Eat dragon meat or give birth to a dragon: the nefarious destiny of the Witches in Dragon Star Varnir [Mechanic]

Dragon Star Varnir is a JRPG developed by the partnership of Compile Heart and Idea Factory. In the game, Visual Novel sections alternate with dungeons exploration, moral choices, and turn-based battles. The battles are especially unique since everyone can fly, dividing the battlefield into 3 different levels. While this adds tactical decisions during normal fights, it is even more important during boss fights, because some dragons are so big that the different body parts occupy all the levels. However, there is an even more interesting and unique mechanic, very well integrated into the lore and the world-building of the game that I will describe in the following article.

The world of Dragon Star Varnir is a grim and dangerous place. Dragons roam around, challenging the bravest knights and warriors to control their population, and then there are witches, women with powerful abilities forced on feeding on dragons. In this world where everyone is at war with everyone, there are even darker secrets involved in the dichotomy between witches and dragons. In fact, witches constantly fight the biological impulse of giving birth to a dragon. Sadly, the harsh truth is that every dragon was before a witch that was unable to control this horrible event. Dragons are some kind of embryo or parasite living inside witches’ bodies, a mysterious process that will need a lot of effort for the player to be discovered, so I will minimise spoilers. A witch can control the development of the dragon by eating dragon meat or drinking their blood, a procedure that every witch finds extremely repulsive and disgusting. But when your life is at stake, and the alternative is having your body ripped by a dragon, there is not much to question about. Witches hunt dragons in order to feed on them, delaying their transformation that will generate a new dragon. Somehow, this is an extreme form of cannibalism.

If a witch refuse to feed on dragons for a long time, she will start to starve, quickly triggering the maturation of the dragon inside her. And the ending is not only sad, but extremely painful and violent. After the pain will get uncontrollable, the dragon will emerge from the witch’s body, ripping it apart in an explosion of blood. The newborn dragon will get immediately aggressive and feral, losing any humanity that the witch could have, usually attacking the other witches that before were friends.

The interesting novelty is that this constant struggle between feeding on dragons or giving birth to one is also integrated into the gameplay. This feature will not directly affect party members, since they are adult and veteran witches, which will consume dragon meat on their own. But for the young and inexperienced “Little Sisters,” this is a very delicate issue. These young witches are still fighting against the repulsive need of eating dragon meat, a disgusting practice that will keep them alive. These little sisters are waiting at home while the adult witches hunt food, but every meal is a battle for them. In the beginning, this struggle will be only part of dramatic cutscenes, but then, it will become part of the gameplay.

The Little Sisters need a constant flow of dragon meat or blood in order to retain their humanity and survive. Each sister will have an icon associated with her level of happiness, and the player should take care of it. Because if the face becomes angry, there is a clear chance that the poor little sister will run away to give birth to a dragon. Maintaining stable the mental sanity of the sisters by giving them dragon meat is essential to achieve the best endings. However, the process is very challenging and complicated, and very few details are actually explained inside the game. Because if dragon meat can be obtained by killing any enemy around the world, the timing can become quite a challenge due to a hidden internal clock. Wander, explore, or fight too much in a dungeon, and the next time you will go back home one of the sisters could be on the verge of going insane, because their happiness will constantly decrease with time.

The game should be a good balance of collecting meat and advancing the story, while remembering to leave the dungeon if too much time passed, so the dragon meat can be delivered to the sisters. And there is also another problem related to another metric, because if you “overfeed” the sisters, they will also go insane. After all, who wants to be force-feeded dragon meat if not strictly necessary to survive? Fail to correctly care for the little sisters, and they will run away to give birth to a dragon. Each sister will run to a different area and will transform into a specific dragon, which will roam in that region as a hidden boss fight. So, by failing the quest of the Little Sisters, the best endings will be locked away, but it will be possible to face secret bosses.

The constant dread of playing the game while being worried about the sisters, plus the balance between farming meat and experience knowing that each minute spent in a dungeon could send the sisters mad, transform a common JRPG game into a complex fight for survival. This is a truly interesting and unique mechanic that not only moves Dragon Star Varnir toward more survival-horror atmospheres, but is also well-integrated inside the dark and grim world that was created for the game.

The most unusual Demons from the Japanese dungeon-crawler The Lost Child

The Lost Child is a quite obscure Japanese dungeon-crawler released for PS4, Vita, and Switch, and published in the West by NIS America. The game is a spin-off and a sequel of El Shaddai, an action game with a peculiar and unique aesthetic set in the Biblical Heaven. Even if the story is now set in modern Tokyo, Lost Child is also based on biblical figures and references, featuring a cosmic war between angels, demons, and fallen angels. And of course, the humans are in the middle of this.

The gameplay alternates a first-person dungeon-crawler exploration with turn-based battles, which share an interesting similarities with Shin Megami Tensei franchise. Because if a cosmic battle against heaven and demon sharing the names of gods around the world and the different cultures was not a sufficient reference to Shin Megami Tensei, the protagonist has also the ability to capture and purifies demons to join the party. Specifically, the protagonist can in fact capture demons by using specific bullets of a heavenly gun.

The bestiary of Lost Child is very interesting, with mythological creatures and gods portrayed with a very uncommon design. The enemies are divided into three categories: Angels, which are mainly gorgeous anime-like characters, Fallen Angels, peculiar robot-like figures with complex architecture and shapes, and Demons, the most variegated and twisted designs in the pack. The captured demon can also use Karma to level up and evolve, changing into three different forms.

In the following article, I selected the most interesting and unusual Demons from the Lost Child. In general, I will only share the base design, but if some demons will have a very different and unique evolution, I will also include that one. If you like the article stay tuned, because next time could be the turn of Fallen Angels.

  • Hades

The ruler of the Greek underworld and god of death was never such alien or bizarre before. The demon can only be defined as a green organic mass that looks like an eldritch rotten pumpkin, including wings and two red spheres that could be the eyes. However, the most disturbing and interesting details are the “legs” made of a sort of dead bodies composed of a green substance, missing the head and using their hands to support the creature. If they are not tormented souls serving the god of hell, I have no idea of what else they could be. In the final evolution, the demon’s body will break like a seed, freeing a big flower on the top, and revealing a creepy skull previously hidden under the green structure. Strangely enough, the demon is associated with the wood element, and it is vulnerable to fire. However, the creature is a deadly opponent and great addition to the mid-game party, with high defense and strong physical attacks, including a skill known as Assassinate, very fitting for Hades.

