Now, don’t get me wrong. I love a lot of horror-themed games. I love Symphony of the Night for reinventing the Castlevania franchise in a highly entertaining and enjoyable way. I love Pathways Into Darkness for basically being incredibly difficult as well as incredibly terrifying. I love Doom for being fun, even now, and I love Doom 3 for being atmospheric. I love the old Resident Evil games, various entries in the Silent Hill franchise, every one of the House of the Dead games, and a whole bunch of other games that aren’t in this list but probably should be, because they are awesome and I remember them fondly.But they’re not my favorite.
Resident Evil 4 isn’t my favorite horror game because it’s scary; aside from the standard “BOO”Â scares the franchise is known for, and the odd giant monster you have to face, the game isn’t particularly scary a lot of the time. Rather, it’s my favorite horror game because, simply, I tend to prefer that my horror experiences be more about blood and guts and oppressive odds than suspense and terror and all that stuff. I’m more of a fan of Aliens and Jason Vorhees than anything else, and while I’m perfectly fine with a Psycho or a Clock Tower, given the choice, I’m more of a fan of kicking ass than running away. Video games are a base level form of escapism, and playing them is meant, in most respects, to allow the player to escape from their real life for an hour or two; says I, playing as a detective or an escaping victim, that’s perfectly fine, but given the choice, I’d sooner play as the gun-toting heroic badass who wipes out the entire infested village with his machine gun and the sheer power of his manliness. This amuses me, frankly, and the fact that I can do this sort of thing in a game that plays exceptionally well, is full of lots of monsters creatures and fountains of gore, and features a Spanish midget as one of the primary villains? Why doesn’t EVERYONE love this game, that’s MY question.
Aaron Sirois: For my favorite game, I’m going to stretch the genre of horror games a bit. Why? Because as far as I’m concerned, Twisted Metal Black might as well be an action/horror game.
Let’s take a look, shall we? You have a guy with half a face by the name of Calypso who brings the best and brightest from the local asylum together to terrorize the city with a brutal contest involing fercocious looking cars and a deluge of powerful weapons such as missiles, napalms, and flamethrowers. The contestants include a serial killer clown, a self-mutilating priest, a chick who’s face was locked inside of a doll mask, a cannibalistic Vietnam vet who wears his buddie’s skull as a mask, and even a straight up emo chick. That’s terrifying.
Anyway, the man who steals the show is Sweet Tooth, that same serial killer clown. Every character gives a narrative for thier story bits, but his is by far the best. Constantly referring to the veiwer as “boys and girls” and grumbling about how he hasn’t killed nearly enough people yet, Sweet Tooth makes The Joker from The Dark Knight look like the from the 1960’s Batman.
My favorite part is his ending. Here’s what he says.
Sweet Tooth: The contest was over. So I went and saw Calypso and asked him to make good on his promise. To bring an end to all my pain. To bring an end to the curse. He offered me a vial. He said inside it held the blood of the man who cursed me on the night of my execution. He told me if I drank it, my curse would be over. But he also said, if I ever returned to my killing ways, the antidote would wear off. And the curse would come back to haunt me. I had to decide… It took me all of ten seconds.
Sweet Tooth: [He stomps on the vial, shattering it]
Sweet Tooth: Let’s face it, boys and girls: A man has to have his priorities. I killed Calypso about as well as I’ve ever killed anyone.
Sweet Tooth: Now that I’m free, I’m going to be the greatest of all time.
The art in this scene is brutal and beautiful at the same time. With one swift motion, Sweet Tooth slashes Calypso’s throat. You get one last look at the evil grin before he rides off into the night looking for more prey.
If you’re still confuses, look at it this way. Sweet Tooth’s whole reason for joining the contest was to get rid of the flames on his head that caused him endless torment. Throughout the game you see him writhing in unbearable pain. However, he’s unwilling to cure himself if it means putting end to his killing ways.
You gotta love the commitment, right?
Alexander Lucard: if you’re a long time reader, my choice should be no surprise to you…
Hellnight (Dark Messiah in Japan)
Publisher: Konami (Europe)/Atlus (Japan)
Systems Released On: Sony Playstation
Release Date: 06/11/1998 (Japan), 12/03/1999
Here it is. The best horror game I’ve ever played. A game that’s widely available in English, just not in North America. I have no idea why Konami brought it to the UK but not North America as they translated it into English. Atlus doesn’t have a European division, but this is up there with Innocent Sin and Soul Hackers for “You published SAMURAI WESTERN in America but not these games? ARRRGH!”
