Thursday, May 30, 2024

Meeting in the Flesh Review

Creepy, yet wholesome. Not a phrase I often find myself getting the opportunity to use, especially when it comes to dating sim-style narrative games. But I promise you, the horror-romance visual novel Meeting in the Flesh by inkEthic is more than worthy of this description.

With a genre that has by and large enjoyed corning the warm and romantic wish-fulfilment market, narrative dating simulators tend to follow a tried and tested method of storytelling and advancement that comforts in the same way that making a cup of tea is–you know all the steps involved and you know what to expect. But Meeting in the Flesh provides something quite unique and special that leans into the surreal and Lovecraftian and masterfully balances the lovingly gruesome with the heart-warming. Which is just as well: all your potential love interests are monsters. Literally.

With an immediate warning upon starting that the game contains textual and visually non-explicit depictions of blood and gore, torture, vore/cannibalism, sex, and hand-holding, the creators go to great lengths to ensure that players going into this game are consenting to encountering these mature narrative themes. There is, however, an option to disable adult content under the preferences menu.

Set in a world of fleshy aesthetics, the player takes up the role of Vil, a salt-courier of intentionally ambiguous gender and whose overall form is concealed until far later in the story. On inkEthic’s tumblr FAQ page, when it comes to Vil’s gender they expressly note that, “Vil’s gender-ambiguous. As the game is first person and everyone addresses Vil directly, there’s never an instance where pronouns are really required to come up, and we felt it best not to try and shoehorn it in. Vil is left to player imagination and interpretation.”

Salt is quickly established as a staple food in this setting and it can be combined with a variety of different additives to enhance flavour and value. And I’ll be honest, I have never wanted to tuck into a block of salt as much as I did playing through this game–it reminds me of how beautiful and appealing Ghibli manages to make their on-screen meals, but managing to invoke that desire with salt-chunks takes some skill, especially when meshing in the horror elements in the way this game does. Somehow, over the course of the game, Vil’s voice is convincing enough that you absolutely do believe that salt is absolutely made all the more mouth-watering when adding honey, or even blood. And when conceptually the idea of putting salt in your mouth should invoke the opposite effect of salivation and you still want to chomp on a block, you know you’re onto some stellar writing.

It is immediately clear that setting is unlike the one we know and the worldbuilding is something that drew me in immediately upon starting this game. The perspectives and cultural opinions we are presented with, from seeing the world through Vil’s eyes, make the Dalí-reminiscent setting entirely normal. Naturally, all the citizens are monsters, globs of tumorous flesh growing from building is standard fair, and there’s going to be a solar eclipse of the three suns by two moons. It’s going to be a momentous occasion. But who will Vil spend the eclipse with? Below is a spoiler-free, whistlestop tour of the three possible suitors of the game.

The first possible suitor is Yiestol, the community overlook who sports a part insect, part skeletal appearance and a overall calm and kind disposition and is considered responsible and well-respected by the citizens. He is presented as the city ward with many literal eyes as he monitors activities across the town, from the mundane to the criminal. He carries a lot on his bony shoulders and perhaps there’s a way Vil can help support him with this burden.

The second option is Brattan, a buoyant werewolf who works as a salt-scout. Full of energy and excitement, Brattan is always thrilled to see Vil and seems keen to share his every thought and feeling as quickly as possible. He is a massive puppy who just wants to please and be seen. Brattan has also apparently uncovered something huge that he wants to share with Vil.

The third possible suitor is Nyargh, a globulous, many-mouthed fleshy creature who owns and runs the bee shop. He has a somewhat off-putting attitude that seemingly matches his sludgy appearance, though when it comes down to it he’s not really a bad person. There are some rumours floating around about him though. If Vil spends enough time with him, maybe Nyargh will reveal his affections and secrets.

Meeting in the flesh

With spectacular writing combined with visual that are beautifully painted and crisp inking, the horror mood, the world-building, and unique cast of characters is definitely worth getting yourself setted in with a hot drink and a blanket on the couch to enjoy a few squeamish tales with some monster boyfriends. Some other areas of note in this game include themes of polyamory, unusual standards of beauty and attraction, and bees. Yes, bees are a key feature. Please trust me on the bees.

I will stress once more that this is a game that dives deeply into the weird and wonderful, takes up unsettling concepts and gives them true attention and care, but is very consciously not sanitising its themes of choice. The tales are gritty and gory, strange and uncomfortable, and yet executed with great finesse that make the discomforting themes alluring and charming. It’s an incredibly fine line to walk and even harder to do it well, but Meeting in the Flesh executes this with enough intrigue throughout the central line of the plot that it makes replaying the alternate routes each an experience that just adds more and more depth to the world and characters.

If horror-gore and intimacy in games is your jam, then you’ll want to slather Meeting in the Flesh all over your scones. If you’ve played a lot of visual novels and find something in their typically saccharin delivery to either be unappealing or something you’ve simply had your fill of, why not trade some of that sugar for salt and give Meeting in the Flesh a chance.

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