This is the one hundred eighty-ninth entry in the Scratching That Itch series, wherein I randomly select and write about one of the 1741 games and game-related things included in the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. The Bundle raised $8,149,829.66 split evenly between the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and Community Bail Fund, but don’t worry if you missed it. There are plenty of ways you can help support the vital cause of racial justice; try here for a start. Lastly, as always, you may click on images to view larger versions.

Our one hundred eighty-ninth random selection from the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality is cooking up some breakfast. It’s Corinne Cross’s Dead & Breakfast, by Bad Chalk, and its tagline in the bundle reads:

A story-driven adventure game about a haunted bed & breakfast. A dead & …

There’s no way I’m going to let some ghosts ruin my breakfast.

Corinne Cross’s Dead & Breakfast is an adventure game, with some visual novel elements. Protagonist Corinne Cross is doing a favor for her mom, by housesitting for her mom’s neighbor Mrs. Styron while she’s in the hospital. Corinne did not realize that the house used to be a bed & breakfast. And she definitely did not realize that its current “guests” are all ghosts.

Bad Chalk are keen to point out that this is not a horror game, despite the presence of ghosts. Rather, it’s a story about helping people — both the dead and the living — find peace and move on. This is where the visual novel influences emerge: there’s a cast of characters to meet and converse with, complete with large, lovingly drawn portraits that display different emotions when appropriate. All the art is lovely, in fact, with a watercolor look that lends every scene a peaceful feel. As is visual novel tradition, there are different endings for each character, with the player’s choices during the game affecting the outcome. But those choices aren’t just made during conversation, they’re where the adventure game elements come in.

Corinne Cross’s Dead & Breakfast doesn’t use genre-standard point-and-click controls, instead presenting its world as a set of interconnected side-scrolling areas, easily navigated with the keyboard by moving left and right, and occasionally entering a door in the background or foreground. Corinne can interact with different things in the scenes (an optional hint system highlights interactable objects) and find items, but there isn’t much in the way of inventory-based puzzling here. Instead, there’s an element of time and resource management. Corinne is only staying in the house for seven days, divided into day and night segments, so she must complete her tasks in that time. Often, she’ll need to buy the things she needs from the shops in town, which means she’ll need to manage her finances too. She can plant flowers and sell them for money, but they take some time to grow, so players will need to plan ahead.

Corinne has an energy meter that threatens to limit all of her activities, depleting when she performs certain tasks and making me worry that I wouldn’t be able to do everything I wanted to do each day. But this turns out to be very forgiving, never dropping below 50% and often staying above 80% during my playtime. Corinne Cross’s Dead & Breakfast is a game that wants players to experience its story, its resource management more of a light framing device than an actual concern. Progress is made by thoroughly exploring everywhere each day, paying attention to details and to things people say, and making wise choices about when to invest in gardening supplies and when to buy groceries. Because, yes, Corinne will need to cook some breakfasts.

I really appreciated this design. Where many adventure games can get mired in obtuse and illogical puzzles, Corinne’s story flows much more naturally. I still had to think about what to do each day, but the focus remained on the characters and what they needed, and I was able to get the best endings for everyone on my first try (admittedly, with a little luck). And the writing for those characters is great. It’s become something of a cliche for indie games to deal with grief, but Corinne Cross’s Dead & Breakfast handles it in a far more positive way than most. It doesn’t shy away from tragedy, but tragedy is never its focus. Instead, it’s about learning to accept loss, and keep living. Or, if you are the one who died, accepting your death and letting your spirit move on.

Many of the spirits are strangers, so Corinne is able to offer an outsider’s perspective on their dilemmas. But there is one death that casts a shadow over the whole story: that of Mrs. Styron’s son, Gale. Corinne knew him, although the details of that are only revealed gradually as the game proceeds. But everyone is affected by his passing. Obviously Mrs. Styron is still grieving as she convalesces in the hospital, but everyone else has been affected too, from the shopkeepers in town to Mrs. Styron’s strange neighbor Hermina, who acts as something of a mentor to Corinne once she starts seeing ghosts. These people take comfort in each other, as a community, in a way that rings true. By the end of the story, I felt genuine affection for them people, and I watched the end credits with a bittersweet smile on my face.

This one is an easy recommendation. Between the beautiful art and tasteful use of royalty-free music, it’s hard to tell it was made in RPG Maker, barring the fact that it starts in an awkwardly small window that must be manually maximized. I played it over a few sessions, but it could easily be completed in one, its story taking the time it needs but not overstaying its welcome. There’s the option for a New Game + mode after finishing, promising a more challenging experience with some extra scenes, which might be nice for those who want to go back and get better endings for any of the characters. But I, much like the restless spirits under Corinne’s care, must move on. I suggest you check out Corinne’s story, though. If you missed it in the bundle, Corinne Cross’s Dead & Breakfast is sold for a minimum price of $4.99, including versions for Windows and Mac.

That’s 189 down, and only 1552 to go!