Misericorde review: a gripping murder mystery in a medieval nunnery

Misericorde review: a gripping murder mystery in a medieval nunnery

A couple hours into Mercy: Volume 1a murder mystery visual novel set in a convent in England in 1482, the nuns get into an argument about the process of slaughtering ducks for the evening’s supper.

It’s not exactly a logical argument — at least, not for Flora, who is absolutely just fucking with her fellow nun Eustace. After Eustace assures everyone that she doesn’t find it hard to kill ducks — “They’re not much of a match for me, if I’m being honest” — Flora counters by asking, “How many ducks would it take before you think you’d lose?” And although Mercy has no voice acting, relying only on black-and-white drawings and art, you can just hear the stubborn this-is-not-a-debate tone in Eustace’s response: “I could defeat every duck. It is simply not a problem for me.”

But it’s not a duck who’s been murdered. It’s the convent’s feistiest free thinker, Sister Catherine, who has just turned up dead. And for at least one of these characters, Catherine was no match for them.

This haunting and occasionally quite humorous (as the duck-killing debate shows) visual novel mainly unfolds through a eyes of the pious, naive Hedwig, who at the outset of Mercy is the convent’s Anchoress. This means that, by her choice, she’s spent her formative years locked up in a cell, serving as a presumed “neutral” source of knowledge to any and all spiritual advice-seekers, as she’s devoted herself fully to reading only scripture and religious literature . She knows only the voices of those who’ve visited her — and though she counsels them at times of intense vulnerability, she knows almost nothing about them, or about people and society in general.

Sister Margaret addresses Sister Katherine in the hallways of the convent in Misericorde, saying, “We can get our stories straight later then.”

Image: XEECEE via Polygon

Moira looks askance as she walks between convent buildings in Misericorde, saying, “You'd better join us for lunch.”  Rain pours down around her and the other nuns in the background.

Image: XEECEE via Polygon

In an image from Hedwig's perspective as she gazes upon all of the nuns sitting in pews, she stutters, “H... hello...”

Image: XEECEE via Polygon

Unfortunately for Hedwig, her position at the convent means she’s the only person who definitely didn’t murder Sister Catherine. That’s why Mother Superior drags her from the simple but serene familiarity of her cell, forcing Hedwig to then secretly evaluate the convent’s few members in an attempt to discover the identity of Catherine’s killer.

Mercy is a visual novel in the strictest sense: There’s no player choice, no branching dialog; it’s a matter of just clicking through and reading the story as it unfolds. Only the first volume of the game has been released on Steam so far, so the mystery is still unsolved. Yet it’s already skyrocketed to the top of my personal list of favorite games of the year due to the depth of its characters and the twisty, sometimes even supernatural, turns of its murder mystery.

Hedwig looks up and sees a cloaked figure staring at her from an upstairs passageway in the convent.  The image is captioned with Hedwig's internal monologue: “Cloaked in shadow... the barest glint of eyes.”

Image: XEECEE via Polygon

It’s rare to see an ensemble cast this well developed and characterized, especially in a murder mystery, a genre that often relies on tropes and shorthand. At first, upon seeing the black-and-white art depicting all of the nuns dressed in (obviously) identical clothes, I worried about how I’d manage to keep track of all the suspects. But I didn’t worry for long. Each nun has her own a distinct voice — and her own set of secrets, guarded closely from Mother Superior, Hedwig, and the rest.

As soon as I played this unforgettable opening salvo, Mercy: Volume 1I went straight to the solo developer’s Patreon and became a paying subscriber, because I knew I’d want to play Volume 2 as soon as it became available. Mercy is available on Steam and itch.io.

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