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Mediterranea Inferno (XS)

Mediterranea Inferno (XS) - Review

by Lee Mehr , posted on 04 April 2024 / 1,876 Views

The COVID-19 pandemic left an indelible mark on the world.  Between mandatory lockdowns to the general anxiety of a contagious virus lying in wait, the way in which it affected once-standard human interaction still shows incredible ripple effects, even years after major spikes have subsided.  It's no surprise then that, given the pandemic's recent timeline (relatively speaking), visual novels would be among the most popular game genres to explore it in hindsight.  Apropos of its title, Mediterranea Inferno carries a blazing hatred for how those events robbed its protagonist trio's previous friendship and a part of their youth.

Known in the Italian party scene as "The Sun Guys," Claudio, Andrea, & Mida finally decide to regroup after two exasperating years sheltered away from each other.  With Claudio recently inheriting his grandfather's summer house in Southern Italy, the trio plan a weekend getaway.  Things take a turn for the stranger, as a mysterious genie named Madama offers them each a piece of a forbidden fruit (called "Mirages").  After signing off on a humorous Terms & Conditions form and having a taste, they enjoy a phantasmagorical trip like no other.  Whomever among them acquires four of said fruits by the end of Ferragosto, that weekend, is promised a trip to Heaven.

From the outset, writer/director/artist/composer Lorenzo Redaelli is doing some heavy lifting in having an audience connect with an unsympathetic cast.  One of the first shared qualities about this androgynous gay trio was the shared party life they had in Milan.  Casually hopping to an inherited villa for the weekend speaks to an upper-class lifestyle few can dare to reach, especially in the prime of their youth.  Ironically, the group's drama queen, Andrea, can't help but fume over using being in his mid 20s now.  But even after straining audience connection by airing so many first-world problems, there's still something there in tying these frustrations to an event we all suffered through.

Therein also lies the crux of this visual novel's binary choices: each person has a different idea about how they should reconnect.  Andrea's entire arc comes back to whetting his seemingly-insatiable sexual appetite – sometimes framed to the point of wild desperation; uncomfortable as those lurid images may be (regardless of one's sexuality), it's easy to relate to given the monochromatic box he'd cloistered himself in for so long.  Whereas Andrea drools over the sensual, both Claudio & Mida have more abstract musings about their places in life and what their futures hold, typically leading to different locales they'd like to visit.  Since their time is so limited, this means there will be winners and losers when it comes to who gets to spend summer coins on these delectable Mirages.

Beyond the arbitrary threshold of allegedly reaching Heaven, Mirages also work as vivid, hallucinatory windows into whomever indulges in temptation; part of their hopes or fears lay bear for you to investigate.  While not in the same medium, the closest comparison I can make is this: imagine Nicolas Winding Refn's modern aesthetic grafted onto a homoerotic drama/thriller, and if he had grown up with a traditional Catholic background.  Because it's more than just splattering bright colors while playing catchy discotheque background music; the way certain religious touchstones are occasionally mixed (much like Italy’s Ferragosto holiday) with the carnal is more meaningful than being transgressive for its own sake.  Even if brief and a touch too vapid, there's still an interesting dialogue here about cultural heritage within this modern-day context.

Of course, invoking Refn's recent filmography also transplants quite well to the game's appreciation for flair over substance.  While the vivid psychosexual energy carries an uncomfortable point, it's tough to really find firm footing when the tone can go from 0 to 60 in no time.  And given the… over-exuberance for much of Andrea's and Claudio's dialogue, this is one of those exemptions where no voice acting actually seems preferable; there's more mystique in reading versus potentially listening to someone strain certain lines.  The road to reaching the conclusion can be rocky and overly relies on glitz and glamour to paper over missteps, but where the script eventually leads is equal parts macabre, twisted, and playful with genre conventions.

While the decision-making for the location you go to and which of the Sun Guys gets to indulge in another Mirage is appreciated, that mostly encapsulates Inferno's limited gameplay.  It's the quintessential example of a modest three-hour excursion (priced at $10), with some replay value tossed in for good measure.  Beyond just tempting re-runs for achievements, there's genuine value in Redaelli's sumptuous visual design within each kaleidoscopic Mirage.  Outside of that?  Well, the nonsense currency of summer coins – of which you always have enough to purchase a Mirage anyways – just serves as an option to spend on other one-off decisions.  That said, that game design is played with on occasion, like how Andrea can "bankrupt the coin purse" by feverishly indulging in every innuendo during his beach trip.  It's just a shame that's as far as it goes: a thimble of unique design quirks within a sea of basic A-or-B choices.

Like the trio tasting the forbidden fruit, indulging in Mediterranea Inferno comes with a few conditions and consequences to consider.  Splashes of intriguing design don't disregard what's a somewhat-unengaging visual novel foundation, but its trippy audio-visual design does its best to compensate for that.  Even though such a flagrantly homoerotic & occasionally psychotic narrative is by itself a tough sell, Redaelli's willful disregard leads to some intriguing avenues of this trio’s post-pandemic frustration.  This potent mix of enflamed sexual energy, pandemic frustrations, and tattered friendships is slightly too inconsistent in execution, but still earns some appreciation nonetheless.

Contractor by trade and writer by hobby, Lee's obnoxious criticisms have found a way to be featured across several gaming sites: N4G, VGChartz, Gaming Nexus, DarkStation, and TechRaptor! He started gaming in the mid-90s and has had the privilege in playing many games across a plethora of platforms. Reader warning: each click given to his articles only helps to inflate his Texas-sized ego. Proceed with caution.

VGChartz Verdict


This review is based on a digital copy of Mediterranea Inferno for the XS

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