Thursday, October 27, 2022

Doctor Hauzer (1994)

Title screens are starting to become more animated, so this still is just one way you'd see this
Name:Doctor Hauzer
Publisher:Riverhill Soft
Developer:Riverhill Soft
Genre:"Survival Horror"/Adventure
Time:1 hour 50 minutes
Won:Yes (50W/52L)

Riverhill Soft, despite the fact that you probably haven't heard of them, are one of the more influential Japanese game companies of the '80s. Starting off as a publishing house on the PC-88 the company would become known as a Japanese-style adventure company. The J.B. Harold series has sold millions of copies. Without ever leaving Japan. Its popularity was so huge once upon a time there was a full-blown FMV game, made in America with American actors, that barely even exists outside of Japan. That one only exists on the LaserActive, a system you probably haven't heard of. Murder Club, the first, was released on DOS, but only managed to get a bit of minor controversy for its fairly hardboiled nature.

The aforementioned DOS version of Murder Club

Oh, they did other games between their first adventures and now, but those are all in Japanese, and my grasp of the language isn't at that level just yet...and they're all RPGs or adventures. Doctor Hauzer has a fan translation. This game is pretty comparable to Sweet Home at first glance, as these are both Japanese survival horror games that have captured the hearts of people writing histories of the genre. When I fired it up the first time I was shocked that its really more of a horror adventure game. Its close enough that you could call it a hybrid, but this feels like a weird predecessor to Alone in the Dark rather than the step between AitD and Resident Evil. Nevertheless, I was excited, since even though this is a B-team, this is a company whose work I've enjoyed.

Apparently either a genius or really lucky

The story is, we're a journalist who did a bunch of reports on the titular Doctor Hauzer, an archaeologist who is the greatest archaeologist ever, has gone missing. We're curious as to why he's disappeared and find a mansion he's supposedly holed up in. I hope this sounds better in the original Japanese. Apparently the other reporters don't like Hauzer, and they bullied our protagonist into interviewing him. He's as close as anyone has to being his friend apparently.

Look at the ground, look at the fence, its all very obvious

By the way, the CGI cutscene in this has that whiff of early CGI of it. You can tell. They're purposefully avoiding anything they can't model, and everything is much flatter than it should be. Also, there's a demo mode showing some of the traps the game has. Very Tomb Raider-esque.

After that, there's another cutscene showing our protagonist entering the building...

...In this small foyer of a giant mansion.
Then, in-game cutscene. We get a close-up of his mug as he raises his eyebrows weirdly. Its an acquired taste to say the least, but when he's not up-close it doesn't matter much. A chandelier falls down and he says how close that was. Now the game begins. The pause button enters a menu, akin to Tomb Raider, except I can examine items. The notebook, the only item I have at the start, is used to save.
I am actually turning right now, but because I started running before doing this, that's what animation I get
The pad moves, tank controls, and B (or whatever the middle button is) allows you to run or if you go backwards, pull. Running and turns seems to be a bit wonky, but works. A activates things and C jumps. That's right, we have jumping. Why did so many people NOT get that jumping in fixed camera games is actually bad? This isn't as bad as all games, however, since unlike those, you get something special.
By pressing L or R, you can change your viewpoint from standard survival horror, to FPS map view/top-down...
First-person, though in this case my guy is looking downward because I'm trying to use this
...and first person. Unfortunately with the first-person view, you can't really look up or down, pressing A just examines whatever's in front of you. The game does this because unlike most survival horror games of the era, everything is 3D. I have no strong feelings about it yet, but I do note that I don't care for Adams, that's the guy's name, and his mug.

We also get the door trick. I believe this is now hiding loading times, but I don't have those. I do get every agonizing moment of these screens though. What I do have, and I don't know if its the game or me, is slowdown. 3DO games are just going to be like this, aren't they? 30-year-old games with slowdown. Sigh...

