FNAF Sister Location: A night-by-night review

Most of the games in the Five Night’s at Freddy’s series have been ported to the Switch over the last while, and as a huge fan of the franchise, of course I had to do a little double-dipping. While I own FNAFs 1 through 6 on Steam, I decided that I wanted to play Sister Location (FNAF 5) again, but from the comfort of my couch instead of hunched over a keyboard at my desk. Ironically, this is the only FNAF game that I’ve successfully played from start to finish, and thus had the least reason to purchase a second time.

Well, you could make a case for it when you consider that it’s also my favourite game in the “original” series. That was a big part of the decision. And also Pizzeria Simulator (FNAF 6) isn’t on Switch yet, and that one’s the closest competitor for the top spot on my list.

Anyway, the point is that even before re-buying and re-playing Sister Location, I’d been thinking about it a lot for some reason that I just can’t quite put my finger on. Playing it again will probably get it out of my thoughts for a while to come, but since it’s fresh in my mind, why not spend some time writing about it? I did say it was my favourite, after all. I ought to show it a little blog-style love.

So what I’m going to do is go through each night, and go through the main features of each one and what I think about them. What parts are strong, which parts are weak, and which parts drive me absolutely bonkers. Mild spoiler: there are two. That said, let’s mosey on into it.

~ Night 1 ~

The first night serves mainly as a way to set the stage. The game begins with you being welcomed to your new job as a maintenance guy at an underground storage facility for animatronic characters from a pizzeria chain. It’s a setting that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense unless you’re deep into the lore, and even then it’s questionable, so we’ll gloss over that. Sister Location quickly shows that it has a little bit of absurdist humour baked in when you’re prompted to enter your name, but the display malfunctions and auto-corrects your name to “Eggs Benedict”. You leave the elevator and proceed to crawl through a vent(?) into the main room.

Here you learn the basics of your nightly routine: make sure the animatronics are in working order and on their stages. If they aren’t, administer controlled shocks until they get in line. Yeah, it’s… still not really anywhere in the realm of making any sense, but it won’t be long before none of it matters. You’ll crawl through another vent to a farther room, where Circus Baby is kept. Oddly enough, she’s nowhere to be seen, and controlled shocks don’t bring her into view at all. The HandUnit AI guide doesn’t seem to register that she isn’t present though, which is your first clue that something is not quite right here. After this, your night is over, and you’re sent home to watch TV and eat popcorn until you pass out.

While the first night is largely uneventful, I think it really succeeds in its core purpose: establish that Sister Location isn’t going to be anything like the FNAF games that came before it. You’re no longer seated in one spot. You’re not watching security cameras and managing battery life and listening for approaching monsters. This is a completely different beast, and this particular chapter in the series is going to be leaning more into storytelling than gameplay.

~ Night 2 ~

Night 2 begins again with the elevator descent, and this time HandUnit malfunctions when prompting you to select a voice for it that you’d find most pleasant. It hilariously chooses “angsty teen” which would certainly not be anyone’s first choice. Moving into the main service room, you check on Ballora and Foxy, then move along into Baby’s chamber. But this time things are different. The power fails and HandUnit shuts down the entire system to reboot, then Baby’s disembodied voice starts to talk to you. She gives you some creepy foreshadowing, and tells you about the secret hiding spot under the desk. Motion triggers begin to go off all throughout the facility, and you scuttle under the desk as instructed.

Thus begins your first challenge: though it’s an easy one. You begin by sliding a hatch closed to protect yourself, and then you wait. Creatures enter the room and start chattering at you, peering through the holes in the hatch. Then the hatch begins to slide open of its own volition. You can’t stop it: all you can do is to hold it to slow it down and hope that whatever is on the other side gives up. After two rounds, they do. Baby imparts some words of wisdom, suggesting that the HandUnit isn’t entirely trustworthy, and then the AI returns to inform you that the power needs to be restored manually.

