You know an indie game has made it big when other indie developers start making fangames based on it and the Touhou series has a ton of fangames. I’ve played my fair share of Touhou fangames over the years and at the end of the day Touhou – Wandering Souls remains not only my favorite Touhou fangame, but one of my favorite freeware indie games. This sidescrolling action RPG perfectly translates the gameplay of a bullet hell shmup series into an entirely different genre alongside some surprisingly deep mechanics and an outright obscene amount of content all while being made in the utterly unlikely RPG Maker VX engine. (more…)
Close Your Eyes is a horror game where you must question everyone and everything you encounter. Taking on the role of a character who has narrowly escaped from death row, you must navigate your way through dark and ever-changing locations as time and space twist around you. There are plenty of scares along the way ranging everywhere on the spectrum from standard jumpscares to disturbing love letters and every assumption must be doubted in order to reveal even the smallest slivers of truth. (more…)
Well, The Witch’s House would have certainly fit this year’s haunted house Halloween theme, but better late than never! This game is filled to the brim with jumpscares, but that’s far from all it has to offer. With clever puzzles, some great atmosphere, and a wonderfully dark sense of humor mixed in with more legitimately disturbing moments, this is easily one of the better RPG Maker horror games out there. (more…)
There are dozens, possibly even hundreds, of games out there which boil down to being scary versions of other games, but Pokemon Nightmare: Invasion is a bit different. For a start, this isn’t a reimagining of an existing game, but rather an entirely original origin story where the largely black and white aesthetic recalls old horror and noir movies almost as much as it does the old Game Boy games. The other important factor here is that this is a full-fledged game. While the vast majority of these types of horror games rarely consist of little more than a few minutes of walking around and a few cheap jumpscares (ex: nearly anything based on the Sonic.exe creepypasta), this is a roughly four hour experience filled with combat, exploration, boss fights, puzzles, and a surprisingly engaging plot.
The scope of this game is a bit larger than the other games I’ve chosen for Haunted House Week, but it is still very much about a specific place – Azure City. The protagonist, Jack, is an investigator sent to Azure City to investigate the disturbing disappearance of its residents and it is within this city’s confines where the entire game takes place. Though you never get to meet most of the residents of Azure City, there is a large amount of care put into humanizing them. The use of journals and notes to fill in backstory is a common enough mechanic in games, but here such environmental objects are found exclusively in places where they make sense, such as a note from a friend being on a table or a private journal being in a bedroom. As these journals provide just as much insight into the concerns of the writers themselves as they do into the mystery surrounded Azure City, it becomes possible to determine who lived in each building and their relationships with the other residents. There is plenty of environmental storytelling to go around, such as Jack remarking on exactly which types of books are found in each bookcase and bloodstains or the lack thereof hinting at the fate of various residents, and players will need to hunt down every clue they can to fully understand both the current events and what happened in the past. Pokemon Nightmare: Invasion also allows for some unusually open exploration; there are a few roadblocks along the way and the main objective is generally clear, but large chunks of Azure City are entirely optional.
The aesthetics are also handled well as the ordinarily black and white screen becomes subtly tinted at certain points and occasional splashes of color really stand out, such as when bloodstains are present. Sound direction is also excellent with radios you can turn on to play some of the standard, upbeat songs from the franchise to contrast with the surroundings and eerie or severely distorted music plays during combat and other encounters. Speaking of combat, it isn’t awful, but it’s definitely the one notable weakness to this game. On the one hand, the fact that this is a sort of origin story for the Pokemon themselves means that Jack spends the majority of the game personally fending off these creatures with an actual gun and I like how enemy sprites are changed to become visibly injured when they get low on health rather than resorting to using health bars or no indication at all. On the other hand, it is pretty clear that this game’s action-oriented combat system is limited by the RPG Maker 2000 engine, which wasn’t designed with such systems in mind, and most fights devolve into awkwardly tricking enemies into running into furniture or other barriers while you safely shoot and strafe around from the other side. Thankfully, combat is fairly quick and doesn’t occur often enough to bog down the rest of the experience. I was completely caught off guard by how invested I ended up becoming in this game’s plot and characters; both the mystery and horror elements here are top-notch and the execution is all-around excellent.
Hinterland is a game where the setting is the star of the show. Lost in a blizzard in the middle of ‘Nowhere’, the protagonist is guided by talking scarecrows to an abandoned mansion. The exact nature of this mansion is the main mystery throughout the game and things only become more bizarre as the game goes on with impossible architecture, disappearing rooms, and hostile spirits. There isn’t anything particularly graphic in Hinterland, but there are a good number of creepy moments and a decidedly eerie atmosphere. Nearly every object in the environment can be interacted with and the game certainly encourages players to do so at every opportunity as important items are often found in surprising places alongside clever traps and flavor text which further enhances the atmosphere. The sound design is particularly notable here with abrupt sounds and disturbing noises contributing to the sense of unease as much as the writing and the visuals. Horror elements also have a chance to show up randomly, so you’re not necessarily safe from surprises even while backtracking.
The entire game takes about an hour to finish on a first playthrough, but every room has something new to offer. There is a very surreal sensation to exploring the mansion as its design makes increasingly less sense. From a convenience store in the basement to a painting which fills a room with rain, the mansion keeps players guessing at what they’ll encounter through each and every door and interactions with the most mundane of objects can have astounding consequences. The actual nature of the mystery behind the mansion is also just as surreal and clever as the journey through its corridors and, while I certainly won’t spoil it here, I can safely say that it’s far more original than an explanation of “a ghost did it”. Overall, if you want a horror game which is all about the location, you can’t can much closer than Hinterlands.