Those windows look into the interior room for some reason
This is some guy's mansion? Its as nice as I suspect they could have made it, but it looks like an abandoned building. Also, the animations this guy has aren't as nice as the ones in Alone in the Dark. No, this is very obviously video game-y, where you can practically see where animations stop and start.
This is the only time such a weird camera happens
Anyway, by taking a key, I get this weird cutscene and a weird sound. Suddenly the clock starts ticking. Oh, it wasn't? This opens a door in the same room. This room has a recess for some reason and a door to a bedroom with a couple of vases and a painting of a vase.
As I explore this room, I unwisely decide to take a vase. Which results in gas appearing. Oh, good. Its at this point I decided to stop treating this at all like a survival horror game and more like a straight adventure game with funny camera angles. What I was actually supposed to do was take a flower from one vase and put it in the other. This in turn reveals that the painting is a door I can unlock. This nets me the first piece of the mystery, apparently the good doctor was doing an examination of lithographs on some sort of holy site, and wanted to treat the place with the utmost care.
Shouldn't you notice this before walking through it?
I'm not quite sure how much you can screw yourself, but the kind of puzzles this game has is definitely the sort of stuff that the least beloved adventure games had. Enter this door and fall down a random hole! Its the kind of thing that a developer laughs and and frustrates a player. If I had to deal with loading times, I'd complain, but its not that bad. Nevertheless, more points in the adventure category are that you have a seemingly unlimited inventory, the map is an item, and there are seemingly no enemies and you don't have weapons.
So the game's difficulty is done in a different way, through traps. Soon in the game, there's a boulder that travels down a hallway, Tomb Raider style, with a niche on the side. You, being an intelligent human, think that since you can walk into this while the boulder slowly travels down the hallway, you can hide in this niche. Nope. Adams is dead. Basically, you do something wrong the first time, and the second time you get it right.
This is just begging to be taken out of context
I think this guy's face was supposed to be expressive, but in motion he comes off as comical rather than interested in things, and in stills comes off like this.
Gee, I can't tell this game is Japanese...
Hey, wait a minute, there's a weapon. Its actually in one of the demo rooms, where they imply that Adams is running away from something, but there's nothing here. Except a shotgun. So I save here, because I think that this is a good thing. The game even gives me a lighter and a crowbar too. Only...its not quite that. The only door out is locked. The game just pulled a fast one on me. I have no key to get out of here. I think I've screwed myself until I find a ladder in one of the cabinets.
While this does kind of make sense in English, this is also something that feels more Japanese-esque, since the language contains a lot more elements a reader wouldn't be familiar with on the high end
This leads to a library, where I piece together most of the plot. Doctor Hauzer had a wife, who died of a mysterious illness. He regrets that he didn't spend more time with her and that he didn't finish the excavation in time. What excavation? Why, the Garden of Eden, according to a dictionary the game also conveniently gives you. Guess encyclopedia wouldn't fit. Yeah, I'm sure a book talking about cherubs and the tree of life in the Garden of Eden isn't going to factor heavily in this game's plot. And a lithograph further talks about it. You have to check every single part of this room too, its maddening!
Its also at this point that I start feeling like this game isn't very horrorish. The game's sound design is pretty good, but very limited. We get all sorts of stepping sounds and what seems to be one or two music tracks. The primary one is this very Friday the 13th-esque track with a lot of whispering in it. That "ki-ki-ki-ma" sound if you remember it. Its trying too hard, since it feels like its trying to put together every horror cliche into one song, and it starts over again every time you enter a new room. In general, this game has aged quite poorly. Whereas Alone in the Dark mostly passed from being serious into charming, this just passed from serious to goofy. That the only threat in this game are death traps too makes this just feel meh.
He's talking about the good doctor's wife
The platforming isn't great. Adams has a leap of about 1.5 "tiles" and his hitbox is a bit larger than you'd expect. So its very easy to hit things like scenery objects in your way. Through no legitimate fault of my own, I ended up failing the first jumping section, first because I accidentally hit an object, and the second because I FELL OFF WHILE BOTH FEET WERE STILL ON THE PLATFORM. I feel I need to point that out because what happened was I was inching towards the edge, so I had the maximum amount of jump distance, and the tip of Adams's foot was in the air above the empty space. Funnily enough I was using the camera angle view rather than the top-down while this was happening. So the game has different hitboxes depending on what view you use. Interesting. And yes, the camera angle view does indeed screw you over here.
This honestly just shows how much better they were at doing sprites than everything else
The game takes a bizarre turn when all of a sudden Doctor Hauzer's ghost, or rather a sprite in what is otherwise a 3D game appears. I thought Adams was about to die at first. There's also a real, "I have to do that?" energy to the game at this point. Not that the solutions to the puzzles are absurd, but that that there is a puzzle at all is. Cut a painting to get a map, which throws away your knife. You can't break open a glass door with a crowbar, because you threw it away after opening some wooden boards. So instead...I have to use a shotgun.
The game is quite linear and sticks to the 1st floor, 2nd floor then basement format most mansion survival horror games have to a tee. Well, cave in this case. As the game continues, honestly, the story is quite solid. Doctor Hauzer slowly goes completely mad and started killing everyone who came near the mansion...
...and then I meet him. He is inside the cherub and apparently got his eternal life. His wife apparently isn't there and he attacks. This is the closest thing the game has to a fight. By fight...I mean you end up having to dodge a thousand fireballs. By the way, if you somehow don't and get hit enough to have to listen to the good Doctor's speech all over again! Unskippable obnoxious cutscenes, joy! Also, slowdown in this crap, someone okayed this. Yeah...

