#16. The 7th Guest
Publisher: Virgin Interactive
Systems Released On: DOS, MAC, Phillips CD-I
Release Date: October 30th, 1993
For quite some time, The 7th Guest was the best selling PC game of all time. It’s no wonder really. Trilobyte and Virgin gave us not only one of the first CD-ROM games, but also one that turned out to be YEARS ahead of what any other developer would be doing with the technology. It also combined graphics that not only featured pre-rendered backgrounds that were simply gorgeous in its day (and still hold up well in this modern era), but it also combined the computer generated graphics with actual SVGA/VESA video (representing the ghosts that haunted Stauf’s mansion) that interacted seamlessly with their surroundings. This technical achievement, which carried over onto a whopping TWO CD-ROM’s was able to inspire millions of people across the world to pick up the game, and also shed their old floppy disc drives for a CD-ROM one. Many people point to 7th Guest as the zeitgeist that led us to eschew an older but more comfortable form of technology for a new, untested, but potentially superior one. Those people would have a hard time finding anyone to really argue against them.
The 7th Guest has a wonderful classical style ghost story to it. The plot revolves around the machinations of one Henry Stauf. Always a ne’er do well, Henry had a “vision” and found he had the unrivaled talent to make toys of the highest quality. He became rich as every child put Stauf’s toys on their “nag parents until they give me one” list. However, as Stauf’s fortune’s grew, children who had his crafts would grow sickly and die. People began to whisper and rumour spread that the sickness and the toys were somehow related.
The rumours only grew when Stauf spent most of his fortune having a ghoulish mansion built on a craggy precipice. One night, Stauf invited six people to his mansion for a party. They came, along with one uninvited guest, and none were ever seen again. People of the nearby towns believe that Stauf killed them all, and then in turn slew himself. No one dares set foot into Stauf’s mansion, for fear that something unholy and/or inhumane lurks in the bowels of the domicile. No one except you…
In The 7th Guest, you play as EGO, a man who has no memory of who he is or how he managed to end up staring up at the gates of Stauf Manor. You only know that you must proceed into the house, for something you cannot resist is beckoning you to enter.
The 7th Guest involves you playing the role of ego from a first person perspective. For the entirety of the game you will be solving puzzles in typical adventure game format. Again, The 7th Guest was YEARS ahead of its time in terms of puzzles and interaction with the players. The puzzles were in such a way that anyone could enjoy them, even with the varying degrees of difficulty. The one puzzle most people found troublesome in the game was actually the one I found easiest. It’s the Microscope puzzle. Old time gamers and big retro fans will find the Microscope puzzle easy as well, as it’s actually the puzzle game Spot for the NES! Spot was a one-time 7UP mascot by the way.
The music of TSG is simply incredible. It was done by The Fat Man, and you can actually listen to tracks from the game and purchase the soundtrack at their website. The music for The 7th Guest still remains one of my favorite video game scores of all time. I’m just glad the CD lacks the creepy children.
The voice acting for the game is hit or miss. Again, this was one of the first games to have voice acting and so there was really no place to go but up from here. Stauf is well done and creepy in tone as he is in visage. But other characters, such as Tad, the little boy you are supposed to care about, just makes you hope monsters eat him every time he opens his bloody yap. In 1993 though, the voice acting impressed nearly all who played the game and it received high marks and technical awards for the level of quality it boasted. The 7th Guest hasn’t aged as well in this category as it has in the other though, so don’t expect Metal Gear: Solid level voice acting.
As I mentioned in the opening, The 7th Guestwas a visual masterpiece that took many other developers 3-5 years to catch up to, especially in regards to the full motion video. Games like Mortal Kombat would go the route of digitizing actual human actors doing the moves and taunts, but the quality was still nowhere near what TSG pulled off. Other games would feature slow and choppy video, or footage that was very “jaggy” or heavily pixilated ala Sewer Shark or Mad Dog McCree. Although as a side note, I suggest everyone should play MDM. That game rocks!
