Quality hidden horror games in a time before Monika
If you like to track internet trends, you’d know there was one game that absolutely dominated discourse near the end of 2017: Doki Doki Literature Club
Doki Doki Literature Club is just one of those concepts that you know you have to experience for yourself to believe. It’s a romantic visual novel on its surface, and visually it looks almost identical to tons of visual novels on Steam. But once you’ve progressed far enough in the story, things take a dark turn and get a lot worse. I won’t spoil any more of the game in case you haven’t played it yet. In fact, I’d feel bad to even reveal it had a dark side were it not impossible to avoid on the internet by this point. But needless to say, it’s a game that still has a dedicated community of fans to this day.
That said, Doki Doki Literature Club was not the first game to pull a genre bait-and-switch on us. On the contrary, you can see the influence of other past hidden horror games in Doki Doki Literature Club. If you’d like to dive further into this specific subgenre of horror gaming, here are five noteworthy examples to sink your teeth into.
5: Yume Nikki
It’s not hyperbolic to say Yume Nikki is one of the weirdest video games ever made. There’s virtually no plot, no clear gameplay objectives, and barely any text. The entire game is literally just a series of surreal dream environments you explore, with light puzzles to solve using the various tools you find. The fact that Yume Nikki literally translates to “Dream Diary” is absolutely fitting.
Honestly, most of Yume Nikki is unnerving depending on where you explore. But if you happen to find yourself in the wrong corner of this dream world, things can get really scary and disturbing fast. The horror is perhaps not in playing the game, but thinking about the reasons why these disturbing visions are in this poor girl’s dreams to begin with.
Undertale‘s hidden horror elements are so well disguised that you can play the entire game without finding them. After all, I wouldn’t recommend Undertale as a beginner-friendly RPG if it were just a horror game.
But depending on how you decide to play it, Undertale transforms into a very different experience. This specific route has become internet common knowledge by this point (no thanks to featuring the game’s most well known song), but for those who aren’t aware, I’ll keep spoilers to a minimum. Let’s just say that Undertale becomes a rare horror game where you aren’t the one who should be scared.
3: Pony Island
Pony Island only slides its way onto this list on a technicality. The game makes no attempt to hide its true nature on its store page or its trailer, so it’s certainly no spoiler to tell you this isn’t a happy game about a pony jumping over obstacles. Then again, it’s perhaps wise to keep parents from thinking this is an actual child friendly games about ponies.
While Pony Island‘s reveal won’t exactly shock you, its gameplay will definitely entice anyone who enjoys hidden horror games. In fact, the true surprise is all the crazy directions Pony Island will take you before you reach its conclusion. There are definitely moments in here that will trick you and get under your skin in a way no video game has before. Though Pony Island doesn’t always land the impact of its ambitious ideas, it’s definitely worth the meager $5 to download a copy for yourself.
To say Eversion is a cute platform game isn’t wrong. It’s just not the whole truth.
Like everything on this list, I want to avoid spoilers beyond saying that there’s a horror element to the game lingering underneath. But what’s great about Eversion is how gradual it is. There’s no one moment where things go from good to bad. It’s a slow burn that works so well because you just don’t know how far it’s going to go. Even if there’s not a lot of story to follow, there’s a lot of little touches in the game that tells you a lot about its world.
Like Pony Island, Eversion is a quick game that’s perfect to pick up and play during the Halloween season. It’s also the game that arguably kicked off the hidden horror games genre in the west, so it’s a great little piece of history as well.
1: Irisu Syndrome
Irisu Syndrome is just… just…
Yeah, I don’t even know how to describe this one. It’s a Japanese indie puzzle game that doesn’t give outright horror vibes, but from the title screen you can just tell something’s not right here. You’ll soon uncover a dizzying plot involving a group of university students, and right off the bat, I’ll tell you that you’ll want the game’s folder open on your desktop while you play. This is a story that’s very untraditionally told, but to its credit, it does work well with the themes of the game. The fact that the game’s narrative unfolds in an ultra creepy way is just a happy coincidence of design.
Many games have since mimicked Irisu Syndrome‘s gimmicks, but few have done them quite as well. You’ll admittedly need a guide to understand the bizarre story and find all of the game’s secrets, but you’ll want to at least try to uncover Irisu Syndrome‘s mysteries for yourself. It’s weird, it’s creepy, and it has one of the most terrifying fourth-wall breaking moments I’ve ever seen in a game. If you think you’ve seen everything the horror genre has to offer, Irisu Syndrome is one of the craziest hidden horror games you could play.