Review: Daily Chthonicle: Editor’s Edition
Horror games usually stick to a few basic genres. First-person, adventure, and puzzle are all well-worn trails for spooky titles to travel down, but management is definitely an outlier. That’s right where you’ll find Daily Chthonicle though, a management game about sending reporters to dredge up and vanquish the dark forces afoot in your city. And it works, less as a horror game and more as a management title, by giving you a team to work with and mounting challenges to pit them against until either they or the horrors break. Just bear in mind that while you’re learning the ropes, it’ll probably be your team that falls first.
You’re the editor-in-chief of the titular Daily Chthonicle, hometown chronicle of the strange and spooky. Cultists, ghosts, and infernal machines are making life hell in your city, and the only way to stop them is with the mighty pen. Researching stories and publishing the truth is the goal, with every story you run earning you new funds and putting a dent in the eldritch forces that hold your fate in their ashen hands. You’ll need the right tools to defeat monsters and pass mundane and mystical barriers in search of the scoops, and if you don’t look out for your reporters well enough then madness and death can end your print run.
The interface for Daily Chthonicle boils all this down to the bare essentials. You have six reporters, and a city map of up to nine locations. Assigning a reporter to a location has them turn up new clues, contacts, investigations, and obstacles so long as they remain there. Everything you find gets published periodically and earns you money based on how much you uncovered, and once you turn up the entire story you can close the case in your files. Closing every open case wins you the game, and the only way to lose is to get all six of your reporters incapacitated at once.
Most of the gameplay here is in deciding what to do with what your reporters turn up. Clues and leads really don’t require any input from you, they’re just part of the stories and are assembled automatically in their cases. Sometimes you’ll come across a new lead and have the option to follow it, or continue in the track you’re on. The significance of this choice isn’t entirely clear to me but it seems like following can trigger more dramatic results, or nothing at all. Investigations and obstacles are the two big ones, both offering different tactical choices like equipping special items or taking risks like snapping pictures. The results of investigations hinge on how well your reporter is equipped, while obstacles can leave your people injured, insane, or incapacitated if they cannot overcome the challenge.
The money you make from running stories mostly goes into stocking up on weapons, forensic tools, bibles, whisky, and dogs to help get past obstacles. You can also mix and use potions from the lab at your office, providing potent bonuses at the cost of keeping a reporter off the streets to do the mixing. In the mid and late game you also get side funds to purchase upgrades and discounted equipment based on how much good your investigations have done the different parts of the city. On top of all this are your contacts and allies who can provide backup, special services, and perhaps other things I haven’t fully worked out yet.
There’s a great deal of strategy at play here, and on the lower difficulties you won’t need to worry about most of it. Keeping your reporters busy, saving up funds to splurge on equipment, and rotating people out when they get hurt or crazed is enough to close out all your cases. On Normal and above, however, the evil has ways of fighting back. Leaving certain threats unanswered for too long or failing key challenges can cause new ones to arise, potentially spiraling the situation out of control. You’ll have less margin for error and need to use all your resources intelligently to keep ahead of your eldrich antagonists, and the strategy is plenty fun to work out as you learn which descriptors call for which pieces of equipment.
What complaints I can level against Daily Chthonicle are mostly in the realm of polish. You can probably tell from the screenshots but it’s not a terribly attractive game, stuck with simple, overly-chunky graphics throughout. I don’t know if it’s an aesthetic choice or artistic limitations but it just doesn’t look good, and there’s very little sound design at all to even critique. The game feels very bare-bones because of this, sealing away the action of vanquishing undead mastodons behind static, blown-up scans of old pictures and poorly-formatted text. And speaking of mastodons, the randomized stories can have their moments but are mostly unimportant and unintelligible since the articles assemble themselves from the disparate pieces you find.
The core of Daily Chthonicle is extremely solid, building a compelling management sim that pits you against fantastic evils with only journalism (and a little magic) on your side. Were it more attractive or polished it would be an instant classic, but as it stands the aesthetic brands it with a pretty strong caveat. Assuming you aren’t put off by the poor graphics there’s plenty of random adventures and bizarre encounters to work through, with a decent learning curve that carries an equally decent sense of accomplishment. If you’re looking for a new take on old themes, Daily Chthonicle puts a load of strategy into eldrich horror and spices it up with creative flair.