Through sheer luck, I manage to get past them. You need the picture of his wife, once you're close enough Adams throws it in. Then, Hauzer says he found his wife before exploding in a fireball. Somehow, Adams manages to escape the mansion, and says he can't publish what just happened. No one would believe him and he just wants to forget.

The ending shows a bunch of weird alternative scenes from the game for some reason
The game is not completely without merit. One aspect that I haven't seen before is that if you examine a locked door and you have the key, Adams will tell you he thinks he has it. Otherwise, this sort of feels like the bare minimum of what a survival horror game should be, even though I don't think I would call it that. Yeah, that's what this is, acceptable as the bare minimum. Its nothing special, but I've played worse games for 2 hours. I'm be incredibly disappointed if I purchased it for more than say, $10. Checking, the current price on E-bay is a minimum of $30. So, another money protip from your dear friend Morpheus, don't pay that.
Its not necessarily bad, just not impressive in any way. I can see where its ideas could be executed well under better hands. Its just one of those games that you play and don't think much of later. Even its claim to fame, the 3D design, doesn't create that memorable impression, except of the constant slowdown I had.
This is what you get if you look out a window

There's only one real enemy, a final boss who's mediocre at best. 1/10


Yeah, its a mansion, nothing special, nothing awful. 3/10

Player Agency:
Adams just feels bad to control. None of the smoothness even Alone in the Dark had is here and tank controls is now 100% apt, because Adams just feels like a tank. Also, jumping and slowdown. 4/10

Very few puzzles are actually interesting, and your methods of interacting with them amount to pressing A on everything or using items on everything. Even so it does manage a few clever ideas. 3/10

Despite the feeble-looking visuals, there is some creepiness in the game. Its too few and far between to pack any real punch though. 2/10

This building feels really underwhelming visually. Objects aren't anything impressive to begin with, but constant repeating textures that don't quite meet their edges properly is not my idea of good design. Adams is not an appealing-looking main character and his animations are not great. There was also this weird see-through static in a lot of objects for some reason. 2/10

Despite my intial mixed feelings on the writing, I thought it worked out pretty well. Hauzer's descend into madness was short but sweet and everything wrapped up in a somewhat satisfying conclusion. 4/10

It was nice hearing the musical track that went through most of the gameplay the first time. The tenth time it started up because I changed rooms it got annoying, and I wasn't that far into the game. The sound effects are nice, but there's this persistent skipping, which might just be my system but I find I don't care enough to check. 3/10

That's 22, a bit higher than I would have thought. Thoroughly mediocre through and through.

Reading reviews other people have made of the game, while there are reviews describing it as mediocre like me, there are just as many praising aspects of its design. The music I hated is apparently someone else's highpoint, for example. I will highlight that one person called it an interactive movie, something that describes it well. Solving some light puzzles to see what happens next. I do find someone describing the game as being worth the price tag because of its replayability, as if there is some.

Regarding future Japanese-exclusive survival horror titles. Yes, I will be playing them. I hope to be playing them by next year. I have made incredible leaps and bounds over the past year, to the point where I can recognize considerable parts of a Japanese book. Granted, at this point its still isolated characters rather than full sentences, but considering that it wasn't that long ago when even that was impossible, I'm taking my wins where I can find them. At the rate I'm progressing I should know all 2200 regular characters by the end of the year. We'll see if this results in me actually making it to those two Japanese games I set aside for later in the FPS category.

Friday, October 21, 2022

Sweet Home (1989)

Name:Sweet Home
Genre:Survival Horror/JRPG
Time:8 hours 20 minutes
Won:No (49W/52L)

Today's title represents one of the biggest leaps in gaming history. The creation of a genre. Sweet Home is credited as the first survival horror game. Its many other accolades include being one of the best horror RPGs, being a good licensed game, one of the standout titles on the NES (!!!) Truly, its legend surpasses the movie in which it is based off of.

I've talked about FPS titles, and how those had a slow rise to the point where ID Software skyrocketed it to the juggernaut it is today. But survival horror as a genre is something I've pretty much started talking about here with Alone in the Dark, a few weird early titles and then left pretty much it untalked about. Well, that's not true entirely. I have talked about other early survival horror games...over at The Adventure Gamer.
Let me make one point clear, survival horror started with Alone in the Dark. You have to be able to fight and kill monsters. You have to solve puzzles, even if you happen to think they're stupid. They are action, shoot-shooty, and adventure, place a chess piece in the right place, with horror elements with "cinematic" camera angles. Slender or Five Nights at Freddy's has as much right to be called a survival horror game as Bioforge or some other action-adventure game with the right camera angles. Everything else is just a weird sidepoint that only counts because proper survival horror has like 50 games in it.