  • Old Ones

A creature inspired by Lovecraft’s mythos, the Old Ones are a race of alien being serving old gods such as Cthulhu. In the game, the Old Ones are powerful demons infesting especially the 100 floors dungeon of R’lyeh. The appearance is quite interesting, with the alien creature portrayed like half-born from a cosmic egg, a grotesque mass of green flesh and tentacles still in part fused with the shell. In the following evolutions, the creature will gain more colours, also twisting quite drastically its shape in the last form. The Old Ones are wood demons, with strong defence and quite dangerous, able not only to boost their attack but also to inflict multiple wounds by summoning wood branches and tentacles.

  • Echidna

The mother of all the monsters in Greek mythology is an interesting demon, and one of the most powerful. Echidna has the upper body of a sort of female elf, with white hair and purple skin, wielding two different swords. However, at the waist, her body will twist in a mass of raw flesh, and will then transform into a gigantic and obese worm with wings. The contrast of the female humanoid with the grotesque worm creates a dynamic and original design, symbolising fecundity and the ability to procreate dozens of monsters. Interestingly, in the final evolution the demon will gain butterfly-like wings and a more epic design. The demon can be recruited and faced early on, and she is one of the most versatile allies in the entire game. Because even if Echidna is a wind demon, she will learn practically every elemental magic, making her a great magical attacker for every battle.

  • Kerberos

The three-headed dog guarding the Greek underworld is instead portrayed as a sort of aggressive baboon. The body is covered in orange fur, with yellow skull patterns. The head is big and long, with three dumb-looking faces with different expressions, the only connection with the original three-headed Cerberus. The demon will change quite drastically in the last evolution. In this case, the faces will dispose circularly on a bigger body, now looking more demonic and less dumb, while the tail will also morph in a sort of branched tentacle. Three long spikes will now come out from each face. The demon is one of the first encountered, a weak but useful foe associated with the fire element. Kerberos is a physical attacker, showing useful skills to damage the same target multiple times, making it an aggressive party member that will also learn powerful fire spells.

  • Baphomet

A classic demon as a reference, Baphomet is an evil entity usually associated with goats and the Black Mass. However, the design in Lost Child goes in a disturbing and creepy direction. The creature is a giant goat head, a sort of spider supported by four short legs, with a long white beard. Everything in the face of the creature is completely nightmare-inducing, from the yellow eyes to the long ears, but the giant human-like mouth gains the first prize as the most disturbing element. The following evolutions slightly change the face and the colours, with the final one being completely black instead of white. Strangely, Baphomet is a water demon, but it uses mainly physical attacks and spells to boost its strength.

  • Kraken

The legendary beast scourging the seas is here represented in a twisted and unique way. The face is an alien shape full of octopus-like eyes, while the body is a swollen and amorphous mass of tentacles. The Kraken also exhibits humanoid features, specifically the three clawed arms. The final evolution is not that incredible, the main change will be the face, now bigger and longer, very similar to the head of a squid. The Kraken is a common enemy in the water related dungeon of Umeda, and it is of course a water demon, which possess strong elemental magics very useful against fire enemies.

  • Shiva

A humanoid creature with purple skin and four arms, dressed in light clothes and with the face completely hidden: except for the ascetic position it will be quite difficult to recognise the Hindu god Shiva in this design. Multiple floating eyes surround the mysterious creature, an extension of its body and a very creepy detail. The evolved form is an upgrade of the original one, with a more divine look, golden accessories, a bigger throne with cobra heads behind, the floating eyes are complete of eyelids, and it is now wielding a big hammer. Shiva is an incredibly powerful demon, a secret boss, and an endgame party member with devastating physical attacks. Shiva can attack all the enemies with Acid Rain, a powerful skill able to inflict not only heavy damages but also all the negative effects. The demon is also strong on the defense side, generating mirages that could prevent all the damage for 3 turns.

  • Orthrus

The brother of Cerberus, Orthrus is a two-headed dog defeated by Hercules, also represented in Lost Child as a grotesque baboon as well as Kerberos. In contrast with its brother, the demon has a more brownish fur, misses the arms, and has a snake as a tale. The face is definitively the most unique element in the design, a huge mouth with few but long teeth and two heads, one for lip, with a more demonic and less dumb expression compared to Kerberos. The final design is a completely new look, even more bizarre than this one. The body structure will change in a sort of “Y,” with two female and almost angelic faces at the end of each branch. The body will instead remain quite similar, with an even longer snake as a tail. Orthrus is found in the very last dungeon, a demon connected to electricity, with strong lighting attacks able to hit multiple times, and even a spell that can debilitate and weak its enemies.

  • Owatatsumi

Owatatsumi is the Japanese god of the sea, and in The Lost Child it is a sort of old humanoid figure heavily connected with water. The old humanoid shows its age with the long white beard, while the grotesque blue and swollen head conveys its demonic nature. The hands are just tentacles, coming out of the robe to wield a staff surmounted by a seashell. The old god is traveling on a giant turtle, which is also the creepiest detail of the design, with a very evil face and a grinning mouth too human to be on a turtle’s face. The final evolution can be clearly called a majestic and primordial sea god: the head will become bigger and longer, like a sort of fish-like structure, while the tentacles will grow and become bigger. Everything will improve, including the staff that it is wielding, now a lot bigger and more elaborate, and also the turtle will get huge, while losing its creepy face for a more flat structure. The demon can be found in the final dungeon and it is a strong creature unexpectedly focused on physical attacks and boosting.

  • Okada Izo

A Japanese samurai is reborn as a grotesque demon with a really complex appearance. The head is a giant multicolored eye, with greasy white hair, while the body is a twisted mass of flesh. Instead of normal arms, the creature has multiple tentacles, while the red body is composed of pieces of raw flesh forming ghostly faces. Everything in the design is symbolic, probably highlighting the regret of the samurai for taking many lives. The giant eye is in fact crying a white goo, while the body is covered in the screaming faces of the people that it killed in its previous life. Elements of its past life are still part of the design, such as the armour on the shoulders, or the big and rusty sword that it now wields using the tentacles. The last form is just a sort of heroic upgrade of this one, with a more fierce pose, long orange hair, and the sword now is more magnificent and surrounded by burning souls, without a huge overall change into the design. The demon is middle- to high-level, encountered in the second half of the game. As expected from a samurai, the demon is focused on inflicting physical damages, with skills allowing it to attack a single target multiple times.

Death end re;Quest 2 and Ao Oni: when a horror JRPG and an indie survival-horror collaborate

It is nice to see when two different worlds collide together in the video game format. It happened several times, especially for big companies, for example hunting a Final Fantasy’s Behemoth inside Monster Hunter World. However, what is not so common is a collaboration between a big company and an obscure indie title, especially if they are from far away worlds such as JRPGs and survival-horrors. But this is exactly what happened between Death end Request 2 and Ao Oni.

