Over the pandemic, you may have witnessed the launch of some Malaysian games that won awards and nominations, including the fairly popular Short Creepy Tales: 7PM (7PM) created by a small local indie games developer, Cellar Vault Games.
Among the other games, it’s one of the few that showcases Malaysian culture with locally-inspired characters in it, which is one of its biggest appeals to players.
Intrigued by some gameplay of 7PM that I saw online, I wanted to give it a try myself since the artistic style of the game and its setting of the Hungry Ghost Month festival appealed to me. Here’s what I thought of the experience, but do be warned that there will be minor spoilers for parts of the game.
A 30-minute decision-based game
The game runs for about 30-40 minutes, and you can replay it about 3 times to explore other decision-making routes that you haven’t taken before. Some decisions will close off paths, but ultimately, you’re led to the same ending.
It starts off with 3 kids listening to haunted tales from an elderly neighbour in the apartment complex, and they later part ways to explore the apartment. You get to play from the perspective of all 3 kids as they’ll get exchanged along the way.
Thanks to your kid character, the game might bring back memories of childhood drama over the pettiest of matters (which felt super serious and upsetting at the time). As an adult, you can’t help but want to chuckle at the immaturity that plays out on-screen at times.
Malaysians would enjoy the familiar scenes in the game, such as the neighbourhood mak cik selling nasi lemak and joss paper (yuan bao) being burnt for the dead. For non-Malaysians, the game does a nice job of explaining the local scenes.
An example would be teaching the player how a nasi lemak packet is put together, how joss papers are folded, and there are little explainers in the dialogue box at times when a non-English word is used so that players can learn what it means.
Unconventional art style
The most notable thing about the game, even mentioned repeatedly on its Steam reviews, is its art style. While the paper cutout style has its limitations such as restricting the characters from being fluidly animated, it added a unique charm, especially when so many games nowadays go for a realistic look.
You’d think that paper cutouts would also mean that the horror would be less pronounced than in a more realistic-looking game, but I was still caught off-guard.
Because 7PM isn’t a very animated game, a lot of big events don’t happen fluidly. For instance, the biggest jumpscare in the game happened in pauses which delayed the surprise a little bit. Despite that, the shock factor was still there thanks to the bizarre appearance of that ghost that I wouldn’t have guessed.
Overall, the rougher look of the paper cutout style added to the creepiness factor of the surroundings. Couple that with the fact that the area you get to explore is that of an old, slightly run-down apartment complex, and you get a setting that’s unnerving.
It gives off a “mundane horror” vibe, where the fact that everything is set in such a familiar-looking place amplifies the uneasy feeling you get. The nostalgic building is one that you’d likely have driven past anywhere in Klang Valley, and the game doesn’t forget to add in details like Grab riders waiting around, the typical Myvi, and many more.
Even if you’re a Malaysian who didn’t grow up in that exact environment, you’d likely still find some nostalgia in the scenes.
Anticlimactic ending and short gameplay
Personally, I didn’t mind the excessive dialogue (some being unimportant as well) in the game, because I felt like it always led to a mystery to be discovered. But some reviewers on Steam felt that the dialogue was a bit draggy.
However, one thing I do agree with most of the reviews on Steam is that the gameplay was too short and there were a fair amount of mysteries left unsolved. Many characters in the game just seem to have their own secrets, and it was something I thought was going to be explored completely.
Unfortunately, my curiosity was left unsatisfied when they only expanded on one mystery which was related to the elderly woman telling stories from the start. Because of the dialogue happening between the characters throughout though, the outcome was fairly predictable.
In the whole game, I ran into 3 ghosts, with only one whom I could actually talk to. It would’ve been interesting to expand on all of their backstories, or even just know why they’re positioned where they are in the apartment complex.
The developers did mention that 7PM is the first formal installment of an anthology horror series they’re making, so it’s possible that they could be leaving this information out on purpose (if they’re pursuing a sequel to this storyline).
A recurring conclusion in their other games
Prior to 7PM though, they had a similar Short Creepy Tales called The Long Road Ahead, which features a couple heading back to the man’s hometown to visit his parents in the middle of the night and using what seems like the “haunted” Karak highway.
During their ride back, they decide to take a shorter route and run into haunting events, but this game isn’t as extensive as 7PM, and players can decide how much they want to chip in to purchase the game.
In this game, the developers also put out a lot of mysterious events happening throughout the gameplay, but didn’t go into detail as to why the ghosts were there, or what they wanted from the couple, etc.
Since this is a recurring conclusion in both these Short Creepy Tales games, perhaps Cellar Vault Games intends for players to come to their own reasoning. After all, some would say horror is best when left unexplained.
It would’ve been nice to have some guidance as to where I should be heading to next in case I missed out on details or events I should’ve walked through. Perhaps the developers felt it wasn’t necessary to do so since it was a small game after all.
Overall, it was an enjoyable game with a good amount of suspense to make it interesting enough to keep going, and I’d be down to play the next games they have lined up in this anthology.
Cellar Vault Games’ wins of the Grand Jury Award, Best Visual Art, and Best Game Design in the SEA Game Awards 2020 were definitely well-deserved, and I look forward to seeing what else the team will create.
- You can learn more about Short Creepy Tales: 7PM here.
- You can read about more Malaysian games we’ve written here.