WARNING: disturbing sexual content in this article.
Entschuldigung is a horror VN that delivers an unsatisfying and premature payoff.
When I first started Entschuldigung, I didn’t know what to expect other than I was getting into a horror story with a very unusual name. Then the main menu loaded and I found myself staring at a gramophone player in the center of a dilapidated room, classical music playing beneath the sickly glow of a flickering light. If nothing else, I can say that the horror aesthetic in Entschuldigung was executed brilliantly.
The art is gorgeous to look at; or at least it is when the VN lets you. Entschuldigung is meant to be played with a small lantern acting as your cursor. You can only see as much of the abandoned house or foggy walkways along the nearby rail lines as the lantern will allow, and you have to keep shaking the cursor; otherwise, the light will gradually dim. The music is appropriately unsettling, and occasional moments of silence feel like deliberate, well-placed additions to the tension of a scene.
Likewise, the narrative was appropriately unsettling for most of the VN. Entschuldigung follows the story of a nameless young man (tradition dictates we shall call him Block) whose family has recently moved to Berlin sometime prior to World War I. Isolated from both his parents due to familial tensions as well as his peers at college due to a language barrier, Block has fallen into a habit of keeping to himself and reading along a riverbank. One night, he glimpses a flash of light from an abandoned building that everyone claims has been empty for years. Armed with only a lantern, he chooses to investigate.
The disturbing focal point of Entschuldigung is a mysterious girl you find in the house. She remains silent throughout the story, not so much communicating as forcing Block to respond to her lack of speech and emotion. Block is oddly fixated on this girl, insisting that his interactions with her are being done to give himself some sense of stability. The VN hints that this may have ties to his family; there are hidden objects that you can collect throughout Entschuldigung with brief background information attached, some of which indicate that Block had a sister who was more fond of a doll than her own brother and made him quite jealous.
Beyond this, Entschuldigung seems to insinuate that the story is largely symbolic. The house seems suspiciously familiar to Block; for example, he points out how oddly similar the living room and piano within seem to the same spots in his old home. The majority of the hidden objects you can collect throughout the VN are found in the house, particularly the ones that tie to your sister. There are two children’s bedrooms, one of which is covered in dolls and the other only contains slightly feminine hints. Your character constantly remarks on how important appearances were for the family, including the time his mother caught him brushing his long hair with her comb and made him shear it off, and especially an “incident” that left his father unable to look him in the eye. There are layers of psychological trauma to puzzle over that add to your feelings of confusion and unease while reading Entschuldigung.
And then Block fucks a life-size china doll.
If that seems like a bit of an abrupt transition, now you know how I felt when I got half an hour into Entschuldigung. Up until this point, Block has been intrigued by the mystery girl but always limited himself to observing her from a distance. He specifically leaves a barrier of either space or a solid object between them, and they often go weeks between meeting each other. He comes to her house for almost a month and never encounters her, but rather waters a flower and talks to the other dolls in her room. And then out of nowhere Block grabs the girl, flings her down on a dust-covered bed, and forces himself on her. The shock and disgust of the scene is compounded by his and the reader’s simultaneous realization that she didn’t just act like a doll, but rather was actually made of china. And that’s where Entschuldigung ends. No payoff, no explanations, no additional details. Just a really awkward, possibly imaginary rape scene if you got two of the possible endings, and considering the third was Block waking from a dream and finding himself in Eden, that’s the closest you’ll get to closure.
I can’t help but compare Entschuldigung to Saya no Uta when I think about why the ending in the former was so upsetting. Saya also presented the reader with disturbing sexual content, both consensual and non-consensual, but the sex in Saya worked because every kind of horror in that VN was equally appalling. There was rape but also murder, torture, and dangerous medical experiments, among other atrocities that all wove together to create this fantastic web of twisted madness juxtaposed against a genuine love story. You were appropriately uncomfortable yet unsurprised throughout all the sex scenes, because you knew they were a deliberate part of the story that was designed to keep you from getting too comfortable in the middle of a horror VN. Entschuldigung, on the other hand, jumps from hearing voices and exploring a possible haunted house straight to rape and chooses for that to be the story’s ultimate climax. It’s not only jarring and unsatisfying but also feels like a cheap way to try and leave the audience with an impression of Entschuldigung being a more adult VN by adding in something as serious as sexual assault.
I really want to recommend Entschuldigung to people because of the beginning and middle of the VN. The way NeoNight structured the overall narrative was brilliantly done, the art and music are fantastic, the lantern mechanic kept me tense throughout the story, and as frustrating as some of the objects were to find, the little hints they added to Block’s backstory without derailing the main plot got me more and more invested in trying to discern what was real and what was only symbolic. But that ending out of left field is so abrupt and disappointing that it drags down the entire VN. There was absolutely no kind of sexual violence in Entschuldigung before this point, and if you’ve interpreted the doll as a metaphor for the protagonist’s sister up to this moment, it doesn’t feel like a satisfying “a-ha” moment for someone trying to piece together Block’s internal trauma and insanity; more like a cheap horror grab with incest.
Entschuldigung is available on Steam for $3 and can be beaten in half an hour (though it will likely take a little longer if you try for all three endings along with the hidden objects). If you choose to buy it, treat it the way you might handle Nightmare on Elm Street and delete the train wreck of a final scene from the overall narrative. I’d love to have someone else dissect this and try to figure out what the hell is going on.