August 9, 2011 4:00 PM | Cassandra Khaw
My first victim was a bit of a chauvinistic cliche, a hodgepodge of all the things that women dislike in men. A hypochondriac who entered the world of high-fashion photography for the sake of sleeping with every willing model he could find, he was the only one in Verge's group of potential victims that I felt drawn to. Like Verge, the anti-hero of Beautiful Escape: Dungeoneer, I had my preferences, my own prejudices. If anyone had to suffer, it was going to be him. I tried three times to convince him to follow me home. Eventually, he agreed.
The screen faded to black.
Moments later, we found ourselves in Verge's sparse-looking dungeon, our victim strung up in chains at the end of a winding corridor. The objective here was ostensibly a simple one. Our guest needed to be broken, needed to be stripped of everything but the barest sliver of health and hope. He had to leave broken but functional, a step above bestial stupidity and death. I had to meet the game's definition of perfect. I had to give him the Beautiful Escape.
Unfortunately, it didn't quite work out that way. The unfortunate bastard ended up dead. The screen faded to black and then to a progress bar that told me that the video was being uploaded. A little later, I was back in Verge's apartment. Curious as to what the fictional public thought of my exploits, I checked the Dungoneer website.
I'm not sure what unnerved me more, the torture sequence or the review I had received. While it had felt strangely blasphemous to orchestrate the accidental murder of an innocuous-looking sprite, it was also heavily disquieting to be told my attempt had been passable. Two and a half stars, my critic declared, unimpressed with the ham-handedness of my approach.
Beautiful Escape: Dungeoneer is not an easy game to stomach. Though creepy enough on its own, I can't help but wonder what else has went into the invention of this twisted offering. Was it a conscious decision on the developer's part to utilize RPG maker? Did he want to juxtaspose innocent visuals with an unsettling story? Are Verge's victims a random assortment of personalities or a studied attempt to appeal to the darker side of his players? More importantly, is there someone out there who would pick the kindly kindergarden teacher with an invalid husband as their first victim?
At heart, Beautiful Escape feels like a story about adolescence. Verge, though yellow-eyed and diabolical, is not that much different from a typical teenager. He is vexed by his own medicority, uncertain in his skin and in love with someone he deems beyond his reach. Constantly buffeted by disdain and evidence of his own ineptitude, Verge struggles to achieve some sort of his recognition. Seen from such a light, it's almost possible to empathize with Verge. Almost, but not quite. Beautiful Escape never lets you forget that this is a game about Dungeoneers and people who see others as objects. As easy as it might be to feel a twinge of sympathy towards Verge, it's also equally as simple to feel disgust.
Almost paradoxically, however, there's not much game to Beautiful Escape, if you know what I mean. The 'dating' mini-game that you play while attempting to beguile your victims is, essentially, an unchanging series of multiple choice questions. Attempt it enough times and even the most clumsy player will learn the correct sequence. Heck, even if you get it wrong the first time, all you need to do is exit Verge's hunting grounds and re-enter it a second later.
The torture sequences are not much better. Again, no finesse is required. All you really have to do here is to pick up the traps you've acquired from Lorry (the startlingly generous and dim-witted quartermaster for the Dungeoneers) and lay them down along a straightforward corridor. Your victims will do the rest. From time to time, you might want to speed things along by mashing the '1' and '2' buttons when prompted to but that, really, is it. The most complex thing you will encounter in Beautiful Escape: Dungeoneer is the act of balancing the health and willpower meters, to ensure that both go low as they possibly can. I'll admit that it's pretty difficult but at the same time, it's also unnecessary. Regardless of how pathetic your attempts at savagery are, the game will go on (unless you let the victim escape intact, of course).
Nonetheless, that wasn't what made me stop playing after the first hour. It was the fact that Beautiful Escape made my skin crawl. I had known that it would be an intriguing find after learning about it at the 'Bad Bitches' exhibit but I had not expected something of this caliber. Encumbered as it might be with the limitations of the RPG Maker engine and the developer's command of art, Beautiful Escape remains one of the most unsettling experiences I've ever had in a video game.