I forgot that they put their logo there, but I guess it worked out in the end for them
Sweet Home, was of course, beaten to the punch by Zombi, the debut game of French publisher Ubi Soft. This in turn was followed up by Hurlements. Those of you who speak French or just follow horror movies probably already figured out that these are based off of Dawn of the Dead and The Howling. These were games in which you explored small locations, dodging and killing enemies, while solving puzzles, they just played in a weird first-person perspective. Survival horror games, but nobody's bothered to do the research on them.

Taken from Mobygames
Then we have, though I haven't played them, Le Mystère de Kikekankoi and Orphee, text adventures by Loricels. (though they seem to be real-time, ugh) More French games, I wonder why? I don't think that they even played each other's games. I guess the Zombi devs could have played Loricels titles, but Alone in the Dark was someone taking their 3D engine work and applying it to some Lovecraftian themes. Wish I could wrap my head around French grammar, but for now I'm content to stick with figuring out Japanese.

The house, as seen in-movie
The film Sweet Home is mostly unremarkable. Its not director Kiyoshi Kurosawa's debut feature film. Its a Japanese attempt at mimicking the western mysterious old mansion kind of movie, of which it isn't unique or first either. It is producer, actor and director in his own right Juzo Itami's final on-screen appearance, but that doesn't mean much outside of Japan. Its not really a film that made a lot of money at the box office either, it was only released on VHS in Japan*. In short, a strange choice to be made into a video game.
*DVD releases TECHNICALLY exist, but I believe these are all bootlegs. Also, if you want a good Japanese haunted house film, watch Hausu. Its a stereotypical weird Japanese film, but it works really well, and its one of the few really good horror/comedies.

This screenshot actually encapsulates the personalities of the cast, the vain reporter, the brave hero, the lady with the hots for him, and his daughter, a bit away. Not seen, the pervert cameraman

Sweet Home is about a group of five people entering a long abandoned mansion once inhabited by the painter Ichiro Mamiya, to record a documentary on his lost frescos. Over the course of the movie, they find out that Mamiya and his wife had a child. Ichiro did the frescoes to document his child's growth. Unfortunately, the child walked into the basement's huge furnace, and Lady Mamiya lit it while her child was inside. Despairing, she started burning the children from the local village, before the townsfolk killed her. Sometime during the film the reporter lady opens the grave of I think the baby, at least that's what I think the burned baby doll prop is supposed to be, and then things go to hell.
I should note, since I didn't know this myself and supposedly I know art, but frescoes are a specific type of painting. They're not just a fancy word for murals. Whether or not the people behind the film, game or either fan translation knew that...I don't know.

Its not a very good film, since at first it has an awkward mix of trying to build up tension and stupid Japanese comedy. It picks up at the end, where it manages to feel like it has something to it. Its really a film about family, because the three main characters are, the producer, his daughter, and a lady the producer has sexual tension with, but doesn't do anything about it until the end. There's also a sixth person entering the house, a local gas station attendant played by Juzo Itami. He's where the whole "power" thing comes from. Its psychic power, translated as pray for space limitations.

