Review: Pamali: Indonesian Folklore Horror
This game was selected as one of our July 2019 Reader’s Choice Reviews. Learn more on our Patreon page.
International horror is far and away my favorite part of the genre, and really it should be anyone’s favorite. Learning what frightens people from other cultures and seeing how that interacts with your own concepts of fear is so much more interesting than combing through the same haunted houses or cemeteries. Titles like Devotion, Unforgiving, and The Last NightMary have all shared visions of horror from around the world, and now we have Pamali to expose us to the creepy side of Indonesian culture. While it’s definitely a unique experience, it falls into an area of design that’s going to be a hard sell for a lot of horror fans.
Pamali is designed as an anthology centered on your character, an aspiring supernatural investigator. From their tiny little apartment late at night, they communicate via email and piece together cases to look into. Eventually the game will contain four cases but only two are available now, The White Lady and The Tied Corpse. During the case you play through the experiences of the person telling their story, facing a multitude of choices in how to conduct yourself in the face of the paranormal. For most of the case you can leave at any time, and when you leave plays a big part in determining which of the many endings you’ll get to that particular story.
This is the core of the experience, a pretty sharp departure from collecting spooky pages or banishing a ghost. Here your real goal is unlocking endings, sometimes by learning all you can about a haunting and following specific steps, and other times by running the hell out of there as fast as possible. Conduct is a huge aspect of getting the ending you want, because just about everything you check, take, use, or even look at plays a part in the ending. If that sounds kind of absurd, keep in mind that these cases have something like thirty endings each, nuanced down to escaping from a haunting with or without making rude remarks about the ghost’s appearance.
What you’re really getting here is a ghost etiquette simulator, presented as a first-person horror sim, and both of the current cases embody this in different ways. In The White Lady, you’re trying to sell your family’s decrepit country home, so you have to split your time between cleaning the place up and investigating the strange presence left there. While it’s possible to die in this scenario it’s not likely, and most of the story branches depend on how much you know about being polite to Indonesian ghosts. The Tied Corpse is even more structured, casting you as a gravedigger with a particularly ominous body to inter. You’re given a list of tasks to take care of during your night shift, as well as a warning about some special measures that one body may require. Death is even less likely here despite scooting around a spooky graveyard, leaving you to be judged by how well you complete your tasks.
Is it scary? In a word, yes, but falling much more on the atmosphere and implication side than actual threats. The settings for these cases are intensely creepy, and only grow moreso as you carry out your tasks and the paranormal cues start mounting. But there’s really no running or hiding from monsters here, leaving the fear as uncertainty at your actions and their ramifications. Being set in a different culture for most of us helps a lot, obfuscating what would otherwise be obvious choices and putting us on paths to clash with the unknown. But from a more active, visceral perspective, very little happens here and your goals are much more mundane than what most horror games shoot for.
It remains to be seen what the last two cases, The Little Devil and The Hungry Witch, will offer in terms of depth and scares. If they expand the variety of the game with more active threats or more intense scenarios, then Pamali will likely stand as a fine example of international horror. On the other hand, if they hew close to how the current cases work, focusing on conduct and implications, I doubt it’ll be much more than a curiosity to most horror fans. I love the concept and the unusual beings, and the presentation is great with dark landscapes and evocative sound cues. I’m just not sold on the actual gameplay, with a proliferation of ending blurbs being the ultimate goal. Pamali definitely gets points for being unique with its structure and folklore, but I don’t know how many horror fans will be able to invest in it.