The only downfall of the gameplay is a lack of any hint system. The phrasing of journal notes is usually intended to serve as clues, but it’s not always apparent until after you’ve solved a puzzle and reread the entry. For example, when Abigail needs to overcome an obstacle involving switches on the walls, the correct order to push them is not very intuitive and didn’t elicit the “Aha!” moment until after I’d solved it by trial and error. Certainly Goetia is a hard game, and making the clues more obvious would diminish some of the challenge, but a hint system would have made for a very welcome middle ground. Even without it, finishing the minimum required tasks in order to get the first of two endings is not impossible by any means. To get 100% completion and a different ending, I suggest you hire out a musical prodigy to assist you, preferably for a flat rate rather than by the hour.
The rest of the interface elements are entirely straightforward. Simple keystrokes bring up the journal in which Abigail’s ghost conveniently keeps track of events by writing physical notes, as well as a codex where you can view every readable piece of information you’ve encountered in the game without having to go back to that specific place. The game saves automatically as you go along and always keeps your puzzle progress.
The gorgeous artwork perfectly suits the atmospheric setting. Everywhere you go there is a very ethereal feel created by little details: a painting that doesn’t look quite right, an oddly visual gust of wind milling leaves about, strange symbols that appear on doors and floors to locked areas in the mansion. The lack of any living people or animals definitely ups the spooky factor, creating a frightening sense of isolation. The game is split into five locations: Blackwood Manor, the village of Oakmarsh, the Eldwitch Forest, the Silver Labyrinth and the Fields of Stone. Each location is distinctly different, yet carries the same pervading air of creepiness that varies between complete desertion and the sense that someone or something is watching over your shoulder.
The village of Oakmarsh, though you only explore a handful of buildings, looks and feels exactly like an abandoned WWII village should, with all of the mementos and personal effects left in shops and houses as if the owners simply evaporated. The church deep within Eldwitch Forest feels more like ancient ruins hidden away from the world. The Silver Labyrinth is the most unique aspect of the game, as it actually takes place inside a series of black-and-white photographs that Abigail is able to travel through as a consequence of her nephew Gabriel experimenting with dark magic. The Fields of Stone are a disturbingly creepy excavation site that is directly underneath the manor and contains a shrine to Abigail. But my personal favorite location was the manor itself, divided into a multitude of areas that unlock as you progress. From bedrooms to the kitchen to an astronomy tower and library, the mansion is enormous and is easy to get lost in, which is exactly what makes it so fun to explore.
While Goetia does not contain any cutscenes, the in-game animation is top-notch. Malphas is represented by a gigantic bird’s head that occasionally comes down out of the ceiling to talk to Abigail, but doesn’t look demonic so much as avian. There are also several background animations that eerily contrast the otherwise dead environments, like shaking tree branches, a trapped face in a stone wall in the Eldwitch forest, and flickering lights. The stylized realism of the artwork displays an excellent feel for the era as well. Every detail is thought out and placed with intent, giving you valuable insight into the sort of people who lived there if you’re careful enough to observe everything.
Goetia features no voice acting and very few interactive sounds in the game, which means that most of the ambience is provided by the melodious background music. However, this minimalist approach works well since you are a ghost and are very much alone most of the time, the silence actually contributing to the spooky feel of the game. Sound effects are used sparingly but to great effect, such as the cawing sound when the bird-like Malphas talks and the flash noises when using a camera in one of the puzzles. The soundtrack ranges from progressive rock to haunting scores, and each of the five locations has its own distinct music, sometimes changing for specific rooms. The tracks are interesting and varied, though no one song particularly stands out above the rest.
Taking your time to thoroughly explore is an incredible experience overall that can easily take between 15 to 20 hours all told, culminating in an absolutely fantastic ending. My only real complaints are the lack of hint system to balance out some overly obscure clues, and two music puzzles that up the difficulty considerably. These are minor issues, though, as otherwise Goetia is a masterpiece of Gothic horror, with an intricate plot, a compelling protagonist, beautiful scenery, clever puzzles and a creepy soundtrack. For anyone looking for a haunting and thoughtful challenge, Goetia is for you.