be somewhat justified considering the currents of madness that seem to underlie nearly every other element of the work.
Let’s take the aesthetics, for instance. The visuals here are bright, simple, and whimsically cartoony, but do not be misled: the art style is a carefully-chosen contrast to the pitch-black gallows humor the story offers. There’s something a little off-kilter about nearly everything we experience, from the sinister, quirky growl of the opening song to the slightly hysterical quality of much of the game’s voice acting, which ranges widely from delightful scenery-chewing to rather grating. Subtitles are an option for those wishing to play without voices; there is, however, at least one jarring reminder that English is not this game’s first language, with an accidental subtitle appearing in the original German.
There are a few hiccups that may surprise gamers accustomed to titles constructed along less old-school lines — while I encountered no game-breakingly unwinnable situations, there is no autosave, either! — but overall this is a solidly built adventure game in the classic mold, with a darkly whimsical premise, a world steeped in gleeful insanity, and a style of black humor that may leave one uncertain whether one is laughing out of amusement or discomfort.
But none of this really speaks to the game’s most interesting facet. If you’ve read this far and intend to give Edna and Harvey: Harvey’s New Eyes a try, you may wish to stop here and return once you’ve completed at least one of the endings. We’ll wait.
At first blush, this appears to be the tale of a budding young psychopath. Perhaps it is – certainly an alarming number of Lilli’s schoolmates do die in the game’s first chapter, and that cheery pink paint is all too obviously covering up yet another corpse that has resulted from Lilli’s attempts to do as she’s told. But closer inspection reveals another layer to the grim goings-on, one that’s easy to miss under a body count so high: This is a story that is fundamentally about repression, the sublimation of oneself, and the effect that can have on a person.
To call Lilli repressed is an understatement: she is constantly bullied not only by the other characters, but by the narrator as well. This disembodied voice is often our only context for Lilli’s inner monologue or motivations, and yet he also threatens her on more than one occasion, phrasing the adventure-game-standard “You can’t do that” messages as our heroine’s own thoughts, opinions, and occasional manifestations of rock-bottom self-esteem. Clever use of the adventure genre’s “one puzzle, one solution” construct makes us as players quietly complicit in this oppressive scenario, as well: to advance the game, the player must have Lilli take actions that cause many deaths, as the narrator gleefully frames these seemingly-inevitable choices as Lilli’s own. Perhaps this is why she needs those little painter gnomes to help her cope!
Self-expression is denied to Lilli at every turn. At school, she is not permitted to embroider anything more complex than straight lines or crosses. Unless a specific one of the game’s three endings is chosen, the audience will never see Lilli speak for herself, either: at any other time, she cannot get more than a single word out before someone leaps in to tell her what she must be thinking and feeling – and then, of course, what she should do next.
Near the end of the game’s first chapter, this denial of Lilli’s own inner life becomes overt, as an array of strict bans on certain activities hard-coded into her brain become obstacles that will haunt the player until the game’s final moments. It’s a trifle surprising at first that it takes so long to introduce a gameplay device that becomes so integral to the experience, but it is only in learning to circumvent these “hard” restrictions that we begin to see the first signs of agency in Lilli. With those first tentative steps comes the hope that she may in the end break the ultimate restriction: doing whatever she wants.
And what then? Who can say?