Death end Request 2 is a JRPG with a strong horror component and a creepy set of creatures. If you follow the blog, the game should be already familiar since I wrote different articles about it, including a review where you can find more complete information: Death end re;Quest 2 Review: mysterious Visual Novel by day, horror JRPG by night. On the contrary, Ao Oni is a Japanese game survival-horror, a freeware and obscure title that got quite popular around 2007. The game is a RPGmaker-style horror game, with a great focus on hiding and surviving a creepy stalker. The game got quite a following in Japan, even getting manga, anime, and live-action movie adaptation. The real protagonist of the game is the enemy, the actual Ao Oni, a gigantic blue ogre with a peculiar face and altered proportions. The creature got iconic, an example of Japanese indie horror games, with a look not so intimidating, but for sure somehow disturbing.

How the collaboration between Death end Request 2 and Ao Oni take shape? During the first playthrough of the game, the player will see nothing related to the Ao Oni. Anyway, horror elements will be not missing from the experience, from gory and tragic bad endings to multiple grotesque enemies (more info here: The most creepy and disturbing enemies and bosses of Death end re;Quest 2). After reaching the good ending, in Death end Request 2 it will be possible to continue in a NG+, keeping the experience and the equipment, while accessing new contents, story branches, and a new ending. It is during the NG+ that the Ao Oni will become a more present element.

In the first area of the game, an old telephone will allow the player to access new contents. The first one is a mini-game, and it is the most horror-shaped experience featuring the Ao Oni. In this short but intense mini-game, the main character needs to run fast inside a city area while avoiding different Ao Oni jumping out from nowhere. The creatures are of different sizes, from small Ao Oni to more human-sized ones. They will also jump out from the most unexpected places, including cars and water elements.

The stressful event is a fast and crazy run against the deadly blue humanoids: trial and error is the only way to survive and conquer this mini-game. Only by learning the positions of every sudden appearance of the Ao Oni, the player will have a concrete possibility of surviving. Avoiding the many blue creatures while running is not the only way of surviving because scattered around the map there are suspicious closets that can be used as temporary hiding places. Of course, this is not a completely safe solution, since the Oni can still discover you while hiding. This mini-game is an easy and different addition to the main game, and it really tries to encode the horror atmosphere of Ao Oni, with frenetic chases and breathless hiding.

There is also another surprise involving the Ao Oni in Death end request 2. Moreover, during NG+, starting from the third Act, it will be possible to visit a challenging bonus dungeon: the Pain Area. This place is a hellish maze with dozens of tough and mandatory battles, including unique and interesting bosses. But the true surprise hides on the fifth and last floor of this dungeon, where the ultimate boss fight against the Ao Oni itself will take place. The blue ogre is the toughest battle in the entire game, the secret hidden boss typical of JRPGs, which usually needs the best equipment and high-level characters. The Ao Oni is a super boss for a reason: it has an insane amount of HPs, the highest in the game, with >6 million, plus maximised attack and defence. The creature is indeed an extremely dangerous foe able to use many tricks, including almost every possible negative effect, and a complex combo of energy attacks executed as fast karate moves.

Watching the giant blue creature rendered in 3D graphic, performing deadly attacks while the group of heroines throws it around the stage, is a unique and bizarre experience. A collaboration between indie games and a big production is always a welcomed experience, especially if horror elements find a new home inside JRPGs.

Challenging the Old Gods of Fear & Hunger [Boss Battle]

Fear & Hunger doesn’t go soft in terms of enemies and bosses, providing a set of disturbing and grotesque creatures, including challenging boss battles against gigantic abominations able to wipe out the entire party in a festival of mutilations. In fact, this is the second entry for Fear & Hunger in Boss Battle, previously featuring the relentless Crow Mauler: When it is impossible to Save: surviving all the mutilations of the Crow Mauler in Fear & Hunger [Boss Battle].

Fear & Hunger has a complex Pantheon of gods, specifically divided into Old and New. While the New Gods are humans ascended to divinity, the Old Ones are ancient twisted and macabre beings, mysterious creatures born at the beginning of time. Usually, the Old Gods are described and portrayed in books scattered around the dark dungeons, manuscripts probably wrote by cultists trying to assign a physical form to their deities, even if this is often far from the God’s true form. At least 5 Old Gods are described in the books, starting with Alllmer, a sort of twisted revisited version of Jesus Christ, to the hermetic Moon God, which seems to have a relevant role in the upcoming sequel of Fear & Hunger. However, two Old Gods appear as hidden boss battles in the original game, offering brutal and challenging fights.

Gro-goroth is also known as the God of Destruction, a dangerous and malevolent entity connected with death and carnages. The Old God lies beneath the most difficult dungeon of the game, deep inside the mouth of a gigantic monster, after passing deadly traps and monsters. Moreover, Gro-goroth can be faced only by going for the Ending B, meaning that a party member, the Girl, should be dead (if you want an idea of all the horrible things that can happen to this party member, check my article: Fear & Hunger: the many ways to permanently sacrifice the Girl [Evil Quests]). Gro-goroth will emerge from the darkness below a platform entirely made of dead bodies, ready to fight the party after an existentialist conversation. Only the upper half of the gigantic creature is visible, a muscled torso made of twisted flesh, grotesque organs, wings, and gigantic stone-like claws. Gro-goroth is a visual cacophony of flesh, even having a mouth opening in the middle of its chest, or sort of beak-like elements decorating its neck. The face somehow keeps a sparkle of humanity, a pale mask similar to a marble statue.

As expected from an end-game boss fight, the enemy is a devastating force of destruction. The gigantic god has multiple attacks, caused by different limbs and organs. The sharp claws are its main weapon, able to inflict tremendous damage, including the bleeding effect. Taking this into account, cutting-off the claws is a vital strategy to facilitate the fight. But this is not all, multiple eyes can emerge from the flesh of its body, creating additional enemies. The eyes will cry out a scorching liquid on top of the party, causing moderate damage and the burning effect. Up to 5 eyes can open in its body and, even if they have few HP, not taking action against them could cause a swarming of damages and effects in each turn.

If this is not enough, Gro-goroth also knows powerful spells, such as Burning Gaze or the mysterious Whisper of Gro-goroth. The second enchantment is particularly peculiar: it will mark a party member with a countdown and, when it will reach 0, that character will instantly die. After all, Gro-goroth is the god of death and destruction for a reason.