Like many JRPGs, you can change the characters names. I didn't. I don't know why they offered the choice. Though I guess I feel that way about most JRPG name changes. The game begins with the quintet walking into the manor in search of the lost frescoes. Its a very JRPG-style over map, and I don't think we'll be seeing much of it.
We get to see a door transition. I believe this is the first game to do something like this, but Japanese games had a bunch of possible influences us westerners have never seen.
From 0 to 100
Inside, Asuka, the narrator/host of the documentary the team is making, says what they're going to do. Before getting possessed by someone who asks for her baby back. Yeah, I shouldn't know what's going on here, but its not exactly Les Diaboliques.
Especially since we see a ghost lady after the way out gets a bunch of rock thrown in front of it. Which is at odds with the film, where they were under no compulsion to remain in the mansion at any time. Emi says she's scared and then the game begins.
Said every horror character before getting horrifically murdered
Let's talk about the most obnoxious part of the game first. The party system. JRPGs, as is well-known, tend to have a party of characters between 3-5, usually 4 at a time, with any others as back-ups. As this is a horror game with 5 characters, you, being an intelligent person, would think that they all move around in one party. No. All your characters can be separately controlled, and you can only create a party with 3 people. This isn't something that affects battles, because you can call the other team towards you. This is actually better than just walking each party individually, since only one party can enter battle at a time, barring extraordinary circumstances. Which means you're just spending time switching between two groups of characters. Because that's fun.
Also, the controls for this game are incredibly awkward at first. Pause stops the game, as could be expected. B opens a weird menu where you can check a character's stats and attacks...except that A opens a menu where that could have easily had that. Why not? I don't know. The pad moves and select does nothing.
What options do you get on the A menu? Party, select which member of your party to play as. Opens the item screen, which I'll explain later. Talk, self-explanatory. Team, team up with another party member. Look, self-explanatory. Save, saves your game. Finally, Quit, which allows you to restore your save or restart the game. Now, let me go over the first puzzle in the game.
There's broken glass in front of the door into the mansion. We can't walk over it. Dunno why, but I guess they're wearing shoes that won't just break the glass when they step on it? Is it possible to hurt yourself by stepping on glass in boots? Well, to get by, you have to use Asuka's vacuum cleaner. Go to the item screen, and use the vacuum cleaner. Every character in-game has their own unique item like that. But that's not really the problem with items.
No, the problem is that items feel awkward to select. You have to go the item screen and move them around to the player or slot you need them in. Each character only has four item slots, with the bottom one being a weapon. Sounds simple enough but it feels really awkward to use. Also, the soundtrack in this section is horrendous. Its got this simple bass backing track that goes Blum, Blum, BLUM, blum unto infinity and its driving me up a wall. The main melody is okay, but that driving, unrelenting sound under it is annoying.
There's a nice bit of design here where the background objects are a different color than objects you can pick up
Anyway, the early puzzles, if you can call them that, are all centered around the first use of everyone's key item. The vacuum on some glass. Then we use Taguchi's camera on a find out we can get clues from frescoes...that we also find out from a note. Emi's key opens doors, while her father, Kazuo has a lighter to burn things. The door opening seems to just be atmosphere, since nothing ever happened after opening a door. In Resident Evil and other games, it was covering up loading times, something we don't have to worry about here. Even they used it as a trick once or twice.
Its a bit difficult to tell you can actually walk on the tiles to the right

While attempting to "solve" the puzzle of burning a rope with the lighter, a spirit shoots across the area, hitting Kazuo, the guy with the lighter. This takes him to a place he can't escape from. With a note from the last party who was here. Yeah, there was another group of people the game. In the movie there wasn't, but we're playing pretty loose with that. I think this game is kind of screwing up this aspect since it feels more like a game just explaining basic mechanics of the game rather than finding something creepy unfolding before you. Actually I can escape from here and it takes me back to where I was. Its just annoying.
Unfortunately, this is a general mechanic in the game, so there are many spirits who do this. In particular I found one that homes in on one member of your party to be an absolute pile of garbage.

While getting Kazuo and his daughter back in a party, I am attacked by a ghost dog. Its time for the JRPG-style battle system. Its your standard fare. There's a lot worse out there. A proper worst game of all time list is covered with the dredges of JRPGs. I am worried that the combat could become awful, since everyone in the first fight was dealing really low damage and its a distinct flaw of JRPGs to have long, tedious combats where you do absolutely nothing of value as a player. Not so much in the professional sphere, but very common in the amateur sphere. Come to think of it, my willingness to wade through scores of garbage action games may just be an overreaction on my part to the scores of generic JRPGs I've been forced to play over the years.

Oh, yeah, the encounter rate could be too high. Really, any number of bad games that Kurisu over at Kurisu's Chronogaming has covered over the years could qualify here. It sounds like I'm whining, but just the act of getting across one screen takes me to three battles. I feel like annoyance is the last thing a survival horror game should involve. I'm getting annoyed. And if you get poisoned or something you have to use Asuka's remedy. I worry it'll run out at some point. That'll be great since half the enemies poison you. It didn't, but you wouldn't know that just starting, would you?
I'm still technically like 5 minutes from the start, but realistically later, since I need to get all these pieces of wood the game drops. Maybe I don't, but you never know, it could be important later.

Then there's a dark area, and there's no visible way of lighting things. At least the game doesn't allow me to fall into a chasm. I wasn't planning on describing the game in so much detail, more like the Nightmare of Decay one where I describe each area generally, but this game doesn't let up with its awful beginning. I figure out that a candle I picked up lights up the room, and that I can't actually reach that thing on the left. Right, guess I better try the board somewhere else. You know what this reminds me of? Not a horror game, but one of the levels in Bugs Bunny: Lost in Time, where you had to walk around a decaying hotel across boards. Except you didn't have to take the board after using it and then use it elsewhere to advance.
They get a lot of mileage out of showing enemy sprites as NPCs

A minor feature I dislike is that the game only allows one save, and if you've made a save, well, bucko, you're going to continue that save. I seem to remember starting this game a while before I was blogging about this stuff and it skipped a whole lot of the intro, undoubtedly because of this feature, which actually really screws with the plot of the game.

