Since 2020, the world has been in a state of restlessness and disillusionment, mainly due to the ongoing pandemic and socio-political strife. These feelings are especially palpable in the upcoming generation of youth and are captured in Lorenzo Redaelli’s visual novel game Mediterranea Inferno. Available on Steam, it is produced by Italian game studio Santa Ragione, known for abstract and emotionally honest works such as the first-person games speedrunner Fontica and the dark visual novel game Milky Way Prince The Vampire Star.
Mediterranea Inferno begins in Milan, Italy in late February 2020, where a trio of gay young men known as “I Ragazzi del Sole ” (aka the Sun Guys) enter a nightclub and are fawned over by the other clubbers. The Sun Guys are: Claudio Visconti, the charismatic heir to a prestigious family, party animal Andrea who is secretly afraid to be alone, and Mida Maragoni, a vivacious presence with an unrequited crush on Claudio.
Two years later, Italy emerges from lockdown caused by the pandemic and Andrea invites the rest of the Sun Kings on a summer retreat. Claudio suggests they use his grandfather’s house in southern Italy, since it is free to use due to his grandfather’s death during the pandemic. As a result, The Sun Kings decide to spend three days and three nights in Pugila. However, right before the three of them meet, Claudio meets a mysterious figure named Madama, who offers him “The Fruit of Mirages” to embark on a solo journey through the Valle D’Itria.
From there, the game takes a trippy turn as Claudio endures his first Mirage, which serves as the psychological manifestation of his deepest desires and fears. You transverse the Mirage by clicking on yellow circles to interact with objects and buildings and Claudio himself will muse on them. One particularly notable moment is when you go to a statue of the Madonna and it takes on the shape of Claudio’s face and various religious figures such as Buddha, which represents Claudio’s desire to be worshipped and adored as he was two years ago. The ambient, eerie music enhances the dreamy atmosphere and makes the player feel relaxed while anticipating something sinister around the corner.
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By the time the first Mirage ends, Claudio is ready to experience his ideal summer with his old friends Andrea and Mida by introducing them to Mirages as well. This prelude establishes Claudio as someone so embittered by the present that he wants to escape by returning to the glory days of the past. The game’s main storyline begins on the first day in Pugila, which shows Andrea and Mida experiencing similar feelings to Claudio. Mida became a fashion influencer during the pandemic, but he hopes this trip will help him unplug and prove to his friends that he isn’t some loser clinging to his friends. On the other hand, Andrea wants to reconnect so that he doesn’t feel lonely anymore.
On the first night, Madama appears to them and tells them that the first person to obtain four mirages by the end of the third night will reach a state of enlightenment and ascend to heaven.
Over the next three days and nights, Claudio, Andrea, and Mida’s desires reveal themselves as the player choose activities for the three of them to do and encounter Mirages. The activities vary from going to the beach or nightclub and each choice determines which character will experience a Mirage and get one step closer to enlightenment. Depending on what the player does, this could result in all three characters reaching enlightenment or only one character doing so, resulting in one of several different endings to the game. Moreover, the game’s true ending can only be obtained by completing the game multiple times and collecting most of the game’s “holy cards” found throughout the game.
Since I found myself gravitating towards Claudio due to relating to his struggle with familial expectations, my first playthrough involved him getting all four mirages needed. However, I was also curious about Midas and Andrea’s circumstances and made sure to do one or two Mirages for them each. This resulted in an experience that was provocative, emotional, and horrifying all at once. There is a lot of psychological trauma displayed in this game, as well as some gore and nonconsensual sexual touching that some might find disturbing.
One of the most notable Mirages occurs with Andrea when the guys go to the beach. The experience is oozing with sex, with a lot of naked young men and erotic food and beach metaphors. A particularly pleasurable choice lets Andrea spend coins to eat fruit off of a guy’s naked body. As the game progresses, it is revealed that beneath the desire for sex is a desire for physical touch and closeness that Andrea hasn’t felt in two years due to the pandemic lockdown.
Since I chose to let Claudio try to ascend to enlightenment, this resulted in Andrea and Midas becoming victims of self-destruction that also affects Claudio. While all of them desperately want to rise above their collective trauma of the 2020 pandemic, it is up to the player to guide them to that point. Yet the failure to do so is more than one “bad ending” for the game, but reflective of the pain that Italian youth and young adults worldwide are struggling to overcome.♦
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