The second Old God was added to the game in one of the last updates. While going for ending C, the player will now reach an empty and dark wasteland, a sort of abyss out of time and space. In this extreme environment, the main character should find again the other party members while avoiding deadly and dangerous hunting creatures. But it is on a stone bridge suspended above a green light that the party will face Sylvian, the god of sex and fertility. If Gro-goroth was very similar to the images inside the unholy manuscripts, Sylvian is drastically different. The books portray her as a humanoid goddess with the body covered in breasts, a fitting representation for the god of fertility.

Sylvian is honoured with orgies from her followers, worshipped as carnal and universal love. However, Sylvian’s love for mankind got twisted during the ages, becoming a sick parody of sex, passion, and love. For example, people marrying in honour of Sylvian will be blessed with an abominable marriage, meaning that their bodies will be fused together in a grotesque mass of flesh. This is also reflected in the true form of Sylvian: a grotesque mass of green flesh and tentacles surrounding a half-exposed ribcage, with pointed breasts and a shark-like head.

The boss battle is probably the most difficult in the entire game. The god has an insane amount of HP and it can use some really dirty tricks. Each tentacle attacks individually causing different negative effects, such as stun or bleeding, but the bigger ones are the true danger, especially if they grab party members, basically trapping them in a suffocating hug. Sylvian can also strike the mind of the characters, complicating the life of spell-casters. Color of the Unknown is the most dangerous between these attacks since it will damage the minds of the entire party.

However, the most disturbing move is related to a sort of tumorigenic mass that will grow at each turn from the ribcage of the god. The attack is very similar to the one of another creature, Uterus (you can read about this monster here: Monster of the Week: Uterus (Fear & Hunger)), just this time it is even more dangerous. If not defeated on time, the mass will transform each turn into a more humanoid figure. The fully developed creature will add an extra layer of difficulty in the battle, with the possibility of completely murdering a character with one attack.

While other Old Gods are present in the game, such as the dead body of Alllmer, only Gro-goroth and Sylvian can be challenged and defeated in battle. At the moment, the Moon God seems to have a relevant role in the sequel so, hopefully, soon it will be possible to fight additional Old Gods in Fear & Hunger Termina.

The uncanny descent into the creepy androids of Despiria, an obscure JRPG developed by Atlus [Bestiary]

If you never listened before about Despiria, it is not a surprise. Despiria is a game released by Atlus for Dreamcast, but only in Japan. The game is an interesting RPG combining turn-based combats and a first-person exploration using stating high-resolution 3D backgrounds, common to adventure games such as Myst.

The setting is a dystopian sci-fi universe, where a religious association is in control, and several people use brain parasites to enhance their intellectual skills. The mature setting is typical of early Atlus games, such as Shin Megami Tensei saga, with disturbing enemies, violence, and delicate topics. If the Church ruling the world was not dystopian enough, people also have special mental power thanks to those disgusting brain parasites. Of course, the language barrier is a huge obstacle to understand the lore and the stories of this dark cyberpunk world.

The battles have a peculiar aesthetic, partially shaped by the uncommon 3D engine. The main enemy is visible as a giant figure in the background, while the enemy’s parasites and the ones of the player are in the front rows. Only by damaging the main enemy, the battle will end, same if the player receives enough damage. On the contrary, the parasites, when present, work as support and are often re-summoned once killed.

The game will start with the player’s character and many others trapped in old subway tunnels. They should find a way out without going insane or being killed by the broken androids inhabiting the tunnels. Very few humans live hiding there, while many androids with different degrees of damages and insanity are roaming around. The androids have similar appearances, usually bold and pale figures, with void expression and the bodies shaped by injuries and damages. Interestingly, the majority of them have female bodies, with usually revealing clothes or directly half-naked, creating a contrast between the female forms and the extreme damages of the synthetic components. Moreover, some of the androids are so beyond the aestehtic damages, assuming bodies which are so further away from human empathy, jumping in an uncanny and disturbing territory.

In the following article, I will describe the most creepy androids from the first chapter of the game. The list is ordered in an increasing uncanniness of the artificial figures, from quite generic androids, through really damaged and disfigured bodies, till the bottom of disturbing experiments and prototypes. Luckily the first chapter of the game is quite linear and, with the help of a translator, it was possible for me to extract information and the original names for each android. However, you should take every information not as 100% accurate since anyway I am not able to speak or translate Japanese.

Generic Android

The first android in the list is one of the most human-looking. The skin is pale, almost of a shining silver colour, but with metallic arms. The creature is dressed like a soldier, or a repairman, since it is using a giant wrench as the main weapon. The military-looking android is a common random battle in the abandoned subway, an easy enemy to defeat, without the support of brain parasites and relying only on weak physical attacks.

Remodelling Woman

The creature has a very human appearance, a bold and delicate woman, with the body almost completely normal. However, the head is strangely connected with a complex device, a half-helmet that could be a scanner or a probe, part of some kind of industrial process or medical surgery. Her eyes are sealed, showing how the device is somehow still having an effect on her mind. The truth is easy to translate from the files, this is not a proper android but a human captured by the rogue androids, and now brainwashed and “remodelled” to be a sort of living android. Even without the support of parasites, this battle can be tricky.

Shaft Kid

A group of teenage androids lives in an abandoned factory. Even in their half-functional state, regardless of their apparent age, the androids are all openly aggressive. The body is already showing the cybernetic parts, especially half of the face and a complete arm. However, the punk clothes are somehow giving humanity to this figure, a memento of another or a wanted-to-be life. The android will attack with a broken golf club spotted in blood, highlighting how this android was very aggressive also in the past. Even if this is a unique fight, the creature is easy to defeat.

Arietta

Here things start to go down into the uncanny valley. The female android has blonde pigtails, a skirt, and the upper body is completely naked. However, this is not a pleasant view since its skin is practically ripping off, revealing the metal structure underneath. The contrast between the revealing female figure, with still a trace of fashion clothes and style, against the melting skin, creates a really disturbing character. The creature is not a random wasted android, but a more evolved model, even equipped with brain parasites and able to offer a challenging fight. She is smarter and more functional than any other android, a more subtle and unpredictable model.

Gene

Combed hair, nice clothes, and an overall businesswoman appearance are not very scary-inducing on their own. However, the android has the mouth completely ripped-out, revealing the muscles and the teeth below in a disturbing and grotesque grin. The abnormal abomination is really showing how a small and out of tone detail can really twist a design. This is also one of the few androids where raw flesh is exposed underneath instead of metal or plastic, highlighting how this discarded model was probably a prototype. The creature is aggressive and brutal, even without having parasites, it is able to inflict heavy damages and negative effects.