The second challenge has you sneaking through black void that is Ballora’s room. HandUnit recommends that you sprint through as quickly as possible, but Baby’s warning included the fact that Ballora is blind in the dark and reacts to sound, so moving as slowly as possible would be your key to survival. As you inch your way across the room, you gradually hear Ballora’s song draw closer and closer, prompting you to freeze in your tracks until she moves away again. It’s a tense journey, but not especially difficult if you’re careful.

Then you arrive at the first real challenge of the game. You’re in the breaker room, which handily contains the panel that you’ll need to fully restore power to the facility. It’s pitch dark, illuminated only by a worrisome series of sparks firing off quite liberally. A bear-shaped shadow looms in the back of the room, and you bring up the power panel. Eight sectors need to be re-powered, and as you hold down the first button and the percentage meter ticks up, you hear a maniacal laugh ring through the room. You lower the panel, and notice that the bear seems to be closer than before. HandUnit tells you to use a little voice box to soothe the bear back into his spot, and in between sparks, you see that it has in fact receded to the back of the room. And now you begin what is essentially a very spooky game of chicken.

In a stroke of genius, there is a poster of Funtime Freddy that reads “GET READY!” stuck to the door of the breaker room.

This minigame is one of my favourite parts of Sister Location. The rush of pulling up that screen and wondering how long you can dare to hold one of the buttons is intoxicating. Hearing Freddy taunt you in the background, and then flipping down the screen to see his silhouette towering over you is the best kind of shock. Flipping down the screen and not being able to see his silhouette at all (because he’s cleverly hidden behind the left side of the electrical panel) is absolutely terrifying. Again, it’s not really a difficult game if you’re cautious, but it’s a lot of fun with just the right amount of tension. You get to feel like you’re somewhat in control of the situation, which keeps it from going into anxiety-causing territory.

Once you manage to restore all the power, it’s another trip through Ballora’s room and then your night is done. The return trip is free, but made all the more creepier when Ballora starts telling you that she can hear you creeping through her room.

Sister Location’s second night is when the fun really begins. It gives you a sequence of challenges that keep you on your toes, even if they aren’t actually all that challenging. It really cements the idea that Sister Location is going to be about a series of diverse challenges, rather than having a single gameplay style that gets more and more difficult with each passing night. While the gameplay elements reward patience more than anything on this night, I think it does a great job of amping up the horror elements – unlike the previous games, you barely get to see your attackers. They show up in the distance through foggy windows, little bits at a time through holes in a wall, or in short glimpses when the darkness is broken by a flash. It’s incredibly effective, and I’m never any less impressed no matter how many times I watch YouTubers play through it.

~ Night 3 ~

As you will ahve grown accustomed to by now, night three begins with another descent by elevator. This time, HandUnit offers a selection of music to keep you happy during the ride. Of course, the input screen doesn’t work and he defaults to casual bongos. I actually really like the casual bongos, and may or may not have stayed on the elevator far too long because I was enjoying the music. Proceed through the vent, check on Ballora and Foxy, then take an optional(!) trip to Baby’s room for a vague story about Baby’s past. From there you need to head on over to the parts and service room to perform some maintenance on Funtime Freddy.

Getting there, however, requires crawling through Funtime Foxy’s room. Unlike Ballora, Foxy responds to movement instead of sounds. You’re given a flash beacon to periodically check if there’s a Foxy directly in front of you, but warned against using it too much. Of course, HandUnit has been proven to be lair already, so… I’ve never really had any trouble with this room. It’s just a matter of tapping forward a bit, flashing the beacon, waiting a moment, and then repeating the process. I think there’s some RNG involved, but it’s really only a little bit more difficult than evading Ballora.

It’s very unnerving, seeing the gigantic Freddy animatronic placed there in plain view in the parts and service room, after he tormented you so throroughly during the previous night. He sits still, his huge, unblinking eyes staring into your soul, as HandUnit guides you through the process of opening up his exoskeleton to remove a little power nodule from his tum-tum. Let it be known that this is a cosmic-brain setpiece – you need to locate tiny, barely visible buttons to open Freddy’s faceplates, so you’ll likely be squinting up close at the screen to try to see them. Then before you know it -BAM!- Freddy’s face bursts open in a non-lethal jumpscare. It’s beautiful and brilliant. True art in horror.

