The Coma 2: Vicious Sisters, from Seoul-based Devespresso Games, is a lot of things. On the surface, it’s a stalker horror about a girl trapped in a twisted alternate universe and dragged into efforts to prevent an ancient demon from breaking through into the real world.
But the best horror stories are those that use their horrific premises to hold a mirror up to the darkness in our society—and for The Coma 2, that means touching on everything from Korea’s brutally competitive education system to domestic violence, from corruption and nepotism to the weight of American colonisation on South Korea. That’s a lot of ideas to juggle, but The Coma 2 does so effortlessly, delivering a captivating horror adventure in the process.
Mina Park’s nightmare begins when she has to stick around even later than the usual 10pm end of her night classes to discuss “disappointing” test score—a B+. On her way out, with the red full moon high in the sky and the school hallways almost completely empty, she stumbles upon a strange shrine in a storage room… and promptly passes out. When she awakes, she finds herself in what looks like the familiar Sehwa High—only now, there are dismembered bodies everywhere and strange creatures that claw at passersby from the shadows.
But the bigger threat is Ms Song, Mina’s English teacher. She’s normally a kind and caring teacher, but in this strange reality, she’s taken on a demonic form and hunting Mina seems to be her sole purpose. Getting out alive means always listening out for the telltale sound of this “Dark Song’s” heels, and always being ready to run and hide as soon as you hear her.
Fortunately, Mina isn’t completely on her own; there’s a group of “Ghost Vigilantes” in this realm who are dedicated to stopping Dark Song, and who hold the key to getting Mina back to the real world. Inevitably, Mina finds herself dragged into a web of conspiracies at play, from the history of the Ghost Vigilantes themselves, to the true nature of Dark Song, to the role that the powerful American family who owns Sehwa High (and numerous other interests) plays in everything that’s going on.
It’s through this web of conspiracies that The Coma 2 links the seemingly disparate themes it explores. It’s no coincidence that an English teacher is at the centre of the the cat-and-mouse game, or that it’s an American dynasty pulling the strings of Sehwa High from the shadows; The Coma 2 is a reflection on the status placed on English ability in the fight to get into a top university, and in South Korean society as a whole. (“Reading Colonialism in ‘Parasite’ ” by Juhyundred is a fascinating look at the social capital that Korean society places on English language. That essay is in the context of Parasite, obviously, but The Coma 2 touches on similar ideas.)
The Coma 2 touches on more universal ideas, too. Bullying is a recurring theme, in the many forms it can take—from schoolyard namecalling to the insidious turn that office politics can take. It’s in the way people can take advantage of people they claim to care about, sometimes without even realising it, and in the traumatic consequences of domestic violence.
Tying this story together is a straightforward horror adventure game that mostly revolves around exploring each new area to find the right items and talk to the right people in order to make your way from one objective to the next. There’s some light puzzle solving and some light resource management, but nothing too intense. That’s a good thing—it allows the story to flow, and the story is the main appeal here.
The Coma 2 has some unique ideas of its own, though. Chief among these is the ability for Mina to become injured, permanently reducing her maximum health. Each level has an optional side quest to craft some handy survival item, as well as a story event that can go one of two ways depending on whether you’ve completed the level’s crafting quest. Succeed, and you’ll safely avoid getting Mina injured; fail, and you’ll have to go through the rest of the game with one less point of health, and you only have five to begin with. If you really want to, there’s even some appeal (and achievements) in deliberately getting injured to increase the stakes—the latter parts of the game can suddenly take on a whole new meaning when you’re down to a single point of health and any hit means instant death.
There’s also the unique art style to help The Coma 2 stand out. The whole game is hand-drawn, with a mix of 2D animation and comic-style cutscenes, with Minho Kim’s bold, vibrant art style colouring every scene of the game. The 2D animations are fluid and full of expression, while the comic moments bring a whole new level of energy and emotion to the most dramatic moments. That’s backed by some compelling writing that brings to life the unique personalities of the odd characters found within the nightmare realm, and sound design that’s spot on—the click-click-click of Dark Song’s heels will haunt me for a while.
The art, sound, writing, and game design all come together with a unified purpose in telling the story that The Coma 2: Vicious Sisters sets out to tell. It’s a gripping tale of ancient monsters and demonic realms, but more than that, it’s a game that uses its grim setting to reflect on the issues affecting the world around us, and that’s when horror stories are at their most potent.
The Coma 2: Vicious Sisters is developed by Devespresso Games and published by Chorus Worldwide Games. It’s available now for Xbox One (reviewed), PC, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch.
A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.