Scary stuff and I have always had a rather… nebulous relationship.
I love it. Creepy stories, spooky tales, and horrific legends are my lifeblood and I gravitate toward them immediately. It doesn’t take much for a horror webcomic to catch me in its web, or a new fright-night-perfect game to show up in my youtube history. Unfortunately, I’m also a damn baby, and the moment I imagine there might be, somewhere, a shadow in the dark of my room, I suddenly can’t sleep, or move, or handle myself in any true adult fashion. It’s the same in games – the moment something starts chasing me, I panic myself into a frenzy of “I’M NEVER PLAYING THIS AGAIN” (whether or not that is true depends entirely on some undetermined formula involving the game and how much alcohol I’ve had at the time).
Of course, now that Halloween is here, it’s the perfect excuse for a whole month of tragically masochistic Spooktober activities. So what’s a girl to do when she’s drawn to everything that makes her want to shrivel up and die a little inside? For me, a lot of the month’s adventures have been about finding things that hit that need for a good spook or jump just enough, without sending me into a bright room for the next 24 hours, afraid to look around any corner.
Which is why I wanted to take a moment to talk about the spooky little games that can help you get into a chilly, creepy-comfy mood – the things that might not pop up on survival horror radars, but still have just enough deep, dark discomfort to leave you unsettled long after you finish playing. Everyone has different thresholds, but hopefully there’s a little something for everyone here! These are some things I’ve played throughout the past year that left me feeling juuust unnerved enough.
If you like Visual Novels… try Tokyo Dark
When Detective Ito’s partner disappears, she’s sure it’s connected to a case dating back 6 months ago – a hostage situation gone wrong and a creepy, ancient artifact with a dark history. Unfortunately, her desperation to solve it goes terribly wrong. Left with nothing but the shadow of a happy life, Ito is determined to understand what happened months ago and solve the case her partner left behind. Is it all in her head? What came together to cause this tragedy? From Shinjuku to Aokigahara, the player will sift through history and secrets that were never meant to be uncovered again.
Tokyo Dark exists in a blurry space between visual novel and adventure game – the majority of your time will be spent making decisions and looking for clues, with a lot of reading and running in between. Breaking away from the straightforward VN-style a little, it features a set of statistics – SPIN – which track your professionalism, sanity, investigation prowess, and neurosis as you move forward and guide Detective Ito through the darkest corners of Tokyo. Surprisingly small things can affect you here – talk to someone twice? Look at a description to see if it’s changed? Pace a bit? Your points are going to adjust with any and every decision you make. There are 11 endings to see – 10 of these are findable on the first playthrough, with the true ending being unlockable in New Game+ – and they often pack a heavy punch of feelings. It also features some surprising jump scares and just enough unsettling imagery and stories to leave you thinking about it far into the night.
If you like Metroidvania games… try Minoria
If you’ve ever played any of the Momodora games, this spiritual successor may seem familiar to you. Minoria, released earlier this year, is a simply stunning metroidvania with a bloody backstory. The world is at war, pitting the faithful against witches, and two Sisters of the Church have been sent on a mission. As you explore the city, you’ll face horrific monsters and uncover small, haunting details about what’s happened in this now-ruined place.
Minoria might be a challenge if you’re not good with dodge and parry mechanics, but it features a level-up system that will help you adjust a little bit if you’re struggling. The controls are incredibly intuitive, and battles are more about learning the enemy than button-mashing aimlessly. It also features a beautiful soundtrack and some lovely artwork. While it’s not a true horror game, Minoria’s forlorn, hopeless atmosphere is a nice touch to any October to-play list, and I can guarantee you’ll feel the discomfort settle deep into your bones at some point (… probably in the Mercy Cellar).
If you like Hidden Object Games… try True Fear: Forsaken Souls
When I heard there was a HoG with some actual scares to it, I was pretty skeptical. I’m happy to report that True Fear proved that skepticism wrong. Now, don’t get me wrong – True Fear suffers from some of the more common weaknesses found in hidden object games. The main character only ever has one expression and makes some horrendous life decisions. The voice acting can also be a little questionable. And honestly? The first game left me a bit confused about the overall story (something I’m hoping will be remedied when I play the second).