And then it gets rough. You need to recover a second power nodule from the Bonnie puppet that’s attached to Freddy’s… oh no, it’s just a stump now. Where did the Bonnie puppet go!? This part of the minigame is slightly frustrating, as Bonnie will slowly creep out from behind Freddy before jumpscaring you, but he’ll quickly retreat if you shine your flashlight on him. The problem is, it’s hard to figure out the exact right point that you can place the flashlight so that you can see Bonnie without making him run away. And if you take too long, you get jumpscared anyway. The key is to place the beam of light so you can just barely tell that Bon-bon is there, and then hopefully scoop your cursor over the grab the goober off his chest before he gets away. But really, if you can manage that sweet spot with the flashlight, it’s pretty easy to grab the goober. You’ve basically got it in the bag as long as your clicking skills are up to snuff.

Once you’ve done that, you’re off through Foxy’s room again. The trick here is that you can just dash to the end – there’s a story-mandated jumpscare once you get to the end of the room. It’s mind-boggling the first time you go though – to get that jumpscare only for it to be followed by the “Shift Complete!” screen instead of a grim GAME OVER. But that’s the way it is.

~ Night 4 ~

Night 4? More like Nightmare. And I’m not referencing the monster from FNAF 4 here.

This night fades in, with your view obscured by a mask that looks vaguely like the Puppet from FNAF 2. Baby starts telling you that she kidnapped you and put you in a suit for… reasons, and also goes on about something called the “scooper”. You can hear two technicians plop Ballora on a conveyor belt before leaving, and Ballora’s body loudly rolls over in front of you. And then WHAM the scooper hits and completely disembowels Ballora, leaving her exoskeleton cracked open like a lobster and staring at you with one gleaming red eye. Baby resumes her narrative and opens your suit’s faceplates. And then the worst minigame ever begins.

You need to survive in the suit for three minutes. To do this, you need to continuously wind ten springlocks along the left and right sides of the mask. If one ticks all the way around, you die. Oh and also there are tiny little robots called minireenas climbing all over you. Some crawl up the sides of your suit and must be shaken off. Some crawl directly in and are surprisingly just there to creep you out. But shaking the suit accelerates the springlocks’ ticking! And also they start unwinding very quickly during the last minute! But it’s only three minutes… how bad could it be?

Both times I’ve played through Sister Location, I got absolutely stonewalled by this night. Stuck for well over an hour both times, with countless attempts ended in failure. Even though the rules are clear and the minireenas come in very predictable waves, it’s incredibly hard to keep up with all the springlocks during the last twenty seconds or so. At that point you’re basically just jumping from one to the next and praying that they hold out just a little bit longer. But they almost never do. It’s so, so hard and frustrating, and I can imagine that this particular night stopped a great many players from progressing any farther. I actually found that the key to keeping my cool was to have a timer set so that I could watch how long I’d been playing each round. It was much easier to keep going when I knew that I was only five seconds away from victory. Surely the next time would be the one!

As far as the casual player would know, this minigame is actually the final boss. Not to get too far ahead of myself, but Night 5 is a breeze compared to Night 4. This particular night is so hard that not three days after the game’s release, a patch came out to make it a little more forgiving. And I’ve only ever played the “easy” version! Fortunately, that’s the only thing you need to do on Night 4, and once you manage to survive, you’re sent home to enjoy cartoons and popcorn in the safety of your living room.

~ Night 5 ~

Night 5’s hilarious elevator joke has HandUnit congratulating you for doing just a good job on the previous night, and your performance is to be compensated with a gift basket (the cost of which will be deducted from your salary). You can choose from fruit, nuts, etc, or the illustrious cash basket, but the usual keypad error ends up with you getting a meme-tastic basket of exotic butters.

The gameplay begins with checking on Ballora and Foxy as usual, but instead of the animatronics, you’re shown some rather shocking silhouettes of two hanged bodies – presumably the technicians from last night. You move on as if nothing happened through Foxy’s room (where no Foxy is currently present) into the parts and service room. A lifeless Circus Baby waits for you here.

