Cult classic horror games that deserve to be talked about again.
Many beloved video game series have been forgotten by time, but horror games might actually have it the worst.
In the late 90s and early 2000s, horror games ruled the roost. Resident Evil laid the groundwork for the Survival Horror genre, and we saw plenty of games cash in on the horror gameplay and aesthetic. Flash forward to the present day, and horror games are a widely niche genre. There are occasional breakout hits, not to mention lots of indie horror darlings like Five Nights at Freddy’s. But we don’t hear a ton about horror games in the mainstream gaming crowd these days. It’s no wonder, then, that there’s a ton of classic horror games that are begging to be rediscovered by new audiences.
Of course, it’s not just gamers who sometimes forget these games. Developers also leave key franchises dormant for decades, leaving only the hardcore fans to remember some of the genre’s best titles. Below are four examples of games that fizzled out of our collective memories, often for baffling and complex reasons.
4: Parasite Eve
Parasite Eve is a one-in-a-million success of a genre crossover. Squaresoft (now Square Enix) was making a ton of crazy and experimental games in the late 90s, and at some point they greenlit a title that takes equal inspiration from Playstation Era Final Fantasy and Resident Evil. Though not all of Squaresoft’s experiments from this era were hits, Parasite Eve pulled off its execution perfectly and gave us one of the most unique and memorable titles on the system.
Between its great combat, beautifully grotesque cutscenes and monsters, and a story loosely based on actual microbiology, there’s a lot to love here for even modern gamers. Unfortunately, it seems Square couldn’t quite recapture that Parasite Eve magic for either of its sequels. Parasite Eve 2 is polarizing among fans for its departure from the first game, and The 3rd Birthday is a fun action game that was widely panned for driving its plot into the ground and turning series protagonist Aya Brea into a weak character who literally gets her clothes ripped off as a gameplay mechanic. Even if both games are fine in their own rights, they don’t strike that perfect balance that made the original so remarkable.
Parasite Eve is a series that could definitely make a comeback, but only if it was given the right love and attention. Until then, it remains remembered by its most hardcore fans.
3: Eternal Darkness
Eternal Darkness was one of the Gamecube’s most iconic horror titles. And on a system that featured Resident Evil 4 and the Resident Evil 1 Remake, that’s no small task. It’s a well written story that spans multiple generations and Lovecraftian horrors, and its “Sanity” system was groundbreaking for its time. Depending on your actions in the game, you could be the target of the game’s machinations with a slew of randomized fourth wall breaking effects. These could be as simple as lowering the game’s audio, or as significant as enabling you to accidentally trigger that bathtub scene. Eternal Darkness fans know the one.
Funny enough, there were attempts to make spiritual successors to Eternal Darkness. Developer Silicon Knights was not shy about this, though they did rule out making an actual Eternal Darkness 2. These efforts culminated into a 2013 Kickstarter campaign for the game Shadow of the Eternals, but this ultimately failed to reach its goal in multiple ways. Honestly, we’d be opening up a huge can of worms to even give an overview of the details regarding this one. Suffice to say, Silicon Knights has been defunct since 2014.
Eternal Darkness’ influence can still be felt in the myriad of modern horror games that use fourth wall breaking tricks to spook the player. But as for the game itself? It’s one that’s sometimes fondly remembered around the Halloween season.
2: Nanashi No Game
Now here’s a meta game if there ever was one. Nanashi No Game, or roughly “The Nameless Game” in English, is a video game about a cursed video game. In other words, the plot will have you controlling the protagonists through various ghost-filled situations, and you’ll also be playing as the protagonists playing a game to uncover the origins of the curse. It’s silly, but it’s a unique concept that serendipitously coincided with the video game creepypasta craze of ~2010 and beyond. That alone makes Nanashi No Game feel visionary.
Nanashi No Game followed a honestly baffling trajectory. After a rapid release of 2 games on the Nintendo DS, the series proceeded to live on through spinoff titles on the Nintendo Wii shop. The final game in the series was actually localized into English as 774 Deaths… which was a mobile game that literally contained no story. It’s as if the series succeeded and fizzled out all at the same time. Nanashi No Game got a second wind of popularity in the West thanks to a fan translation, but other than that, not much to talk about with this one.
These days, the concept behind Nanashi No Game arguably lives on through webseries such as Petscop. And if I’m being honest, I wouldn’t exactly call the game a classic. Still, it tried out an interesting idea and left its mark regardless, even if time has all but forgotten about Nanashi No Game‘s existence.
1: Sweet Home
Sweet Home is an NES game based on a Japanese horror movie of the same name. If you’ve played movie licensed NES games before, you might assume Sweet Home to be a quick cash in. But on the contrary, Capcom’s Sweet Home is one of the most brilliant games on the system and arguably the father of the survival horror genre as we know it.
It is astounding how creepy and disturbing this game is despite the limited hardware. You micromanage 5 characters spread across 2 parties, and manipulating them all takes a lot of care. Character’s can fall through creaky bridges and require your other party members to rush to them for a rescue mission. Other times party members can be whisked away from you and be in perilous danger without any friends to help them. You can even cry out for your teammates to help you during battle, giving you a precious few seconds to rush everyone else to the scene to help avoid any perilous mistakes.
And if you do make a mistake in Sweet Home, oh boy will you feel it. When a character dies, you get a brutal cutscene of their death and the cold realization that they’re dead. Cold hard permadeath that means you can’t use them for the rest of the game. And with each character only able to hold 2 items, you’ll really feel the loss in your party. Sure, most gamers will just reload an old save file in this instance, but it’s a gameplay system that really lets you feel how oppressive Sweet Home‘s mansion really is. You’re not here to have fun, you’re here to survive.
This isn’t even touching on how macabre the story and the monster designs are in the game. Since Sweet Home technically is a turn based RPG, you’ll spend a lot of time staring down the game’s monsters and ghouls, and they really start to wear you down mentally. Even the music puts you on edge from start to finish, only broken up by a few somber themes that I can promise won’t help your nerves. It goes to show that clever direction can get a game under your skin better than even the most advanced graphics and production values.
Unfortunately, the movie license for Sweet Home practically guarantees that we’ll never get a sequel or remake. Other games have replicated the formula to varying degrees of success, like the Japan only SNES game Laplace’s Demon. That said, Sweet Home technically lives on in a major way today. It was actually what inspired the creation of Resident Evil, which was of course also produced by Capcom. So while Sweet Home may have technically faded into obscurity, it really melted our hearts with the legacy it left.
… I deeply apologize for that last sentence.