When it comes to visual novels, there are a few critical pieces beyond stellar writing that need to be in place if you want a player to remain invested in your story. And Lucky Special Games’ Locked-In does a fantastic job of gathering assets to do just that.
It shouldn’t feel like a chore to watch the words crawl across the screen while a static image representing a character delivers their lines. The game has to engage the player and give them a reason to invest their time; there are many who might typically prefer to just read a book.
But I would find it difficult to believe that a player could run through a couple of Locked-In’s eight endings and still think they could get the same experience elsewhere. The combination of its eerie silhouettes with a dash of colour on an accessory to represent each, surprisingly, well-developed character really goes a long way to quickly make you care about their motivations.
The short mystery tale is primarily played from the perspective of Jacqueline Brown, an executive business woman who’s had an accident that’s left her bed-ridden in a near-comatose state. Through a series of non-linear, flashback scenes of exposition, Locked-In slowly reveals bits and pieces about the type of woman Jacqueline is and how she’s ended up in her predicament.
The limited perspective presented in the writing elicits questions from the player in nearly every scene, just like any good mystery should, and in a short story like this (you can finnish your first playthrough in just under an hour), the rapid speed at which those questions are answered is not only efficient, but effective and pleasing as well.
However, it’s once all the big questions have been answered that Locked-In really starts to shine. Like many shorter visual novels, the bulk of the player decision points are isolated to a single scene. And in a display of well thought-out narrative precision, the creator of the game (who goes by the name of Saguaro) pulls the player through several dictionary definitions of what it truly means to be “locked-in.”
When it comes to shorter experiences like Locked-In it can be easy for someone like me to say, “it’s free and it’s you’ll finish it in three hours, what is there to lose?” But in reality, no matter how short or inexpensive an experience is, any time is valuable time. Choosing to spend that time in the mind of Jacqueline Brown, will not be time wasted. It’s been a few months since I first hit “Start” on this visual novel.
My mind’s been thinking about it ever since.