A truly horrifying puzzle experience.
Viviette is an attempt to make a hardcore puzzle-exploration game. In the vein of classic point-and-click adventure games, each puzzle will give you an item that you use to open a new area or to solve another puzzle. These puzzles are set against a backdrop of a horror mystery that can be genuinely creepy and unsettling at times. Unfortunately the atmosphere feels a bit wasted; playing Viviette is boring at its best and downright frustrating at its worst, spoiling any tension or fear that exploring a haunted mansion should infuse.
In Viviette you play as Jules Fosset, a man searching for his sister, Felice, in an abandoned mansion. Jules soon finds that Felice was possessed by some supernatural force, and is now chasing him down to attack him. The posessed Felice is your main threat, as she chases you down while you’re busy solving puzzles. This genuinely increases the tension of exploring the mansion, as you worry that Felice may be waiting in each room you enter. This constant threat and well-crafted pixel art style helps to really sell the classic horror feeling that Viviette is going for.
However, this atmosphere isn’t enough to carry the actual puzzle-solving gameplay. There’s a lot of backtracking in between each puzzle, and Felice’s presence manages to make each puzzle all the more frustrating because of the roundabout paths you need to take to avoid her. One puzzle involves watching candles light up on a statue and then going to the other side of the mansion to light up the corresponding candles on an identical statue in the same order. When I was trying to solve this puzzle, Felice was in the main hallway between the statues the whole time. Every time I made a mistake lighting the candles, the solution would completely change, forcing me to go all the way back to the other statue.This made the trek between the statues elongated, turning a genuinely scary threat into a merely annoying obstruction.
On the whole, the puzzles themselves are alright but they trend towards being a bit too difficult. The majority of puzzles follow the format of “use item X at location Y”, but the combinations are so specific that it’s tough to keep track of everything that might be important. At one point, you’ll find a pair of pliers inside the mansion. These need to be brought outside to a small wooden log hanging in the yard to cut the wire the log is hanging from. This log then needs to be brought to the shed at the opposite end of the yard to be cut open with a buzz saw. These all sound like they’re part of a simple logical progression, but when you’re trying to figure out where in the vast mansion multiple items are supposed to be used, it can be easy to forget there even is a shed. And that’s just assuming you’ve even visited the shed. It was incredibly satisfying whenever I actually knew what to use an item with immediately, but that satisfaction was immediately undone when I spent upwards of 20 minutes trying to figure out the next thing I was supposed to do before giving up and checking a guide online. Multiply this process over the course of a few hours of gameplay and it stops being fun pretty quickly. Additionally, the rare puzzle that strays from the regular formula ends up feeling half-baked. The statue puzzle gives you only one chance to memorize which candles are supposed to be lit up. If you press the button to check the candles again you’ll receive a completely different combination. If you can’t memorize the pattern immediately on one viewing - or cheat and take a video with your phone instead - then you’ll be running back and forth as the solution changes over and over. And even when you finally get the pattern right, you may still get a bug that causes the solution to randomly fail anyway. Another puzzle asks you to arrange a group of crows in a cemetery to match a picture you saw inside the mansion – but as far as I can tell, there’s no way to actually control where the crows go. You simply walk up to them to force them to move and hope they go where you want them to. If a crow randomly overlaps with another crow that actually is in the correct spot, you’ll be forced to inadvertently cause both to fly away.
Viviette takes pride in the fact that it is complex and highly difficult. According to the store page, navigation itself is meant to be an obstacle, and getting the good ending is not the norm, but the exception. I think these points betray the underlying problem running through gameplay: it’s so concerned with being a hardcore puzzle-solving adventure that it doesn’t stop to think when a puzzle goes too far. Viviette is purposefully inaccessible to all but the most hardcore puzzle solvers. Perhaps this is the point, and many will undoubtedly see this as a good thing. If you want a game to really push you to the absolute limits of memorizing a whole area to identify every hidden clue, then Viviette may be the game for you. Otherwise, it’s best to look elsewhere, since you’ll probably spend more time looking up solutions online than actually figuring them out yourself.