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Retro Gaming Halloween Style, Part Six: Hellnight

Yeah, yeah, everybody makes their lists about scary, creepy, or flat-out weird games to play each October and we’re not about to buck the trend. But we’re going to assume you’re a retro gamer who’s read enough to know the big franchises everybody else writes about. Because if you’ve picked up a controller in the last fifteen years, you know about Resident Evil, Silent Hill, and Dino Crisis. You’ve played Sweet Home‘s NES translation, you’ve watched an Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem long play on YouTube, and if some scarf-wearing hipster starts harping on Fatal Frame again, you will stuff his camera where the flash won’t illuminate. Where does one go from there? Well, we’ve got some ideas with which to season your braincase if you care to join us.

Hellnight Title Screen

Hellnight/Dark Messiah – PS1: It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes UK gamers will get games that never arrive on American shores for whatever reason. This is the case with Hellnight (known as Dark Messiah in Japan), and while it won’t top anybody’s tally of best games ever made, it belongs somewhere on your list of ‘Creepy Games to Play Before I Die’. If you don’t have a list of ‘Creepy Games to Play Before I Die’ then I question your dedication to self-improvement.

Yeah, yeah, that's what they all say.

Yeah, yeah, that’s what they all say.

Hellnight combines the idea of running for your life from an unstoppable killing machine with the mechanics of the point-and-click adventure genre. This, by all rights, should not work. Adventures are slow, methodical, plodding games where story and presentation trump all. Survival horror, by contrast, usually works by requiring you to manage resources while on the run from dastardly undead or psychosis-induced nightmares. Nevertheless, Hellnight manages to compartmentalize both ideas and create a dastardly chimera which will have you cursing your life one minute, and looking for the solution to a puzzle the very next (assuming you can just get through that door in time…)

This is what's hunting first.

This is what’s hunting you…at first.

While it’s not implemented in as straightforward a manner as in Obscure or Resident Evil Outbreak, you don’t travel the underground tunnels of Hellnight‘s massive sewer complex all by your lonesome. The game’s still a single-player experience, but your  protagonist can pick up some help along the way thanks to people who are willing to join your mission if you’re traveling alone. Each companion has his or her own quirks, upsides, and one or two things you won’t like. For example, Naomi (your first companion) is a school girl with limited psychic powers. She can sense when the monster chasing you is closing in, and the monster’s location shows up on the map if it’s within her sphere of influence. Unfortunately if her early warning system isn’t enough to save your bacon, she’s useless except as monster chow while you live to run another day–she’s unarmed and defends herself as well as you’d expect for a seventeen year old kid. Contrast this with Kyoji, another choice for companion: he carries a submachinegun with a considerable stock of ammunition, but is also an amoral killer who will turn his crosshairs on you if you piss him off. Are you better off knowing when the monster gets close, or holding it off for a few seconds when it invariably does show up?

Also, your lucky numbers are 6, 11, 28, 33, and 61.

Also, your lucky numbers are 6, 11, 28, 33, and 61.

The game was created by Atlus, who isn’t exactly known for their devotion to the action genre, but was published by Konami, who is known almost exclusively for said devotion. This doesn’t affect your enjoyment of the game one bit–Atlus is known for creating interesting characters and phenomenally twisted plots, especially when it comes to their Shin Megami Tensei series. They bring the same creative forces to bear on Hellnight, a fact which should be enough to cement a spot in your collection for this game.

Michael Crisman

In 1979, Michael Crisman was mauled by a radioactive Gorgar pinball machine. After the wounds healed, doctors discovered his DNA had been re-coded. No longer fully human, Michael requires regular infusions of video games in order to continue living among you. If you see him, he can see you. Make no sudden moves, but instead bribe him with old issues of computer and video game magazines or a mint-in-box copy of Dragon Warrior IV.

If he made you laugh, drop a tip in his jar at

(If he didn’t make you laugh, donate to cure his compulsion to bang keyboards by sending an absurdly huge amount of money to his tip jar instead. That’ll show him!)

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