As The 7th Guest is one of the most famous and popular video games of all time, you’re probably wondering why it’s ranked “only” at #16. Well, there are three big reasons for that.
The first reason is that the game was almost impossible to play when it came out. Most computers simply couldn’t handle the game. They lacked the system requirements. Pretty much every ounce of your computer had to go directly towards playing the game and nothing else for it to work at optimum levels. Then by the time computers could generally the play the game with ease, aka the Windows 95/98 era, the 7th Guest was no longer made and was not compatible with the current systems. The game was a victim of its own innovation. Trilobyte would eventually release a patch to allow you to play TSG on Windows 95/98, but their webpage has long since died. Computer Hope does have the patch still available for download. Although who still uses 95 or 98 anymore?
The second reason is that the plot, as much as I enjoyed it, is a tangle haphazard mess. Very little of the game actually occurs in chronological order, which leaves it up to the gamer to piece the correct order of happenings together in their mind. I personally enjoyed this and felt it added to the “haunted” aspect of the game. But it confused a lot of gamers, and probably still will today.
The final reason is simply that T7G is not scary. Halfway through development, Virgin nixed most of the blood and violence in the game, wanted it to be accessible to all ages. This helped the game to be the financial success that it became, but for a ghost story, it’s about as spooky as The Canterville Ghost.
Even with these limitations, The 7th Guest earned its place on this countdown. It’s funny that in 1992, one of Trilobyte’s employees stated on “The Making of the 7th Guest” documentary, “…in months, we will see an explosion of CDROM technology that may change the way games are distributed–all games will come this way.” It’s amazing how right he was.
Old Man Stauf built a house
It’s very rare that a single video game changes the industry all by itself. Games like Pong, Pac-Man, Dragon Warrior, and Super Mario Brothers can all lay claim t o this feat, but only The 7th Guest changed the actual MEDIUM in which we play games, as well as revolutionized the technology of the industry. If you run across the game, or find a way to play it on your current system, I strongly advise you do so. Few games have the historical significance TSG does, and even fewer has the pedigree and are still fun to play after all these years. Maybe some day, someone will smarten up enough to re-release this game on a compilation that is accessible to the majority of today’s gamers. But until then…
And filled it with his toys,
Seven guests all came one night
Their screams the only noise…
#15. Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly
Systems Released On: Sony Playstation 2, Microsoft Xbox
Release Date: 12/10/03 (US PS2), 10/1/04 (US Xbox aka Director’s Cut)
Before anyone asks, yes all the screenshots are from the Xbox version. Why? because the Director’s cut is superior in all ways possible to the PS2 version and there is no reason at all why you shouldn’t just go for the Director’s cut. Well, unless you don’t own an Xbox that is.
Fatal Frame 2, or Project Zero II as it is known in Europe and Australia and Beni Chou or Rei Zero in Japan is a game in the same vein as Pokemon Snap and CardCaptor Sakura, in which the protagonist runs around with a camera snapping pictures of all the targets the game has put in front of you. However, unlike the two aforementioned games which are happy and filled with kittens and rainbows, Crimson Butterfly is filled with death, scary insane ghosts, and generally is not something you should give to the 9 year old audience that would be playing CardCaptors.
Although it is the second game in the series, FFII is a prequel to the first game. Through the game you will be playing as twin sisters, Mio and Mayu. I should point out that your game time will be primarily spent as Mio however. Both girls are visiting their ancestral home when Mayu chases a crimson butterfly into a forest. Mio comes after her and both are led to a mysterious village that should not exist. At least, not anymore it shouldn’t. Trapped in the village, they must find their way out and solve the mystery of what happened to this place so many years ago.
Their only weapon? A mystical camera that they find abandoned in the village. As you play through the game, you will find the camera allows you to see and defeat angry ghosts bent on doing some serious damage to you. To the skeptics out there, this may seem incredulous or even a bit silly. You have to understand that the power of a camera over the spiritual world has long been a part of Asian, Hispanic, and Native American folklore. Not to mention that any bit of you which is pessimistic about how scary a game involving photographs can be simply haven’t had the opportunity to get the fecal matter scared out of you by this game.
