Nightwatcher's Halloween Returns
Sweet Home: The Dark Root of Survival Horror
aka Nightwatcher's Halloween Part 4
Halloween is almost upon us again and in respect of that, and having already written a video game themed article for the season of spooky that was mediocre at best (Nightwatcher's Halloween Part 1), I would like to talk about a movie/game phenomenon that retains a cult following two and a half decades after it's original release, as well as having left a very impressive legacy on the video game industry. I found out about it online while reading about the survival horror genre a little while back and it has also been entered as the "classic" article in the newest issue of Game Informer magazine which is available at your local Game Stop and is highly recommended by this gamer dude (plus I have to give credit where it's due). This will be my attempt at an article about the very first survival horror game.
Welcome, Foolish Mortals!
This article contains thrills, chills, things that go bump in the night and possible jump scares as well as some mildly graphic images. Do not read if you suffer from fears, phobias or a weak heart and/or stomach. You may also want to leave the lights on. You have been warned.
The film was released only in Japan in 1989 and revolves around a film crew who make the foolish decision to break into an old, abandoned mansion in search of valuable treasures due to a legend they had recently heard. According to rumors, some thirty years before, renowned artist and the mansion's former owner, Ichiro Mamiya, left some of his precious frescos behind somewhere inside the dark corridors and the film crew hope to find them to complete a documentary film that they are working on.
Little do they know of the dangers that await them within. It would seem that the angry spirit of the late owner's wife, Lady Mamiya, has been haunting the mansion ever since she committed suicide in the back yard following the death of their infant son when he fell into the furnace down in the dungeon like basement (okay, eww) and she is very protective of the place. The movie was low budget but apparently it hit the right cord because it retains a huge cult following to this day, however that is nothing compared to it's 8-bit version.
Released in 1989 for the Famicom (the Japanese version of our NES) along side the movie, the video game adaptation of Sweet Home was an action/horror RPG in which the player took control of one member of the film crew and guided them through the mansion in search of the lost frescos while also avoiding ghosts, monsters, demons and whatever else lay in wait in it's dark, twisted halls. Director Tokuro Fujiwara (best known for titles such as Ghosts n' Goblins, Bionic Commando and Strider) based the levels and creatures on actual sets and props from the movie after being guided through them by it's director Kiyoshi Kurasawa. This lead to one of the most authentic video game adaptations of a movie in history thus far, especially for one that was only in 8-bits. The game has gotten a huge cult fan base over the years and some fans here in the U.S. have even taken to creating special mods to translate it into English for a more enjoyable play session on this side of the Pacific. The reason for this outcome is that Nintendo's original 8-bit baby was mostly aimed at family friendly gaming so Capcom's North American branch decided against localizing it on our shores, but that doesn't seem to have stopped it's most loyal fans from getting the game that they want.
At first glance the plot of Sweet Home sounds similar to that of another survival horror game. It's my personal favorite and one that I mentioned in Nightwatcher's Halloween Part 1.
In Fatal Frame (known as Project Zero in it's native Japan) you play as a teenage girl named Miku Hinasaki who searches the decrepit Himuro Mansion for her lost brother Mafuyu who disappeared inside it's dark walls back in 1986 while searching for his mentor Junsei Takamine, who also disappeared there some time before while researching a book. With her only weapons being her wits and a strange device called the Camera Obscura which can capture the essence of a ghost with a mere click of the shutter button, Miku attempts to solve the mystery of her brother's disappearance all the while battling the mansion's evil ghostly inhabitants. One could argue that the game play, gruesome storyline, feeling of isolation and main female villainess make Fatal Frame a near mirror image of Sweet Home. Is Fatal Frame really based on a true story as suggested on the front cover, or was that just a clever way to turn a popular video game genre into a cash cow? It was a lot of fun never the less. Similarities or not, the truth is that the real family lineage of Sweet Home lies with another title which also made an appearance in my first Halloween article.
