Monster of the Week: Skin Granny (Fear & Hunger)

Origin: Fear & Hunger

Appearance: In the beginning, the boss will appear as a common old woman apparently working at a textile spinning wheel. Even if the woman seems harmless, the battle will begin, highlighted by the eerie and foreshadowing text ‘You get ominous vibes from the old lady in the darkness’. The old woman will quickly change in an abomination. The textile spinning wheel will be directly incorporated into the creature, like a unique entity made of flesh and wood. She has long and mannequin-like limbs, including an extra arm extending from behind her back. Her face is the most terrifying detail, with a deranged smile and a completely psychotic expression. Maybe for the floating position, or for the red veil partially covering it, but the wooden-creature has a vague resemblance with characters from classic paintings.

Background: The old woman will appear at the end of a dream sequence telling the past of the main character and the town. She looks like an innocent and harmless woman, hiding in the darkness of a house, but regardless of the peaceful scene, a battle will anyway start. After the first attack, the main characters will try to talk with the old woman, trying to create an understanding of how futile this battle is. But she will not react, nor will take any damage from the attack. Then, the old woman will change shape, becoming a demon of flesh and wood, starting the real battle. The boss is a tough fight since it is able to attack multiple times in a turn with all its limbs. The arms will slash the party causing bleeding, and also the leg will kick the player, but they are less dangerous than the arms. However, the most threatening part is when its fingers start to flex. The next turn after this ominous message, the characters have a 50% chance of being instantly killed. The Skin Granny will literally rip-off the face of a character, wearing it like a grinning mask connected with wires, in a scene remembering Hellraiser (image below at the end). Now the name Skin Granny has a meaning, and the old woman was probably not working with textiles on her spinning wheel. The instant-killer attack is performed from the arm behind her back, so taking it out is a priority. In Fear & Hunger targeting limbs is the most common strategy, and to easily survive against the Skin Granny it is necessary to mutilate all its arms. The background behind this creature is the most mysterious in the game, even the Gods know nothing about the lore of the Skin Granny. The monster is a construct, so it will be safe to assume that Valtiel, the God creating artificial creature, is also its father. But the Skin Granny appears in a dream induced by another Goddess, as the last test before speaking with her, so the Skin Granny is probably an ethereal being more related to the mind. The Skin Granny can be a symbolism of what is happening, on how the life of an ordinary town got twisted and mutated in something horrible. The old woman is the peaceful life that was abandoned, a mirage of the new violent reality, and its true form is the world that now needs to be faced by the main characters. The last test of a Goddess that wants to know if the characters are ready to abandon their old lives and face the terrifying challenges of the new one.

Death end re;Quest 2 Review: mysterious Visual Novel by day, horror JRPG by night

Death end re;Quest 2 is classified as a horror JRPG for a reason, and it does everything to support the definition. The general atmosphere is oppressive and tragic, a world where every person could experience a brutal death or an unfair fate. Every story and background is not for the faint of heart, usually involving abuses and tragedies. This is the story of a girl with a traumatic past, searching for her sister in an orphanage for girls only. This story is not a common drama but something deeper and more twisted, set in a mysterious town with a secret. People at school and also at the town are involved in the mysterious religion of “El Strain,” so it will be very clear since the beginning that the small town is hiding a secret, and the curfew at midnight is only a part of it. Obscure religions and alternate realities will meet cyberpunk themes connected with the first Death end Request, creating a complex atmosphere for one of the few and rare Japanese horror RPGs. However, knowledge of the first game is not essential to enjoy the sequel (in fact, I still didn’t have the chance to play the prequel).

Gore and blood are also quite present, especially in the cutscenes, both in anime and 3D events. Special examples are the Bad Endings, graphic and violent Game Over scenes that are associated with bad decisions during the events, even if it is often text-only violence. This in not unfair as could sound, and discovering all these violent endings will soon become more interesting than avoiding them. The darkness of the writing it is not a surprise knowing that Makoto Kedouin, writer for the survival-horror series Corpse Party, was involved in Death end Request 2. Worth to notice that several secondary characters are disturbed or plainly psychotic, behind their friendly facade, with cases of bullying and toxic friendships.

The game shows two souls, perfectly divided both for aesthetic and gameplay. During the day, Death end Request 2 is mainly a Visual Novel (VN). The player can explore the school and the town to interact with several secondary characters and discover new events. Some of the dialogues will add background to secondary and main characters, providing also small clues to enrich the complex lore of the town. Other events are just plainly comedic and light-hearted, useful to break for a moment the dense and dramatic atmosphere of the game. The wall of text is not as thick and aggressive as other productions, plus players that want to jump directly into the action can easily skip the daily events, of course losing layers of information about the game. From an artistic point of view, the VN sections are also well realised and rich in detail. Characters have nice animated portraits and are able to show many different expressions. The dialogues are also almost entirely dubbed in English and Japanese, providing an additional level of immersion and quality.

