Theatre Of Sorrows Switch Review: Brimful Of Esha

A Lovecraft-inspired videogame? Well I never... Theatre of Sorrows reaches into the murky depths of the occult in this narrative-driven adventure on the Switch.

Boy, do I enjoy a succulent Lovecraft-infused cajun recipe. Over the Christmas holidays, I eventually sloggothed through Call of Cthulhu and enjoyed it, but other than Source of Madness, there’s been a teeny lull in Lovecraft-inspired games until Theatre of Sorrows.

It wasn’t a title I was familiar with, but the folk at Cat-astrophe Games kindly brought it to my attention, and regardless if they made me a cake or not (they didn’t), this is an impartial review of the game. And as we’re being honest from the get-go, I wasn’t particularly keen on it at first.

That ‘at first’ moment was a pre-judgemental view of the trailer. It wasn’t anything special. But(t), after writing the news piece, went straight back to it, sacrificing the latest season of Cobra Kai. I only watch the Johnny bits anyway, which reminds me: Cobra Kai review. Read it?

Theatre of Sorrows Switch Review - Who
Who? Source: Screen capture

Back to the Theatre of Sorrows Switch review. You play Killian – one of two (coincidence?) twins. His sister, Eileen, went missing some 20 years ago, but he received a letter of her whereabouts from some shifty cult in Esha. Esha’s a funny old place: all the people here wear masks, not metaphorically, and there’s a fair deal of Lovecraftian monsters, too.

It almost always revolves around a ritual, and when I say ‘almost’, I mean always

Each day is the same: welcomed by a different stranger giving you a task that supposedly brings Killian closer to Eileen. It almost always revolves around a ritual, and when I say ‘almost’, I mean always. Collect a heart, craft a talisman, perform a spell… all of these require ingredients sourced through exploration.

From a world map perspective, Killian can hop to an adjacent spot choosing to bypass or explore it. Each action in Theatre of Sorrows dips into your character’s stats, comprising sanity, health and stamina. Should any of these reach zero, death with ensue. For replenishment, Killian can neck a bottle of wine, eat some herbs or guzzle water, among other items. At the start of each day, the stats are restored.

With limited space for inventory items, you’ll have to stack up the same items (up to 20 items) or leave them behind. Killian can carry a mixture of consumables, crafting items and talismans. The latter are required to dispel monsters, used in rituals, or beef up one’s stats such as increased stamina, reduced monster encounters and so forth.

Theatre of Sorrows Switch Review - Fashion
Fashion. Source: Screen capture

It’s here that I should point out that there’s no combat with these monsters. Besides sacrificing a talisman, you can use up some sanity to ward it off or attempt to escape by using up some stamina. Note that this doesn’t always work as it’s difficult to run away in the latter part of the game. Towards day seven, you should have enough talismans to counter this, and with the unlockable outfits such as the cult-based garbs, you can boast four talisman slots.

The Lovecraft influence is apparent, but the game is unique as no run is the same

Theatre of Sorrows’ world map view isn’t remotely inspiring, but the artwork in the game, notably the visual novel-like presentation, is excellent. The monsters are varied with 20+ types, but the locals with their Lust From Beyond masks are great. But it’s the storytelling that reeled me in.

The Lovecraft influence is apparent, but the game is unique as no run is the same. Sure, Killian will comment that he’s been to a place before, but that’s a play on the sanity card as well. The Cthulhu linguistics are ever-present, and as I’m not a scholar, I can’t comment on the accuracy, but it felt the part. Unfortunately, Lovecraft’s abrupt, melancholy endings are here, and the conclusions can be disappointing and don’t mirror the quality of gameplay.

I understand that developers want to offer value with multiple endings, but as there aren’t manual save points (that I saw) or chapter selection, you have to play Theatre of Sorrows from the beginning, which might not be an incentive for most. At the least, immediately after your first playthrough is… unlikely.

Theatre of Sorrows Switch Review - Shrining star
Shrining star. Source: Screen capture

There is a lack of jumping back in at specific points, though as a procedurally generated title, it might prove challenging to find an entry point in the game that leads to a different ending. Still, I very much enjoyed my time with it, considering I bailed on Sensei Lawrence and Sensei LaRusso to play it.

For fans of Steve Jackson ‘choose your own adventures’, Theatre of Sorrows on the Switch is a highlight, featuring some engaging writing, resource management and exploration. Despite the procedurally generated structure, the days can get a little repetitive, and that incentive to start again may be questioned if you get an unsatisfying ending. But, for the gameplay and narrative alone, it’s worth a visit to Esha.

Like this sort of stuff? I highly recommend The Innsmouth Case, also available on the Switch.