Trick and Treat represents the pure spirit of spooky autumnal mysteries and the kids who can’t help but delve into them.
Let me start by saying that Trick and Treat is not a commercial horror visual novel like The Letter or Neighbor, both of which had decent studios and an actual budget to help bring them to life. The sprite artwork in this VN is somewhat simplistic, as is the music. The translation is fairly clunky, quite frankly, in the sense that although you’re reading proper English grammar, it doesn’t necessarily sound like something a person would actually say in casual conversation. Imagine, for example, that you’re a 17-year-old kid, perfectly average in every way and living in some European country in 1994. But then a friend tells you a story about a man that disappeared 20 years ago, and you ask a question about this disappearance “without being impressed or interested in the least.” Later that evening, the horror of the happenings in the forest ensure an “expression of anguish is drawn on my face.” Understand what I’m getting at here? The only 17-year-old I can imagine speaking like this is a pretentious pseudo-philosopher who just read A Farewell to Arms back-to-back with Plato’s Republic. It’s language that you’ll read and write with but never dare use in your spoken vernacular.
That’s the one real flaw to Trick and Treat. It struggles to properly convey the horror of its story to its audience, thanks to some questionable translation choices, issues with pacing and a bit of flawed logic inherent to the narrative.
Everything begins when Axel (a totally real protagonist name) and his friends dig into the local mystery of people wandering into a nearby forest and vanishing shortly thereafter, never to be seen or heard from again. They do a bit of cursory research on the internet and deduce that this phenomenon must be legitimate, because the source discussing it isn’t Wikipedia. The internet lore suggests that everything stems from the local’s treatment of witches; by all accounts, witches were perfectly fine in the region until Christianity took over 400 years ago, (which sort of simplifies ideas of magic, stryga and non-Christian ideas of the supernatural, but sure). As the story progresses, we’re treated to further convoluted explanations and odd comparisons. Axel makes weird leaps of logic such as handing over part of his soul to being akin to a PayPal donation, or thinking that a girl telling him to close his eyes means that she plans on getting undressed. These are all just microcosms of flawed teenage logic and questionable storytelling that permeate the whole visual novel, which normally makes me roll my eyes.
Trick and Treat somehow manages to make these shortcomings rather endearing. It successfully translates the feeling of being a teenager trying to scare your friends with stories of inexplicable disappearances and fantastical monsters lurking in the woods just a short ways from your town. Sure, you might mess up some details in your retelling of the legend or even find some elements utterly ridiculous, but that can’t entirely prevent fears of your local cryptid from seeping into the back of your mind. Anyone who grew up in a small rural community understands the strange discomfort that accompanies entering *the woods* at night, even if you’re almost certain nothing there wants to hurt you. It’s a difficult feeling of wrongness to try and convey to someone without sounding slightly unhinged or superstitious, yet Trick and Treat captures it very well.
You don’t know what’s coming next when you fumble your way through the trees under the moonlight, and I was legitimately concerned when I first stumbled upon the cabin in the woods on my third playthrough, because nothing good could ever be waiting for you in the forest near the witching hour. And even with the pacing issues, there’s a clear effort to flush out the characters and give them distinct backstories and motivations to explain the events which happen in the woods that night. The girls you encounter are equal parts wretched and sympathetic; even Axel grows on you because at his core, he’s just a normal kid wanting to do regular teenage stuff in a small town, which naturally leads to making bad choices when bored. There are parts that you might not necessarily understand, but isn’t that a fundamental part of the fear you experience after stumbling into an inexplicable nightmare deep within the bowels of the forest?
Trick and Treat is every teenage sibling who attempts to scare their younger brother or sister in the late hours of a cool fall evening. It’s the creepy copypasta you never quite believed but still made you open the shower curtain all the way whenever you used the bathroom for the next week. It’s the joy of Halloween distilled down to the simplest goal of scaring someone, but ultimately letting the victim walk away happy and unharmed at the end of the night. Trick and Treat is available on Steam and itch.io for free. I’d recommend picking up it for a little spooky fun this month.