Episode 165: “Halloween Special”. You remember how awesome the Halloween ep we covered at the start of this liveblog was, right? Well, this ep... not so much. Sure, it has the trailer for Silent Hill 4 The Room again, but then it has some more obscure games and finally, non-horror games, or games that were only considered scary because they were so bad. The horror! Yawn.
Timecode: 8:26: The infamous Phantasmagoria (PC, 1995) from Sierra and King's Quest creator Roberta Williams. Years later, Williams would choose Phantasmagoria as the game most representative of her career.
The first Phantasmagoria game (the second is almost totally unrelated; it only has a brief mention of the original game's heroine, Adrienne) was about a young married couple who bought a great big mansion. It used to be owned by a famous magician. Unbeknownst to the couple, the magician was possessed by a demon that compelled him to kill his wives in ironic ways. In her wandering around the estate, Adrienne accidentally releases the demon, and it possesses her husband, photographer Don. The title refers to the name of one of his famous tricks, where he escaped getting sliced in half by a pendulous ax while strapped to a chair.
After Don gets possessed by the demon, he starts to act suspicious, then crazy, then abusive, before finally trying to murder his wife with the Phantasmagoria trap. It's a pretty disturbing concept, and there are some very disturbing and weird sights in the clips shown, but they also showed some of the Dull Surprise acting on Don's part. There's something creepily disaffected and monotone about him when he tries to comfort Adrienne after waking up from a nightmare.
There are some disturbing death scenes in the game, mainly from the final conflict between Don, the demon, and the wife. If she doesn't figure out how to escape the Phantasmagoria trap, she dies horribly in a scene that is very graphic and far too realistic. If she does escape the trap, it kills Don instead, but the demon is released and comes after her anyway. The demon can kill her by ripping her face off. It's pretty disturbing.
The story has a Downer Ending where Adrienne kills Don, only to be attacked by the demon after it comes out of his body. Adrienne is able to save herself by trapping and exorcising the demon in a subterranean lair. The game ends as Adrienne walks out of the mansion alive but alone.
Trivia: Phantasmagoria was released on the SEGA Saturn in Japan under the name Phantasm, and had to be squeezed onto eight game discs, making it the Guiness World Record holder for the most discs for a single game. The original PC version was spread across seven discs.
9:44: Doom3 (multiplatform, 2004-5). The graphics were amazing for their time and still look pristine.
Trivia: Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails) was originally supposed to do the music and sound effects for Doom 3, but the arrangement fell through. The long development cycle for the game had something to do with it. However, an NIN song was used for the credits of the Doom movie.
10:40: Aliens Vs Predator 2 (PC, 2001), considered one of the scariest games ever made. In this game, you played through three campaigns, one each for the different races represented in the game: the icky, rapacious xenomorphs from Alien, the honorable-yet-deadly Predators from Predator, and the well-armed human Marines. The multiplayer was praised for representing the unique abilities/weapons of the three species. The montage of gameplay footage in this ep showed a brief glimpse of one of the most infamous missions from the xeno campaign, which places the player in the Chest Burster stage of the alien's life cycle. You eat your way out of some poor Marine's ribcage in first person! That is kind of awesome.
11:42: Siren, a unique survival horror game directed by Keichiro Toyama, who directed the first Silent Hill game. Although the game has some storyline similarities to Silent Hill 1 (Play Station, 1999), the gameplay is completely different from all other horror games, for good and for ill.
The story followed multiple characters over three days in the doomed, rural, Japanese village of Hanuda, where an arcane ritual is performed. When the villagers' ceremony is interrupted, the boundaries between the real world and a strange parallel world wither. In this alternate world, the mountains surrounding the village are replaced by an endless, ominous, red sea. Some of the villagers are compelled to soak themselves in the red waters, and when they return, they mutate into undead“shibito” (literally "corpse people"). As Hanuda falls into disaster, a nun named Hisako Yao tries to complete the ritual to revive the god, Datatsushi. Over the course of the story, several of the characters encounter shibito who have mutated even further.
Another gimmick in the game was “Sightjacking”. The characters could tap into their latent psychic abilities to look through the eyes of other living beings, and the shibito. This was key to sneaking past the most deadly shibito. It was somewhat surreal to see your player character through a “friendly” character's eyes.
The game had interesting elements and characters, and a tragic storyline, but the implementation of the elements into the gameplay made for a difficult game. I believe that this was what made the game fail to click with critics, and not without reason. Plus, to get the most out of the game, the player basically had to beat the game twice to complete the bonus objectives and get the whole backstory. But the game was very interesting at times, and the progressive weirdness of the storyline made for some truly otherworldly levels. At one point, an aurora borealis appears in the village sky.
Do I think Siren is underrated? A little, but it was definitely flawed.
There was a sequel to Siren, but it was only made available in Japan and Europe. Siren was later remade as an Americanized PS 3 game called Siren: Blood Curse.
Some of my favorite parts of Siren include...
- University student Yoriko Anno rescuing her teacher, Tamon Takeuchi, from the creepy shibito who imitate his dead parents
- The story of the little girl Harumi and her teacher, Reiko, who becomes a shibito herself but still rescues the girl from the local school's principal after became a shibito. Completely epic. There was also a mission where you had to play as Harumi, who could not fight back against the stalking shibito and had to avoid them.
- When the female reporter and celebrity Naoko Mihama willingly washes herself in the red waters chanting “Everlasting youth...” over and over
- The Reveal that the old hunter Akira Shimura knew Takeuchi's parents, and his pointless attempt at suicide to prevent himself from becoming a shibito. Tamon has to fight him in a tough battle later on.
- Kei Makino the priest discovering the truth of the red waters, when he winds up declaring that “Everlasting life... means everlasting pain”
- Hisako Yao and the role she has to play in the ritual. As it turns out, she is Yaobikuni, the “Nun of 800 Years”(this will sound familiar to fans of Blade of the Immortal). When Datatsushi is killed by the game's main character, Kyoya Suda, Yao ages instantaneously and dies screaming. It is a little reminiscent of a scene from later on in '''SH1'''.
- The final scene in the game that took place centuries before, when desperation brought on by a famine sealed the fate of the villagers of Hanuda. As a baby, Datatsushi crash-landed to Earth from outer space, and the ravenous villagers pawed at its insides for food. It was then that Datatsushi expressed its pain and suffering by crying, which sounded like the game's eponymous siren.
Trivia: Siren had one of its ads banned in Japan for being too disturbing. The ad in question featured the scene of one of the characters turning into a shibito with tears of blood flowing from their eyes. Here it is, if you want to see it.
This ep was padded out by montages of Barbie's Horse Adventures and a Mary-Kate and Ashley game for the PS 1. They put faux-creepy music over the Barbie game. I wish they had chosen some actual scary games, or better games for the ep instead. Games like Sweet Home (although now that I think of it, it's not like Cinematech ever showed games that were fan translated only anyway...), Splatterhouse, or Monster Party, possibly the biggest Mind Screw in the NES library. Although I guess MP wasn't as well-known by then, and Splatterhouse is way too gory for the original Cinematech.
Reader Participation: What obscure horror-themed game do you think is more deserving of attention?