Wonhon: A Vengeful Spirit PC Review
Wonhon is the story of a young woman who, upon her demise, is gifted the ability to return to the world of the living in the form of a sort of half-spirit half-human as part of a deal with the reaper. The Angel of Death is pretty busy due to the War, as one would expect, so our protagonist (very cheekily) takes this opportunity to offer her help. In exchange for another chance at life she will use her newly-bestowed ghostly powers to aid those souls that are unable to move on, those with too much ‘Han’ – described as an intense feeling of sorrow and/or hate. Those with ‘unfinished business’, you might say. These tasks consist entirely of four scenarios: something valuable must be recovered, such as a wedding ring or a list of names; weapon deposits need to be taken out, which requires the control of a specific type of militant that can throw grenades and is only done twice or so throughout the game; retribution in the form of a massacre, which is where the subtitle comes from; and finally, perhaps the most common ask, certain persons must be rescued and escorted to safety.
To accomplish this the player is given very little – one of my major gripes with the experience. The ability to possess a soldier or one of their trained hounds for a limited time is something you’ll be using endlessly. Once you’re in control of them, which requires being up close and using spooky magic for a few seconds, the NPC-turned-PC can then be manipulated to make way through the stage unhindered, attack other units, or simply exited in order for a temporary stun effect that comes into play late-game but isn’t used for any kind of kill-less playthrough. The second power, allowing the player to dash through obstacles, seems to have been included mostly to allow for a getaway after the enemy body you’re currently dominating is eliminated. I suppose it was frustrating to instantly fail upon that happening. However, it’s also an incredibly powerful way to burst through the stage quickly and only have to deal with the patrols on the way back out.
Sadly, there’s not much evolution from there. Besides the odd inclusion of a new type of foe or obstacle, the game doesn’t really change too much at all from beginning to end. Instead of killing people off permanently the player must shift to relying on the temporary stun mechanic but it boils down to the same thing – moving single guards out of the way or causing a ruckus elsewhere to distract groups. Due to the lack of much variety, the 35 or so levels that compose the main campaign feel terribly similar and the only difficulty is the maddening frequency that sentries that are crept up on instantly spin on their heels and blast you in the chest for seemingly no reason. Aggravatingly there’s also no escape from this, as you can’t use your phantom form and subsequently the dash without a full energy meter, which is never the case unless fresh off of a possession as that fills it back up, acting as a timer for retaining your hold over them.
Even the two bosses are essentially fought in the same way, which is to say taking over a soldier to attack the apparition then bolting to safety. Lather, rinse, repeat. It’s a real shame that the 5-hour playthrough of the full experience doesn’t really ever diverge from what players are essentially doing in the demo because the core concept is just so damn cool. But the lack of varied challenges or new skills to master means one never has to play any differently from start to end – there’s no need to adapt or overcome. There are no engaging options – a vital element of the stealth genre, I would argue. A real waste because, putting aside the haunting real War at the centre of the story, the main idea of being a stealth/action game leaning into the paranormal with poltergeist-like puppeteering of adversaries, each with diverse abilities, is excellent.
It starts and ends there, though, when it could have been so much more. Even the narrative, whilst originally harrowing, missteps a good few times. The basic outline of listening to each spirit’s story and helping them out works fine but eventually you start to think “but aren’t the soldiers on the other side (ignoring who is ‘in the right’, historically or morally) going to hold the same grief as the people you’re helping? Especially after being stomped by a clearly OP wraith. They do touch on that a little. In fact I was pretty excited about failing into a web of ethics around it, but that was quickly shattered by instead having to come face-to-face with an evil version of the protagonist or something? It was very out of place and this is kind of how each beat lands. Something interesting happens, like being told off by Death for going on a mission of your own, only to have that subplot fall away and be replaced by something far inferior.
At first I felt like Wonhon was a revenge fantasy built on the outrage of the atrocities committed during the Korean War (a time when Japan annexed Korea and worked to entirely wipe out their culture and history), but it’s not. Not entirely. It gives players a peek through the looking glass at just a few of those horrible truths and grants them some catharsis as they’re able to put some of the victims at ease, even if what they believe they need in that moment is the bloodshed of those that wronged them. But when that starts to come apart all we see is the suffering caused at the hands of War Pigs. It’s just a shame that the game ends before it really gets to explore those avenues any further, leaving it to fall a little short in both the gameplay aspect and in its observations of an abhorrent smear on World History that is all too recent.