Hellnight, to put it simply, is the best game I have ever found in regards to simulating a real life terrifying experience. No other game forces you to meld with the protagonist as much as you do here, and no game, not even Clock Tower 2 makes you feel as helpless. This is why it is #1. Atlus did its best to make a game that feels as real as possible, and they did a pretty damn good job of it.
As I know the vast majority of you have never heard of this game, and only a slight percentage more have even played this, I’m going to walk you through the game here. Let me start with giving you the story summary from the manual itself.
The days go by monotonously as clockwork, the only excitement exists in the imagination and in virtual reality. But one night at the end of the millennium, evil suddenly makes an appearance…
Rumours have begun flying thick and fast about a connection between the religious cult “Holy Ring” and a series of recent subway passenger disappearances, so much that even the media has begun speculating about a link.
“The time has come. All will change into darkness, then the time of enlightenment will arrive…” The whispers of the Holy Ring followers rustle through the air like a prophecy… You head to the dark and damp underground passages of the city to escape the oppressive sound, and finally find yourself on board the last subway train of the day.
Then all at once, a collision! The shock sends the train off the rails, and a ghastly scene of horror begins spreading through the carriages. With your hand to your forehead to control the terrible dizziness you feel, you drag yourself to your feet.
Shaking and trembling, the young girl in front of you picks herself up off the ground. “What on earth was that?” she asks.
But this is no time for questions. Another shock rocks the train, and then an unbearable sound fills the air – the terrified screams of passengers. And the screams are getting louder and louder…
Just as you see a creature, red with regurgitated blood, on the other side of the crumpled connecting door, you and the girl jump out of the back door of the carriage into the unknown darkness beyond..
But the thing follows you relentlessly through the blackness on and on… Before its incredible power, humans are nothing more than animal feed. Those unlucky enough to encounter it are instantly devoured. Don’t let it catch up with you! Escape before it gets too close! The only way to survive is to keep running through the maze of the Tokyo underground until you find a way to the surface – and you’d better run as fast as you can…
Pretty fucking intense, no? This, my friends, is Hellnight. This is a game where you are chased by a relentless killing machine that can not be stopped. It can’t. The best options for you are to run, lock yourself in a room, or use a patsy as monster bait praying that their death buys you enough time to flee. You are one of two survivors from that subway accident. In less time than it takes you or I to tie our shoes or take a shit, this monstrosity slew 57 human beings. All you can do is run.
Besides the opening two pages of manual I transcribed for you here, the game has arguably the deepest plot I’ve ever seen outside a RPG. There are also FOUR pages in the manual devoted simply to the chronology of the game, started with the 1894 Sino-Japanese war all the way up September 2nd, 1945. Every date on the timeline is eventually relevant to the game, combined historical facts and fiction with a Survival Horror game unlike any you’ve ever encountered before. Jesus, the timeline even has FOOTNOTES. Like I said, pretty fucking intense.
Hellnight, or at least part of the story synopsis comes from a poison gas (specifically Sarin) attack orchestrated by a cult on the Tokyo subway system on March 30th, 1995. This particular cult was named, “The Aum Supreme Truth.” The sarin gas was released onto five trains of three different subway lines, killing twelve and injuring 5,500 others. This attack was a wake up call to the world at large, who at that time believed Japan to be nearly crimefree, aside from the occasional antiestablishment attack. It’s easy to see some of the parallels behind the real life subway attack and the religious cult/subway attack in Hellnight although from that opening, the similarities end.
You play well…you. You are the protagonist. Hellnight is played complete in first person mode. The screen is your eyes. You can only see what is directly ahead of . You should generally hope you can not see the monster, because if you can…well, you’re pretty much dead. I have to keep enforcing the fact that the protagonist can only run and hide from a creature that is bound and determined to finish off every last passenger from that train. And buddy, you’re it.
The controls of the game are so simple a chimp could play this. This is one of the great things about Hellnight. It is designed so that ANY game, no matter that joystick proficiency can sit down and become utterly engrossed in their attempts to flee from an Asiatic death hulk. The analog sticks will not be used, but you do need the vibrational aspects of the Dual Shock on to really enhance your game. The L1 and R1 buttons allow you to strafe left and right respectively. L2 allows you to do a quick look behind you, and R1 & R2 combined allows you to swivel around to get a 360 degree view of your surroundings. The triangle button brings up your map, the circle button allows you to open doors, the square button allows you to talk with any friend you might have picked up, or can have them attack the monster (more on that suicide run in a bit), and the x button will become your best friend while you involve yourself with Hellnight as it allows you to RUN. Running is your friend for an obvious reason. HOWEVER, Hellnight strives itself on giving you the most realistic survival horror feel ever, as you can only run for so long. The longer you hold down X, the more exhausted the protagonist becomes. People can’t run at top speed forever you know. The more exhausted you get, the more the screen will turn red and the more your dual shock will vibrate in time with the protagonists pounding heart. Eventually your character will become paralyzed for a brief time from the exhaustion and all you can do is sit and wait. You just have to hope to whatever deity you worship that the monster doesn’t happen upon you at this time. I can’t describe just how much this adds to the game; you have to experience it for yourself.
As for the monster itself, luckily you can almost always hear it before you see it. The shambling of its feet and heavy breathing is a give away that it’s near. Sometimes though, it’s smart enough to hide…
The key to beating Hellnight is to survive through various underground areas, such as the sewers, subways and so on. Along the way the game’s automap feature and your character’s compass will keep you from getting lost down in the darkness. As well, you’ll be able to meet many different characters in the underground world, including five that you can befriend. The catch is that you can only have one ally at a time, and once you have one, you can’t switch until they die. Let’s take a look at each one, shall we?
I. Naomi Sugiura.
Naomi is the only other survivor from the subway accident. She’s a seventeen year old schoolgirl who you begin the game with. Naomi has minor psychic abilities, which manifest in her ability to tell how close the creature is to you. In game terms, it shows up on your map as a flashing triangle. This ability is very helpful to new players in the game, but she can get killed amazingly easy.
I remember the first time I played, Naomi was like “Oh no! I can sense it! The creature is very close.” I looked on the map, saw nothing and assumed it was just story for the sake of story. Then I get to a staircase that should lead me closer to the surface. I open the door and…MONSTER IS ON THE OTHER SIDE. Dead Naomi. Alas.
II. Kyoji Kamiya.
Kyoji is my personal favorite of the allies you can get, but not because he’s of any help to you. In fact, he’s generally a massive detriment. He’s the second ally you can make and he may not have Naomi’s psychic ability but he DOES have a handgun. This gun, although it can’t stop the monster, can pause it and thus let you run away if it gets the drop on you. The downside to Kyoji is well…he’s a completely insane serial killer than makes Hannibal Lector look like a teddy bear. Although YOU may be lucky that he decides you two have a special bond and he doesn’t want to kill you, everyone else you encounter is the game doesn’t fare as well.
Here’s an example (Not literally taken from the game, but it’s damn close enough)
You: Huff huff. We got away from the creature.
Stranger: Wow. You’re being chased by a monster huh?
Kyoji: Blood! BLOOD!
You: Yep. You seem to have a lot of monsters down here.
Stranger: We sure do. Still, better than paying taxes or having George Bush as our ruler.
Kyoji: I like to kill things.
You: Shut up Kyoji.
Stranger: Obviously, you’re not from around these parts. Want me to tell you how to get topside and out of Monsterville?
You: Yes please!
Stranger: Well, what you’re gonna wanna do is…
Kyoji: DIE DIE DIE DIE! (Kills NPC because he can)
You: Oh god, that’s the fifth one today.
Kyoji: I like you.
Whereas the other characters don’t mind you making friends and getting help out of the underground areas you are trapped in, Kyoji is just a “little” overprotective of you, and generally makes things harder for you. Still, you’re out to survive and not make friends, so it is up to you whether he’s worth the effort or not.
III. Leroy Ivanoff.
Leroy is part of a special tactical force sent down into the subway after Tokyo declares a state of emergency. You’re probably wondering why the Japanese government would send a Russian special agent with a rocket launcher down into a subway, right? Well, Leroy works for a mysterious international organization known as “Organ.” Organ sent an entire division of men into the subway. However, everyone but Leroy was slaughtered by the same creature that stalks you. Unlike you though, Leroy managed to get topside and like an idiot, went back into the underground of Tokyo seeking revenge on the thing that killed his friends and comrades. Personally, I never understood why the protagonist didn’t just go, “Wait. You came back down here. So you know how to get OUT?” But that’s just me.
The upside to Leroy is that he has that Rocket Launcher. This allows him the greatest distance out of all the characters with weapons. The downside is he only has five missiles and in order to find him, you have to go through quite a bit of stress. Still, he doesn’t try and kill everyone you meet and he can actually fight back against the monster, so he’s a good man to have around.
