The Slow Death of Eastern Horror Games
The Slow Death of Eastern Horror Games (I originally wrote this for Sonyrumors.net and re-purposed it for JTM Games)
I’ll be honest; I’m a big horror fan and not that many games have truly terrified me this year. Of course there’s the occasional western action-horror games like Dead Island and Dead Space 2 which provided jump-out-of-your-seat scares, but none of these games force the feeling of dread and absolute terror throughout the entire adventure quite like a relatively obscure eastern survival horror game called Corpse Party.
To millions of you who haven’t heard about it, Corpse Party is a PSN-exclusive PSP game that exemplifies eastern horror. And it’s a damn good game to boot. So my question is, why don’t we have more games like this in North America?
In Japan and most of Asia, horror visual novels (or interactive novels) as well as adventure games are popular with the console and portable/handheld gaming crowds because they’re cheap, and they’re easy to pick up and play. But those games rarely ever see release in North America. Is it because publishers believe players don’t read any more? Or is it because we’re so obsessed with understanding and solving every question the world throws at us? And that we’re so fascinated with modern armaments that we need too destroy antagonists in order to enjoy a story.
Because of budget restrictions and cultural beliefs, Eastern horror games are mostly of the supernatural kind. They also finish their stories with more questions than answers; oftentimes with endings that leave the protagonist dead (or an unsure fate) in the hands (or spirit) of their supernatural antagonist. This is something that most likely will irritate many of those who grew up watching Hollywood horror flicks and playing American-made horror games where everything is black and white, good versus evil, and stories end after the audience understands why the horror has transpired.
I sincerely believe that written as well as implied horror elements can be more effective than visual. Why is that you may ask?
Because it stimulates the reader’s imagination into creating the scares based on their own fears and trepidation. If you’ve ever watched the Japanese film “Ringu” and compared it to the original novel it’s based from, the book is always better because the author wrote the story in a way that kept readers on edge the entire length of the book. There were no “safe” scenes, no time to breathe a sigh of relief; it was unending tension, pure and simple.
It’s sad that western horror games rely more on gore and jump scares and less on supernatural and prolonged tension. I honestly believe that a horror title is all the more effective when the scares are left to the player’s immagination. I found that I was more perturbed by Corpse Party’s death scenes in which most of the horrific parts were that of a dark screen (with accompanying sounds) and a description of what was about to happen. Players with overactive imaginations (like myself) definitely dig this type of horror over ones that have blood and guts everywhere.
Corpse Party is pretty much a love-letter to a dying breed of games. Games like Imabikisou, Fatal Frame, Tales of Terror From Tokyo, Clock Tower, and Sweet Home that didn’t need shiny HD graphics to tell truly horrifying stories. They were games that didn’t need shoehorned action/first-person gunplay to appease North American sensibilities and our fascination with guns and blowing stuff up.
When I want to experience genuine horror stories, I don’t want to be able to kill the antagonists; that just defeats the purpose of having them in the story. I don’t have guns, I sure don’t have any explosive barrels anywhere close by. And I’m damn sure my martial arts training won’t help with anything supernatural so I have no need to face antagonists with brute force. I want them on my trail, so close that I can feel their deathly grip on my neck the entire adventure, so close that every decision I make is a life or death one.