Sunday, October 11, 2015

October Horror Games: Echo Night 2: Nemuri no Shihaisha

Thanks to the long shadow Dark Souls has cast on the video gaming landscape, From Software needs no introduction. Other than the hardcore action RPGs they're currently famous for, you may also know them for their (very) long running Armored Core franchise; students of retro gaming have probably also discovered the difficult and nearly inscrutable King's Field, AKA From's "proto Dark Souls" series.

I'm willing to bet, though, that a majority of people haven't touched on From Soft's other franchise, a series of quiet and moody first-person adventure games known as Echo Night. Rather than throwing you ass-first into a hostile and brutally difficult environment and expecting you to hack your way through, Echo Night takes the player across time and space to lay the souls of the dead to rest by entering their memories (or echoes) to reunite them with lost loved ones, find an item that was special to them, etc. It all sounds very sweet if you don't consider that some of those souls have been driven mad and want you dead--only by escaping or avoiding them until you find out and give them what they need can you progress through the game.

That's a basic primer of the Echo Night franchise that should give you the gist of how each game works, though the mechanics and settings of each game will vary. For my first October Horror Games post (about time) we'll have a look at the only game in the series that never officially reached the West--Echo Night 2!

The subtitle of Echo Night 2 is Nemuri no Shihaisha, which translates to "The Ruler of Sleep". I find that title much more appropriate than the one given by the recent fan translation, "The Lord of Nightmares". However, given that Tom and Gemini have made it possible for everyone to finally experience the game I'll happily overlook the creative license.

So what is it about? Players assume the role of Richard Osmond, a man looking for his missing girlfriend Rebecca. She was last seen at a certain library; upon arriving at the library he finds a book that she had been investigating and blacks out, finding himself in a sprawling manor. Most of the lights are out, and nearly every person he encounters is a ghost, appearing as black shadows of their former selves. Richard soon finds a woman sleeping in a glass casket suspended from the wall--a woman who looks exactly like the missing Rebecca. Who is she and why is she trapped? What caused the deaths of nearly everyone in the mansion? I have no idea because I haven't beaten it yet!

As mentioned before, there is no combat to speak of in Echo Night 2. Gameplay revolves around exploring the mansion and surrounding areas, including occasional trips into the past lives of the house's dead inhabitants. Though some will chase the player throughout the mansion and attempt to kill them, most spirits can be spoken to and will either directly ask you for help or hint that they need something, leaving it to the player to puzzle out what it will take to put them to rest. The entire game has an odd, somewhat dream like quality to it that From Software expertly achieved back in the day. Don't expect stunning graphic or fluid controls! If you know the developer's pre-Souls output you'll know what to expect, but everyone else will have a bit of an adjustment period if they want to tackle Echo Night 2. And you should!

Recommended for: From Software fans, people looking for a Halloween game that is somewhat clunky, off-kilter and creepy