Great horror RPGs are harder to find than you think. Despite clever innovations like sanity stats, role-playing game designers still tend to favor swords and sorcery over everything else (just ask science fiction fans). That’s not to say there aren’t some downright terrifying RPGs out there. Whether it features raw psychological horror or traditional werewolves and vampires, there is plenty of horror to be found in this role-playing genre. So, on this spookiest day of the year, here are five great RPGs you can play on Halloween.
Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines
Troika was an aptly named RPG studio. Led by Fallout developers Tim Kaine and Leonard Boyarsky, who later worked on The Outer Worlds, Troika spawned a trilogy of classic RPGs – Arcanum: Of Steamworks, Magic Obscura, The Temple of Elemental Evil, and Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines.
Bloodlines was only half a game at launch, and was riddled with bugs and hidden content. But what it lacked in polish it made up for in ambition, immersing you in vampire politics, or letting you take on the role of Nosferatu wandering the sewers beneath Los Angeles. Fans did the rest, producing a series of sprawling patches that addressed many of the most pressing issues.
Almost certainly the scariest mission in Bloodlines is The Ghost Haunts at Midnight, which sends players exploring the eerie Ocean House – a hotel haunted by a very active ghost. I won’t spoil it for you, but you’ll want to play this level with the lights off.
The first five minutes of Parasite Eve feature an opera performance that has everyone on fire. It’s a mood that sums up the arena of that era fairly well: dramatic, a little turbulent, and largely experimental. The game itself answers the question: “What if Resident Evil was an RPG?” A sequel to the novel of the same name, it stars rookie cop Aya Priya as she battles mutant monsters across New York, and features a variation of the active time system that Square was famous for at the time.
To be clear, Parasite Eve is very much a product of its time. It’s a clunky, awkward game that often struggles to blend survival horror and role-playing together, but it’s worth playing because it almost evokes the spirit of late-’90s Square Enix, and because there simply aren’t many games like it. Old drawings also belie some very creepy artwork. No one did “cinematic RPG” better than Squaresoft at the time, and Parasite Eve’s twisted mutations make for a bit of a nightmare during Halloween.
Omori is an RPG where the horror lies in memory, emotions, and a photo album that seems cheerful but is darker than it seems. Based on the webcomic, Omori is very similar to Earthbound, but with themes of guilt, isolation, and depression. Put it this way: Earth is dark, but so is Aomori dark. It oscillates between colored pencil art and real life, with plenty of pun-based opponents as enemies. It seems innocent enough, but even the happy moments are tinged with a sense of dread. If you want, you can have the main character retreat completely into her own mind. Omori isn’t the first game to follow in the tradition of Yume Nikki, the OG of surreal horror RPGs, but it’s certainly one of the best.
Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey
Most Shin Megami Tensei games contain at least a little bit of horror, but Strange Journey may be the most unsettling of all. He embodies the existential horror of annihilation and the paranoia of John Carpenter’s The Thing as a team of international scientists delve deeper and deeper into a horrific phenomenon known as the Schwartzwelt. As you would expect in an SMT game, Schwartzwelt is infested with all kinds of demons, but the real monster is man. The original Strange Journey is hard to find these days – and Redux on the 3DS is far from a decent replacement given its poor art and simple mechanics – but it’s worth tracking down. With its stunning visuals and outstanding dungeon crawling, it’s quietly one of the best – and one of the most disturbing – games in the series.
The other black Pokemon
Long before the official release of Pokémon Black, there was Pokémon Black – a creepypasta story about a disturbing version of the beloved monster collecting RPG who was discovered at a flea market. It’s memorable because it feels so real, describing a version of the game that could be plausibly created using real game mechanics. If you haven’t read the story You should check it out here. He concludes:
I’m not sure what the motives were behind the creator of this hack. It was not widely distributed, so presumably it was not for financial gain. It was done very well for smuggling.
It seems that he was trying to deliver a message; Although it seems that I am the only recipient of this message. I’m not quite sure what it was – the inevitability of death? The futility of it? Perhaps he was simply trying to introduce death and darkness into a children’s game. Regardless, this kids’ game got me thinking, and made me cry.
With the release of the real Pokémon Black, this version became known as Pokemon Creepy Black, and has been faithfully recreated by fans as a real hack tweak. It’s an excellent ghost story to soothe your bones during the spookiest day of the year, and a testament to the creativity of Pokemon fans.
Kat Bailey is IGN’s news director and co-host of Nintendo Voice Chat. Do you have any advice? Send her a direct message at @the_katbot.
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