Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.
The Shrouded Isle, developed and published by Kitfox Games, is a game where you take on the role of a high priest in a doomsday cult on an isolated island, counting down the days until your God returns. Each season, you must appoint an advisor from each house in your village, and then sacrifice one of them to appease the almighty Chernobog.
Naturally, it’s not all that straightforward. Each of your villagers has a randomly generated vice and virtue which means you’ll have to investigate and discover who’s the best to sacrifice for appeasement. Sometimes, the almighty Chenobog will visit you in your dreams, asking you to root out a certain sinner.
Along with keeping the sacrifice train rolling, you also need to keep your reputation high amongst the local families. After all, inviting people into your village to murder them does require a lot of trust and charisma. It’s a careful balancing act, one you’ll also have to balance with the traits of your village, and it makes the game much more engrossing than simply tossing lambs (a metaphor for meaty humans) to the slaughter. It’s all a bit fiddly, but nobody said that running a cult would be easy!
One of the things that makes The Shrouded Isle such a good game is the delightfully creepy atmosphere. The randomly generated aspects of the game–the villagers, their personalities, vices, virtues, and relationships–mean that each playthrough is as fresh and unexpected as the last. This also means that sometimes that whatever RNG God exists in the game can throw our results that make your game much more difficult. One game saw one family as pure as can be with no major sinners. Thankfully, there are in-game techniques to get around this.
The Shrouded Isle also introduces key events at random intervals. Of course, in true video game fashion, sometimes they’ll really help you and others will make you want to sacrifice yourself just to end it all. Each random event absolutely reeks of otherworldly veneration. One event saw my villagers feasting upon rubbery blackened ‘fish’, praising Chernobog’s name as they dined. It really hammers home that The Shrouded Isle itself is a home to the cosmic horrors unknown,
Pleasantly, the Shrouded Isle’s intriguing mechanics are wrapped inside a lovely art style. The various colour schemes are minimalistic and uncomplicated, the UI is neatly laid out and the cutscenes are beautifully drawn. The only bugbear is that, on Nintendo Switch, the in-game text is a little too small in handheld mode. Similar to Stardew Valley, bursting it up onto the TV gave me an eye-strain headache in docked mode. I’d personally recommend playing the game in handheld mode. If you’re playing the game on PC or Mac, the graphics are completely fine
The Shrouded Isle’s eerie atmosphere is aided greatly by the soundtrack. The songs become more frenetic the further you advance through the game, forcing you to realize that you’re getting closer to the old God’s awakening with each passing season. In-game events such as villagers being lashed or forbidden goods being seized are accompanied by a wet splattering sound and the sound of glass smashing respectively. The attention to detail in the soundtrack really emphasizes the visceral and raw horror of the game, making playing it all the more satisfying in a strange, strange way.
A short while into the game, the Sunken Sins DLC (included for free with the game) comes into play and you’re given access to an old purification tower as a madness breaks out across your village. Infected villagers can be locked up in the tower and dunked into salt water to purify their illness. Sacrificing an infected villager will also anger their family more than sacrificing them usually would, so you have to start balancing purifying people, sacrificing people, and appeasing people. You can also lock up uninfected villagers and dunk them into the freezing water below, although this can potentially end with the villager’s death. Or they might ascend to a higher level of Lovecraftian-existence. Whether you want to take that risk is up to you!
The only problem that I really had with The Shrouded Isle is the various endings. While I won’t give away any major spoilers, there are apparently 7 endings to unlock. I can only seem to manage one. I’ve tried reaching certain conditions just before the game’s good ending kicks in, but nothing seems to affect it. Also, you can achieve a ‘game over’ by failing to appease a family, by lowering a village trait too much, and by sacrificing the wrong people, but these apparently don’t count towards the endings. However, I’ve opted to see this not as a bad thing, but instead see it as an opportunity to keep playing and work out what to do.
It’s also important to note that this isn’t really a game that you can play in short bursts. While the game does autosave after each season has passed, it’s much more fun to play in one sitting. Playing it all in one go also makes it far easier to memorize each villager’s traits and work out who’s doing what. A complete play-through for me averaged about 2 hours after I got into the swing of things. I highly recommend putting some time aside, getting comfortable, and taking time to not-so-lovingly tend to your cult.
In short, The Shrouded Isle is the perfect game for anyone who wants to praise the almighty Chernobog and also get a taste of the management side of running a cult. Sure, sometimes the randomly generated odds are stacked against you and the game becomes significantly trickier to beat, but that’s just how life is. I heartily recommend getting this game – preferably before you end up on Chernobog’s altar as a sacrifice yourself.