My Big Sister by Stranga Games
I thought I knew what I was getting into with My Big Sister. The latest creation from one-man studio Stranga Games, it looked to be an RPG Maker take on the horror-themed visual novel, complete with creepy Japanese girl ghosts and maybe some Doki-Doki Literature Club!-inspired fourth-wall-breaking chills.
It turns out I was half right. My Big Sister is definitely story-driven, it’s definitely spooky, and it’s definitely got a few moments that break the fourth wall.
A Tale of Two Sisters
That said, it’s not so much a satirical horror story as it is an emotionally honest and legitimately heartfelt tale that owes more to Studio Ghibli than to Ringu. Without giving too much away, it’s a sort of modern fairy tale about a pre-adolescent girl on a quest to rescue her sister from a witch’s curse.
Yes, it does feature murderous ghosts, but it’s also got humor and heart, and its bizarre cast of supporting characters and locations – like a haunted bathhouse and a noodle house for creatures from Japanese folklore – reminded me of nothing so much as an 8-bit interpretation of Spirited Away.
And as simple as its presentation is, the chunky pixel art is surprisingly effective at conveying the weirdness of the cast of characters – from the arachnid malevolence of The Lady on the Wall to the spunk of our protagonist herself – and its various haunting and occasionally blood-smeared environments.
Puzzling Out Sibling Rivalry
That said, I was wrong about plenty of things, too. For one, despite the way it looks and moves, it was made in Adventure Game Studio, not RPG Maker.
More importantly, there’s a lot more “game” to My Big Sister than I’d expected. It’s still a completely linear narrative – apart from a couple of different potential endings – but to actually get there, you have to solve inventory puzzles, so it ended up taking me a lot longer to finish than I’d expected.
(I should point out that the inventory puzzles are well-designed and make sense, and although I did get stuck for long enough in one spot to need a walk-through, it was my own fault for being bad at pixel-hunting.)
I’m glad I made it to the ending – both of them – first, though, because it’s a clever and emotionally affecting story. The dialogue between the two sisters feels particularly lifelike, their casual bickering in the face of supernatural weirdness and familial tragedy alike enhances the impression of their sibling bond.
My Big Sister also deals with heavy themes – like grief, childhood sexual abuse and teenage suicide – in ways that feel subtle and respectful. If the pixellated blood in some scenes can be playfully gratuitous, the narrative’s treatment of such sensitive topics never is.
By the time I reached the end, I was slightly dazed from some of the plot twists – along with the fairy tale themes, My Big Sister plays a lot with questions of identity and perception – but as fascinating as its explorations of dream, imagination and the nature of “reality,” it’s a simpler theme that will stick with me: two sisters who drive each other crazy and who love each other also.
A solid little adventure game with an unexpectedly powerful story, My Big Sister highlights Stranga Games as a developer to watch.
My Big Sister is available at itch.io and Steam
Watch the official trailer for My Big Sister below: