A 2004 survival horror game developed by From Software
and published by Agetec for the PlayStation
is based on ancient Japanese ghost stories. Set in Kyoto during the Heian period, it tells the strange, dark and grisly tale of a cursed mansion and all the terrors that lurk within.
The story is told from the point of view of two very different young women, each of which has their own separate phase:
- Utsuki, daughter of Doman, a disgraced court exorcist. Her phase is Yin, the Chapter of Shadow. She and her frail sister Kureha brave the mansion in search of their father, who has gone missing after being assigned to break the curse. She fights with a dagger, and can also use spells.
- Sakuya, Doman's only female disciple. Her phase is Yang, the Chapter of Light. She and the other disciples, including her brother Doryo, are summoned to the mansion to investigate. She helps Utsuki on numerous occasions. She fights with a fan, and can perform spells and summonings.
If you complete both the Yin and Yang stages then you can unlock the Kuon phase. Here you play as the legendary exorcist and Doman's bitter rival Abe no Seimei, as she (yes, she) takes it upon herself to solve the crisis once and for all. Her weapon is a spear, and she has unlimited magical ability. Only by completing the Kuon phase can you attain the true ending.
The opponents our two protagonists face are the Gaki, the mansion's former inhabitants (or what remains of them) who have been turned into bloodthirsty ghouls that are randomly encountered throughout the game. Other characters include the owner of the mansion Lord Fujiwara, his wife, their daughter Ayako, the high priest of the local shrine and the mysterious unnamed twins who crop up every now and then, either to deliver cryptic information or just generally be creepy.
The plot is developed through a series of reports, documents and diary extracts, and can prove pretty complex. However the setting, while chilling and bloody, is also beautiful and the suspense created by the music and lighting (or sometimes lack thereof) gives the game a great sense of depth.
This game provides examples of:
- Aloof Big Brother: Doryo, when he's not being a jerkass, though he does help Sakuya occasionally and makes a point of how even he can be nice at times.
- Berserk Button: When one of the twins is killed by Sakuya, the remaining twin loses it. She shows up later, drenched in blood and near death.
- Blade on a Stick: Seimei's sacred spear.
- Body Horror: Your average Gaki is small, bloated creature half-rotten and covered in blood, but that doesn't compare to demons like the centipede-woman (who literally tears herself apart when she transforms) or the incomplete cocoons, which look like humans wrapped in silk that drag themselves across the ground, moaning pitifully. Most of the corpses are also horribly disfigured.
- Covert Pervert: Doman, who mentions in his notes that he intends to have Seimei whore herself to him.
- Creepy Basement: The caves beneath the shrine function in this manner.
- Creepy Twins: Do they need an explanation?
- Dark and Troubled Past: Utsuki who accidentally caused her sister's death when they were young, and has been living with the guilt ever since.
- Dead All Along: Kureha, who died long before the start of the story and was ressurected.
- Decoy Protagonist: Both Utsuki and Sakuya, who will both be put out of commission. Abe no Seimei is the true hero.
- Drunk on the Dark Side: Doman after going insane and creating the curse.
- Dummied Out: The opening cinematic does not play in the PAL version of the game. Curiously enough, the necessary file is still present on the disc, along with its converted version for use in 50Hz mode. So it's not like They Just Didn't Care…
- Dying Dream: One theory is that the whole of the Yin phase was just Utsuki remembering what had happened after Kureha kills her.
- Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette: Every single character, especially the women.
- Eldritch Abomination: The Adamushi, slug-like creatures composed of body parts wrapped in silk with a human head on top.
- Eleventh Hour Ranger: Abe no Seimei, who shows up during the finale as a third playable character, ready to turn over the Downer Ending.
- Face Full of Alien Wing-Wong:The twins are actually manifestations of a very special kind of mulberry tree, one of which found at Fujiwara Manor and the other at the Silkworm Shrine (Utsuki, Kureha and Doman's home). Rather than fruit, they produce the eggs of silkworms who spin fragile cocoons that can temporarily bring dead people back to life. In order to keep from eventually dying again the subject must be re-cocooned with another being, absorbing their "grudge" as nourishment. They need to absorb more powerful beings each time, culminating in the absorption of someone close to them. After nine times, the subject becomes a new mulberry fruit/tree, presuming they manage to survive this delicate process. Failures die or become gaki.
- Femme Fatale: Kureha plays this to Doryo.
- Finishing Stomp: Sakuya's finishing move.
- Footprints Of Muck: If a character walks through a puddle of blood, which happens often, they will leave bloody footprints. It later turns out to be a Chekhov's Gun of sorts; at one point in the game, if a character steps on a really obvious puddle in the middle of a room, it's an instant game over.
- Gender Flip: Abe no Seimei. Something of a Gender Reveal, since the character is much discussed throughout the game, but it is only near the end that she is shown to be female.
- Gorn: And how! Blood covers the floors, the walls, the ceilings, and you can't walk down a hallway or into a room without finding at least one half-eaten dead body...
- Grand Theft Me: In order to stay alive Kureha merges with the bodies of others, including Fujiwara, Ayako, Doryo, Utsuki and their father.
- Golden Ending: Once you beat the Yin and Yang phases as Utsuki and Sakuya, respectively, a third phase titled Kuon opens up, allowing the player to scrap the Downer Ending of the preceding phases and get a more upbeat finale.
- Haunted Castle / Haunted House
- Heartbeat Soundtrack: Whenever an enemy is near.
- Hime Cut: Utsuki, Kureha, Ayako; all young Heian Period ladies.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: Doman.
- Horror Hunger: The Gaki have a ferocious appetite for human flesh. Particularly that of young girls...
- Ill Girl: Kureha, quite obviously since take one.
- Improbable Weapon User: Sakuya's fan, made even more unusual by the fact that she can cut things with it.
- Insurmountable Waist-Height Fence: Everywhere. Everywhere.
- Ironic Nursery Tune: "Hashizoroe". The name refers to a ceremony where a child is fed with chopsticks for the first time. Scary, right?
- Keigo: Being set in the Heian period, of course everyone speaks this way.
- Kill It with Fire: The most effective way to kill the demons. Or anybody for that matter.
- Kudzu Timeline: Utsuki's and Sakuya's "phases" (Yin and Yang) take place roughly at the same time and go through more or less the same plot points, even having both characters solve the same puzzles, kill the same enemies, etc. However, their stories frequently intersect, and are neatly tied up by the epilogue. So both stories are canonical, and take place within the same timeline, even though they often contradict each other in terms of cause and effect. What's worse, even though both heroines share a number of scenes together, only a couple of these are shown in the Yin phase, making the timeline even more inconsistent.
- Late to the Tragedy: Abe no Seimei. Also Utsuki, to a lesser degree, since her story picks up after Sakuya's and the other exorcists' arrival.
- Mad Onmyouji's Beautiful Daughters: Kureha and Utsuki, though they're not all they seem...
- Manipulative Bastard: Doman who sends his remaining daughter, disciples and all the inhabitants of the manor to their deaths just so he can try and prove he is more powerful than Seimei. The bastard!
- Miko: Utsuki and Kureha could be considered this, since they are the daughters of the shrine and know how to use certain types of magic. They look the part as well. Seimei greatly resembles a miko.
- Mind Screw: You have to play the game several times to get the plot straight, and even then it's near impossible.
- Notice This: Items shine brightly ala Resident Evil, and characters turn their heads towards them ala Silent Hill.
- Offing the Offspring: Doman manipulates Kureha into killing Utsuki. It's also implied that Lady Fujiwara killed her son in a fit of hunger.
- Ominous Fog
- Onmyodo: Seimei, Doman and his disciples are all onmyouji and most of the magic in the game is based off onmyodo, including the spells, seals and puzzles.
- Overdrawn at the Blood Bank: Corpses have an inordinate amount of blood in them. Trails go on and on...
- Peek-A-Boo Corpse: Have an annoying habit of appearing every where you go, in chests and boxes, from behind doors and even falling on top of you from above.
- Plucky Girl: Sakuya, who seems mostly unfazed by the curse or the creepy mansion, and calmly slaughters the Gaki left and right. Even Utsuki qualifies, since she continued searching for her father despite how afraid and alone she felt.
- Sealed Evil in a Can: The demonic souls of the mulberry trees were sealed to prevent them leaving their bodies. Naturally, they were released.
- Skippable Boss: Kureha.
- Staking the Loved One: Sakuya is forced to destroy her brother after he is affected by the curse.
- Stringy-Haired Ghost Girl: Kureha under the influence of the curse greatly resembles one of these.
- Summon Magic: Used to summon familiars, including Utsuki's wolf.
- The Fair Folk: The twins, who alternately give information and play dangerous pranks - such as shutting Sakuya in the room with a Gaki - act like this.
- The Stoic: Sakuya and especially Seimei, who remains serene even under horrific circumstances.
- The Virus: The Kuon curse, which is passed from person to person and causes them to go mad and devour other humans. Unless they merge with their victims, they will eventually perish.
- You Have to Burn the Web: Subverted. The silk webs can only be destroyed using a special item, despite you carrying a flaming knife/fan and fire talismans.
- Zombie Gait: The Gaki move like this. At least the ones that have legs do...