But the tense atmosphere was a pleasant surprise and there were some truly great jumpscares and creepy details. It also features some clever little puzzles and hidden object games that are more challenging than most. It’s a game that will let you play at your own pace, while still inspiring the dreadful thought of “I don’t want to go into this next room…”
If you like puzzling with a friend… try the We Were Here series
We Were Here is a super-cheap game to check out, at the low, low cost of absolutely free. It’s followed by the pay-for (but worth it!) We Were Here Too, and now also by We Were Here Together (which just released on October 10th). You and a friend (though the game has a matchmaking system as well) find yourselves in a seemingly abandoned castle. You’re separated, with only a voice connection to keep in touch – you can’t see their surroundings and they can’t see yours. To escape the treacherous castle, you’ll need to put your communication skills to the test and help each other navigate various tricks and traps.
Throughout the game, you’ll uncover the story of a doomed king and the tragedies that befell his family. But is the castle really empty afterall…? We Were Here really highlights its co-op aspect, since both parties have information the other can’t access. Each puzzle is different from the last, so don’t expect to be stuck doing a couple hours of the same thing over and over again. The best part, in my opinion, is the uncomfortably tense atmosphere throughout the games. Even on untimed puzzles, there’s a feeling of urgency as whispers and giggles echo in the distance, and you can never quite shake the feeling that you’re not alone.
If you like walking sims… try Layers of Fear
I don’t think I’d call Layers of Fear a true walking sim – there are a couple active moments and a rare puzzle here and there. However, it’s definitely more of a walking sim than anything else. Despite that, it’s a perfect example of how the right atmosphere can be far more frightening than any chase, and sometimes the monsters are where we least expect them.
As you wander the house, you’ll discover the tragic story of a family in small bits and pieces. There’s a lot for the player to put together themselves, and it makes exploration just as compelling as it is horrifying. Unfortunately, I didn’t really love the sequel, but Layers of Fear remains one of my favourite horror games, and one I’d recommend to almost anyone.
If you like Point & Click… try Year Walk
Year Walk is a strange, amazing little game. I had no idea what to expect when I started – it simply promises some creepy Swedish folklore around the ritual of Årsgång. On Christmas or New Year’s Eve, practicers would cut themselves off from the world during the day, and then begin a walk toward the town church at midnight. Supposedly, one could expect to encounter the spiritual and supernatural on the way, and potentially even be lured away from their path. The goal, in the end, was to reach the church and be gifted with visions of the future (though of course, not all were good).
Year Walk puts the player in place of a young man wandering the snowy countryside. At first it might seem lonely and peaceful, but with every step, creepy details are uncovered. Entities are wandering the winter town as well, and the path to the church isn’t quite so straightforward. This was one of the first randomly-discovered indie games that I streamed, and I fell in love with it. It’s a beautiful game, filled with creepy, disturbing details that should leave you thoroughly unsettled as you explore more of the forest. At only a couple hours of playtime, it’s on the shorter side, but between its immersive atmosphere and fascinating story, it was well worth purchasing. After you finish the initial game, make sure to go back and uncover more of the story – it’s well worth your time.
All of these are a great fit if you’re looking to settle into your Spooktober with a little less frantic running around, but of course they’re not the only games to check out! This list is far shorter than it deserves to be – afterall, would you still be here if it were 10 pages long? Some honourable mentions also go to The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, What Remains of Edith Finch, Little Misfortune, Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight, Alicemare… There’s a whole lot of non-survival horror creepiness out there! Get exploring, and stay spooky!
Order Up! is a weekly column featuring indie-focused reviews, news, or interviews! We like old games just as much as new ones and are always looking for something to check out. Have a game recommendation, a project, or a company you want to talk about? Email me at [email protected] or find me on Twitter @ArcanaChance