Wasted Android

This abandoned model is completely devoured by the ages of abandonment. The skin is again melted, exposing the robotic layers, but the damages, in this case, are even more severe, especially on the face and the abdomen. An arm is completely missing, and the body is barely functional, the last sparkle of artificial life. The fight against this android is an easy and mindless battle.

Mutant

This android exists at the edge between a broken junk and a dead body. The body is more dysfunctional and worn out than the previous examples, running to the bottom of the uncanny valley. The skin is completely rotten, with colorful spots around, while the ribs are exposed, making look the figure more like a zombie than an android. Moreover, since the translated name says “Mutant,” maybe this creature is not an android at all. However, since the language barrier is too steep to understand the details of the world’s lore, I still would like to believe that this is an abandoned model of a more organic artificial life. This enemy is an optional but tough fight, but the dead body will attack only if carefully examined.

Roulade

This is one of the most interesting and creepy designs, with a peaceful but disturbing aesthetic. A broken robotic model here becomes a twisted and unique creature, where a naked body collides with a nightmare made of cables. The figure is almost peacefully smiling, even if she is missing half of her upper face. Long and viscid cables come out of her head, like hairs made of tentacles. One arm is severed, but it is still partially connected with cables and used as a sort of rudimental mace. The creature craves to have a human body and will do everything to achieve her distorted dream. Even in this pitiful condition, this boss is a challenging fight, also assisted by two brain parasites.

Specimen A

This creature is a disturbing being that could be considered a sort of embryonic stage, an incomplete template, for an android. The female red body looks in constant sufferance, with the mouth wide open, like gasping for air under the thick plastic cover. The creature is an experimental being, not only for the color of the skin, but also for the third arm in its abdomen, an abandoned experiment of something more than human in a factory long forgotten, forced to live a painful experience trapped in layers of plastic. Regardless of the creepy appearance, the android is an easy and common random battle at the end of the first Chapter.

Specimen B

Same as for Specimen A, this is a long-forgotten experiment or an intermediate state in the production of an android, still able to exist with a sparkle of artificial life. But in this case, the creature is even more twisted and grotesque than the previous one, rightfully gaining its position at the bottom of the uncanny valley. Trapped under tight plastic layers there are multiple bodies horrible fused together, at least two of them, judging by the number of heads. The skin looks like melting together, while the figures try to fight this process by separating their heads. As for Specimen A, this is another common random battle, just a little bit tougher than the previous one.

The most creepy and disturbing enemies and bosses of Death end re;Quest 2

Death end re;Quest 2 is a proper horror JRPG, with an interesting battle system, disturbing scenes, and creepy monsters (for more info check my complete review: Death end re;Quest 2 Review: mysterious Visual Novel by day, horror JRPG by night). I personally find the design of the monsters as a jump forward for the saga. The first Death end re;Quest had enemies almost entirely modelled around insect anatomies, probably to convey the concept of computer bugs in a metaphoric way.

The creatures roaming the streets of Le Choara, the town where Death end re;Quest 2 is set, are disturbing and twisted beings that will be perfectly integrated even if moved inside a classic survival horror game. From obese creatures imbued of an unknown energy, to laughing dolls missing the eyes: the level of horror elements inside the design is always of great visual impact. The connection with horror games is so strong that even the Ao Oni, the famous immortal monster of a Japanese indie game, will make the appearance as super boss.

Worth to specify that creatures showing a twisted insect morphology are also present in the sequel, but this time other concepts are far more common in the monster designs. Doll-like enemies are a major part of the pool of deranged foes, both bosses and common enemies. More than common dolls, straw or rag dolls are more present, providing an additional level of creepiness with the stitches covering their bodies, or the organic secrets hidden below the fabric. Symbolism hidden behind the design is also quite common, especially for bosses, with complex designs enriched in elements underlying a complex story, such for example twisted and jealous love.

The battles are interesting puzzle-like challenges, where each enemy can be thrown around the battlefield, to crash against barriers, or to be intercepted by other party members. The size of the enemies also affects this throwing mechanic, so forget about launching colossal bosses around the arena. Each monster is also associated with one of the three elements, star, moon, and sun, and will receive damages accordingly.

In the following article, I will describe the most creepy and disturbing creatures of the game, from bosses to common enemies. The article is practically spoiler-free, so feel ti jump inside without much worry.

Laughing Mary

A sort of doll, or a small girl with something really wrong, dressed in elaborated and ancient clothes. She always comes running, with the arms open as if she is ready for a hug. While standing-still, Mary happily moves and performs pirouettes. This apparently sweet girl is a terrifying creature since she is missing any facial features, with the exception of a cartoonish and big smile that looks like stitched on a sack. Laughing Mary acts as the boss in Chapter 2, becoming soon after a regular enemy, changing colors of clothes and also of skin, such as Metal Mary, a version with dark and metal skin.

Killer Filler

The disturbing creature looks like a nightmare born from Tim Burton’s mind. The body is an amorphous mass covered in a torn green piece of cloth, like a sort of grotesque dining table. A grinning face comes out from the front, a dark clown with heavy makeup and reversed anatomical traits, with the grinning smile in the place where the eyes should be. From a hole in the middle of its body, right below the fabric, insect-like appendices turn out like a mass of teeming organic scythes. Killer Filler moves and attacks on the four legs, like a feral predator. It is not a super dangerous foe, but some of the most evolved variants can be quite troublesome if not quickly eliminated.

Evil Vigor/Gigas

This disgusting and obese obscenity would not be a surprise if seeing wandering in Silent Hill. The monster is the first boss of the game, before becoming a regular enemy with many variants. The chubby and pale body is covered in veins, while a sort of liquid energy is flowing inside its massive neck. Other variants, called Gigas, have their middle part of the bodies completely exposed till the bones, as if the glowing energy corroded their flesh, or exploded shredding their bodies. The fatty creatures usually attack in couples: they hit strong and, due to their weights, are quite difficult to throw.

Blood Butterfly

An upgraded version of Laughing Mary, but this time the doll-like creature is mixed with a butterfly, creating an abomination that looks like a sweet fairy. The creepy stitched smile is still there, but this time the creature has also the eyes, similar to the ones of a fly. The monster is very fragile but hard to hit, it is also quite bothering since can heal or power-up other enemies, and even flee the battle if too damaged. The Blood Butterfly variant is one of the last battles in the game, an enemy that is better to not underestimate.

