Developer: Shiying Studio | Publisher: Gamera Game | Release Date: 2021 | Genre: Horror / Puzzle / Indie | Website: N/A | Purchase: Steam
Rookie police officer Lin Lixun has a memorable start to his career when a mysterious fire breaks out at a funeral. Acting on a tip-off by an informant, Lin and his partner raced to the scene only to run into car troubles. While his partner tends to the vehicle, Lin begins his investigation but quickly discovers that the fire is just the tip of the iceberg. It would seem that the remote mountain village where the game takes place is hiding quite a few secrets, and Lin has got just the right skills to uncover them all.
Firework was initially released in Chinese only, but the overwhelming number of positive reviews ensured that English audiences were also eager to play the game. This wish was granted later in the year when after a few delays, English was added to the game. Although the game is steeped in pan-Asian culture and folklore, the story is engaging enough to keep players from other cultures hooked.
Playing as officer Lixun, players are drawn into a complex mystery that involves far stranger things than just a coffin bursting into flames. Thanks to his rare gift of being able to communicate with the dead, Lixun uncovers new evidence for a previously closed case. Tragically, it is a case that involves the mysterious deaths of an entire family, but only Lixun can uncover what truly happened.
Firework is a horror puzzle game but focuses mainly on the narrative elements. Visually, it features 2D sprites and backgrounds, and players can only move Lin left or right through the various scenes. Sometimes there are doorways that take Lin to new areas when entered, while at other times, his surroundings can mysteriously change by solving puzzles. These puzzles are also relatively straightforward to solve, and puzzle fans shouldn’t have any trouble with the game. The game usually confines players to the area where the puzzle has to be solved, and there’s no need to worry about backtracking or missing essential items.
Shiying Studio uses a watercolor style for the visuals combined with a muted palette to enhance the oppressive atmosphere of the game. For most of the game, Lin wanders around with a candle in his hand, which only illuminates his immediate surroundings. This results in the game feeling very bleak and strange, but thankfully players do not have to worry about getting chased by monsters or encountering jump scares.
The music in Firework is a perfect fit for the game and features plenty of haunting melodies as well as beautiful tracks such as “Where Is She.” Unfortunately, the game does not have voice acting, which is not surprising given the sheer amount of dialogue but makes up for it with many sound effects. In conjunction with the soundtrack, these sound effects give Firework a very haunted feel. With only two buttons and left or right movement, Firework is easy to play with either a keyboard or a controller. The game also auto-saves quite frequently, but players can manually save at any time.
Although incredibly well-received in its home country, there was always the risk that western audiences might not find Firework as compelling. Thankfully, this is not the case, and the story had us hooked right from the start. There will obviously be some cultural references and story elements that might not be as obvious to English-speaking players. Still, the game does a good job explaining everything for the most part. The quality of the translation is also good, and we only spotted a few grammar issues here and there. One thing that English players will have to concentrate on is keeping track of the names of everyone involved in the story. There are quite a few characters, both living and deceased, that are vital to the plot, and remembering who is who can be tricky for some. It is worth the effort, though, as, despite many twists and turns, the story wraps up quite satisfactorily.
Firework is not a game for horror fans that want violence, gore and jump scares, but those who can appreciate a good story with a slow build-up will love this one. It is not a very long game but packs in more than enough surprises along the way. The story also has more depth than what one would expect from a horror title which, combined with the lack of jumpscares, makes this a game everyone can enjoy.