Its after opening up a new area that I discover the last of the old party that was here. He got severed clean in half. He tells me that our tools are weapons, and that fire and light. Hints about what damages what. That aside, its at this point that the game starts opening up. Things start happening and it starts getting spooky.

Allow me to ponder this for a moment
Scenes like this where objects are about to harm your characters, and you have to figure out how to avoid them. Basically an early form of quick-time events. At first it was neat, but then when they start ramping up they get really annoying.
NPCs aren't just limited to people sitting around severed in half. Indeed, you can randomly be examining something, and suddenly its a NPC. A jump scare without being a jump scare.
At some point I have to use one of the tonics. Thinking its just some minor healing potion on one person, I'm shocked to discover such giant leaps in my character's health. Hang on, does this mean my maximum health has been increasing but my regular health stays the same. Interesting, bit out of place in a JRPG. Not an aspect I find distasteful.

The game is relatively smooth sailing for a while. The wood, as it turns out is just a weaker form of the board, it more easily gives out. Then I reach an area with a note saying that to enter the next area, I need to activate the generator, which is outside. Trying to go into the next area without activating it gets me shot back into this room, with no damage cost to me. Try as I might, I am completely lost here. The readme that comes with this is a sort of walkthrough, closer to a translator's guide that also tells you how to win. I missed a mallet/hammer and forgot about the note that told you how to find it. Its under the table in the room of the beast. Which one is that? I don't know, so its time to look under all of them.

Scenes like this allow you to use items on things, and in this case use pray to advance

Difficulty-wise, this game feels schizophrenic. Puzzles are either obvious or obtuse. The game is constantly throwing annoying things at you. Combat is either call the other party and hammer A or one of your party members is going to die and there's nothing you can do about it. Torsos, which I think are called something more interesting in the original Japanese, but who cares, have the ability to capture one of your party. Which doesn't sound too bad at first until you realize that means that attacks now hurt that party member. The pray ability sometimes seems to stop it, but if it doesn't that guy is dead and you might as well reload.

After finally reaching the outside area, I am greeted by the first new music track in two hours. I mean, there was the combat music, but that's not a high note. Unfortunately, the opening bars of this song are one of the really aggressive ones that make you dread coming out of combat. Really nice combination. High encounter rate here too, with an enemy that constantly grabs your party members. This allows me to progress and make the game more bearable, since the dark areas just don't work in this game's favor.

Now, the dark area I couldn't enter...and there are two giant suits of armor walking around. This isn't the first time something like this has been in the game, bats have flown around rooms and engage in combat besides the regular random encounters. But the bats weren't too bad compared to the worst random encounters so it wasn't too much of a problem. These guys are like actual bosses. While my guys now have 300+ health and deal up to 40 damage, these guys absorb most damage and deal 50 damage themselves. Fortunately, I can run past them.
Hi, I'd like to talk to you about your car's extended warranty...
Haha, another new music track, and its something that doesn't sound like crap. Its not great or anything, but I don't feel like I'm being tortured anymore. I figure out the mechanics of the rope, they can be used to cross areas where stumps or something that looks like a stump has been laid down. Since the ropes were in the possession of one character, I had to figure out how the item exchange between two parties worked; You have to face the other party member with the character you have the item you want to give to to the other party.
Stop me if you've heard this line before, but the games finds new ways to be annoying. Supposedly they're dangerous, but they come across more annoying than that. Firstly, we have the fear status effect. In the combat you get it, nothing happens, but walking around a little later and the person hit with it stops moving and you need to use the remedy on them. Secondly, we have mud...or quicksand I guess. A character gets stuck and dies. All this amounts to is more having to team my party back up before continuing another 5 tiles.
I feel like this is something a translator added
This section is the one that nearly made me quit the game entirely. An area with three wandering knight statues, and completely full of tar. And it gets better, there are two sections here with the shooting spirit things that teleport members of your party. So basically getting through ANY PART of this is a nightmare. All this for a stupid rope ladder. People constantly complain about smarter puzzles in Resident Evil, we're not gonna complain that we can't just use the ropes we already have? Unfortunately my attempts to get past the knights without fighting fails, and me bunching up two of them together actually works against me because of the game's mechanics. Any attempt at calling the other party here requires me to move one step at a time, because the other knight automatically enters combat for the first group. At least there are two tonics in this area.
I make it past there but now things are somehow getting worse. How could it get worse? Well, I'm now dealing damage in the 10s, against enemies that need a lot more of it, and they're all dealing damage in the 50 range. The game hasn't truly thrown a new obstacle at me, but its being annoying but forcing me into a situation where I think there's a puzzle, but apparently there isn't, and what I thought wasn't a puzzle is.
I didn't notice it while I was playing, but this game can really feel bizarre

