Published on November 1st, 2013 | by Michaela Buckley0
Halloween 2013 Special: Sweet Home
Sweet Home is a Japanese horror-RPG on the NES, which unfortunately never came out in the west, it is a cult favourite amongst horror fans and is well-known for being the first Survival Horror game and the inspiration for a more famous title, Resident Evil.
I first mentioned this in my History of Horror Games feature earlier on in the year, but had not yet played it, so with Halloween being this time of year, decided it would be perfect to get into the season!
Sweet Home is a game and a film that were both released in 1989, and there is little information on the internet about which came about first. Apparently the film is rather generic, but the game began some of the horror tropes in games we still see today.
It begins with a large shot of the Mamiya manor and a text about an investigation team wanting to retrieve the original owners rare and coveted fresco, the five enter the famously haunted manor and there certainly isn’t any time wasted throwing you into the fire. After entering, the ghost of Mamiya appears and traps them in the manor, leaving everyone to basically figure out their own way out.
The game is a turn-based RPG, and is interesting as each character has a unique tool, all of which have specific uses in the manor, another irritatingly unique point is that when a character dies, it is permanent. There is no way to revive characters, and you must continue the game using surrogate items in place of their unique one in order to progress.
The game is more puzzle-based than RPG and has a low encounter rate with the fighting being pretty limited mechanically.
Clue-based puzzles are often solved by finding unimportant and less macguffiny frescos, which when taken a picture of, reveal messages that help you figure out what the hell you have to do.
That’s kinda the game in a nutshell really, being confused, wandering around and trying to figure out what you do next.
Because this is a wonderfully old NES RPG, inevitably it is bloody difficult and roundabout.
To interact with objects and people you have to open up the menu and select the right things, and more often than not, you have to use the command “Look” in order to use items on objects, and not the “Item” command.
Oh boy, is this game a delight. One time, I had no idea what I had to do, so like with a lot of parts of this game, I had to look up what I needed to do, turns out I had to “Look” at something that others seemed to regard as a fountain, which really looked more like a pile of stones, then you had to… “Look” again! Why do you have to do the same command twice in order for the thing to activate? I don’t know!
After shrugging off that madness, the fountain offered you the wonderful chance to drink from its contents, which I did, because it’s a game and you always do what options let you, no matter how bizarre, so then the water turned red and some kind of ghostie appeared from it and then ridiculed me for drinking it as it’s actually blood, then prophesised that mine would join it. I recovered from laughing moments later only to discover I was then stuck again. Now what? Well as it ends up, you have to find a bucket, fill it with the blood and then go dump it on a statue. A statue which had previously given no indication it wished to have the buckets sordid contents drenching it. This little anecdote describes the experience of Sweet Home perfectly.
This is certainly not the kind of game for new RPG fans and definitely not one for horror fans unacquainted with the archaism of the NES. The very end requires certain items in order to beat the final boss, making the final section very tedious as you spend the entire time going back and forth trying to get the items together all while managing the inventory space, your party teams and futilely trying to recall where you might have left some of the items and how to make your way back.
But you don’t play this game because it’s easy, it’s the kind of game where you enjoy the atmosphere and marvel at the impressive technical achievement it was for the time. It’s still incredibly relevant, it’s not like other games and has new features not seen in modern games, such as the fresco tips and specialist items, it’s also evidence of game mechanics happening before they ever took off. All the funny quirks like the furniture in the manor attacking you, it’s a lot like modern Quick Time Events, except more chance based, these happen seemingly randomly when entering new areas.
The game has a vague but intriguing story, despite being on the NES, a console plagued with happy and mostly aimed at a younger demographic, this title is surprisingly dark, even by some horror game standards. It includes themes such as infanticide and suicide, corpses are strewn around the manor and you even find the decaying corpses of babies enacting the sweet slumber of death in their cots. Although not a terribly scary game, it still manages to shock when it needs to.
It’s one of the only Horror-RPGs around, so it’s always worth sticking it on and seeing how you go. It’s not everyday you get the chance to fight a cyborg man!