Tag Archives: horror

Dusk Maiden of Amnesia

By Boogie Knight:

Dusk Maiden of Amnesia, it’s a catchy title, and from the boxart appeared to be a straight horror title. So imagine my surprise to find that the most accurate category would be horror comedy. You really don’t find too many of those, mostly it’s comedies with monsters or parodies, but it was a rare treat to find a series which not only was funny but didn’t skimp on the horror.

Remember Casper the Friendly Ghost? It was one of those weird properties which tried to be kid friendly and charming but had the macabre subtext that the protagonist was a dead child. Our eponymous Dusk Maiden is the ghost a young woman reputed to have been haunting her school for some time, and begetting many stories about herself. Things change when she encounters a young man who sees her and doesn’t go screaming for the hills. What follows is a series of investigations into the ghostly stories in pursuit of some very hard truths.

The story itself is thankfully straightforward, a very pleasant brake from the plague of stories which have been paradoxically cardboard thin yet woefully labyrinthine. Given the story itself is simple, how well the whole thing holds up depends largely on the ability of our leading man and leading lady to sell their chemistry. Surprisingly, they do so pretty well, without 90% of the series dragging on full of teen angst as many anime had before. She’s not your typical Manic Pixie Dream Girl and he’s not your average soulless meat puppet audience avatar. That’s just refreshing. Rounding out the cast is goofy girl and a tall Naoto. It’s a nice blend of personalities to bounce off each other to provide the humor. There was one part in which they did the usual anime girl body comparisons and surprisingly it set up a pretty good scene.

At first the series takes an episodic approach, but the plot points introduced come together quite nicely. I have to say that I particularly liked one episode which dealt with the world’s most militant skeptic, even more so with a development in the plot that makes me want to force various writers to sit through and watch. That episode demonstrated a good story doesn’t need an out of left field twist, but rather can be very effective with a logical progression and solid execution.

Twists tend to be used in lazy plots the same way jump scares are used in lazy horror, but good suspense hinges on the execution. No matter how grim and horrible events unfold, it’s almost a thing of beauty in how they are pulled off and proceed to tug at the heartstrings. Speaking of heartstrings, more than a few people found some serious payoff with the finale, and it is a fitting ending which was immensely satisfying.

Dusk Maiden is a series which is well served by the setting. The school in which the story takes place is a hodgepodge of consolidations, remodelings, and other projects which give the place it’s own foreboding personality. Not only is it the appropriate setting for a horror, but makes sense as fertile ground for inspiring the kinds of spooky stories which the cast looks into.

This anime has certainly been one of the best surprises all year. I can’t recommend this enough to people who like horror, comedy, or good female main characters. Even if you’re not a big horror fan, I have to recommend it just because it’s so damn good, and a refreshing break from the utter stagnation of bland and average titles touted as the second coming. Just give it a shot.

Silent Hill Downpour

When I first heard that Silent Hill Downpour was going to be delayed for nearly five months a sense of trepidation filled me. The feeling was gradually replaced with cautious optimism as I saw videos of the actual gameplay. At long last I got my hands on the game and got to see it play out with my own eyes, and I’m sure nobody is gonna call the Federal Trade Commission over the endings of this game. The Silent Hill franchise has been a roller coaster ride with high highs and low lows, and Book of Memories for the Vita is likely to be a low point comparable to the arcade game, but Silent Hill Downpour is a strong horror game and a great installment.

Silent Hill protagonists as a rule have been ordinary people in otherworldly circumstances, and this time we experience the creepy town through the eyes of an escaped prisoner. A man running from the law and imprisonment as he flees the horrors of the town and captivity by the force which runs it, this concept is brilliant and simple it’s a marvel nobody thought to try this out in a Silent Hill game before. The game begins with a scene in the prison and an act of savagery which leaves the player wondering what kind of man they are playing. And like a good game, the player gets to answer their own question by their own actions.

The mechanics utilize different elements from different installments, and even the two or three good ideas from the Saw games. Destructible weapons are still around, but they come in many varieties and in such quantity that the player is never in shortage. The inventory is more limited so that the player doesn’t carry around enough lead pipes to start his own hardware store, and this is balanced by the aforementioned quantity of improvised weapons lying around. Combat is brutal, amateurish, and risky. However, there are times when fighting enemies is the only option and when sufficient damage is done an enemy will become Incapacitated. While in this state, the monster is prone and out of the player’s hair for a while at least. Sometimes the monsters get back up ready for another round. To prevent the monsters from getting up the player can finish them off, but it is pretty cruel.

Like in Shattered Memories, the player can ease their way into opening doors to take a peek and assess the situation before going in. Seamlessly traveling from location to location, except for times when the game chugs like a raging alcoholic, is another staple from Shattered Memories. One new feature is the utter lack of a manual save and now only autosaves kick in. This could easily be problematic, but checkpoints are fairly generous and it plays into the idea that the town is in control and not the character or the player.

Monsters in general are more human compared to other installments, and the prison parallels are reinforced with the idea of fellow inmates being just as hostile as the captor. While I couldn’t decode the meanings of every monster, at least none were recycled from earlier games nor were they too hopelessly goofy. The otherworld is freaky as ever, and the fleeing from a pursuer concept in Shattered Memories returns but this time the entity after the protagonist isn’t trying to glomp him into unconsciousness.

The narrative is relatively simple if you’re familiar with weird fiction, but even so nobody will struggle too much with the lack of narrative hand holding. A story not anal retentively explaining away every detail with lengthy cutscenes which are more like short films is a refreshing change of pace. There are times when the player is faced with a moral choice and what the player does is reduced to pushing a button to decide, but thankfully these moments are few and far between. Not a deal breaker, but a little disappointing considering that two of the moral choices could have been made utilizing the in game controls and I think they might have enjoyed more emotional punch if the choices were made using the regular controls.

That said, at least the finale is good. Bosses are rare, and the big encounter near the end is a welcome departure from the old Silent Hill Overkill Formula. Previous Silent Hill games could nearly all be played like this: hoard the ammo for the really good guns, face the final boss and proceed to unload on it with the best gun until you run out of ammo, then fire away with the second best gun, then the next best, then the next best if it still isn’t dead. The encounter was something I had dearly hoped for when I played Shattered Memories and it feels more appropriate then the previously mentioned Overkill Formula.

Oh yeah, from the title you can guess that water is prominent in the game, especially rain. There’s still plenty of fog in the town and between the combination of fog and rain I’m still half anticipating a Japanese high school boy with glasses to pass by. When exploring the town, sometimes it will start to rain and during this time the monsters will come out in greater numbers and be more aggressive in hunting the player. Silent Hill has some empty buildings to provide shelter during the downpour and even stumble onto a sidequest. There have been bonus stuff in earlier games, but Downpour expanded on it with often simple and quick side objectives which do little to expand on the main story but at the very least offer neat diversions. Unfortunately, the quests which offer the really good rewards can only be resolved well into the game and by then the perks don’t really matter.

The occasional technical problem and a new feature that doesn’t really work well in implementation can mar the experience, but the core of the game is solid. Games like Resident Evil make a player jump a little with surprise that quickly gets old, but Silent Hill works as a horror game because it’s about messing with the player’s head. Not many games can make a player freak out from the sound of their own footsteps, and the struggle for freedom is worthwhile for any horror enthusiast.