Saturnalia, the horror of Santa Ragione is an assault on the senses

Saturnalia, the horror of Santa Ragione is an assault on the senses


Although the video game culture is spreading like wildfire also in the Bel Paese, it cannot be said that the world of development goes hand in hand. Not that we lack talents, but in the boot it is undeniably difficult to start a software house, and outside of a few consolidated realities it is difficult to recognize a solid "indie" scene of which the new developers could follow the example. Considering the situation, the Santa Ragione (Wheels of Aurelia, Mirrormoon EP) have always been a curious exception to the rule: a small team, which has always been able to be recognized and talked about despite resources that are anything but titanic behind them. However, their new project seems to be something much more elaborate and ambitious than what has been done in the past, but above all it seems capable of combining the uniqueness that has always distinguished this team with a sufficiently well-designed structure to be able to capture a wider audience than to their historical admirers. It's called Saturnalia, it's a horror, and we recently tried it.

Labyrinthine villages

Saturnalia is not an "Italian horror" only for the origin of its creators. It is a game set in the fictional village of Gravoi, in Sardinia (probably inspired by the actually existing municipality of Gavoi), where the player initially plays the role of a geologist named Anita. The young woman returns to the gloomy town after a stormy affair to reveal to her lover that she is pregnant, but she finds a mysterious hidden force awaiting her that threatens her and anyone who enters the country lanes after sunset.

Santa Ragione continues to experiment with the artistic direction It may seem a rather obvious premise, but more complex narrative elements than the norm can be seen in the background, starting from the motivations of the protagonist, and it is certainly no coincidence. Saturnalia is in fact a game with multiple protagonists, which are gradually unlocked and introduced through "quiet" phases designed to reveal the reasons for their stay in Gravoi. In short, it is a title with a much more structured plot than it appears during the first few bars, which in all probability must be explored from top to bottom to fully understand the events. However, doing so is not exactly a walk in the park, since your characters can be permanently eliminated.

The Italy of Saturnalia is very different from that of Wheels of Aurelia Sì, because the personification of the occult forces at work in Saturnalia is nothing more than a humanoid monstrosity that roams the country, and actively pursues it heralded only by a disturbing sound of rattles. Escaping this mysterious beast is possible, but it reacts to light and noise, and it is difficult to wander around in the dense darkness of Gravoi without constantly lighting matches, not to mention the impossibility of moving forward if specific objects are not found interacting with the surrounding environment .

The nightmare of the missing

The structure of the Santa Ragione game, on the other hand, is of rare simplicity: Saturnalia at the base is a horror adventure where progression goes hand in hand step with the finding of the right object at the right time, in order to unlock previously inaccessible places and get closer to the solution of the mystery that forms the basis of everything. This basic skeleton, however, is made interesting by a series of extremely peculiar elements, including the decision to make the layout of Gravoi procedural, in addition to the aforementioned presence of multiple protagonists.

It is not possible to play Saturnalia by memorizing perfectly how to move: with each game the roads change and the main locations move, forcing the player to follow a new strategy to survive the monster and achieve its goals. This solution, by itself, greatly amplifies the tension, since - especially if you do not have a great sense of direction - it is rather complicated to reach the desired place without jolts (and an excessive stay in the streets facilitates, understandably, the encounters with the monster).

The structure of the village changes every time your characters die Right here comes the possibility of being killed: the protagonists not only in fact, as already mentioned, are not all available immediately (which is risky because you put them in danger in some cases), but if they are caught by the monster you have only one chance to save them (there is no need to spoil yourself how), or you risk losing them forever. That wasn't enough, if you lose them all, Gravoi resets, the roads change again, and you have to resume with part of the progression kept in a renewed map (as long as you don't decide to tackle the higher difficulty). Let's be clear, they are not completely defenseless: each character has very useful specific skills, and Paul (the second obtainable) for example can use his camera flash to temporarily get rid of the threat. Solutions like this, however, have limited effectiveness (firecrackers can distract him, and little else), and there are few areas that allow him to hide in the map, but it is interesting to note how the third protagonist, Claudia, in turn possesses a linked power. to the behavior of the beast, and how a single additional skill can completely change the approach to exploration during the adventure.

The scenery of Saturnalia is disorienting and fascinating at the same time Other surprises? Well, a labyrinth of tunnels in the mines below Gravoi, where the perspective changes completely, various secrets related to playable and non-playable characters, and a disturbing colored fog that surrounds your every action. Yet, even with all these additional elements, the most impactful factors of the new work by Santa Ragione are in all probability the aesthetics and sound, both of which are extremely accurate. While Saturnalia's animations are certainly not super-production, his highly inspired look - stylized and markedly influenced by the 70s noir - sets him apart from any other exponent of the genre. For their part, the music is terribly distressing, and the sound of the monster represents an immediately recognizable indicator of danger capable of always activating at the worst moment. Of course, we are certainly not facing the most elaborate horror in circulation, yet, paradoxically, the harmonious union of its parts gives life to a much more frightening whole than most of the exponents of the genre that we have had the opportunity to try in recent years.

Aesthetically inspired, extremely accessible, and markedly more ambitious than Santa Ragione's past projects, Saturnalia has the potential to be a memorable horror despite its structural simplicity. The overwhelming setting, the sense of confusion given by the procedural nature of the map, and the excellent work done on the sound amplify the sense of general restlessness, and we are curious to see how far the game will go once cleaned properly.


Inspired and disturbing setting Simple but functional and extremely intuitive system More elaborate fiction than it appears DOUBTS A few too many bugs in our tried If you have no sense of direction it can be a nightmare Have you noticed any errors?

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