The Mermaid of Zennor
Let me start by mentioning that the central theme of the game is likely not easily digestible by everyone. The dark, gloomy story revolves around a teenager and her unrequited, forbidden love for her older brother. It’s a deep dive into the pool of messed up emotions of a 13 year old autistic girl, but it also touches sensitive topics like depression, suicidal thoughts, bullying, sociopathy. Yet the writing is absolutely amazing and ebi-hime’s exquisite penship has the potential of transforming all your judgemental thoughts into a profound compassion for the main character.
The story is told from the perspective of Lilac, a victim of the never-ending bullying of her schoolmates who throw objects at her, making fun of her for being different. At home, things aren’t much better: being the result of a second marriage that happens while her father still hasn’t moved on after his first wife’s death 13 years ago, she’s regarded as a constant reminder of his lost love and thus treated coldly, shouted at or completely ignored. Her mother doesn’t understand her suffering and takes it as an incessant need for attention, while disregarding or never considering her own daughter’s needs seriously. Trapped in a world of hate and rarely retaliating, Lilac finds comfort only in the presence of her older brother Jesse – a half sibling from her father’s first marriage – who genuinely cares for his little sister, always being very protective and affectionate to her. It’s no surprise that she transforms all these bottled up emotions and repressed frustrations into a misplaced love for Jesse, who is seen as the only person that understands her, thus becoming the center of her world.
As Jesse leaves to study in London, Lilac is devastated and has an even harder time coping with life without him around. When he returns to their hometown two months later during the Christmas vacation, bringing along his new girlfriend, Lilac’s infatuation with her older brother reaches another tier of obsession. “The human brain is a strange thing” Lilac says at some point, yet her emotions become even stranger: torn apart between a cavernous jealousy and the warmth, understanding and protection that Jesse’s girlfriend shows her, Lilac has to decide her own fate – will she succumb to her emotions or will she try to put together the broken pieces of herself?
The Mermaid of Zennor is a kinetic Ren’py visual novel with a single option for branching, leading to two different endings. It’s a 2h-3h somber read, but the narration is so immersive and Lilac’ psychology is depicted so well that it’s easy to end up empathising with the main character and losing yourself in the story. Contrary to how she shuns all outside contact, Lilac widely opens the doors of her world to the reader and shows her bare and honest thoughts about life. The art style is awesome, and the soundtrack is so haunting and in tune to Lilac’s dysfunctional personality that it’s hard to remain unconsumed by the story.
The game borrows the title from a popular Cornish folk tale about a mermaid’s love for a young man from the village of Zennor. While the folk tale is mentioned several times in Lilac’s story and also narrated by the young girl, it is ultimately only a way to mirror the visual novel’s facts in a symbolic way: just like the mermaid – half sea creature, half human – Lilac’s split personality oscillates between an unhealthy obsession and a mature realism, while the mermaid’s love for the human symbolizes Lilac’s unattainable love for her older brother. The folk tale and ebi-hime’s story draw parallels between each other, while also sharing the same setting: the small English village of Zennor, located in Cornwall.
For me, The Mermaid of Zennor was an absolutely great read, extremely touching and impactful. If the asking price of $4.49 seems a bit too steep for you, then check out Lynne – a kinetic visual novel written by the same author, which is free, has similar elements to The Mermaid of Zennor, and also revolves around a young girl who has a hard time coping with life.