I make it past there but now things are somehow getting worse. How could it get worse? Well, I'm now dealing damage in the 10s, against enemies that need a lot more of it, and they're all dealing damage in the 50 range. The game hasn't truly thrown a new obstacle at me, but its being annoying but forcing me into a situation where I think there's a puzzle, but apparently there isn't, and what I thought wasn't a puzzle is.
After breaking a mirror and putting blood on a statue, I end up in an area with enemies my characters can't hurt anymore, they all deal 1 point of damage to. Oh, good, level-gating. As if this game wasn't awful enough. Grinding. Make no mistake, that's what I'm going to have to do here. least judging by the levels I have to grind to, I'm past the halfway point.

At least in contrast the next area is fun. This area requires a weird combination of going past damage tiles, which you can mitigate with gloves, and chopping down wood in your path. This is where the logs I've had the entire game come in. You use them for bridges. And it actually feels like something interesting has happened. I find a shovel and the baby's grave. Only in the film that signaled the beginning of the curse, really, here I just get a key. Time to head back. My characters are growing to hilariously high stats, they started at 100+, now they're in the 1000+.

Then suddenly a cutscene happens when the team with the key enters the house again. Yamamura, that is, Juzo Itami's character, appears and asks me about the key. This is actually really weird since it cuts Kazuo out from Emi, and I have to follow Yamamura around the area. Its weird and a bit terrifying, since I'm worried that I'm going to get caught in a random encounter. Here, Yamamura's character has been trapped in the mansion rather than him being outside it. Apparently the baby's coffin is in the basement and we did awake Lady Mamiya by opening the grave...and Yamamura gets knocked into the wall unceremoniously by something.
So I'm backtracking with new items that are supposed to open doors where I've, and there are quite a few zombie enemies. Huh, this is quite close to Resident Evil. So I return to the opening area. Its nice being able to completely wipe out enemies with one shot, but none of the items I have are doing anything. Huh. Well, I guess I'm just missing some obscure door. No, I completely missed an item. Turns out what I should have done after getting a path back is gone back to the fountain, put the statue that got moved out of the way into it, which gives me the amulet. Its an important part of the movie's plot, but its just casually introduced here. This opens the stairs down, which are in the area where the rope ladder is. Because...oh, forget it.
All I have to do here is give a shovel to someone, who for some reason is next to a wall here. This floods the area, and as a consequence seperates my parties completely. Fortunately, with one battle I got everyone back together quite easily. I need a gem to open up the next area, but this turns out to be a somewhat rhetorical question, as a statue guarding a door is gone, and inside there is the gem. This opens up the furnance, where we get proper horror again. The baby talks to us. Its actually spooky.
Then it gets even better, a bunch of coffins I have to open. I genuinely don't what's in here. You should have made THIS more of the game. Have a zombie pop out if I pick the wrong one. Not random encounters where if I walk for too long I end up fighting a reaper, who blows a mighty wind at Kazuo, killing him instantly. Anyway, another key. Oh, no, I'm out of space again. Given my need to get experience, I figure I can just come back later for whatever I drop, which turns out to be true. This is the key to Mr. Mamiya's diary, describing his wife going nuts. This allows me to move some stages and reach a side door. With weapons outside. I sense that's a subtle hint of something, like a boss.
Its not, its another new area. Maybe its because when I played this section I was zonked out with a cold, but this wasn't too bad. Some boulders you have to run away from, and some ice rooms that function as a glorified screw you to the player, but nothing I particularly hated. At this point I'm just sort of following a walkthrough roughly. Maybe there's a fresco somewhere that tells me why I need to take a blue candle, maybe not, but I'm just trying to get to the end of this game.
Getting out of the candle room, I end up in this place. Which sort of explains why they didn't include more wandering monsters, because you have to wait for every single character to finish moving before you can take your next step. Its also in this area that known game-breaking bugs happen. See, when this game first got a fan translation, it was really inaccurate, and this one is supposed to be the correct translation. Thankfully these are known issues, but it is a sad reminder that this is a fan translation. The errors in question belong to three statues, which you have to put candles on, and a hunchback.
After going through one ice room, I find Yamamura again. Seems like he survived. Anyway, he tells me to deal with Lady Mamiya, as usual. At first I think I need to find all three blue candles, but what I'm actually supposed to do now is use two rings in front of the hunchback to reach Lady Mamiya. (curiously, it seems like the error in question didn't happen for me) Now Yamamura dies breaking a barrier, and I've encountered her. Final battle, right? No, the team who entered the room gets teleported to the fireplace room near the beginning of the game, while the other team can enter her room and take the final key. Without which I would have had problems. So...the game is still going. I now just have to search the place more thoroughly. What do I have to look for? Some slides.
By the way, this game doesn't want you to forget that Lady Mamiya and the baby died and are on fire. No wonder Capcom couldn't get this past Nintendo of America, this has overused the subject matter so much it no longer feels shocking, instead I'm just sick of hearing that they're dead. The projector opens up a new area with another key. Oh, I've run out of space again. I check ahead to see if I need an axe I've been keeping around, and discover that later I'm going to need to find the ropes again. And so, unceremoniously, I quit the game. The end. Not dealing with that crap again.
This is a weird experience. I've felt less excited about titles that had a good impression over the years before, but that's generally in the realm of, its a good game, but its not AS amazing as you claim it to be. This is a game that's regularly seen as one of the best games of all time...and its not. Its just not. There are far too many aspects of this game that are annoying for that to be true.
The interesting thing is that some of these issues could be fixed. Unlike a lot of games from this era...standard JRPG random battles are not necessary. Being able to clear out an area before handling a puzzle would make this game this game considerably more fun. This is something you can very easily do with the game's technology. Add a few wandering enemies in areas that don't have them, change some of the teleporting ghosts to enemies, and suddenly you have a competent game on your hands.
The inventory limit in this game is just tedious. Certainly, Resident Evil had it too, but it was 6/8 selectable items in total, rather than everyone getting 2 slots. And you didn't need to use multiple slots to ensure your party didn't end up stuck or some crap. Better yet, you had places to put items so that you didn't need to travel across half the map to find some health potion.
I don't have anything else clever to show you, so enjoy this out of context shot of Akiko staring at something
What's worse is that if one of your characters dies, not only do you lose two item slots and that character's special item, you lose another item slot to a replacement item. Its nice that they went to the trouble of making it so you're never really in an unwinnable situation, but playing this with even one dead party member sounds like such unimaginable torture that I applaud anyone who beat it that way. I applaud those who have the patience to deal with this crap in general.

