I don't only play visual novels, after all; I also really enjoy free games in general! This one is a horror RPG made in RPG Maker, originally created by kouri in Japanese and translated to English by vgperson, who translates quite a few RPG Maker games (some more of which will probably be reviewed at some point).
Ib is about the titular girl, a girl whose parents probably should have hired someone else to give her a name. On her ninth birthday, she and her parents visit an art gallery to see an exhibition on the works of the artist Weiss Guertena. While Ib is exploring the gallery, the lights suddenly go out and all the people disappear. Ib suddenly finds herself in a strange world similar to the gallery but much more dangerous, where paintings and sculptures are out to hurt her. As she wanders through the unknown trying to find a way out, she meets a man named Garry and a girl named Mary, and the three resolve to stick together. Will they find a way out, or will they be trapped in the gallery forever?
Gameplay involves exploration and puzzle solving. The puzzles do require some thought, but they aren't anything horribly tricky. The gallery itself is an entity that will get very mad at you if you break other artworks or try to harm it, and it definitely doesn't want you to leave. Paintings and sculptures will chase you and take from your life if they hit you. The rose in the corner of some pictures up there is your life meter; at full capacity, it has five points, and if you lose them all then you're dead. Luckily there are health-restoring vases and journal save points scattered around the place; you would do well to make use of them.
I think the best thing about the game is just the way it builds itself up. The atmosphere, the soundtrack, the characters...They all fit together so well, and build a dark and frightening little world. You're a nine-year-old girl wandering around a land of death traps, and the game reminds you of this fact quite often. Even your older companion Garry (his actual age is unknown, but he's hypothesized to be between 19 and 24) is terrified by what he sees. There are some jump scares, but they're not the core of what makes the game so chilling. The graphics, admittedly, are a bit limited, but it's what they do with them that counts. For example, what happens when Ib innocently takes the key you need to open the first locked door?
But I'm not a thief; I'm just a role player!
Garry and Mary, your sworn compatriots on this quest, are both very interesting in their own way. Garry quickly takes on a protective role towards Ib, while Mary latches on to her as a friend. Ib herself is nearly a literal silent protagonist; you don't ever see her talk, and she's noted by her mother to be very quiet in general. But the game itself actually changes in a few ways to reflect that despite trying to be strong, the gallery is getting to her in a bad way. At one point, you and Garry come across a painting of Ib's parents...But why would a painting of Ib's parents be in the gallery? It could be the gallery trying to mess with you...or, from the way Garry reacts, Ib might just be seeing things. It's hard to tell. Both are kind of freaky.
There are multiple endings; the one you get varies depending on how you bond with Garry and Mary, whether you make the gallery angry with you, and whether you make it out alive. They vary from a golden ending to a couple where everything just goes to hell. Most of them are pretty damn heartwrenching. There's also a bonus dungeon if you make it to the end of the gallery and a special exhibition where you can see all the artworks you've witnessed; you also get a new game plus feature that allows you to go through another playthrough to find the artworks you missed. Those together give the game good replayability; one ending will take you maybe a couple of hours, but you'll definitely want to come back for more.
I have to be honest...I love this game. It's one of my all-time favorites, even including console games and big fancy high-budget visual novels. It proves to me that high quality game doesn't automatically mean giant monster game. This game's quiet scares, its subtlety, its characters, and its strong emotional pull make it a must play.
Ib is available for free download in English from vgperson's website, or in the original Japanese from kouri's website.
Final verdict: A horror RPG that gets the scary part down; throws in memorable characters and touching moments to make an unforgettable experience.
Ib was written, illustrated, and developed by kouri, and translated into English by vgperson with the developer's permission. The opinions expressed in this review are my own. I was not compensated in any way for this review.