Intended as a "love letter" to the Kickstarter community, Serena is a free, very short yet detailed Environmental Narrative Game, released for PC through Steam on January 30th, 2014. Nightmare Fuel through and through, it tells the story of a man who recently lost his wife, the titular Serena, but is all what it seems in this psychological horror?
Has a lot of support from the old-school adventure gaming community and fans, including former Sierra staffer Josh Mandel, who voiced the protagonist, and Pushing Up Roses, who voiced Serena. Also includes the likeness of adventure enthusiast Serena Nelson, to whom the game is dedicated.
Obviously, it has nothing to do with the 2014 drama film of the same name.
The nature and extremely short length of this game being what it is, it's hard to discuss anything without spoilers, so they're unmarked. Be VERY careful when reading!
Serena contains examples of:
- Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: It's implied that Serena and maybe even the narrator himself were this, being genuinely loving at first before showing their true colors. At the very least they both seem to have ended up being caught in a toxic relationship that may have devolved into outright Domestic Abuse as their resentment for the other grew.
- Bookworm: The protagonist admits to being this.
- Carpet-Rolled Corpse: The protagonist, upon discovering a long-dead body, will consider doing this if the rug is clicked on.
- Character Development: As the protagonist's memories return, he goes from idealizing Serena and being totally in love with her, to being melancholic and missing her, to being furious, bitter and resentful towards her and claiming that he hates her, to finally having a massive My God, What Have I Done? moment where he becomes depressed, and guilt—ridden and almost suicidal and keeps on apologizing to the absent Serena and saying that he did love her.
- Closed Circle: No matter how often you try, the protagonist refuses to leave the log cabin.
- Creepy Changing Painting: The one photo of the couple together changes according to what you've remembered. The poem on the wall also changes depending on what you've discovered so far.
- Dead All Along: Accumulating evidence suggests that this is the case for the protagonist.
- Discovering Your Own Dead Body: It's strongly implied that the corpse in the armoire is the unnamed narrator's, and the clock on the wall notably stops right after you find it.
- Domestic Abuse: Serena has one big mark against her in this category: chucking a frying pan at our protagonist. Also the main character in one of his worst moods describes her as being very manipulative, demanding, and controlling.
- Environmental Narrative Game: Investigating the cabin's contents sets off the narrator's reminiscences, which lets the story unfold.
- Foreshadowing: There are several references to sweeping things under the rug and not having any skeletons or monsters in one's closet prior to The Reveal.
- Frying Pan of Doom: The protagonist remarks that Serena once chucked a heavy frying pan at him during a fight and could have easily killed him with it. Given the bloodstain on the table and the corpse found in the closet at the end of the game... she actually might have killed him this way.
- Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: The fact she was blonde is the first thing the protagonist remembers about his wife's appearance after finding a comb with a strand of hair in it.
- Happily Married: This seems to be the case for the couple at the beginning of the game. As more details come to light over the course of the story it seems like their actual relationship was a bit more complicated and unpleasant than it initially appeared.
- It's All Junk: The narrator will have this reaction after a certain point in the game once he runs out of things to say about a particlar item.
- Jump Scare: Near the end of the narrative, you're finally able to open the closet next to the bed,all seems perfectly normal..until you move the dress. Also if you check the photo afterwards there is another potential jump scare
- Kill It with Fire: Unless you pick up on the few clues that the protagonist is Dead All Along, it would appear that this is his final fate.
- Laser-Guided Amnesia: The protagonist knows who he is and is aware that his wife, Serena, is gone from the house, but at first remembers little else, including what his wife even looks like.
- Lethal Chef: Apparently Serena wasn't that great a cook. Anything she made that wasn't overly spicy or completely bland tended to end up burnt.
- Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Serena is initially described as this.
- Meaningful Background Event: There are several subtle changes to the environment throughout the game, such as the clock on the wall stopping after you open the armoire and what appears to be a bloodstain near the corner of the table that gradually goes from a few drops to a large puddle the further you get.
- Musical Spoiler: Music is mostly absent from the game, but does play briefly whenever you progress to the next phase/mood shift of the game.
- No Name Given: The protagonist's name is never given, and the letters from Serena never refer to him by name.
- Porn Stash: There is a pin-up magazine in one of the bedside cabinets on the protagonists side of the bed.
- Purple Prose: Not all the time, but the narrator/protagonist has his moments.
- Shout-Out: Many on the bookshelf◊.
- Including "Horton Hears Some Unpleasant Truths About Himself"
- Under the keyring in the dresser is a newspaper clipping related to the company's upcoming game, Asylum.
- Red Herring: At one point the player comes across a spare keyring in one of the drawers that definitely seems like it will eventually play a role in unlocking something. While it does prompt a few unique lines from the protagonist it ultimately goes unused as both the chest and lockbox can be opened without it and the player never gets the chance to actually leave the cabin at any point in the game.
- Returning the Wedding Ring: You eventually find Serena's in her jewelry box, a sure sign she's not coming back.
- Sinister Silhouettes: Two appear outside the window towards the end of the game.
- Spooky Painting: The cabin has some pretty disturbing artwork on the walls seemingly for the sole purpose of adding to the dark and moody atmosphere.
- Spooky Photographs: The photograph of the protagonist and Serena on the table slowly changes over the course of the game to reflect the new information the player has unlocked about the protagonist's past.
- Stopped Clock: The clock on the wall can be heard ticking away for most of the game, but after a certain point will stop, emphasized by the pendulum being frozen mid swing.
- Story Breadcrumbs: All you know at the beginning is that Serena doesn't seem to be home, and the protagonist is suffering partial amnesia. It's up to the player to explore the environment and find objects to trigger memories and gradually piece the story together and find out what happened.
- The Ghost: All we ever see of Serena (apart from the photo) is her silhouette.
- Tone Shift: The game starts out as the protagonist simply wondering where his wife is and thinking of her and the times they've had together fondly. The second moodshift into him being sad/worried and missing her is fairly subtle, then the third moodshift triggers and he suddenly becomes furious and keeps going off on rants whenever you look at anything, and even the colours of the room drain noticeably, and the game takes on a darker tone (literally and mood-wise)
- Twist Ending: Although you may or may not have doubts already as to whether everything is as it seems before the twist, it's not obvious, but the clues are there if you can find them.
- Unreliable Narrator: Very much so. Nearly everything he tells us about Serena is either provably false or conflicts with further narration.
- Possibly justified as most of the changes in description tend to occur after a moodshift, so it could be argued that it's his perception of Serena and their life together that changes, for example his interpretation of her and events is rose-tinted at first but two mood shifts later he flies into a rage and suddenly views/remembers everything including her a lot less kindly.
- There's also no concrete evidence that the protagonist was completely in the right during his and Serena's (implied) many fights. While it's incredibly doubtful that there was anything he did that warranted his murder, our only glimpse into Serena's side of the story is an angry letter criticizing the protagonist's emotional unavailability. All we have to go on is what he says about their relationship, and since his interpretations were skewed at the beginning of the game...
- Visual Novel: A Western example.
- Wild Mass Guessing: There's a lot to go on in this game, but not a lot of explanation; therefore, this is our best recourse.