During the night, the gameplay will switch toward horror JRPG. The player will explore the town, a creepy and eerie place of twisted architectures, where disturbing monsters roam in the streets. During these moments, there is of course space for exploration, collecting items and discovering secret paths by hacking cameras or using character-specific skills. Monsters are visible on the map and can be avoided or attacked to gain an advantage. The battles are where the gameplay truly shines for originality. Each battle is a sort of kinetic puzzle. The characters can freely move around to decide the best position and angle to execute the actions. The battlefield is full of glowing spheres, assembled in complex patterns, which provides a bonus if touched or by throwing an enemy on them, from healing to a boost in attack or defense. The ideal strategy is to attack and throw the enemies around the battlefield, deciding the best direction to maximise the number of glowing symbols touched by the enemy. But this is not everything: the knock-back function opens a world of possibilities. Enemies can be smashed on each other, threw against energetic barriers, or in the direction of an ally, which will perform a counter-attack launching the enemy even more further away.

Even if this mechanic is already deep enough, each character has also its peculiar way of attacking and throwing, plus a complex set of skills to use and unlock. In a single turn, each character can execute a combination of 3 skills and actions, and some combinations will even unlock extra skills! The game also offers a good level of personalisation: favourite skills can be arranged in groups, while weapons and accessory can be changed from the menu to improve each character. Weapons also change in appearance during battles, and trust me, having the main character fighting with a hatched or a chainsaw is really rewarding. Battles are unique and deep, but it is also true that sometime even the most standard battle will need time to be completed. This can add some tedious moments in long explorations, but luckily the escape action is there to help. The maps are also quite linear, but the variegated selection of creepy adversaries and the many rewards scattered around every corner are keeping high the attention. Moreover, the game does not require excessive grinding, it offers a fair but not to be underestimated level of challenge, but levelling up is quite easy and the results quite fruitful. Boss battles can be especially tough, with some enemies able to destroy a character with a single attack. Good planning and a bit of luck will be crucial for these tough encounters. Some of the bosses can be really long and a bit unfair battles, not only for the one-hit-kill, but also because they have millions of HP and they are even able to heal at full life with one action. Be prepared for a difficulty spike after the first chapters.

The enemies are disturbing and creepy beings, far more characterised and interesting than the ones of a standard JRPG. Clearly, the team pointed toward a horror atmosphere in every artistic direction, and the monsters are not an exception (if you are looking for the most creepy monsters, have a look here: The most creepy and disturbing enemies and bosses of Death end re;Quest 2). Sometimes you will even forget that you are not wandering the streets of Silent Hill. Bosses are especially disturbing both for design and name: fighting a mass of tentacles and fangs called “No Face” has clearly a different effect, or “Laughing Mary,” a doll without a face. Moreover, I am not here to spoil the game but for fans of indie Japanese horror games, if the name Ao Oni sounds you familiar, you will be glad and surprised to know that it has a collaboration with Death end Request 2 (and if you are really curious you can find more info on this Gematsu article).

But the horror doesn’t end here. While wandering in the city at night, sometimes the player will be ambushed by the Dark Shadow, a tall and disturbing creature with the only aim of annihilating the party. Since the first encounter with the creature, it is very clear that the only option is to run away as fast as possible. Because being caught by the Shadow means an instant game over. This small detail provides an even stronger horror profile to Death end Request 2, a deadly and immortal stalker that will instantly slaughter the entire party. Idea Factory/Compile Heart already explored a similar idea with the Nightmares of Mary Skelter, with really good results (here my article about: The Nightmares of Mary Skelter: fairytale characters reborn as twisted immortal stalkers).

As fans of slasher movies should know, horror and sexual themes are often two sides of the same coin. Death end Request 2 is not very different, often jumping into subtle sexual dialogues between the protagonists. Of course, the setting of a school for only girls is already hinting to the majority of light sexual elements and jokes associated. Also while fighting, the girls will enter is an overpowered Glitch mode, changing into more revealing outfits. Again, nothing too much aggressive about it, just a bit of skin revealed.

With very few pure horror JRPG around, and even less available outside of Japan and for PC, Death end Request 2 is a game to really take into consideration. If you want and classic JRPG but with a unique and interesting battle system and a mature and horror atmosphere, Death end Request 2 will be a game to try.

The review is based on the STEAM version, for which I received a key from Idea Factory International.