Saint Kotar Review – Saints and Moon-Crazed Sinners
Developed by Red Martyr Entertainment
Published by SOEDESCO
Available on PC
Fancy a Croatian Vacation? Now that particular rhyme is fresh out of my system, I can get my sacrificial athame sharpened and ready for craving. Time and Time again I always return to the genre of adventure games. Their near-simplicity in movement, gameplay, rich characters, and inventive puzzles often make way for luscious story-telling that twists and coils in the player’s hands. Letting you fill in the gaps of plot with rapid-fire scenery clicking, and inventory mashing has a certain sense of ageless nostalgia and integrity that just feels… Cozy. Saint Kotar definitely evokes that classic, tried-and-true adventure feeling. Complete with aimless wandering, slow-burn mystery, familiar scenery pacing. And back and forth. And back and forth. Who needs fast travel?
Saint Kotar starts off strong with a sleepy town mystery and eerie Croatian catholic mythos. Which immediately piqued my folklore interests. Catholic religion is fairly ingrained in Eastern-European myths. Often blending with richly incredible pagan roots to create a certain haunting amalgam that we have all come to know in modern folk tales. I’m always a bit surprised more horror games have yet to tap into that particular era of modern history. For some, it might be easy to roll their eyes at, but there is a particular antiquated unease and eeriness found in saints ever-watching over the shade of entangled umbral bramble in a deathly quiet.
The story begins with two brothers-in-law, Benedek and Nikolay, who have found themselves called to the strange and quite ancient village of Sveti Kotar. A town founded in honour of their patron saint. After arriving with the estranged Viktoria, Benedek’s purposefully-avoided sister on account of his pilgrimage on Monkhood, and Nikolay’s fiancé, their memories slip away like ashes to the grey winds. In a confused daze, the two begrudgingly team up to sweep up the memories of the previous Night, and the mystery of Viktoria’s disappearance. The two don’t exactly meet eye to eye. The monk’s only reason for tagging along with the couple is to meet with the local priest, in order to learn why Saint Kotar fails to be noted in any Vatican records. Most of his dreary Time is spent in faith, denial, fear, and well… More denial. There is nothing more he desires than escaping the accursed town, sister be damned. Which admittedly makes him a bit of a frustrating character, but there’s always the more cool-headed (for now) and hopeful Nikolay to rely on.
Saint Kotar attempts to give you the freedom of switching between the two brothers at will. Allowing you to explore and stagger different areas of the story otherwise inaccessible due to the fear, knowledge, or simply the unease of the other. Which I’ll admit is a great concept in an adventure game. It lights the potential path of longevity, twists, and replayability that can often fizzle out. Sadly, I can’t exactly recommend changing the characters at your own freedom. Saint Kotar lays out exact points in the plot when it’s appropriate to play as one or the other. Anything beyond that not only has the potential to advance and stir the story into a jumbled pot of plot but to ruin the congruency and sense of the game as a whole.
After wandering around the heathen artist’s cabin, scrambling to make sense as to why the missing Viktoria would have dragged them into these foreboding mountains in the first place, the two make their way to the silently foggy town. The few shoppe keeps whisper quite incriminating rumors of seeing the woman galivanting about the town square during the previous evening’s effigy-burning festival to honor the patron saint. Demanding to be called by an unfamiliar epitaph, and ultimately murdering a citizen in her cultic frenzy. But these words don’t mesh well. Nikolay claims his pregnant wife wouldn’t harm a Lovecraftian fly. Benedek believes every foul rumour whole-heartedly. Claiming her as a vile witch touched by sin since his earliest familial memories. Stubborn until the end, he goes along with the investigation as part of his own agenda. The town attempts to shape his dense skull, but faith keeps his stance stalwart.
Fairly early on, the investigation is put to a halt as the local detective and psychologist take the two into custody. A damn fishy wrench in their plan as soon as they began to pick up on any gory scent to put them on a bleeding trail of answers. Yet another ingredient that doesn’t add up in their enigmatic recipe. With no choice but to comply, the police take them along to the scene of a grisly sacrifice. Flesh torn from the skull like a ripe tomato, chest caved in and heartless, intestines strewn and crucified. To show proof of the work of a local eldritch pagan cult, the fiendish moon demons, or Saborens. Ah, the first rotten scent of a lead. Now Saint Kotar is cooking. A mysterious cult potentially pulling the strings behind the somnambulist village, and all in its mists. As soon as the mystery begins to unravel and really gets juicy enough to sink my teeth into, it takes just a little sour turn of confusion. It’s very ambitious, and there is a certain flavor of undeniable merit to that, certainly. But every new scrap is met with equal parts intrigue and further questions.
This of course leads the two protagonists to believe the police force must be sweeping something under the rug. A crucial puzzle piece of this potential murder hidden in muddied sight. A wild goose chase ensues amidst the convoluted Carpathian crag and conifers. A whole slew of ambiguous and notable characters full of lush personality and story. Some even with branching quests to add to your journey, and others less than helpful. The croaked voice of an incensed grandma who just wants some damned rest, a leech-stuffed fisherman, or the gruesome aid of a child using their own scabs as bait. The journal system loosely tracks your objective but doesn’t hold out an occult-kissed hand. This isn’t cause for concern, for almost every side-story slowly entangles its way back in with a somewhat satisfying conclusion.
With every sensible lead turning up bare, the supernatural rises further into the air. An ancient witch cult, still lurking in the carefully orchestrated thicket, buries its claws deep into the chests and minds of the remaining souls. Every missing soul pulled here for a sacrificial reason. To please the saints, or to feed the sinners. Each prayed-over step sends you deeper into the heart of the moon demons. The heart of Sveti Kotar.
Though I was committed to the enshrouded tale, I’ll admit there came a point where the darkened vines grew almost too thick a veil over my eyes. The occult-drenched pieces were all there, laying at the bottom of a murky pool ready to be brought to the surface by moonlight. Ready for me to plunge in, ritual-clad and headfirst. But the mud became cement at my fingertips, just barely grasped. The obscure shadows of this secretly pagan town captivated me with conundrums and cult charades. The artistry and care put into the lore and thick background environments shines a silvery light into the adumbral ritual circle of plot. Feeling like a true classic adventure game, Saint Kotar does take some patience and mental note-taking. I’ll admit, I’m still trying to take it all in myself. Despite that, it’s still a decent and ambitious entry to the grisly revelry of the folk horror genre.
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