Baby goes on about something terrible happening. About Ballora going rogue. About how you need to recover Baby’s personality chip by opening her faceplate and typing a secret code into a teeny-tiny keypad. If you take too long to type in the code, or hit a wrong key – Jumpscare! After this, Baby’s body is rolled off into the scooping room, and she guides you back out to Foxy’s room, where Ballora is now waiting to murder you.

Following Baby’s directions, you make your way through the pitch black and past Ballora, and… into the scooping room. With the scraps of all the other animatronics strewn about, and the scooper pointed directly at your torso. A monster, a tangled mess of wire and eyeballs, an amalgamation of all the animatronics, looks on from outside the room. In Baby’s voice, it monologues to you about how they’ve been trying to escape the underground facility, but couldn’t make it up above ground because they couldn’t blend in with the people. So they’re going to scoop out all of your organs and then wear you as a skin suit. Then the scooper fires forward and your vision fades to red. Cue the “Real Ending”.

Like I said before, Night 5 is actually very light on gameplay. It amps up the horror elements right from the start with those hanged people, and then gives you two very short and simple minigames before closing out the story. It almost seems unreal after the ludicrous trial that was Night 4. But remember, Sister Location is more about telling a story than anything. And with a wham ending like that? Yeah, I’d say it’s perfectly successful on that front. All the minigames that you played on the way there were fun, and tense, but they aren’t really why you were here. You were here to bear witness to the plot of four (and a half if you count puppet Bonnie) sentient robots that conspired to escape their prison by murdering someone so they could wear his skin as a disguise. You’ve gotta give it points for originality, at least.

But alas! That’s not the end! You probably died a few times along the way (likely many times on Night 4), and more likely than not, you probably found yourself playing an colourful platformer…

~ Death Minigame ~

The Five Nights at Freddy’s series has a history of occasionally punctuating deaths with 8-bit minigames. Typically they will help to fill in little bits of the backstory, and Sister Location is no different. Every four or five deaths will result in you being taken to a platforming minigame where you play as Circus Baby, whose goal is to collect cupcakes and feed them to children scattered throughout the stage. The background track to this game, inexplicably called “Turtle Crusher”, is super cheerful and catchy, and is the number one reason I didn’t mind having to play this minigame dozens of times before I could properly clear it.

While the obvious premise is simple, this is a FNAF game, so there’s more to it than meets the eye. There are three collectible cupcakes that you can pick up, and each gives you a different way of hurling said cupcakes at the children. And there are just enough cupcakes to make all the children happy. So the stage, then, becomes a puzzle that tasks you with figuring out how to effectively deliver all the cupcakes within in the time limit. This requires zipping back and forth with perfect movement, and knowing when to pick up each cupcake, as collecting one will overwrite any you’re currently holding, effectively ending your run.

Once you’ve successfully fed all the children, an ice cream cone will appear at the end of the stage. You need to grab it and then book it all the way back to the beginning of the stage to complete it properly and see the spooky extra scene. Doing this is much easier said than done, as the time limit is unforgiving, and even perfect runs will leave you with two seconds to spare at the absolute most. Also it’s completely unclear that you need to do any of this, and good luck figuring any of it out without some kind of advance knowledge or Twitch chat feeding you hints. Once you do complete it, though, you’ll get a star on the title screen, and will be able to access the true final boss.

Accessing this minigame, as stated before, requires you to die and hope that the RNG rolls in your favour. This makes it a bit tedious to practice, as it’s not exactly quick to die four or five times in a row. Luckily, this is the one time where Sister Location is willing to give the player a break, and if you’ve seen the Real Ending, you can access the minigame from the Extras menu whenever you want. It’s a hidden option, so… you kind of have to know it’s there before you can take advantage of it, but at least it exists? Plus it’s a fun minigame and I like that I can easily pop in there to play a round and enjoy bopping along to the music.

