Sweet Home (Import) review
The original survival horror!
If you haven’t heard of Sweet Home before then that’s completely understandable. After all, it was never released outside of Japan….officially. About ten years ago some dedicated fans decided to translate the game and release it to the world. This pleased a lot of hard-core gamers, as Sweet Home created many of the conventions seen in survival horror games today, such as the Resident Evil and Silent Hill series. Sweet Home provided me with an addictive 10 hour gruesome adventure, and I feel privileged to have been able to play such a staple of the survival horror genre. I can’t remember the last time that I was glued to the screen playing an 8-bit game, but Sweet Homes ability to constantly keep you wondering what’s through the next door is highly commendable.
This game was released on the same day as the movie, which unsurprisingly, is also called Sweet Home. Both forms tell the story of a group of treasure hunters, led by Kazuo, travelling to an isolated mansion in hope of recovering paintings from a famous artist who died 30 years ago. Upon arrival, things immediately start to go wrong. The five characters are trapped in the mansion with a mysterious ghost doing everything in its ghostly powers to kill the party. It certainly doesn't help that the mansion is plagued with skeletons, ghouls, zombies and anything else that nightmares are made of. From here it’s a simple quest of getting out alive, but to do that, the team must solve the mysteries of the mansion.
Sweet Home is an RPG at its core. From about 3 minutes in, you’ll be thrown into the action, forced to explore with enemies constantly attacking through random encounters. Many other RPGs of the era have been criticised for having an unreasonably high encounter rate but I didn't find Sweet Home too bad at all. The fact that there are no safe areas, free from monster, certainly adds to the experience. The battles themselves are very simplistic. Your characters can attack, pray, attempt to run or use an item each round. They can also call for help, but I never used this feature as I was able to stomp every enemy by simply attacking. There really is nothing special with the battle system and 99% of the time, I spammed the attack button and successfully defeated my foes. The only customisation you have is the characters weapons, and this process involved comparing stats and dropping the weapon that is less powerful. In other words, your characters are entirely dependent on their weapons and aside from that; do not differ much from one another at all while in battle. Below is an image of your party navigating around a room (left) and a typical battle (right).
After each battle, your characters are rewarded with experience points. There is no money in this game, as it wouldn't exactly be appropriate for a merchant to set up a stall in the house from hell. Instead, all items must be found lying around the place. Item management is such a big part of the game and is where the true challenge comes into play. Each character has an individual item that assists in solving puzzles. For example Kazuo has a lighter that can be used to burn ropes. If there’s a rope blocking the path, then you need him in order to progress. This is where things become more complicated, as you can only have three characters in a party at the same time, meaning that there will be a group of three and a group of two most of the time. Switching between the parties and choosing who should be where at what time needs to be considered at all times, or you’ll just end up backtracking and wasting time. Things get even more complicated when a party member dies. Unlike Final Fantasy where you can use a phoenix down to revive characters, in Sweet Home, when you’re dead, you’re dead. This means that you’ll have to find an alternative item to cater for what your dead companion would have been able to do. The game naturally becomes a lot more difficult when a character dies, and for this reason I didn't let it happen. Sweet Home allows you to save anywhere and I found myself loading up a saved file immediately after one of my characters was slaughtered.
Since the 80s, it’s fair to assume that the average gamer has become desensitised to 8-bit horror, but this doesn't make the game any less enjoyable. It’s true that Sweet Homes enemies may simply appear to be a colourful bunch of pixels, but there is plenty more that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Most notably is the need to survive. There’s nothing worse than controlling a two man party on low health, only to find that the item you need to progress was left in another room. To make things even more inconvenient, your tonics (the only way to restore your health) may be held by the other party who are currently far away in the courtyard. It’s situations like this that Sweet Home really shines and the satisfaction gained by reuniting your party after being separated for a while is something that few games manage to do these days. Below is an image of one of your characters being slaughtered (left) and a puss-popping maniac (right) that you will encounter many times.
If you’re interested in landmark titles that pave the way for generations to come, then Sweet Home is a must play. Everyone knows that Final Fantasy, Zelda and Dragon Quest were huge influences over how games are today, but Sweet Home is something that seems to have flown under the radar in the Western world due to it never leaving Japan. It may have taken 15 years for someone to do something about it, but I say better late than never. If you ever have the chance to play this gem and want to see where survival horrors originated, then Sweet Home is a must play.