Dias

A huge dragon without a face, the creature is a secondary boss inside the game. If its body is clearly resembling a dragon or a similar beast, what is happening where the head should be is a really interesting and peculiar detail. The upper-body is covered in a combination of black goo and crystal shards, creating a sort of glitchy effect on the creature, as if it was an incomplete or still in developing being. The head is a long worm-like appendix, amorphous and missing any anatomy, just a long and disgusting mass of blackness. The incomplete creature is a strong enemy that works as a hidden boss for some Side Quests, but it will get a common enemy in the last hidden dungeon during NG+.

Mother Fearest

The boss of Chapter 5 is a true nightmare, not only for its design but also for its strength. Just by looking at it, the boss sends symbolic vibes of whatever could be wrong in a mother-child relationship. The abomination is a towering and obese creature, with the purple skin terraced by fatty rolls or falling breasts. The legs are especially disgusting, composed of lumps of red flesh fused together. Like souls trapped inside a living material, disturbing faces are emerging from below the skin of the legs. The twisted mother is wearing a cuff similar to the ones used for babies, and she is wielding a massive club that also looks like a baby rattle, strong details amplifying the twisted mother-child dualism. The boss is one of the toughest battles in the game. Its attacks are quite dangerous and can easily kill a character in one turn. Moreover, the boss has a massive amount of HP, and it is even able to completely heal itself with just one action, creating a long and exhausting battle.

Succubus

The boss of Chapter 4 has one of the most complex and symbolic designs in the game. At first glance, the creature looks like a cute fairy, with a delicate body and colorful butterfly wings. However, at a closer look, all the creepy details emerge. The face is partially blindfolded, while the body has multiple arms, similar to the ones of a mannequin. Another head is positioned in the belly, even bigger than the actual one. Every detail in the design screams about a painful love, one not corresponded, from the eye blindfolded to the two independent heads. Everything is fitting with the events of Chapter 4, but I would avoid spoilers. The most creepy details are the legs, twisted like a rope to form a single appendix. If you still have doubts about how this design is a symbolism of twisted love, this particular choice for the legs is clearly inspired by the tragic end of two lovers in Junji Ito’s masterpiece Uzumaki.

Kidnapper

The boss of Chapter 3 is a disgusting and strong being. The creature is described as an old man practically naked, with a mouth opening in its belly. When discovered, the monster was ready to eat two children with fork and spoon, like if they were a proper meal. The obese creature has a dumb and void expression on its face, with intimidating and gigantic proportions of the body. The boss wields a scythe and is able to use it quite deadly. The battle is, in fact, the toughest one until that point, not only for the amount of HP of the boss, but even more for its ability to heal almost completely and to kill a character with a single swing of its scythe.

Skinshank

The boss of Chapter 7 is bigger than expected, a colossal being that looks like a nightmarish version of a Shrek character, or an inhabitant of Halloween town in Nightmare Before Christmas. The monster is a sort of humanoid sack, a rag doll with stitches all around its body. However, the creature is well-dressed, with a hat, a wig, gloves, and boots, providing even more cartoonish vibes. But the creepiest detail is what lies below its artificial skin. A mass of raw and amorphous flesh is revealing where the cloth is not falling apart, a layer of grotesque skin covered with eyes. Something monstrous is clearly living under that fake fairytale appearance. The boss is wielding a giant anchor as a weapon, a deadly mace used to crush the opponents. The battle is a long fight of eroding strategy. The boss not only is hitting hard, but has also an obscene amount of HP. The boss is even able to use a defensive pose, counter-attacking all the player actions in a deadly and accurate way.

???

The real name of the boss will hint heavy spoilers on the game’s plot, so I decided to leave it blank. The titanic abomination sends strong Lovecraftian vibes in any detail, especially in the face. A grotesque puzzle of eyes and teeth, the creature is a terrifying nightmare, including long hair composed of a sort of yellow tentacles. The hands are even bigger than the rest of the body, totally out of proportions, gigantic and intimidating from the long fingers to the claws at the end. The monster killed a multitude of humans during a rampage, this explains while the hands and the mouth are covered in blood. The boss doesn’t have much health, compared to previous encounters, but sadly this is its only flaw. Its claws will kill any character with one single attack, transforming every turn in a desperate struggle to increase defence or gain immunity.

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 here: Death end re;Quest 2 and Ao Oni: when a horror JRPG and an indie survival-horror collaborate).

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.

The Nightmares of Mary Skelter: fairytale characters reborn as twisted immortal stalkers

Mary Skelter Nightmares is an innovative dungeon-crawler in which female characters from fairytales fight to escape from a huge living prison, using the blood of the enemies as a weapon (for more info check my full review: Mary Skelter Nightmares Review: an innovative dungeon-crawler where fairytales are drenched in blood).

If common enemies are sometimes lacking innovation and personality in their design, the Nightmares are a completely different story. Creepy and disturbing enemies, Nightmares are almost immortal foes limited to one for each dungeon. In the beginning, there is no way to permanently defeat a Nightmare, and their appearing transforms the game in a survival-horror. The best way to survive a Nightmare is by running away, escaping the immortal stalker before being captured. The chase will not end up in an immediate Game Over and there will be still the chance to stun the monster and escape, even if the chances of dying are quite high. The Nightmares are the equivalent of immortal Stalker in survival-horror games, such as Nemesis or Mr X for Resident Evil, but this time inside a JRPG.

However, at the very end of each dungeon, it is finally possible to defeat a Nightmare. The battle is always divided into two steps. First, the external armor of each Nightmare, comprised of different parts, needs to be destroyed. The items themselves are very interesting, revealing information on the Nightmare’s background. After that, the monster will lightly change shape, starting the real fight.

As previously explained, Mary Skelter is connected to fairytales, since the main characters are all based on fables, from Cinderella to Rapunzel. Each dungeon/chapter of the game is focused on the background or the struggle of one specific character, morphing the world around according to that fairytale. The Nightmares are also gears of this mechanism, showing complex symbolism and a multitude of details related to a specific fairytale.

In the following article, I will analyse the Nightmares of Mary Skelter. Except for the first Nightmare, for which a nice concept art is available, the other images are compacted into slideshow sand, by clicking on the arrows, it will be possible to see both the forms, with and without the armor.

