My Lovely Daughter made me feel like shit.
This tale of hubris and obsession dragged me into bleak, biting melancholy. A feverish fixation on a single intent. Sickness in the pit of my stomach. Horrific satisfaction as each act brought me closer to my goal. Delight at each new abomination I created. Most of all, My Lovely Daughter made me feel alone.
And I was alone. In an old house, in my daughter’s bedroom, treating her with balm to stop her dead body from decaying. Each day, I’d use the summoning circle etched on the wooden floor to bring new daughters to life. Daughters made of mud. With faces like rats. With scissor blades for arms. Each day, I’d send them to work. Each evening, I’d bring them gifts. Eventually, they started to feel like family. They showed me affection, devotion, and trust.
My Lovely Daughter forced me to abuse that trust, again and again.
The first time I murdered a homunculus overwhelmed me with sadness and disgust. These girls I’d brought to life through alchemic ritual were so lifelike, so sweet and caring, that the bitter feeling of that first sacrifice lingered for hours.
But empathy soon gives way to tyranny. I become an obsessed zealot. Numbly navigating menus. Blanking out death sequences. Ignoring the heartfelt notes my puppet daughters slip under the doors of their cells. They are no longer sentient. Nothing worth weeping over. Just resources to be raised, exploited, harvested, then discarded.
This decline in emotional weight, from heartache to a sacrificial tamagotchi stock exchange, defines My Lovely Daughter. The nausea never goes. The lonely, dreadful inevitability conjured by the somber score – that stays too. But the killing gets easier. Sending your daughters to work each day gets easier. And then it gets dull. Routine. Tiresome. That My Lovely Daughter can force you through this spectrum speaks to how affecting it is. It also turns it into an unbearable chore before it’s over.
But there’s unbearable, and then there’s unbearable, right? I experienced both before I was done with My Lovely Daughter. It’s not a long game, but its power comes from such a specific and limited sequence of interactions that the emotional resonance can’t keep up with the run time. There’s understated genius in design here. When the horror of murdering your pleading creations fades, a fresh new horror at just how accustomed to the unspeakable you’ve become makes itself known. But even that self-awareness, that mechanical union of rational self interest and malevolence that’s every bit the equal of Papers Please or Darkest Dungeon, only last so long.
Your dead daughter needs a new soul. To get her one, you’ll need to infuse a magical orb with the life essence of murdered homunculi. You create homunculi from five elements: water, wood, clay, steel and meat. There are dozens of combinations, but each has one of four affinities: Anger, fear, joy, or sadness. Time goes by in weeks. Each week, you’ll visit the village once, to work and buy supplies. At the end of the month, when the moon is full, you can perform a ritual and attempt to revive your daughter. Each homunculi you sacrifice infuses the orb with a certain number out of thousand that corresponds to their affinity. 200 joy, for example, or 500 sadness. By trying, and failing, you’ll start to narrow down your daughter’s correct affinities. Get them right, and you finish the game.
What follows is hours of tortuous trial and error. The higher leveled the homunculi are, the greater their affinity will be. So you send them to work. To be smelters and gardeners and cultists and knife sellers. They earn you money, and gain experience. You can spend the money to buy new balm, to make sure the corpse of daughter doesn’t rot, losing you the game. You can spend it on gifts, too. You’ll need those, because the harder you work your puppet girls, the more they’ll lose trust in you. If it drops too low, they’ll run away. If you send them to do a job that clashes with their affinity, this happens quickly.
Occasionally, a villager will make a request of you. The materials used to summon homunculi have three starred tiers. More stars means a higher level summon, but you can choose to sell these materials to villagers for high amounts. Extra money can be spent on more cells for more homunculi, and later, magical items with different effects on income and summoning.
So you summon homunculi. You send them to work. You take them home. And you kill them. Week in, week out, for months and months, trying to get the precise affinity combination to bring your daughter to life. At first you feel pity, and shame, and revulsion, and eventually, you feel nothing.
Should you buy it?
There’s nothing enjoyable about My Lovely Daughter, but there’s a lot that’s beautiful. The letters your clay and wood daughters leave you; stories of hope and fear. Of how isolated and ostracised they feel by the normal children in the village, of how much they’re starting to love and trust you. The baroque comic book aesthetic, all stained parchment, deep blacks and stark crimsons. It needs this beauty, so when it forces you into murder and slavery, it can take it away from you.
There’s elements of Frankenstein, of Little Shop of Horrors, of Faust, the latter from which your alchemist takes their name. My Lovely Daughter is a game that asks you to consider what constitutes a life, and what love for family is worth in the face of so much brutality and selfishness. But it hammers these themes home through repetition that borders on tedium, and I can’t help but feel the developers could have achieved their aims in a shorter, more succinct experience. It is, for most of its duration, a deeply uncomfortable, affecting journey. By the time you get to the end, however, you may have forgotten why you cared so much in the first place.
Available from Steam
My Lovely Daughter was reviewed on PC via Steam using a key provided by the developer.