It’s only human to be wary of new experiences. Jess, the protagonist of The Chant, wasn’t too englamoured with the idea of an island-based spiritual retreat, but after being plagued by visions following a death in the family, she eventually warmed to the idea. As for myself, I was wary of The Chant – a mid-tier horror game released around Halloween last year, featuring an innovative concept. Instead of regular health and stamina gauges, Jess has separate gauges for mind, body, and soul. I had no idea how this would work heading in, leading to some trepidation.
Jess was right to be wary. As the boat leading the island sails back to shore, she suddenly realises that she’s now marooned until the next boat visits. After being welcomed by the island’s inhabitants, including their hirsute spiritual leader, she’s given a short tour of the basic facilities. It’s here she starts to discover that things aren’t quite what they seem, this being less of a place to relax with yoga and spiritual healing, and more of a cult brainwashed into believing in prismic energy.
Reluctantly agreeing to a spiritual ritual involving coloured prisms and organic herbal tea, things quickly descend into madness after a cult member suffers from hallucinations. After lashing out at the group, they vanish into the island’s wilderness. Jess, being kindhearted, decides to go after the deserter. But it isn’t long until the tea’s effects start to take hold, resulting in twisted imagery that clouds her vision – including manifestations of demonic entities.
The Chant is, in a nutshell, a third-person horror adventure lasting around 6-7 hours, depending on your puzzle-solving mettle. You’ll get to explore the island far and wide, discover the backstory of the other cult members, and face demons of both mental and physical variety. The setting is well-realised; locations feel lived in thanks to their attention to detail. Many of the older facilities have fallen into a state of disrepair, making them spooky to explore. Nature has even started to reclaim parts of the island abandoned since the ‘70s.
The sound of the waves crashing against the island’s rugged terrain makes for an experience that can be atmospheric too.
Combat is one of the weaker elements, but even so, is mostly frustration-free. It’s a simple case of lashing out with melee weapons crafted from plants and vines, which are then set ablaze to cleanse evil. Jess can dodge, throw projectiles (salt), and eventually summon otherworldly assistance too – which is where the spirit bar comes into play. The body gauge simply relates to health, while the mind gauge only drains when Jess is afraid. To replenish gauges, you can either eat certain foods (including wild ginger and mushrooms) or in the case of the mind gauge, meditate. It takes some time to master juggling the gauges – mind power can be used to replenish soul – but it doesn’t take long to learn what the developers were striving for, and each gauge can be upgraded.
While straightforward, I still enjoyed my time with The Chant – it doesn’t set its sights too high, and consequently manages to deliver a reasonably compelling, and suitable eerie, adventure. Unlike our weary heroine, I feel like the team had a clear vision, and by keeping things simple – at least by 2023 standards – they’ve managed to achieve their goal. That said, if I had purchased it at launch for full price (£34.99,) I may have felt disgruntled with its brevity. It’s perhaps no surprise to find that it features multiple endings, each requiring its own playthrough. Before diving back in though, I need a break. A retreat from the retreat, if you will.