June 16, 1981 – 11:40 PM.
Joseph Rain, an esteemed war veteran, is found wandering alongside the road clutching a tape recorder. His eyes are vacant, and he is unresponsive to touch or words. Not even the voice of his beloved wife can stir a reaction. He would stay this way, confined to a wheelchair, until his death 14 years later.
September 25, 1995.
Kathy, 21 years old and sophomore journalism major in college. She’s your typical rebel with an endless well of snarky comments and derisive comebacks, topped off with a badass leather jacket to match her motorcycle. She’s also Joseph Rain’s estranged granddaughter. If it weren’t for an overly intrusive roommate with a penchant for Googling people, she never would have known about her grandfather’s passing. Fast forward to the funeral where she is reunited with her grandmother, a woman who doesn’t even recognize the little girl taken away by her mother 15 years earlier.
A conversation on the couch inside the farm Kathy practically grew up in leads to questions that Kathy can’t shake. What happened to her grandfather in 1981? Why did he disappear that night without an explanation, and what was he doing on the side of the road? It’s a journalist’s job to get to the bottom of things, but this is even more personal; discovering the truth behind the night that destroyed her grandparents’ life is her chance to make up for lost time. And so begins Kathy Rain, a PC title developed by Clifftop Games and published by Raw Fury.
Kathy is a perfect cross between Nancy Drew and Chloe Pierce from Life is Strange. I first discovered this title looking up mystery games on Steam, and instantly fell in love with her fiery personality and fearlessness. The game’s trailer alone demonstrates Kathy’s admirable courage and enviable sarcasm. She rides a ’76 chopper bike she restored herself and lovingly dubbed “The Katmobile.” Right off the bat, I felt a genuine connection to her and was interested in her story. Through the vague hints at her past, we glimpse through conversation options and inner thoughts in the game’s earliest scenes; it’s clear that Kathy’s lovable but hardened exterior armors secrets and vulnerability.
The game’s interface is a point-and-click style that allows you to walk around the various locations by selecting objects when your cursor lights up. Although it’s a lesser used style thanks to the open map games that now dominate the industry, I found that the focused settings actually made the story stand out more. I paid much more attention to where I was in the moment and remembered details about each spot more vividly. You also unlock more locations as Kathy’s investigation progresses and you uncover more clues.
The characters of Kathy Rain are your stereotypical small town folk, but in this game’s instance, their tropes accentuated them more than it limited them. You have the grumpy sheriff, the nervous and stuttering deputy, the loving grandma, the unexpectedly helpful bum and the peaceful priest that hands Kathy a brochure to his church as she’s leaving her grandfather’s funeral. There are also secondary characters like Eileen, Kathy’s chatty and overzealous roommate, and Sue, an old shut-in who lives down by the lake with her mentally disabled son, whose daughter’s tragic death two decades earlier might hold the answer to the mystery shrouding Joseph Rain’s accident.
There’s Charles Wade, a veteran who served alongside Kathy’s grandpa in World War I before starting an engineering company that made him a millionaire. Although he and Joseph were presumably close, something happened that caused them to lose touch. The interconnected lives of all these characters create an intricate and compelling story that is ever evolving and doesn’t bore you for a minute.
Everything that happens in Kathy Rain is punctuated by an incredible soundtrack that I couldn’t get enough of. It’s mysterious and haunting, a track list of piano melodies that meld with the sound of falling rain throughout the game. The voice acting is some of the best I’ve ever heard. In a game that’s all about talking your way to the truth, having a cast that’s capable of bringing their pixelated characters to life is essential. The Kathy Rain voice actors went above and beyond with their performances, which added a stark contrast to the retro pixel graphics and simplistic animations. Each character has their own illustrated portrait that shows up beside them when they’re talking too, which I found to be a nice touch.
There are some puzzles throughout the game, though only a few genuinely stumped me. There’s a lot of interaction with the objects you collect while you play, all conveniently stored and easily accessible in your inventory. You’ll have to use your mind to utilize the contents of Kathy’s leather rucksack to convince people to tell you things…or threaten them into compliance. The game is very dialogue heavy, but it’s all player driven. Throughout the conversations, your notebook will pop up and allow you to pick the topic you want to discuss. There are also intermittent pop ups that allow you to choose Kathy’s next words for her. Usually it’s more or less just you choosing things that are varying degrees of snarky, but there are some larger decisions you will face like deciding whether to hold information about your past from your grandmother or lie to others. Choosing how you want to make Kathy respond to certain scenarios really makes you feel involved on a deeper level, like your interaction with her and the other characters truly matters and makes your experience with the mystery unique.
All in all, Kathy Rain is a top notch game for Nancy Drew fans, mystery lovers or anyone who just loves sassy women on motorcycles. You can try Kathy Rain for free on Steam by downloading the free demo, or jump right in and buy it for $14.99.