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I just completed Haunting Ground and I can easily say it's one of the best survival horror games I've ever played. In fact it's one of my favorite games of all time now. [Many spoilers under cut]
First off I went into this game knowing virtually nothing which I think is the best way to go into a survival horror or horror game in general. I had zero idea on what the plot would be or what any of locations looked like. The only thing I knew was there was a dog that helps you and that Daniella was probably going to be an enemy. (Sometimes you just end up learning stuff from simply being on the internet) I'll also admit that I had heard some tracks of the OST prior to playing. But only some. After playing the entire game I can safely say that Haunting Ground is a really weird unfitting title and that it's original Japanese title, Demento, makes more sense.
However since it's a video game, there had to be good gameplay. Gameplay is very important. My friend Shayla told me it played well and was better than Clock Tower 3 which was a good sign because I have serious issue with Clock Tower 3. (Clock Tower 3 in my opinion is Haunting Ground if Haunting Ground stalkers were a hundred times more relentless and tedious. I might give it another shot though. Someday.)
Now I'm going to give some critiques...but I assure you the game is fantastic and I happily plan to write good things too.
Ok so let's talk about the Hewie AI. He can be a bit of a pain sometimes. He tends to sometimes wander off or simply stop mid run and you have to go back a littile and call the fucker over to follow you. He's apparently designed to be somewhat disobedient to add to realism. You could say it adds to the horror factor..but me personally I just got more frustrated.
I will note that during boss fights he's definitely more responsive. And he actually really does help a lot when you're in immediate danger if he happened to still be with you when you get pursued. (Try to keep him with you as much as possible) A lot of the time when he fucks around is when you're not in danger and you're trying to explore or get to whatever room to do whatever puzzle. Overall the issue isn't THAT bad.
There are 4 stalkers in this game. Debilitas, Daniella, Riccardo, and Lorenzo. The sad thing is I was least impressed with Lorenzo. I would say he is the easiest out of everyone. Which is kind of disappointing for the finale stalker. And the extra sad thing is he felt like a clone of the previous stalker, Riccardo.
Lorenzo has 3 stages. Wheelchair geezer stage. Sorta hot guy stage. and lastly flaming homo stage. To be honest I didn't make the connection initially that wheelchair geezer (after I fucking KILLED HIM. HOW DID HE SURVIVE?) was also the sorta hot guy. Because when sorta hot guy appears he has the appearance of Fiona's father. I dunno what that was about I figured he was some new guy who changed his appearance to her father to freak her out. So in the end I thought he was an entirely different character. [I wikied him and understand him and the story way better] But yeah he is difficult in the sense that there aren't many hiding spots really...but he was also kinda slow for the most part. Wheelchair geezer stage was actually really easy. I think that was more to just make you creeped out than intimidated since he was kinda pathetic. Hot guy stage was kinda easy. And then flaming homo stage was...eh. He wasn't particularly difficult there were other factors that kinda made me go ughhhh though.
Ok so now that we got the bleh stalker out of the way let's talk about the cool ones.
First is Debilitas. He's just a dumb idiot who views Fiona as a doll to play with. There's incidences where he scratches his junk which is a little creepy. To be honest I don't know for sure if there's sexual interest at all. There might be but if there is I have a feeling he's too stupid to understand what he's feeling down there. Sometimes when he kills you the way he crawls on top of her.....eh..it seems kinda sexual. But the way I remember it it sounded more like he was eating her. I would honestly have to recheck. So anyway, I clearly remember how frustrating Clock Tower 3's stalker was. So when I was dealing with Debilitas I immediately decided Haunting Ground was definitely better because it felt easier. Not that it wasn't challenging at all but it just didn't make me want to quit the fucking game. But then there was a drastic change.
Enter Daniella who I previously encountered in a way earlier cutscene. A non hostile one. Which threw me off then because I was anticipating her to be a threat. Oh and she was. She just took a while. She upped the difficulty significantly. Suddenly I was like "Oh...I'm reminded of Clock Tower 3 now...." But don't worry, in my opinion it still wasn't as bad. But Daniella is definitely the hardest stalker in the entire game. She's fast and her attacks are more effective. She also patrols areas more efficiently. She's also overall, a pretty smart AI. And you have to do numerous puzzles while she's your designated stalker so you have to deal with her the longest. So the game fucks with you by making you think this'll be easy with the first stalker and then they pull the carpet from under your feet. But I have to say I absolutely loved Daniella as an enemy. You don't have to have some giant grotesque monster or a big burly man to tense you up. A slender woman with a giant shard of glass can be just as effective. She was more "scary" than anything in Resident Evil 5...that's for sure.
