TWhat’s behind the flesh-creeping revival of Japanese horror games?
he black incantation to spawn horror games has evidently been recited once again, with a horde of genre entries shambling onto storefronts in recent months. Alien: Isolation and Outlast have explored new avenues in the west recently, but the genre’s defining masters hail from Japan, and developers in the region are just as alive to the trend.
“Japanese horror games, like Japanese horror films, are not usually simply about splatter and gore,” says Keisuke Kikuchi, producer of Zero: Nuregarasu No Miko ( Fatal Frame: Oracle Of The Sodden Raven), made by Koei Tecmo and released in Japan on Wii U in September. “They place great importance on the human relationships in the background of the story, and also on the setting, such as the familiar interior of a typical Japanese home, where you might expect something to come out of the darkness. They evoke fear not just through things that are scary but also through things that are beautiful.”
Fatal Frame is built around the Camera Obscura, allowing the player to exorcise spirits with a well-framed snap – a mechanic intended to increase immersion, and with it the number of goose bumps. It’s heightened here by using a GamePad to capture the spectres, but the game also plays on the Japanese association of water with the Other Side, making the player character stronger but also much more vulnerable when wet.
“We’ve tried to use water in this way before, but the improved hardware and HD graphics on Wii U allow us to express it in a much scarier way,” says Kikuchi. “When the player anticipates there may be something lurking in the water, it heightens the feeling of anxiety.”
PT, meanwhile, has been out for months, but Hideo Kojima’s first stab at survival horror was a teaser for his forthcoming reboot of Konami’s Silent Hill, and has much to say about the series’ new direction. The teaser places heavy emphasis on building atmosphere, with weapons – and indeed direct mechanics of almost any kind – replaced by a creeping sense of dread that is ramped up by expert use of disjointed music and haunting sound effects. Even the way the game was marketed, with no information released other than the title, was an attempt by Kojima to instil in the player a suspicion of the unknown. “Nowadays, when people don’t know something, they Google it,” he said in a recent interview with The Japan Times. “We live in an age of information. When that suddenly disappears, that’s the scariest thing.” Just as Kojima is working on Silent Hills with movie director Guillermo Del Toro, whose CV includes The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth, Clock Tower creator Hifumi Kouno and his team at Nude Maker have teamed up with Ju-on director Takashi Shimizu on the recently announced Project Scissors. Their collaboration is a point-and-click survival horror game whose title invokes the murder weapon brandished by the psycho killers in the Clock Tower series.
“[Shimizu] has provided us with invaluable insight as a film director while we create graphic assets for the game,” Kouno tells us. “He will continue to help
“Japanese games evoke fear not just through things that are scary but also through things that are beautiful”
Director Takashi Shimizu (top) has teamed up with Nude Maker CEO Hifumi Kouno to make Project Scissors