Grandma’s Ghosts is a short, linear visual novel by a sibling team (Rusty and Julie Bailey) created for the DevSquad Academy Jam. In a search for your recently deceased grandmother’s cookie recipe, you encounter some unexpected inhabitants in her old house: a small contingent of ghosts. As you pass through old memories of your grandmother, you come to find you weren’t the only one she had such a strong impact on.
The shorter development cycle that a jam permits typically means the game is a little more streamlined and less complex in its construction. This game sits within those same expected parameters, but it manages to do a lot of well-executed things in the span of such a short game. This creates a very lovely little experience.
For the art, they chose a hand-drawn style that creates a homey, intimate feel. The limited color palette and simple lined backgrounds do a great job of bringing the focus onto the ghosts themselves and the story they tell while still supporting the overall nostalgic melancholy of emotions our main character is moving through. The slightly sketchy, ever-so off-kilter approach to line art and coloring, far from coming across as half-finished, feels like an appropriate reflection of the emotions our main character is going through in the wake of such a tragedy. The ghost designs themselves are very endearing and speak to a thoughtful, if simple, character design process. Overall, it has a well-constructed and charming visual coherency that matches well with the story.
It does lack a little bit of the typical gameplay structure one becomes accustomed to with visual novels. There’s no save function, for example, no options for sound effect and music volume, and I had trouble getting the story to advance with keyboard controls. For such a simple, short, browser-based game, these are very unobtrusive obstacles.
The centerpiece of the game, of course, is a sweet, emotional story about loss, love, and moving on. It’s never once sad, however, instead choosing to embrace the bittersweet nature of death and the memories we share with those we’ve lost. The dialogue is snappy and quirky while still being realistic. Every ghost has a very specific voice, highlighted by an interesting use of text effects to set the internal sound of each conversation. You can “hear” the speech patterns in some of the ghosts through the the way the text is implemented. None of this, however, undermines the core tone and message of the story. Instead, it endeavors to deliver on the promise of a very real conversation about the very real nature of death without being heartbreaking or tragic.
Short, sweet, but packed full of emotion and love, Grandma’s Ghosts is an excellent example of short fiction done well. It’s no more or less than anything it needs to be and hits all the right places.
Play it in-browser on itch.io.