Checkpoint’s Queer Game of the Month: April 2024 – Jill O’ Lantern: Final Cut

Posted on April 26, 2024

Queer identity and horror go hand-in-hand. Even if a lot of horror isn’t explicitly queer, layers upon layers of subtext and rabid fandom will (often rightly so) insist otherwise. I mean, come on. The sole survivor. The final girl. Fighting for your friends and taking down those who oppose you and hold your life in their hands. The proof is in the pudding. Horror is often made for and by queer people. Still, it’s rare for pieces to go all in. That’s where Jill O’ Lantern: Final Cut, Checkpoint’s Queer Game of the Month for April 2024 comes in.

The story starts like any other. A group of teens are partying, drunk at a lake. Before long, a crazed killer comes along and butchers a majority of them, leaving few to fend and run for their lives. Right when the killer nears taking out Final Girl Vivian, time rewinds. Suddenly, it’s hours prior and Vivian has the chance to stop the killer and fix everything. Only… the killer is a thick, humanoid and… frankly sexy animated being with a Jack O’Lantern for a head. And now it turns out they’re not the killer? Then who is? I think I need a moment.

This isn’t even a game that’s fully out yet. There are currently two sizable chunks fans get stuck into while the game remains in development. The game is a visual novel and, like the genre greats such as Ace Attorney, it isn’t afraid to not take itself seriously all the time. It has the time for jokes. Earned and genuinely funny jokes at that. A comedic time-travelling horror adventure where you buddy up with a monster and work together to save your friends is already a compelling concept, and it’s delivering quite well on that idea thus far.

Jill O’ Lantern: Final Cut seamlessly integrates an authentic group of queer characters into its cast and that’s largely thanks to the queer team handling the project. The developer is Screen Savor Studios, helmed by a non-binary individual by the name of Kay Wolslagel, a United States-based creator. Character designs for each individual are well-distinguished and feel like actual people. Vivian is a chipper ace lesbian who has a “very close” relationship with her goth “best friend” Joy. There’s a blonde, preppy non-binary cheerleader by the name of Candy Corn, labelled as pansexual, polyamorous and as sweet as a “pumpkin pie”. Their design is something I don’t see often in depictions of non-binary people either; they’re a large-chested non-binary person who doesn’t wear a binder, liking how they look in traditional “feminine” clothes but still assertive of their identity.

Jack Headed Jill, the monster in question… there’s no other explanation to them other than I like her design a lot and would like them to crush me with her ginormous arms and legs. My words don’t do it justice. I’ve included the character profiles and key art for the game for your viewing pleasure below.

Though largely a traditional visual novel with 2D character sprites, Jill O’ Lantern every so often also presents 3D environments and characters. Screen Savor Studios has done well with what I can imagine is only a limited budget with limited resources, creating little ‘model’ representations of each of the characters. These designs look polygonal and stocky, kind of like Cloud and gang in the very original 1997 release of Final Fantasy VII. This makes narrative sense in the story too; the story is being told from the perspective of Vivian after the events that take place at the lake, in an interview room with the police. The interviewer very coincidentally and quite helpfully crafted models of each of the cast members to help Vivian recount the events. A very novel and funny reason for the game to exist in the way that it does.

This is also an effective means of inviting as many players into the game as possible. Making the characters in these 3D environments not all that detailed, limiting gore detailing and the like means those more trepidatious with horror can easily jump on in. It’s good and advised they do too as the game offers moments where you’ll be investigating a scene, trying to uncover the mystery of a given environment.

It’s no coincidence that I landed on Jill O’ Lantern for this month’s queer game. Earlier this month the game wrapped up its Kickstarter campaign, surpassing its main goal and a few of its stretch campaigns. On a selfish note, I’m kind of annoyed with myself for missing the punch: themed tarot cards and bookmarks, pins and badges, a digital art book… even getting your own character in the game are some of the rewards.

Eager backers and newcomers won’t have to wait long. Jill O’Lantern: Final Cut is planned to release this October, with Side Stories and DLC also set for this time next year. The Kickstarter details that all writing for the game is done and is not factored into the budget. The remaining months are dedicated to editing, voice-acting, programming, testing and general polish. Making a game is expensive and hard work, y’all.

I could write for hours on end about the intersection of queer identity and horror, but I won’t do that here and will instead spare you. Still, I’m glad Screen Savor Studios is just one of the creators out there exploring that intersectionality. This isn’t even the first visual novel they’ve worked on. If you check out their page you can see a short story about trans witchcraft and wizardry (hell yes) and a quirky spin on the “Seven Days to Die” story of horror classic The Ring. I have to give mad respect to an indie creator who’s just out there doing their own thing.

Jill O’Lantern’s first playable portion can be found here. While its second, labelled as “Second Helping”, is found here. It’s not long until we get to experience the full picture for Jill O’Lantern: Final Cut. We’re certainly now counting the days.

Stay tuned for future Queer Games of the Month articles from us here at Checkpoint. In the meantime, why not check out our previous month?