The first title of Resident Evil was released in March of 1996 and was something of a turning point in survival horror. Not only were the zombified enemies terrifying and the atmosphere really creepy, but the sense of loneliness could send chills down your spine and it didn't help your anxiety that the controls were messed up too. For the sake of a gripping challenge the controls were laid out backwards in order to make it even more difficult to out run your putrid pursuers, sadly though, this is also why I have never been able to play them myself, the control scheme is just to confusing for me. The Resident Evil series is considered to be the direct descendant of Sweet Home because Fujiwara had become a producer at Capcom around the time of the first PlayStation console's release and was still fond of his work on his original baby, and so he handed those reins over to Shinji Mikami who was also new to Capcom at the time. Ever since then the Resident Evil series has gathered it's own cult following, enough so to carry the games into the present day as they continue to terrify gamers, and it has also gotten several movies as well as lots of collectible merchandise.
Before I close I would like to make up for the problem that brought down the quality of Nightwatcher's Halloween Part 1. The article was missing two essential titles that could have made it so much better, so, as an added bonus I am adding them here and I hope they rattle a few nostalgia bones (as it were).
Once every one hundred years Dracula's castle appears on a mountaintop in Transylvania and this century a young hero named Simon Belmont has decided to try his luck at fighting the evil Count. Along his journey through the castle's dark depths Simon will battle such grotesque familiars as the Frankenstein Monster, Igor and Medusa during his heroic quest toward a final confrontation with Dracula himself. Upon it's initial release in 1986 Castlevania received critical acclaim as well as being a huge financial success. It is also at the top of several video game 'best of' lists. It has also spawned many sequels all the way to the present day, proving that the king of all vampires isn't so easily defeated. Well, that is, unless you know where his weak spot is, (*cough-his head-cough*).
Quick question: if you got caught in a downpour, would you take shelter in the creepiest abandoned house in your neighborhood? Probably not, right? Well that is exactly what young college students Rick Taylor and his girlfriend Jennifer "Jenny" Willis make the mistake of doing after getting caught in a thunder storm. The house is called West Mansion, also known as "Splatterhouse" do to the gruesome legends that surround it. According to rumor the mansion's original owner was Dr. West, a practicing parapsychologist who supposedly conducted insane experiments inside the house, until one day when he mysteriously disappeared. Rick and Jenny only get as far as the foyer when the lights go out, a scream is heard from Jenny and when Rick comes to he finds himself alone, except for a sentient mask called the "Terror Mask", or in some versions the "Hell Mask", which straps itself to Rick's head, turning him into a large muscular beast with super human strength. Now Rick must brave the twisted halls of Splatterhouse, rescue Jenny (if he still can) and put an end to the house's terrible curse. There was a Japan only game released for the Famicom in 1988 that was more on the light hearted side, but most horror gamers more fondly remember the arcade game that came out in 1989. It later got various releases on Turbo Grafx-16, FM Towns and PC although many cosmetic changes had to be made in order to meet the guidelines of the home video game market (you can probably imagine). There was recently a remake of Splatterhouse that was released in 2010 but most of the original game's fans don't consider the remake to be as good.
Many would argue that the best way to enjoy your candy is to tell a ghost story or watch a scary movie, but spooky video games can be just as much fun. Sweet Home really started an awesome genre that has gathered many followers who love to be scared, and don't we all, it is part of our human nature after all. When it all comes down to it though we all have a different idea of what is scary and for the video game world survival horror is it, and it's all thanks to two men who saw an opportunity to scare people through 8-bit pixels and took it all the way. I'll tell you one thing though, there is one thing that always made this season worth while for me as a kid and it can be summed up in two words: free candy. And also, what I said about Vincent Price in Nightwatcher's Halloween Part 3, yeah, I didn't mean it. He has a ton on me even in death, in fact he is one of my idols. I hope everyone enjoyed my creepy comeback and once again...
Have fun and stay safe
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