To be honest I'm still unsure how the stalkers work in this. In Clock Tower 3 I literally saw them appear out of thin air and stalk the area wherever you were every so and so minutes like clock work. Thus why it was annoying because they were always guaranteed to appear where ever you are shortly. In Haunting Ground I'm not sure if it's the same but just more fair as in times they appear are more sparatic...or if they actually remain on the map and you don't run into them because you're too far away...I've seen incidences where they MUST have disappeared from the map....but that's probably by design, you came to a specific "safe" area. (Not like a safe room in Resident Evil that's specifically designed to keep you safe. There really aren't any actual safe rooms that the enemy can't get in and find you) But the mini game with Hewie where you play as Hewie leads me to believe that they simply remain on the map. Or maybe it's only like that in that mini game. -shrug-
Ok so anyway. Back to the individual stalkers. The 3rd one. Riccardo, who I must say has an amazing voice. I loved listening to it (Spoiler, he actually isn't hot. I was disappointed) He was challenging but not as challenging as Daniella. That goes for his stage 2. He eventually uses alchemy to make himself invisible. Don't worry though it's actually not that bad. At first I got intimidated but you don't have to deal with it for long and it's not that tough anyway. The stalker music still announces him and if he grabs you Hewie can get him off. Sometimes when running you'll run into him and he might hit you but eh it's all good.
Earlier I said Lorenzo is basically a clone of Riccardo. I mean more in the sense of personality. [Haha.] They even have similar voices and ways of talking.
Debilitas is dumb and misunderstood.
Daniella is insane and tragic.
Riccardo is cunning and power hungry.
Lorenzo is cunning and power hungry.
Ok now to puzzles. They're actually kinda simple. Standard survival horror difficulty. The real trouble is actually doing them without having to run away and hide somewhere. There aren't any loading screens. There are some select few doors that lead you to different stages in the game. Once you go through them you cannot go back to the previous area. The boss fights are actually somewhat easy. Though I'll admit the last one, Lorenzo's second stage, I took a while to get an idea on what I was supposed to do but it seems that Hewie and me did enough damage by biting him and kicking him that was didn't really need to do it the "proper" way. That didn't work so much for Riccardo. He refused to die unless I did it the proper way.
Initially I was unimpressed with the music but rather I want to say it actually is good. It just doesn't vary that much and isn't as impressive as Resident Evil's osts or Fatal Frame. But they're still good. A lot of the ambience or whatever has a lot of huffing and creaking in it making you wonder if it's music or an enemy approaching. When the music stops, that's when you should start getting tense because sometimes it means and enemy is near. Then you get your stalker music.
There's a bit of sexuality in this game. Personally I'm not too bothered. The alt costumes are kinda laughable though. I'm wondering if they intentionally did it to be funny. "Oh well Fiona is stressed like a stripper no wonder Daniella is going insane for her haha". Who knows. There's also boob jiggle physics you see during gameplay. Before playing I heard one reviewer (If it makes it any better I believe the reviewer was FEMALE) say something like... she believes what Capcom was going for was setting up Fiona as a vulnrable sex object which is basically sorta what the characters in the game actually see her as and that was done to add to an uneasiness for the player. And in a way I have a feeling that was the idea too. Capcom didn't do jiggle physics in Resident Evil REmake for the gamecube with Jill Valentine. So they did it for a reason here. Probably.
Level design and scenery was done extremely well. I loved being in the castle. I loved being in the tower and the creepy jail area, etc. I think visuals/scenery are very important to survival horror. And this game did not disappoint at all.
To my understanding, this was Capcom's last true survival horror game. And it was a great one. Despite some flaws, they clearly tried. They put full efffort into creating a good survival horror game. Heart and soul. A game I believe improved on a lot of what Clock Tower 3 tried to do. I can only hope one day Capcom decides to go back to survival horror. Maybe it won't happen with Resident Evil. But maybe they'll make a new title. Maybe. This was a really beautiful game. Lately with games I try they have disappointed me. But not this. I have wanted this game for a long time. And I'm glad it had a happy ending.
5 stars out of 5.
This game needs to be put on Playstation Network. Which I talked to Sven from Capcom Unity about before and he suggested that it was being worked on but that was a while ago...I truly hope this game gets ported.
My first Haunting Ground playthrough stats are:
Dog Level: A
Critical Hewie Injuries: 1
Enemies defeated: 10
Type: Dog lover
Also fun fact, I got the philosphers earrings in my first playthrough! Lucky