Misao was originally a freeware game developed by Sen of Miscreant's Room and translated into English by vgperson, a game developer and translator who is mostly known for translating various RPG Maker horror titles like Ib and The Witch's House. Last year, Sen released an updated remake of the other game they're most known for, Mad Father, and recently Misao was given the same treatment. "Updated remake" is a much more apt term for this game; the artwork is entirely redone, there are new scenes and events, and most importantly for a game such as this, there are new deaths! It's been quite a while since I played the original Misao, but the prospect of a remake was intriguing enough for me to pick it up.
Misao takes place in a Japanese school that is suddenly launched into a mysterious and dangerous other world. One of the students, Aki, hears the voice of the titular Misao calling out just before the school vanishes. Misao was a reclusive, frequently bullied student that disappeared with no trace three months ago, but Aki wonders if the changes taking place in the school are connected to her. She soon meets up with Onigawara, the student council president, who explains that Misao's vengeful spirit has indeed cursed the school. Feeling guilty for not being able to do more for Misao while she was alive, Aki steps up to uncover the secrets of the school and appease Misao's spirit.
While the protagonist pictured above is female, you can actually choose between a male and a female player character; you also get to choose their name, with Aki being the default given. It's implied throughout the game that the two are alternate selves of each other, enforced by the fact that they're virtually identical apart from the female version being noticeably and laughably more bloodthirsty. Misao's anger in her death is the driving force behind the game's conflict, but she is given more fleshing out in flashbacks, and by the end of the game you will definitely feel horrible for her. It seems like the rest of the student body is mostly made up of horrible bullying assholes. The other characters are mostly there to serve as people who Misao holds grudges against: Tohma, Saotome, Yoshino, and Kudoh all bullied or betrayed her in some way, and aside from maybe Kudoh (who is established to be Misao's childhood friend), none of them are particularly sympathetic. In fact, the way they treat their fellow students is notably and unusually realistic for a game.
Rounding out the cast is Kurata (who was called Sohta in the original game), a teacher who is also sucked into the other world and sets out to explore it on his own. Despite being the only adult present, he insists that he isn't fit to save Misao, and you certainly do a lot more to help yourself than he ever does to help you. There's also the aforementioned Onigawara and his helper Miss Library, whose roles in this game hint at its shared universe with Mad Father, Sen's other prominent title. There seem to be more such hints in the remake than there were before as well...For example, when you get the chance to rename Miss Library (because apparently she doesn't have a name of her own and Onigawara is not very inventive), try naming her Aya or Maria.
Most of the game is based on exploring the ruined school in order to find what you need to help Misao's spirit pass on, while also searching for your classmates and avoiding the many dangers present. This game was originally known for its many gruesome ways that the protagonist could meet her end; most of these have been carried over to the remake, and there have also been new ones added, for a total of forty-two ways to die. The game even helpfully provides a list of all of them, which is a nice touch for the completionists among us. This is one of those games where you want to save and quicksave frequently, because you're encouraged to explore while simultaneously being hunted by the environment itself. Most of the puzzles aren't too hard, and a couple of the more obtuse ones from the original game have been removed; you can also get hints from Miss Library once you befriend her.
The game can be completed in a couple of hours, although there are a couple of different endings and an additional epilogue scenario called Truth that you can play after being the game at least once. While the story is relatively simple and doesn't exactly break new ground anywhere, its depiction of high school bullying is a shocking and sobering one. Most of the bullies fail to grasp the reality of their actions, and they also have an infuriating tendency to blame Misao for her own misfortune. Having been bullied before, some of the things they say feel very familiar to me. Like I said earlier, it's also very hard not to feel for poor Misao, who did nothing to deserve all the hatred that got piled on her.
The game has a few bonus features you can unlock after beating it; there's some guest art, a music box, and the ability to change the title screen once you've gotten enough deaths (that list from earlier will be helpful). There are a number of achievements you can get that are mostly related to the endings or various deaths, although at time of writing one of the achievements is bugged and cannot be received. The original version had a secret room called the Rec Room that talked about development secrets and character facts, and unfortunately, the Definitive Edition has removed it. It was a unique and fun bonus feature, and I'm sad to see it gone.
All in all, this was a nicely nostalgic remake. The updates to the art and environment greatly improve the experience without removing it too far from its roots, and the story remains as gripping as ever. I still really wish that the Rec Room had made it into the remake, but it's a small complaint, and if anything, playing this remaster has made me want to unpack the original version and go find it again anyway. Happily recommended to both newcomers and fans of the freeware game. Just make sure you watch your step...
Misao: Definitive Edition is available on Steam and Playism. The original freeware version of the game is available on vgperson's website.
Final verdict: Misao: Definitive Edition does what any good remake should and improves on the original without completely erasing it, and the result is enjoyable, nostalgic, and (of course) filled with silly deaths galore.
Misao: Definitive Edition is developed by sen/Miscreant's Room and published by AGM PLAYISM. The opinions expressed in this review are my own. I was not compensated in any way for this review.