City Streets Nightmare – Alice in Wonderland

MarySkelter-4

The first Nightmare to face during the game has a really creepy and grotesque design. A nice piece of concept art is available for this monster, showing both forms of the creature. The Nightmare is clearly female, judging by the breast, and it is regally dressed, with jewels and even a cape. The most distinguishable element is the neckpiece covering the head and almost half of the body. The humanoid creature has goose- or duck-like morphological elements integrated into the design, especially arms and legs. The bird motifs go even further, with the white and spherical head resembling an egg. The most evident armor is the one around the neck that, after being destroyed, will reveal a sort of organic tissue covered with eyes. The expression on the face will also become more feral and aggressive, probably since the creature is wounded. Since the first chapter is based on Alice, this monster is a clear symbol of the Queen of Hearts of Alice in Wonderland. The elaborated clothes and the female body are already a sign, and the make-up on the face, clearly resembling the one on cards, confirms this connection. The bird-like morphological elements are probably associated with flamingo, the bird used by Alice to play against the Queen.

 

Graveyard Nightmare – Sleeping Beauty

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At first glance, the Nightmare guarding the Graveyard is almost silly or parodic, instead of being creepy. However, the creature still shows some interesting details, especially after breaking the armor. The humanoid creature has insect-like elements integrated into the design, with 5 pairs of limbs. While the armor is intact, the creature is wearing regal white clothes, including an apron, leggings, gloves, and boots. A huge hammer is fused in its right arm, integrating a lethal weapon in the body of the creature. The face is quite bizarre, with a long nose and gigantic purple lips. After the clothes and the hammer are destroyed, the creature will reveal its true form. The body is wounded and decayed, partially due to the tough battle, with even bones exposed. However, the skeletal feet were probably always there, hidden by the boots, defining its connection with the Graveyard and the land of the dead. In place of the hammer, now destroyed, there is a sharp needle. This spindle is a reference to Sleeping Beauty, one of the party characters and the main victim of a spindle in her story. A huge vertical mouth crosses all its body, previously covered by the apron. The mouth, now wide open, reveals a yellow eye deep inside it. Together, the mouth and the eye could reveal a far more grotesque truth, in which another entity, or the real body of the creature, is hiding inside the flesh of the Nightmare.

 

Downtown Nightmare – Cinderella

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One of my favorite designs for a complex and innovative monster. I already deeply analysed its design and possible meaning in another article, available here: Monster of the Week: Downtown Nightmare (Mary Skelter) — Surreal and Creepy. However, in that article, I didn’t mention its symbolism with fairytales. The creature is wearing a giant shoe, so then connection with Cinderella is quite clear. But this is only the beginning since the creature is a complex archive of references. While its armor is still functional, the monster has a giant round head, similar to a pumpkin, probably the one used to build Cinderella’s chariot. The face is also part of the armor, since the real form of the creature is a sort of fleshy leg full of eyes. Interestingly, the face is called “Masquerade Makeup” as a reference to Cinderella’s preparation before going to the party at the castle. The crown of rats is also a reference to Cinderella, in this case to the mice that helped her with the clothes. The creature has a really disturbing design, both with and without the armor, with the long purple tongue as the main weapon shared by both forms.

 

Temple Nightmare – Tale of the Bamboo Cutter

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This Nightmare defies the rules imposed for all the others. It will not appear often to chase the party and, when will be the time to battle it, the monster will grow to titanic proportions. The fight revolves around gimmicks and tricks, plus avoiding in real-time the area attacks. The main body of the creature is a gigantic spherical mass, fleshy and venous. On the monster’s face, there is only a huge mouth with big pink lips. The eyes are on top of long and flexible tentacles, appendices similar to snail’s eyes. The external skin on the face can be destroyed, revealing a smaller inner mass made of muscles. In its second form, the Nightmare is far more disturbing, with now a grin on the face made only of teeth and missing the lips. The creature is a representation of the moon, the homeland of Princess Kaguya in the Tale of the Bamboo Cutter. At a closer look, the eyes also resemble bamboo sticks, another connection to this old Japanese tale.

 

Dormitory Nightmare – Hansel and Gretel

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This Nightmare is strongly associated with gluttony and food excesses. The obese monster lives in a place completely drenched in sweet things and candies, a sticky ecosystem where the sugar looks like an organic substance. The fairytale reference this time is directly explained by the game since this Nightmare, smarter than the average, is none other than Hansel. In the beginning, the creature is covered in an armor made of sweets, layers and layers of glucose, strawberries, and cookies. Even its helm is called Delicious Burka since is composed of a giant cookie. Abducted children, such as Gretel, feed on the sweets coming out of its external layer. Yes, we agree this sounds really disturbing. Hansel is not only aggressive, but also smarter than any other Nightmare, making it a dangerous opponent. After its sweet armor is destroyed, a pale and obese body is revealed. A horrible mass of chubby flesh and muscles, terribly wrong and grotesque in every detail. The anatomy of the face is completely twisted but even more disturbing is the circular mouth opening in its belly.

 

Waterside Nightmare – Rapunzel

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This Nightmare has already a really interesting design with the armor still on, but after the secret beneath is shell will be revealed, its concept will become even more peculiar. The creature has a black metal body, an impenetrable and strong shell able to protect its inner body. Movement and attacks are both executed by a pair of highly-movable claw-like legs, still encrusted by the blood of the victims. In the middle of the armor, a gray humanoid figure lies protected by a bell-like shield. Judging by its color and the lifeless appearance, the humanoid creature could be a statue or an automaton. If you think that the humanoid figure is the one controlling the armor, you will have a surprise after breaking the legs and the main shield. Smaller versions of the humanoid figure, a sort of gray homunculi, are hiding in the armor, both under the shield and in each leg. The figures look like angelic cherubs, highlighting the possible connection between this figure and religious art. The homunculi are probably the ones responsible for moving the metallic claws since they are hiding exactly at the juncture-points. What it looked like a single entity is instead a sort of colony, or a hive, composed by small and mysterious lifeless creatures. The Nightmare is the living representation of Rapunzel’s tower, a huge and impenetrable object. This is even more supported by the long locks of blonde hair falling on the legs.

 

Station Grounds Nightmare – Little Red Riding Hood

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This is truly a Nightmare in every shade of the word. A wolf with a red hood is, of course, a direct connection with Red Riding Hood, without many twists. However, this design is probably one of the sickest and disturbing versions of the Big Bad Wolf ever created in a videogame. The creature is an alien puzzle of flesh, with scars and sewing along all its body, especially in the paws. The eyes are also sewed together, forming like small mouths. The Nightmare is missing a proper external armor, and the scars along the body have the function of a protective shell. The name of one piece of the armor is completely nightmare-inducing: “Grammy’s Stomach.” A twisted and grinning face is fused with the flesh, a parasitic structure existing under the layers of skin of the wolf. But if the name already spoils the nature of that face, after removing the armor all the gory and disturbing details will be released. Tissue, scars, and seams will break, revealing raw flesh and what it is hidden beneath. Grammy’s face will now be visible, the distorted and grotesque face of the old woman that once was Riding Hood’s grandmother, now living as a sort of symbiotic parasite in the body of the wold. The eyes are now open, but the most disturbing secret is hidden in the mouth. A green and psychotic head is buried inside the mouth of the creature, a disturbing horror detail that will surprise and terrify the players. If the grandmother is the face on the back, for exclusion this is the hunter, maybe trying to escape from the stomach now that the mouth is open, or existing as a parasite inside the throat of the monster. What a disturbing and brilliant twist on fairytales.

