Kabaret review

In this game about death, life’s regrets, and moving on the titular Kabaret happens to be a monster entertainment den, where the supernatural monsters go to hang out. They chill, unwind, and unburden themselves of their pain. And we’re talking heavy life stuff, anything from carrying the sadness or pride of war, to the horrible things people must do to survive. Their choices in life made them monsters in death but being dead never absolved them of their pain or rage.

The character we play as, Jebat, is a cursed monster. He left his prophetic mother hanging dead from the ceiling and watched as his employer was robbed and killed in the street. He didn’t so much hate his life but took so little enjoyment in it other than belittling his mother who displayed symptoms of poor mental health. When he dies, he is transported to another realm where folkloric monsters roam. He is then taken to the Kabaret. Think of the bathhouse in Spirited Away, but with a lot more biting. The Kabaret is home to the short Tea Master, an entertainer who will sit with a guest and play games or brew drinks to bring them some kind of peace, clarity, or closure.

In death, Jebat has been given a second chance. While he had no purpose in his human life, and let it go to waste, he not only has a role but a bigger purpose to fulfill in his afterlife. Alternate endings provide lots of scope and storytelling opportunities and the lore and history are enchanting.

Things seem light-hearted a lot of the time until you remember a lot of these monsters, ghosts, and gods are based on things people really experienced, real history. Their pain and rage are based on real events, real wars in which people perished dying to protect their country, if not their families and homes. I inadvertently became best friends with a wailing-roasted fetus who had been removed from its dead mother and turned into a magical protection amulet by its own father using magic. Everyone has issues.

Kabaret is very thought-provoking, and at times made me quite emotional and sad. It did leave me hopeful, however. The storytelling is so very good, there is a clear development arc for the main character, and in his dealing with talking to the guests and sharing in their pain, there is a fair amount of self-reflection happening behind the screen too.

Guests roam the Kabaret, and you can stop and chat with them, or sit and have some deeper interactions. The tea ceremony allows the player and guest to sit together while you select the brew for the right situation, similar to the indie game Coffee Talk. Your guest might need something to reignite their lost passions or numb the pain they still feel from their human life. Other guests may prefer more leisurely activities, where you can sit and play Guli, a game where you shoot marbles out of a ring, or Congak, a counting game where you move shells around a board.

I almost loved everything about it. The artwork and design are beautifully rendered with a Southeast Asian style. I would instantly buy enamel pins of the characters. The sound and music fit well, though there were moments it was prone to falling in some kind of anime closing credits sequence which felt a little jarring and out of place.

What I appreciated the most was the closure of the pain. Sometimes it’s easy to get lost in feeling like the bad things never end, they always happen to me, why did I deserve this, etc… but we can never truly move forward or move on if we don’t accept them. Hating and riling against it doesn’t change anything. So, you can let it go and free yourself, or keep yourself angry and bitter and locked in your self-destructive patterns for eternity.

I loved Kabaret, but I have to say it did emotionally do me over. The themes are heavy and dark. There were moments that upset me, but I feel that’s down to my own sensitive emotions and a testament to very good storytelling. In order for me to check back on the alternate endings, I’ll need to have a break before heading back in. Despite how sad it made me, I relished the experience.

Persona Theory Games’ Kabaret is out now on Steam, Epic, and Xbox One.