Looking back after playing dozens of escapes, I can say that Haunting of Noriko was one of the big reasons I fell in love with escape gaming. To me it was an irresistible premise: I’m a huge fan of Japanese horror films, and Noriko offers you the chance to step right into your very own.
Let’s do the basics! The entire game looks great, with a ton of polish and atmosphere. The opening sequence is especially good, with a great intro video followed by a very cool entry into the game: a sliding Japanese door, with an ominous detail that hints at what you’re getting yourself into. It grips you early with some strong story and really makes sure you’re along for the ride. That’s key, and Noriko really succeeds at that early grab.
Once stuff gets moving the puzzles feel tested and well balanced. There’s nothing brain-bustingly unfair: the challenges are approachable to newer players, but still deep enough for a veteran escaper to have a really good time. And Noriko does a great job accommodating larger groups; I’ve done a lot of escape rooms that were said to fit up to 12 players, but more often than not it was just me and two other people having all the fun while everyone else stood around watching. That won’t happen here! Noriko’s a chilling experience where everybody’s busy for the entire span of the game, and when it’s over it leaves you wanting more. But let’s go a little deeper and talk about what makes it so special.
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Haunting of Noriko was the first of Escape Games’ second generation rooms, and while the most obvious upgrade was the shift to film-quality sets, there was another subtle difference: each of the second generation games – Noriko, Syndicate, and The Unknown – all play with unique elements of escape game design, offering a different flavor of gameplay in each.
In Noriko, That Means Teamwork
The Escape Games crew built an entire two-story Japanese house to bring Noriko to life, and since challenges are scattered throughout the space, you have to do the one thing horror films have taught us to never do: split up. On the surface, that means breaking your team into smaller groups and figuring out who works well together. But as you go deeper into the game you’ll encounter things that test your teamwork and your communication skills. Teambuilding exercises are one thing, but trying to keep your cool in the darkest corners of the house can be something else entirely.
In short? People get scared! People screw up! And tricky tasks become even tougher under the weight of the house’s foreboding atmosphere.
The puzzles and tasks confronting your group in Haunting of Noriko are varied, and at times very original, but even the most basic trials convey a level of flair and ambience that serve the feel of the story. If you’re a fan of those big shocking moments that so often turn a great escape room into a legendary one – the kind of stuff you just can’t stop talking about afterwards – then I won’t spoil any surprises, but I’ll say Noriko delivers. And while there are some big set pieces and props, my group found that tensions ran highest when the game presented quiet discoveries. There are times where your imagination’s going to run away with you, and you won’t necessarily like where it’s headed.
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With a 35% success rate, Noriko’s approachable in difficulty, but claims a lot of victims nonetheless. Here are some tips to get the most out of your game:
-Split your party carefully. You’ll want to mix experienced escapers with newbies, puzzlers with observers and lateral thinkers, and make sure to spread around the fraidy-cats. If someone lets you know that they intend to freak out, make sure to give them a solid meat shield to lead the way! Calm teams escape. The terrified ones stay trapped in the house forever.
-If one person’s been working at a challenge for a while and it’s just not coming together, switch off and see if someone else can get it. Perspective is everything, and you’re going to find that certain team members will do better in certain situations.
-Stay quiet if you can. Your own blood-curdling screams can interfere with communication, conceal clues, or keep you from hearing whatever it is that just moved in that empty room. You know, the one none of you are in.
-And one more tip: when you find that thing? Try to get someone else to go in there before you. Trust me, you’ll know it when you see it.
As a heavily themed escape room packing an intermediate difficulty, Haunting of Noriko’s a blast for first-time escapers and veterans alike, and as an exercise in teamwork it really flexes the potential of escape gaming. There’s a lot of polish, some great moments, and some unique stuff I haven’t seen anywhere else. All those factors add up to make it one of my most recommended games.
If you’ve never played at Escape Games before, Haunting of Noriko’s an awesome place to start your adventure!
Jason Grabher-Meyer’s an independent escape gaming enthusiast and his playthrough of this experience was not comped or discounted.