~ Night 5 EX ~

This is it – the final battle. You begin Night 5 as normal, going down the elevator, through Foxy’s room, clearing Baby’s keypad challenge, and then you need to diverge. When you’re heading back through Foxy’s room, you will take a hard right instead of following Baby’s directions. The only way you’ll have any idea to do this is through a facility blueprint in the Extras menu, which shows a “private room” that you’d never access during normal gameplay. There’s also no indication that you need to beat the death minigame to unlock this room, but the main design philosophy behind the entire FNAF series is Super-Obscure Secrets, so… good luck? I feel like if these games had been released before the internet age, most of the hidden content would never have been discovered.

Accessing the private room begins the final challenge of Sister Location’s story mode. Ironically, though, it’s completely non-canon. Just a super challenge for super players. And man, is it rough. I’ve given it the ol’ college try many times, and I just cannot manage to complete it.

The final battle puts you in a situation very much like the original Five Nights at Freddy’s game – you need to monitor security cameras and shut doors to keep an encroaching monster from entering the room. Unlike FNAF 1, there is only a single adversary here – the tangled mess of animatronic parts known as Ennard. It seems manageable at first, but then you notice that your battery power is draining incredibly quickly, and that using the camera monitor and/or security doors sucks down that precious energy even faster. Like many of the other challenges in Sister Location, the face-off with Ennard allows for very little wiggle room: if you want to survive this game, you’ve got to GIT GUD.

You also need a pair of headphones, because victory is entirely dependent on you being able to hear which direction Ennard is approaching from. Once you learn to use the audio cues to track him, you’ll cut down massively on camera usage, which will be absolutely necessary for saving battery power. From there it’s mostly a matter of knowing when he’s at a door to close it, and when he’s moved on to reopen in. Ennard can be a bit of a troll though, and just sit around at a closed door for anywhere up to fifteen seconds, which if basically a reset because you’re screwed for battery life.

This whole sequence is nine minutes long, represented by six in-game hours that last a minute and a half each. The first six minutes are relatively easy, once you figure out what you’re doing. Ennard generally isn’t very aggressive, and you get a lot of time to close the security doors when he comes a-knockin’. But the last three minutes are brutal. He will bounce around the map super quickly, and rush the doors so quickly that if you don’t shut one as soon as you hear him coming, it’s already too late.

Like I said before, I still haven’t beaten this minigame, because it’s so hard and demands both perfect play and at least a little luck with the RNG. However, I think that it’s still a lot of fun to play. It’s got a perfect balance of tension and excitement, and it’s a thrilling ride from beginning to end. Even when you run out of battery power with a mere five seconds to go, it’s an absolute blast. Which makes it all the more crushing that you have to go through the whole rigmarole with Baby each time you fail. If there had been a checkpoint once you entered the room? I probably would have kept at it enough times to luck into a win. But as it stands, it’s so tedious just to get back to the private room that I couldn’t be bothered to try much more than a half-dozen times.

If you manage to survive until 6AM though? Congratulations! You’ve unlocked the alternate ending and -perhaps more importantly- the Custom Night mode, that lets you play the same kind of challenge, but with a wide range of animatronics who have variable difficulty levels that you get to choose. It’s a really cool prize that I’d love to try, but… I just can’t manage to overcome Ennard. Sad face!

And that’s the end of the core gameplay portion of FNAF: Sister Location. I really enjoyed how this game changed the formula from the previous four, and made it more of directed, story-focused experience instead of the more arcade-like experience of the preceding games. Yes, Night 4 is maddening and will forever be a low point for me, but other than that, Sister Location’s variety of minigames are generally fun and diverse enough to keep players from getting bored of repetition. And all of this -all these thousands of words that I’ve typed- have barely even scratched the surface of how Sister Location factors into the lore of the series as a whole. How it ties together so much of the details of the game series and the novel series and helps to solve dangling plot threads from each.

Maybe it’s just another silly indie horror game to you. Many would dismiss it as an entry in a franchise that’s more a meme than anything else. But there’s a special place in my heart for Sister Location. It’s a lot of fun and has an effective horror theme, and I’ve found very few other games that manage to do both of those things well.


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