A Place For The Unwilling Review
A Place For The Unwilling is an investigative visual novel with RPG elements developed by AlPixel Games. Its stylized visuals and the foreboding narrative takes you into the role of the friend of Henry Allen, a haunted man who ended his life and left you with his estate. In 21 Days, the city will crumble, and it is up to you to use Henry’s resources and influence to find the truth that shrouds the town or get caught up with its politics and sink in its eventual doom.
What interested me about A Place For The Unwilling is the mystery surrounding its intriguing plot as well as its unique style reminiscent of Braid. One could describe the story as Lovecraftian as many of its themes and motifs are based on Lovecraft’s interconnected universe. Instead of focusing on the monsters, what piqued my interest is the psychological horror depicted in game form.
As for the gameplay, most of your questing and interaction will be based mostly on a visual novel and RPG format. Think The Sinking City sans the combat with the visual novel aspect of Hermitage: Strange Case Files sans the incompetent copy editing.
Surreal Cosmic Nightmare
If something seems off about A Place For The Unwilling, it is part of its grand narrative design. From the ominous voice-over that details Henry Allen’s final letter to your character up until the first minutes of the game, you’re thrown into an unsettling but banal atmospheric nightmare that you can’t exactly define. The excellent stylized animation, the sparse background noise, the lack of discernible dialogue – everything conspires to make you uncomfortable.
Generally, there is no real danger that befalls the character in A Place For The Unwilling, save for the alienation depicted in the faceless shadows that serve as the game’s NPCs. As you get more accustomed to the town and meet some of your business partners and other notable individuals, the shadows reveal the relevant characters of the game. Some of them are likable but others can really get under your skin. Surely enough, they’ll start to ask favors from you, which make up the outline of your day.
The gameplay loop in A Place For The Unwilling happens as a 24-hour day, akin to something of Persona’s daily life where you traverse through the city and deal with its day-to-day affairs. Your mundane tasks involve going about your business of buying and selling and completing personal errands and favors from your contacts in town. Each day completes itself within 10-20 minutes in real-time. What is ominous is your character sleeps for 12 hours, so if you miss your 9 pm bedtime, you will wake at the time twelve hours later, reducing your activity to do business and interact with townspeople.
Atmospherically, how the developers have built this world really plays with the thematic rhythm of the narrative. It’s quite notable how A Place For The Unwilling‘s rules and narrative elements work to drag you into the unsettling bubble of their community. Tasks have to be completed within the day or you completely miss out on it, shops and facilities have a set time and on some days will be completely closed, and NPCs will deny you favors stopping your specific progress. (More on this later)
The whole city is quite large and you can’t be everywhere at once because walking is quite slow and tedious. While there is fast travel, it costs way too much money to do, so you really have to plan ahead to make the most out of your day. A Place For The Unwilling‘s game loop has driven me mad multiple times as after a while you would really be at the mercy of the town and the narrative.
Saving in the game is awkward and if you keep backtracking, you’ll be going through a lot of repetition of unskippable dialogue that you’ve already heard countless times. It takes a while to actually get the gameplay to hit its stride, and what will hopefully keep you motivated is the mystery and the atmosphere of it all.
Something feels off…
It goes without saying that A Place For The Unwilling knows its target audience well. Cosmic horror is a genre that is primarily cerebral, with visceral horror being secondary. Throughout your journey in the 21 Days, this type of cosmic horror is captured through its mystery, alienation, and the downright tedium of your everyday tasks.
Gameplay-wise, after a few loops, you’ll find yourself completing a litany of repetitive tasks of getting to know your city, continuing to propagate your business, and completing many fetch quests. Difficulty-wise, they’re all straightforward, and by the time you get used to the grind, the second week in-game starts to get more interesting. Sadly, once you reach this point, it already feels like a week too late as the tedium has already set in your bones.
While A Place For The Unwilling is thematically sound and really builds that sense of dread through tedium and alienation, this repetitive process may become boring for some gamers. Even as I really appreciated the novelty of maintaining this rich cosmic horror scenario, it got old after a few gameplay loops and I seriously wanted to move forward to the meat of the story.
Another aspect of A Place For The Unwilling that really gets confusing is how there’s a lack of consistency with the results of “failed missions” or consequences regarding your choices. You can completely botch a quest, but the characters affected still continue to do business with you without any repercussions. There are even times when I skip missions due to not wanting to fail them or ruin relationships between characters, but immediate results almost are generally inconsequential.
Doing the same thing but expecting a different result
A Place For The Unwilling requires a lot of patience because once the novelty ends, you’re left trying to complete the whole loop for a good three weeks worth of in-game time. Converted, that takes a good 5-8 hours in real-time without counting how many times you’ve restarted due to frustration/not achieving momentum. It doesn’t help that the current game version has an unstable build where the game would crash and its overall performance is choppy. There are some copy-editing errors in A Place For The Unwilling, but they weren’t as distracting as the more salient errors.
This is where I think A Place For The Unwilling will not appeal to the mainstream. As mentioned earlier, the game really leans into its many Lovecraftian elements that will excite many cosmic horror aficionados, but many of these Easter Eggs may not exactly appeal to the uninitiated and may even find the whole thing cryptic and confusing.
The cryptic nature of the game is one of its key motivational factors to push the story along, however, many of the unanswered questions by the end of the cycle will feel inconsequential as only the main elements will contribute to the different endings. Details may change depending on your decisions about certain key story elements, but many of your mundane busywork will only net you a few extra lines of text with some characters. I’m just not really keen on repeating A Place For The Unwilling again as going through the whole tedious cycle is something I’m unwilling to do; so I got closure from the characters I cared about while the others can simply die with their doomed city.
What We Liked:
- Atmosphere, theme, and story work in interplay to portray a distinct and foreboding world.
- Cryptic nature of the plot is a key motivator for the game.
What We Didn’t Like:
- Overall gameplay falls into a repetitive loop that gets tiresome.
- Character choices can be inconsequential and NPC behavior is inconsistent affecting overall immersion.
- Stability of the game is bumpy with some minimal copy-editing errors.
- May alienate non-Lovecraftian fans.
Verdict: Wait For It.
Personally, I appreciated A Place For The Unwilling due to its atmosphere and unique way of interacting with the world. The title really makes you feel the alienation and awkwardness of being a stranger in a strange land, while always having you be on your toes for an unseen danger. However, from a gameplay perspective, it is marred with inconsistencies that rob the game of its enjoyment.
It’s disappointing that so much of A Place For The Unwilling falls on its own strengths because, in all its achievement in atmospheric horror, it may just fly by someone who doesn’t appreciate its more cerebral and deep Lovecraftian concepts. The tedium and frustration definitely are the creeping chaos that inspires the ongoing social anxiety that makes me rethink every decision that I made. However, because of its many inconsistencies and inconsequential results, much of my worry and overthinking did not have a satisfactory payoff.
I commend its dedication to the theme and the motif, however, appreciation doesn’t necessarily equate to enjoyment. Much of the enjoyment I’ve experienced in A Place For The Unwilling has been conceptual at best. If the point of the game is to make you feel the same insanity as the protagonist, they’ve succeeded; otherwise, I was unwilling to pick up the game again after seeing the credits roll.
*A Place For The Unwilling was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch with a review code provided by the publisher.