IV. Rene Forrester
Rene is like Leroy is the fact they both have more guts than brains. Rene is a reporter who is doing a large expose on the cult of the Sacred Ring who is believed to be responsible for the subway bombing. She learns that perhaps the destruction was not a bomb after all and has traveled to learn the truth of what happened.
Rene is my favorite character. Although her weapon only has five shots, she is the sanest of the characters and seems to provide you with the most story when you attempt to speak with her. I can’t really say much about her, because by the time you get her it is late in the game and I’d rather not ruin the plot, and instead hope you import the game or nag Atlus and/or Konami to port it over in some eventual collection.
V. The Keeper.
Again, I’m not saying anything at all about this character, save for the fact it helps you out when you most need it. It’s not even mentioned in the manual, but let’s just leave it that like the last half of the game, everything you think you know about the plot of Hellnight just might turn out to be wrong….
There is no real music in Hellnight. None worth speaking of anyway. Much of the game is your character traveling through amazingly large areas with no music at all. Your characters footsteps and breathing are your only auditory companion. Well, that and occasionally the noises made by the creature. Again, this only helps to ensure Hellnight giving you the most realistic survival horror feeling ever. No other game comes close to making you feel as if this is all happening to you.
Graphically, Hellnight is a mixed bag. It’s a lot like several Atlus titles where the gameplay is solid, the story is deep and riveting, but the visuals are…not so good. As you can see from the screenshots here, the game isn’t bad. It’s a perfectly serviceable PS1 game. But there are a lot better looking titles out there. If you judge a game by graphics, Hellnight might be an immediate turn off for you. Trust me though when I say it’s story and gameplay have no equal in the entire genre of Survival Horror.
One last note. I have purposely only touched briefly on the actual plot content of the game. I’ve given you no more than what you would get from the manual or playing through 2-3 hours of the game. I dare not. I could waste your time by talking about the need to find certain items for squatters and other people lurking down below, but there’s no need. These quests are minimal and all have a direct relation to either 1) getting you the hell out of Dodge or 2) giving you the optional story info of what really went on with the subway and the origins of the thing lusting for your innards.
The truth is, the further you go into the game, the creepier and more bizarre it gets. Just when you think you know the plot, it hits you with a curve ball. A logical and well told curve ball, but one that shocks you just the same. I realize maybe there’s probably less than 50 US gamers that have played Hellnight and maybe half of them have beaten it. That’s all the more reason I implore you to import it and defeat it yourself. All I will tell you is that the further you get into the game, the more it will reward you with one of the most original, twisted, and well told (aside from some Engrish) stories in this or any other genre.
Hellnight is a very bizarre game. It is surreal, and it exists to put a gamer in a situation of pure adrenaline and terror. It is wonderful in its simplistic gameplay but amazingly rich story. Very few gamers have even heard of this title, and you can count the number of professional reviews of the game on one hand. Although the game remains one of the most obscure titles in all of video gaming, it still remains one of the greatest. It’s not for everyone, as most gamers have been reduced to the idiocy of “Must kill things with my controller.” It is long, it is hard, and often times you can go twenty minutes with just walking. That’s it. Just walking. But this is what makes the game so wonderful. No other game even comes this close to simulating what an actual survival horror experience would be like. As weird as it is to type, Hellnight, even with its underground dwelling monster of doom and it’s very intricate plot, is the most realistic horror game ever. Hell, it’s one of the most realistic simulations of any genre.
Get it. Experience it. SURVIVE it. If you can…
Hellnight. Dark Messiah. It doesn’t matter WHAT you call it. Just know that it is without equal. It is the most original game in its genre. It is the most innovative game in its genre. It has the most detailed story in its genre. It is simply the BEST in its genre. Out of all the import games I have commented on in my six years in this industry, there is no other game I will more strongly recommend for you to import than Hellnight, both because of its quality…and because it is in English.
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Alexander Lucard was the Editor-in-Chief of Diehard GameFAN and Director of Operations for the InsidePulse network. He has since retired from writing, but clearly shows up now and again. He has worked in video game journalism since 2002 and was also a paid consultant for Konami and The Pokemon Company. Alex has previously written for Tips N Tricks, Gamespot, White Wolf, TSR, Wizards of the Coast, Eden Studios, 411mania, Not a True Ending and more. His writing could also be found in the monthly periodicals Massive Online Gamer and Pokemon Collector Magazine.