Echo Night 2: A second dose of lonely ghosts

A soft giggle in the dark.

Your body dragged across the room by an unseen force.

The quiet tinkle of a small bell slowly but surely growing into a nigh-constant ringing.

And then…

What happens next depends on whether you were already halfway out the room the instant you noticed something strange or decided to stick around, as the above are all telltale signs one of Echo Night 2‘s malevolent spirits has materialised in the room and is about to try and make you as dead as they are.

As before, the number of violent spirits floating in and around the game’s haunted mansion is absolutely tiny—there are only three to fret over all game long—but what they lack in quantity they more than make up for in quality. These deathless enemies are dangerous and relentless, a looming threat you can only fend off by rushing for the nearest switch and praying the room’s lights come on. It’s a brilliantly disempowering idea, leaving you wholly reliant on an unreliable outside source for small snatches of personal safety, one that may not work at first (or ever). Echo Night 2 makes it very clear that you have a very good reason to be afraid of the dark.

Echo Night 2 also makes it very clear that rules are made to be broken, the game’s second area eager to remove even this weak ray of hope. The electricity-supplying switchbox here isn’t just inactive, it’s damaged beyond repair—and the ghost isn’t going to politely wait while you have a little look around.

The good news is one of the rooms in this small area contains an oil lamp. The bad news is the oil in it will run out after a while, leaving you wondering why it’s suddenly gone dark for an awful moment before you make a mad dash for the oil tank outside. The worst news is that as you progress through this place, begin to get used to the routine, and perhaps even start to believe this convenient lamp really is going to solve all of your ghost-related problems… you end up standing in the rain, your tiny flame extinguished, and trapped at the top of a tower with the area’s angry spirit. There’s no protection, no way to escape—and if you’ve not thought to collect the correct ghostbusting item beforehand, no chance of surviving either.

Luckily for us, getting caught by a spectre is not usually as fatal as that memorable encounter, and even in its most physically damaging moments Echo Night 2 always feels like it’s playing fair. Ghosts will always disappear for a short while if they catch (or later, stab) you, giving you a chance to heal up, escape, or finally reach that damned light switch. They may not necessarily manifest in your field of view, but they won’t silently phase through a wall or doggedly pursue you from room to unlit room (they will still show up eventually, but they won’t immediately pass through the door even if logic dictates there’s only an inch of wood between you and them). They’re even gracious enough to stay out of certain areas the unwritten “rules” say they should be able to appear in: you’ll never get cornered in a tiny space built for one or fail to clear a puzzle that must be set up in the dark just because a ghost turned up at the worst possible moment. You won’t necessarily be calm enough to notice the game’s granting you these breathing spaces, but they are there.

Between and sometimes even during these bouts of panic-running for switches and safety are a variety of puzzles of the old adventure game kind. They’re enjoyably obtuse at best, ask you to fill in missing notes on a sheet of music based on a tune you heard in a different room at worst, and more than a few times break the usual game-puzzle-logic by asking you to reuse something you thought you’d finished with—a key that’s already found a keyhole, the empty setting where a gem once was—in another place (another time too, in at least one instance).

They’re… a real mixed bag. To be fair the game does give you the time, space, and the recovery items to poke around the place and work these mysteries out for yourself, but there’s no doubt these segments could’ve been handled better; especially as these issues are only magnified by the game’s new locale: a small set of lakeside locations freely sailed between (once unlocked) by rowing boat. It leaves a dark cloud of doubt hanging over everything you interact with. Is this interesting detail I can examine part of a puzzle I must solve now, or in four hour’s time? Am I not making progress because Ghost #14 drops an item I need when they cross over, or did I miss something elsewhere? Although the game design is actually gracious enough to (almost) always ensure you’re where you need to be without any additional boating, there’s no in-game way to be sure that this time isn’t another exception to the usual rules.

At least the in-game map fills out automatically as you wander around, the name of each room automatically appearing on screen even if its your first time in there, giving your surroundings a little context without having to investigate every last nook and cranny. After you’ve entered a room once it’s name will then pop up whenever you’re close enough to interact with the door leading to it, letting you know if you’re standing in front of the portal to a bedroom or a storage area without having to pull up the map. It’s a small detail that saves a lot of time: you never open a door, wait for the room to load up, and then realise you wanted the second, not the third, door down this corridor.

Unfortunately this welcome assistance doesn’t do much to erase Echo Night 2’s awkward status as the difficult second entry in the series, one that has to recapture everything that made the first a success while still being somehow “more”, whether that abstract need for something new actually benefits the final experience or not. Appropriately enough this leads to the game echoing its own ghosts, needing to let go of the past but unable to do so, preferring to repeat a fuzzy memory of past glories instead.

But even at its “worst”—and I do feel this is the weakest entry in the series—Echo Night remains a memorable and relatively unique experience. The game’s mortal antagonist is an interesting character to go up against, and the final twist (one of several you can end up with) may not play out exactly as anticipated. Ultimately the game mostly succeeds in what it sets out to do, the only problem is it’s been beaten to every spooky punch by its superior predecessor.

[There’d be no article here without the help I receive from ym Ko-fi supporters! Please consider leaving a tip if you can!]