October Terror Story #13 The Coma: Recut

by Robert Fenner

coma

The Coma: Recut
Playstation 4 / Steam

The Coma: Recut is a tough game to talk about. A Director's Cut of 2015's The Coma: Cutting Class, Recut is a Korean horror game from indie developer Devespresso that follows the misadventures of Youngho, a pretty unlikable milquetoast as he falls asleep during an exam only to wake up in a nightmarish version of his school. If that sounds similar to Detention, you're right, but only in the loosest sense. Although the two games share a common setting and prologue, they really couldn't be more different: Detention is a point and click adventure first and foremost, while The Coma is much more like a traditional survival horror game transposed to 2D.

As you make your way around your haunted high school finding keys to doors, you're pursued by a disconcertingly sexy zombie. The thing about The Coma is that it's oddly fetishy; female NPCs wear sky-high stilettos or have bandaged arms, while the ghosts who chase you have heaving bosoms and legs for days. I guess it's Youngho's teenage libido run wild, like a wet dream James Sunderland.

You can hide from your vivacious pursuer in filthy toilet cubicles and closets, or you can attempt to crouch down and hold your breath, but that last one never seemed to work for me. Eventually hiding in closets stopped working for me too, as occasionally a bug would pop up that would lock the controls when exiting a closet and force a restart.

As The Coma progresses, a theme begins to emerge that attempts to critique the pressures of the Korean school system. Admittedly I don't know the first thing about that, but the quality and tone of the writing muddy the message into coming off more like teenage angst than a pointed evaluation of social issues.

You might get the impression that I'm not too hot on The Coma: Recut, and you'd be right. That said, running around the hallways of a dilapidated school always ticks the horror box for me, and it can be genuinely chilling and stressful when it wants to be. It's no Detention--few games are--but it doesn't have to be. If you previously bought The Coma: Cutting Class on Steam, you're entitled to a free copy of Recut, which was nice of Devespresso, so go check if you have it.

 

October Terror Story #12 Hypnogogia

by Robert Fenner

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Hypnogogia
Get it at Itch.io

Games never get drugs right.

The hallucinatory sequences in titles like Max Payne and Fallout 3: Point Lookout are heavy on the spectacle and the metaphor. And yet, it's hard to blame them too much. Even if one has experienced a dissociative experience first hand, it's such a fleeting and obscure moment that it's difficult to effectively adapt to any medium. Like pornography, it's not easy to define but you know it when you see it.

Hypnogogia [sic] is one of the more realistic trip simulators that I've played, as its hallucinations exist in the periphery. A bubble of reality exists around you, while an ever shifting, melting world of unknowable sights lies just out of grasp, as if you're the last, shrinking island in a foreign world. Or so I've heard.

A simplistic browser-based game, Hypnogogia follows the misadventures of a man who's chosen to take a psilocybin trip at the worst possible time. Visited by a number of angry guests (your boss, a possible blackmailer, etc), our hero has chosen to keep his emotions in check by scarfing down magic mushrooms. Each line of dialogue causes fluctuations in your mood, and you're given a choice of one of four mushrooms to eat to ease the pain. These can cause any number of hallucinations, whether it be slight, vivid, or overpowering--notable that the only consistency is your immediate vicinity; the chair in which you sit, the TV bathing you in static. Each mushroom has its own side effects, and if a side effect takes a mood over its manageable threshold, our hero projectile vomits all over the place and the game is over. Heavy.

Hypnogogia comes with a Mush Guide that details what mushrooms you have on hand at any given moment and what effect they have. The game is unplayable without it, but sometimes the descriptions in the guide can be vague or misleading, and what you think might even things out will end up speed-dialing Ralph, and that's just rude in front of guests.

The biggest problem with Hypnogogia is that there appears to be only one correct answer to each situation. I played around with it a lot, and only made it to its conclusion after much trial and error and memorization. A little extra room for experimentation would've been nice, or at least a checkpoint system between guests. That said, this Law of the West by way of Hunter S Thompson is worth a look before bed tonight.

 

October Terror Story #11 D E A B I R T H - R E A L

by Robert Fenner

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D E A B I R T H - R E A L
Get it at Itch.io

Sharing D E A B I R T H - R E A L with you tonight gave me pause; not because I find it objectionable, but rather because I found it when randomly browsing Itch.io. That is the optimal way to experience this type of game, rather than curation, but hey.

Brought to us by a glitch-heavy creator by the name of LOVE MERCHANT DEAD GHOST,  D E A B I R T H - R E A L is a short game about childbirth. A nightmarish childbirth. In the form of a rhythm game. Press Y in relation to the positioning of the text on screen to push; push hard enough and you'll be the proud mother of a bouncing baby something! Essentially,  D E A B I R T H - R E A L is a dissociative marriage of Rosemary's Baby and Beatmania, cheating on each other with the aesthetics of Hotline Miami and the Guinea Pig film series. If that sounds like something you'd enjoy, toss LOVE MERCHANT DEAD GHOST a couple of bucks and see some technicolor babies in your dreams tonight.

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.