Written By: JP
Developer: Cyanide Tea
Platforms: PC, Mac and Linux
Release Date: May 8, 2012
The Elevator is something of a surprise title from Cyanide Tea: at least for me anyway. With the time put into Ristorante Amore and Break Chance Memento, you wouldn’t think they’d have time for anything else, but there they go surprising me again. While I have a few sticking points with RisAmo (coughLiamcoughbastardcough), I liked the VN and am still looking forward to BCM. But where does that leave the Elevator?
That’s where we pick up in this one and for the most part the story is pretty good. David is the kind of character that you would expect from someone who’s lived hard and gone through several chilling experiences rather than a young person still naïve to a lot of the world. He seen a lot; carries a lot of invisible scars and it defines his methods and lifestyle. It’s an impressive feat of creative skill to capture the spirit of someone so far ahead of you in life, so kudos to Camille for delivering on that end for the most part.
Another great element of the story is the parts of the story that delve into David’s past and his conversations with the serial killer who he put a stop to: Avery McMillan. Let me make as clear as possible: Avery is a scary mo-fo. Someone once said the most effective villains are the ones absolutely convinced of their own righteousness and the flashbacks where Avery talks about his faith and the reason why he committed his horrific crimes will make your skin crawl. It reminds me actually of Red Dragon with David’s story aligning frighteningly with Will Graham’s. These segments of the game are well-executed and could have easily stood on their own in different circumstances.
So it’s all good right? Er…
The tricky part comes in as the visual novel progresses and you are trying to figure out exactly what it is. The story is split between slices of David’s current Private Investigator job, his run-ins with Elena on the titular elevator and his past. With everything we are being told, there is one thing missing from the equation: suspense. Like horror, suspense comes from a great unknown or some sort of existential threat looming over you waiting to drop and ruin your life. For 75% of the VN, no threats exists other than David’s own self-loathing; which just keeps him awake at night.
In the weeks or even months after or during the key case The Elevator focuses on, this sort of behavior would create an air of tension and suspense because the threat (Avery) was still alive. As strong as memories and PTSD can be, it's used as back story so when the VN shifts gears near the Climax, it can leave your head spinning. What stuns me about it all is that is what a relatively easy fix seeing as David's job had him on a kidnapping case at the same time he begins to interact with Elena. Although I'm sure some would've seen it as cliche, if they had chosen to directly parallel the kidnapping with David's past instead of just a mild hint, it would've immediately given this dark tale the sharp edges it needed to deliver on what I think the Ending was supposed to feel like...but more on that in a moment. Basically, if you've ever seen Red Dragon, you know what I'm getting at with tying the hunt for a potential killer with interacting alongside a similar killer: even if those interactions only happened in David's memory.
So there is no real suspense here but, without getting too deeply into potential spoilers, there are elements of a very twisted revenge story that begins to form near the final act. Unfortunately, the game’s small size keeps the elements from connecting together in-game; which sucks. The various bits and pieces leave the ending, well the true ending anyway, up to heavy audience interpretation which seems to have been the goal. It’s intriguing, but often times interpretation doesn’t fulfill quite like a solid answer does and regardless of fan theories, nothing comes close to answering the twin questions, ‘Why?’ and ‘How?’ Instead it's bittersweet in a, 'That was good but, is that really the end?' kind of way.
There are other issues I could point out in The Elevator, but really every potential problem comes back to what I’ve already said. As for what this project is, if I had to flip a coin and call it in the air, The Elevator feels more like a darker take on the usual slice-of-life visual novel than a suspense tale. It is an interesting concept, but it isn’t everything it could have been.
You'll walk... WITH A LIMP!
Presentation & Gameplay
Because of the visual novel’s length, which I’ll get into momentarily, certain decisions are made in the presentation to keep things moving. So while there is literally one event CG, we are instead treated to wall o’ texts whenever we hit the flashback sections. The writing is solid enough for this not to be too big of an issue, but the fact we go the entire visual novel without seeing what David’s nightmare actually looks like is a bit of a downer for me. But I’m the one who made the Hannibal Lecter comparisons so there you go.
Outside of its presentation, everything works as you’d expect it to. The Elevator is more kinetic novel with player input whittled to a handful of key scenes. Apparently this did not go well at Cyanide Tea Command because the word is that it will probably not happen again. As far as I’m concerned it works fine enough, but there are a few flashbacks and moments I would have love to have some colorful dialogue options.
Listen, if you think I can still do a job, what have I got to lose? Apart from the weight. Very funny... Ha ha... Yes, that is a fake laugh, you jerk.