October Terror Story #10 Detention

by Robert Fenner

detention

Detention
Get it on Steam

From Silent Hill, to Corpse Party, to WhiteDay, horror games set within schools--whether exclusively or partially--are fairly well represented. If one were to simply look at Red Candle Games' debut Detention, one may think, unique art style notwithstanding, that the game would fit easily into this category, in which an everyday space is transmuted into a nightmare. And they could not be more wrong.

What puts Detention head and shoulders above its contemporaries is its setting, and by extension, its message. Set in 1960s Taiwan in the midst of the White Terror, Detention tells the story of Wei and Fang, two students who've found themselves trapped within Greenwood High School following a typhoon warning. The player is tasked with helping these two find a way out, but as the situation progresses, the solutions to progress require crueler and crueler actions. Although fairly linear, Detention asks just how far its characters will go to achieve their goals.

I admit I did not know much about Taiwan's history nor the White Terror before I had played Detention, but the story presented an informative and easy to follow portrait of a country under extreme nationalism; a place in which those who do not tow the party line--even if this means something as innocuous as reading the "wrong" literature--are punished severely. While you may think I am suggesting that the horror of Detention comes from the nightmare of life under a repressive regime, this is only partially true: the real horror of Detention comes from the observation of how ordinary citizens behave within such environments, and how easy it is to twist an already-twisted situation to achieve one's desires at the expense of others.

Detention is quick, sad, and one of the best horror games of 2017.

October Terror Story #09 Digital Devil Saga: Avatar Tuner

by Robert Fenner

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Digital Devil Saga: Avatar Tuner
PlayStation 2

There's no argument that the majority of the Shin Megami Tensei back catalogue can be classified as horror. However, special mention must be made to the dreary, existential dread of Digital Devil Saga.

The Junkyard is a warzone of broken concrete and twisted steel, upon which and endless rain falls. Upon this battlefield battle five tribes, locked in an endless battle of supremacy. However, all of this changes one day when a biomechanical lotus blossom falls from the sky, giving birth to a young woman with pitch black hair. But that's not all: The girl's appearance brands all present with a black sigil, turning each of them into an insatiable demon. Friend and foe devour each other in an attempt to sate their hunger, leaving the battlefield in a horrifying state of pure id.

After the carnage has passed, the girl, Sera, comes under the protection of the Embryon, a gang led by a young man named Serph. Serph and his crew vow to keep her safe until they can find out who she is and where she came from, but the Junkyard's governing body, the Karma Temple, promise to grant passage to Nirvana to the gang who brings Sera to them. As the plot begins to take shape, Serph and his comrades begin to question what the Junkyard is, why they're there, how long they've been there, and what existence is.

Existential crises and inhuman action is de rigeur for Shin Megami Tensei, but Digital Devil Saga adds a truly nightmarish flare with its setting. The Junkyard is a a desolate ruin of modern civilization, stripped of its context, and accented in a mix of cyberpunk technology and Indo-Aryan iconography. Mechanical lotus flowers recur, as solid steel fortresses are adorned with bas reliefs of Hindu deities. It adds an unplacable nature to the worldbuilding--especially as there are so few games with Indo-Aryan-inspired settings.

Furthermore, the level of existential dread is multi-layered. Characters are devouring each other; it's horrifying, yes, but even more horrifying is that the characters are horrified as well. And not only horrified, but feeling the emotion of horror for the first time in their lives. This is an existential crisis in the truest sense.

Be sure to check in with RPGFan's Retro Encounter Podcast on Thursday, where we'll be talking about the game at length.

October Terror Story #08 Hieronytris

by Robert Fenner

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Hieronytris
Get it at Itch.io

15th century Dutch painter Hieronymous Bosch was a living anomaly. His busy, surreal, and nightmarish tableaux of joy, suffering, religion, and the afterlife feel completely out of time--timeless, even--and his indelible mark can still frequently be seen guiding the hand of avant-garde creators to this day.

Just in time for Halloween, Pedro Paiva and Fabio Manna  have paid tribute to Bosch's most infamous work, The Garden of Earthy Delights with Hieronytris, a Tetris parody in which the Prince of Hell devours the damned, whose nude bodies fall towards the bottom of the screen in various agonized poses. The rules of Hieronytris may be the same as Alexey Pajitnov's classic puzzler, but it's much more difficult in practice due to the unpredictable shapes these bodies take on. A decidedly new and ghoulish twist on an old favorite. From Gehenna With Fun!

October Terror Story #07 The world to reverse.

by Robert Fenner

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The world to reverse.
Get it here

Translated by my buddy satsu, The world to reverse. is a duo of micro visual novels by the doujin circle 17. The first, Hallucinate, takes place in a hospital bed where the injured protagonist is repeatedly visited by a girl in white, hatred burning in her eyes. Initially bleak, who she is and what she wants will only be discovered by the adventurous.

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The second work, Flanca, is a period piece set in Europe during an ambiguous time. Our protagonist is a young boy who meets another boy behind an opera house, and is invited to watch the boy perform in a girl's role. You can accept or refuse his offer, and every point of your brief adventure branches off in one of two directions...usually leading to unpleasant ends.

The world to reverse. is such a brief experience, and such a powerful, uncompromising one at that, that I am loathe to say more about it. Please see it for yourself; both stories can be finished within an hour.

October Terror Story #06 Imscared

by Robert Fenner

imscared

Imscared
Get it on Steam

Haunted technology makes for an effective postmodern horror story. If old houses and creepy dolls can bear host to malevolent spirits, why not computers and software? It's a theme that has haunted my dreams since childhood, albeit in an abstract fashion. Computers and televisions that must be turned off but refuse to do so, posing a disquieting annoyance.

Imscared channels this 21st century primal fear. The setup is simple; Imscared is a found object whose lo-fi, heavily pixelated aesthetic belies its horrific nature. As you attempt to play this esoteric first person adventure game, you soon find yourself pursued by a grinning white face. As you attempt to escape, the game crashes to a fake Blue Screen of Death...and a folder is created on your desktop, with .txt files providing further insight into just what you've stumbled upon.

This fourth wall breakage is what makes Imscared, and it's the kind of thing that can only work on a personal computer. Youtube links to "tutorial" videos open without prompting, as a man with a monotone Italian accent explains how to "win" at Imscared's obscure "goals".

In a striking moment, I found myself trapped in a garden with no way out, when a new .txt file appeared with a map and a Youtube link both denoting how to reach a secret passage. When I followed the steps shown in both examples, I did not come to the exit seen in the video, but instead a wall, upon which hung a picture reading "You fell for it".

Lo-fi, lo-priced, strange, and exciting, Imscared is the premiere found object horror game.