Its a JRPG, so the only feeling of satisfaction is in watching numbers go up. I'm not actually certain its weapons that improve the damage as much as levelling up. Either way I did feel some satisfaction. 1/10

Their designs and different abilities are nice, as are the various wandering enemies. Unfortunately, the game's JRPG nature makes it hard for any of them to stand out. 2/10

While they obviously didn't help out in combat, the variety of characters you find in the mansion was a pleasant surprise. 1/10

I guess some thought was put into it, but I felt like I was just going wherever the game allowed me to and hoped that was the right way. 1/10

Player Agency:
It takes a while to get used to the awkward menu system, but otherwise I have no real complaints. Would have liked the B button just backing out of one menu. 6/10

Its not a very involved system, and the resulting puzzles are either obtuse, obvious or told to you. I just wish that given the prevalence of the pray command they picked a better word for it. 1/10

Its definitely spooky. The game, when it wasn't annoying the hell out of me, had quite a few clever moments going on that I haven't seen replicated since. 4/10

I think this is the best-looking NES game I've ever seen. I forgot a lot of the time that I was looking at a system with a limited palette. I actually have some understanding of it, so I find it doubly impressive. 5/10

The incredibly short notes lying around the mansion aren't very interesting to read, but the various little vignettes are a nice distraction. I wish there were more. 2/10

Sounds are okay, but special shout out to the awful music. Which is generally crap and too short for a game of this length. Anything remotely positive felt like generic noise by the end of it. 0/10

Subtracting 2 points for annoying the hell out of me, that's 21.

While at first I wanted to give it the benefit of the doubt, as time worn on it became clear that this game was buried under bad design choices. Even before I ended the game, I was of the mind that any competent developer, given a year's time, could make a better survival horror game than this. Now? I'm pretty sure anyone with RPGmaker and a month or two to kill could make a game more interesting than this one. I'll say something for Zombi, despite requiring you to follow the movie's plotline, it was actually fun and the unfun part was one specific area in the middle of the game. Any fun I had here was ruined by having to deal with the millions of things that interrupt your ability to solve a puzzle.

With that out of the way, there's only one game left that might have had an influence on Resident Evil, Doctor Hauzer. There are a few games that are arguably survival horror released between Resident Evil and Alone in the Dark, but those aren't really important. Even the ones before Alone in the Dark, like Project Firestarter. Ecstatica, which I'll be getting to this year didn't really make it outside of Europe, and certainly not Japan.

My apologies for the delay between games. This was a trifecta of annoyingly long game, a lack of time and a desire to blog about more games this month than I usually do. I'm not replaying Alone in the Dark this year, making this I think the first year without a title in that franchise. You can also expect plenty of 1983 titles next month with few FPS titles.