In every artistic medium, there are works that defy the limitations of the conditions in which they were made to become timeless classics, creations that hold every part of their appeal countless years later. And then, on the opposite end of the scale, there are things like The 7th Guest. I’m not sure there’s a single game that we’ve covered on this blog so far that has aged as poorly as this. Like Predator and Tower of Babel before it, it suffers mightily from the issue of its primary selling point being the showcasing of shiny new technology that is now hopelessly outdated. But with The 7th Guest, the problem is exacerbated further by the technology in question being the wonders of CD-ROM and its ability to put actual real humans onto your computer screen, which the game then uses to present the world’s hammiest actors in the most cliché-ridden haunted house story known to man.
Which is not to say that playing The 7th Guest is the least enjoyable experience I have suffered through for the sake of this project thus far. Far from it, in fact; the concept of ‘so bad it’s good’, of wringing comedy from over-earnest attempts to create drama exists in all genres, of course, but perhaps none moreso than the horror genre in which this game plies its trade. I mean, the godawful acting is, in fact, wholly in keeping with the game’s general aesthetic. It has menu screens styled after Ouija boards, with your mouse cursor appearing variously as a beckoning skeletal hand or a skull with exposed brains and bulging eyeballs, and solutions to its puzzles include such delightfully florid phrases as “THE SKY IS RUDDY, YOUR FATE IS BLOODY” and “SHY GYPSY SLYLY SPRYLY TRYST BY MY CRYPT”.
The ‘puzzle’ to which this latter phrase is the solution, by the way, is simply the letters of the phrase presented as “YYY YYYYY YYYBC GHLLLM PPPRR RS SS SSTTT” with no further context provided. I know that this is the answer because I found it on the Internet attempting to look up some clue as to what the puzzle in question was actually asking me to do. How anyone in 1993 figured this shit out, I have absolutely no idea. (Apart from anything else, why couldn’t it be “SLY GYPSY SHYLY” rather than “SHY GYPSY SLYLY”, besides that possibly making it even more horribly racist?) And while this is by far the most obtuse example I encountered in my time with the game, it is fairly characteristic of The 7th Guest’s puzzles as a whole. Their difficulty generally lies just as much in figuring out the question as it does figuring out the answer.
But while the game itself may be as firmly of its time as it is possible for any game to be, I cannot deny it a legacy that makes a mockery of my mockery here. Because The 7th Guest shares a huge amount of DNA with games of the ‘visual novel’ genre at large, and specifically the Zero Escape trilogy, all three of which rank among my favourite gaming experiences of recent years, clunky interface and ridiculously obtuse puzzles and all. The underlying structure of the game is built on absolutely solid foundations, it just needs an infusion of snappy dialogue and absurd twists where it turns out that one of the main characters is secretly a robot and the haunted house is actually on the moon. Which is an egg.
Admittedly, this is rather damning with faint praise – as the name might suggest, the ‘visual novel’ genre relies rather more on its storytelling than your average game, so what I’m really saying here is akin to ‘this book has really nice pages, it’s just a shame about the words printed on them’. But therein lies the answer to this puzzle – find me a page with no words on it. A red one, or perhaps a blue. I’ll wait.