Escape-the-Room Games: A History, A Catalogue, and an Explanation

When people see me, they immediately think I'm an otaku. Stickers on my computer, gamer T-Shirts, or a DS in my pocket give it away. Most assume I'm big into anime, manga, or console gaming, maybe even the Japanese language or culture. They'd be right on all accounts, of course, but there's one personal obsession of mine that trumps all of those.


For the uninitiated, it roughly translates to "escape-exit game", more commonly known as the escape-the-room game. These sorts of games are low budget, low production value, low programming,next-to-no storyline, and are almost always Flash titles and free to play (the exceptions to this rule are usually cheap DS titles that never leave Japan). What they lack in production or complex gameplay is made up in the form of puzzles, and in the rare instance a good storyline does exist, it is not fed to the viewer in blocks of exposition text or dialogue, but in exploration of one's surroundings. In escape-the-room games, you are almost always alone.

The goal of escape-the-room games is simple: escape the room/building/situation you are confined to. Like the adventure games that proceeded them (Monkey Island or Myst were some strong influences on the genre), you most acquire items, and proceed to use them in interesting and unexpected ways to get yourself out. Few games require timing or luck, and escape-the-room fans have come to expect that if something doesn't work, it's likely that the puzzle must be solved from a different angle.

The first escape-the-room game to gain any sort of web popularity was the Japanese Crimson Room, a decent, if not a bit frustrating, first attempt spawning multiple sequels that added a story element and the fact that you were not simply trying to escape a room, but a whole house, one that may or may not have been haunted by its previous owner. Escape-the-room games, by the nature of you being locked away alone, often use horror elements to add to the atmosphere and add a sense of urgency to one's escape, though it is most common in these games to allow the person to take as long as they need to solve the puzzles to get out.

The most interesting thing about almost all escape-the-room games is that they are in the form of the first-person. The few escape-the-room games that don't use this convention do so deliberately, to show that you are not who you think you are. In Being One and Alice is Dead, you are eventually presented with your own hands or a mirror respectively, to see that, instead of playing as yourself as you normally do in these kinds of games, you are actually playing as someone else, a specific someone else.

Another interesting thing about the escape-the-room game genre is that, for quite a few years, almost all the games were produced solely by the Japanese. Only recently have more and more good escape-the-room games been produced by Westerners, and these games more closely resemble typical adventure games like the aforementioned Monkey Island than their puzzle-only Japanese counterparts.

The final interesting thing to note is just how many of the Wester escape-the-room games were designed to teach or contain a moral, while the Japanese ones are more likely intended as a way to wrack one's brain.

The following is a condensed list of the best escape-the-room games. I wiil post more links shortly, but these games are fairly easy to find on or Google.

Japanese Series:
Room Series: Crimson Room, Viridian Room, White Chamber (note: Viridian is horror. Other two are not)
House Series: Rental House, Guest House, Boat House, Terminal House
Loom series: Loom Above, Loom Blend, Loom Custody
Kagi Nochi Tobira series: Kagi Nochi Tobira, Kagi Nochi Tobira 2
Room Series (place-of-light studio): Room Fake, Room Bath, Room Marine

Japanese Stand-Alone Games:
The Daydream
Job Pico
The Shochu Bar
Another Side

Thought Provoking/ Outside the Box:
Being One Episode 1, Being One Episode 2, Being One Episode 3, Being One Episode 4 (note: horror genre) (Western game)
Bars of Black and White (Western game)
White Zone
Kao Fu-Sen
Gateway, Gateway 2 (Western game)
Gwen (Chinese)

The Fog Fall, The Fog Fall 2 (note: horror genre)
Sphere Core, Cube Core, Prism Core, Soul Core, Tower Core
Sagrario's Room Escape
Hotel 626 (horror! You have been warned! Seriously!)
House (note: horror game)
Diversity (note: horror game)
The Great Kitchen Escape, The Great Living Room Escape, The Great Bathroom Escape, The Great Basement Escape, The Great Bedroom Escape, The Great Attic Escape, The Great House Escape
Tipping Point Episode 1, Tipping Point Episode 2, Tipping Point Episode 3, Tipping Point Episode 4