 

Tower Nightmare – Jack and the Beanstalk

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The Tower Nightmare is not alone, but it is instead a couple of almost-identical creatures defending the last dungeon of the game. This is one of the most aggressive Nightmares, a fast and restless predator, which will appear with far more insistence than all the others. The monster is a proper knight, wearing metal armor and wielding a sword. The armor is covered in vines and small flowers or seeds, connecting the creature with naturalistic symbolism. The sword is the most creepy detail of an otherwise not so complex concept. A sort of saw-blade, the weapon is entirely composed of bones and skulls, somehow sewed together. The breakable armor is composed only of two elements, but the curtain of strong vines hiding its face is surely the most central. After breaking the armor elements, the Nightmare will reveal a huge and disgusting mouth, covering almost all its body. The Nightmare is probably connected to the story of Jack and the Beanstalk, since not only it is defending a Tower, but the strong vines integrating into the design are a powerful visual reference to the giant beanstalk.

 

Underground Nightmare – Rats of Hamelin

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Secret boss post-ending, this is the toughest Nightmare in the game. Living in a gigantic underground maze, the creature is as mysterious as dangerous. Even if for behavior and the appearance this is head to toe a Nightmare, it is officially called “Nightmare?” to particularize its ambiguous nature. The Nightmare is a titanic adversary completely enveloped in a sort of white exoskeleton. The main torso is also the head of the creature, or better the helm of the armor. Breaking the protection will reveal a similar secret to the Waterside Nightmare. Inside the armor, three mysterious humanoid creatures with dark skin are piloting the armor, like if the interior was the cabin of a Mech. The main hidden figure is playing the flute, one of the most dangerous weapons, able to make the entire party fall asleep. The flute and the appearances of the hidden creatures could be a connection to rats, and specifically to the tale of the Rats of Hamelin.

Zanki Zero and the cloning machine: from childhood to dying of old age in 13 days [Mechanic]

Zanki Zero is a dungeon-crawler with survival elements developed by the people behind Danganronpa. In a mysterious post-apocalyptic world, 8 strangers wake up on an island without memory. This is the beginning of a journey made of monsters, surreal events, and tough surviving. Because being alone on an island will not be easy, and crafting, building, and foraging food will be vital.

But there is another more innovative mechanic hidden in Zanki Zero. The survivors will soon discover, in the most gruesome way, to be mere clones, with the old memories transplanted into new bodies thanks to an “X” button on their bellies, which can be retrieved upon their deaths and used inside a cloning machine resembling a retro arcade cabinet. If this is already a tragic discovery for the entire party, there is something even worst. The lifespan of a clone is only 13 days, not even one day more. Story-wise, in less than 2 weeks each character will die of old age, without a way to escape this terrible fate. Luckily, after every death, the characters can reborn as school kids, starting again the 13 days clock. The imperfect clones will experience this terrible and bizarre fate several times during the game, an entire life in less than 2 weeks, from childhood through adulthood till becoming elders.

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Days in Zanki Zero pass quite easily, each rest or change of floor in a dungeon will move the clock forward of one day, and every few days the characters will enter in a different stage of life. The cycle is quite simple: starting as children around 7 years old, the characters will then become adults in their 20s, then middle-aged, and in the end seniors. The changes are of course aesthetic, with the characters visually ageing at each new phase. This is a really unique feature for a JRPG, not only watching your favorite character ageing in front of your eyes, but also a way to somehow punish fan-service. Because the sexy anime girl that you dressed in a bikini will grow old with the same clothes: reality hits hard.

Of course, the different steps come with huge changes in terms of gameplay. Kids and seniors will have less attack strength, and especially kids can bring less weight than adults. So of course fighting with a group of adults is recommended but it is also interesting how several skills and abilities are related only to a specific age-group. For example, kids can heal over time, while adults can increase attack and defence. Seniors instead can reduce stress over time, probably due to the old age wisdom. This is also reflected in the exploration, for example with small holes and openings that can be explored only by having a kid in the party.

Ageing is not the only way of dying in a cruel and dangerous post-apocalyptic world. Death is always behind the corner, it could be an illness, starvation, or of course a deadly monster. However, the clones can reborn after every possible kind of death. If we could debate quite a lot about how “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” especially under a clinical point of view, in the case of Zanki Zero there is no doubt that instead “what DOES kill you makes you stronger.” Depending on the way that characters died, after reviving as kids, they will permanently inherit a perk that will make them stronger. Killed by an angry mutant? Next cycle that character will be stronger against that enemy. Dead for starvation? Next time the stamina will reduce slower. A deadly poison killed one of the characters? The next clone will have increased resistance against poison. There are 150 perks associated with each character, for a crazy amount of ways to die, including dying for shame or food allergy. The perks are also associated with cards, portraying comic and macabre images, a mix between retro Japanese games and Fallout’s Vault Boy propaganda.

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Zanki Zero is a constant betting and planning with death. The player should estimate the time to reach the end of a dungeon, or old characters could die along the way, losing all their items and the possibility to open specific doors that need all the characters alive. Often it is better to intentionally kill your characters to make them young again, but this will start the problem of weakening the party with more kids. Also, sometimes it is worthy to sacrifice a character in another horrible way, especially if he or she already collected the perk of dying for old age. There will be disturbing moments when the player will think “should I make starve this character to death or better to sacrifice him to a mutant?” But of course, reviving the characters is not free and the machine will use specific points, and the more the perks a character gained, the more expensive will be to revive him. Moral dilemmas and strategy are constant weights in Zanki Zero, where the player should learn how to comfortably play with death.

The cloning machine has a lot of other functions, including the transplant of mutant organs to gain powers. The survival elements of Zanki Zero are also not secondary to any pure survival game, building an incredibly complex game. But for sure the cloning mechanic, including ageing and the perks associated with death, is a unique gameplay element well integrated into a complex and satisfying dungeon-crawler.