Yes, Fatal Frame 2 is scary. VERY scary. Very few video games have ever made me jump. This happens to be one of them. The graphics are so well done and the bits of terror are neither cliche nor are they done in such a manner you see them coming long before they actually happen. Too many games lack the concept of subtly or surprise. FF2 is not one of those. It’s not as creepy as the first one, but then perhaps that’s because I was used to the feel of the series by the time I got to FF2.
The graphics of FF2 are beautiful and quite intense. I actually am not fond of the character designs of either set of twins (Yes, I said either. Play the game!). However, the ghosts are simply jaw dropping. There is so much creativity in the forms of the specters, you wonder how they were able to make so many distinct spirits, each with their own unique look and level of malevolence. The lighting and fog add so much to the atmosphere, and unlike overrated crap like the first Silent Hill, the fog here isn’t meant to help hide how truly ugly the game is. Something else worth pointing out about the graphics is that the in game footage and the cinematics are almost of the exact same quality. That tells you how beautiful of a game Fatal Frame 2 is. It’s basically an interactive movie.
One thing really worth mentioning is the music of Fatal Frame 2. or in this case the distinct lack of any. Sure there’s music at the beginning and at the end, but for the most part, the game is silent. More terror game developers really need to get it through their heads that 8 times out of 10, music takes AWAY from the fear. It’s a distraction. When you’re playing FF2 and the only noise is your characters foot steps and your own breathing from the suspense, that my friends, is spooky. It raises goose bumps on the back of your neck and sends a shudder down your spine. You are so unnerved by the silence that you get yourself into a state where you expect something to jump out at you constantly. Tecmo gets how to make truly dark games, and I appreciate that.
The game’s controls vary between a normal third person action mode and a first person camera mode. The third person mode comes into play through general exploring and item collecting or puzzle solving. First person mode is whenever you’re taking a picture, whether it’s to use the camera to find hidden doors, or when you’re snapping off picture after picture in an attempt to take down a ghost. When taking pictures, you’ll be using a variety of film types; with each one doing a different degree of damage to the ghosts out to have you join their happy good time jamboree. The name of the game (at least the US version) comes from the occasional chance where the ghost leaves itself vulnerable to a specific shot called “the fatal frame” this stuns the ghosts, as well as makes it stagger backwards, allowing you to get in a set of combo photos and hopefully take down the ghost quickly and painlessly.
You may be asking what all you get with the Director’s cut over the PS2 version. Well the answer is, quite a bit. Once you beat the game, you can unlock new difficulties, new modes, bonus costumes, and even a shop where you can purchase items. Once you defeat nightmare mode, which is easier said then done, you earn FATAL MODE, which gives you yet another ending to game, and a new end boss. I like to think that Fatal Mode is the true ending of FF2, but my god does it take a lot to become good enough to get to that point. And even without beating the game, Tecmo has added more story, more cinematics, and more ghosts for you to deal with in the main game. I can’t stress enough that the PS2 version isn’t worth owning at all if you have the Xbox version. The same can be said for the first Fatal Frame game, and it’s also why I don’t own FF3 yet. The Xbox versions have always been superior due to the massive extras put on it. I have no doubt FF3: Tormented will be worth the wait as well.
FF2 is definitely a game not for the young or the easily frightened. It is, however, a game for people that want to see why Terror games are almost always superior to their horror counterparts. It’s an excellent game that is just begging to be played in the dark. It is intense, suspenseful, and a game that’s generally more fun to play with when you have friends over than by yourself.
And we are now officially halfway down the countdown. Next week we’re taking a look at the freakiest First Person shooter ever made, and the FPS that everyone who has ever played it considers it to be the best ever made. Doom WISHES it was this game. The other game is one of only two multi-player horror games ever made, and also contains the best first fifteen minutes of any horror game ever made. I’ll see you next week.