October Terror Story #14 In the Friend Zone

by Robert Fenner


In the Friend Zone
Get it at Itch.io

You wander dazed through a decimated cityscape. Twisted asphalt rises up in all directions. Past the highway and over a chainlink fence lies a worn-down old church. Inside, they worship blue balls. You make your way to a nightclub, the bass reverberates within your ears. The dancefloor is an unusable wreck; mostly deserted, save for a scattered simpering sausage party, its patrons crawling over each other, using each other, begging for the ability to change their lot.

They wait their turn to be called. You wait your turn. Their turns do not come. Your turn does not come. Not ever.

Entitlement has banished you to the Friend Zone. And you deserve it.

In the Friend Zone is like Lovecraft's Dagon for """nice guys""".

October Terror Story #12 Hypnogogia

by Robert Fenner


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 #10 Detention

by Robert Fenner


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


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 #06 Imscared

by Robert Fenner


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.