The sun shines high in the sky, the grass is green, the new neighbours look really friendly, and the town smells of cake. What could go wrong? Sometimes a lot of things, especially if you are unlucky enough to finish in a Town with a Dark Secret. This trope is quite well explored in horror […]Towns with a Dark Secret: the most hermetic, cryptic, and bizarre communities at the core of open-world games — Surreal and Creepy
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
D2 is an obscure and really peculiar game released only in Japan and US. Sequel of the mysterious adventure D, developed by the eccentric Japanese developer Kenji Eno, D2 tried to combine survival horror and JRPG, creating one of the most bizarre game ever. The main combat used a first point perspective, like a modern FPS, with the freedom to move the weapon and actively target different body parts of the enemies, while the main character was standing still. The plot is really twisted, bizarre and complex, mixing together a deadly virus, mutants, clones, eldritch abominations and robots. The game was anyway really mature and disturbing, with some scenes censored in the western release. Here I will talk about the peculiar final boss battle, so there will be light SPOILERS regarding the plot of D2.
The final boss is a mysterious and ancient entity called the Shadow. The creature probably came to the Earth inside meteor, maybe the same that destroyed the dinosaurs. The Shadow wants to annihilate every form of life, acting as an opposite force to Mother Nature. To avoid more unnecessary spoilers, I will just say that the fight with the Shadow is not only the key point in D2 plot, but a very different battle.
The Shadow is an incoherent mass of purple flesh and eyes. The weird abomination is not really intimidating, but more bizarre. The eyes are constantly moving, watching in different directions. The creature has strange glyph and structures, like an angelic halo surrounding its body, highlighting its divine role of purifier of planet Earth. To add strangeness to the battle, the background during the fight is an amalgam of flashing colors, like if everyone is under LSD. This creates a more alien and uncomprehending atmosphere, since the player is now fighting a being out of the ordinary logic.
To be a battle against an ancient and twisted God, the fight with the Shadow is, at least at the beginning, really simple and anticlimactic. The boss can be damaged by shooting at any part of its body, but will receive more damage by shooting to the eyes. The creature is also motionless and will do nothing to avoid the bullets. After many fights with quick and unpredictable bosses, very difficult to track and damage, the final boss is just a motionless lump of flesh? The Shadow has only very few attacks, usually throwing a lighting bolt at the player. The animation during the attack is quiet bizarre, with the creature shaking and twisting its body, surrounded by lightnings, before shooting. The psychedelic background is also not helping to make the fight more comprehensible.
The fight is easy and predictable. Surely interesting, at least for the trippy scenario, not quiet common as battlefield. The fight will suddenly evolve when the Shadow will start to switch off the senses of the player, one by one. This will not affect the main character as a negative effect or negative buffs, very common in JRPG, but will directly affect the player. The first sense to be affected will be the sight. The screen will fade to complete black, except for bullets and health meter. This is quiet different from the common “Blind” status in many RPGs, which is usually associated with a higher chance to miss the attacks. In this case, it is the player that is completely blind and this will be reflected directly in the gameplay. The player can still use the hearing to understand if he is hitting the Shadow or not, but the fight will get more complicated. Here you can have an idea of how fighting a boss while blinded would look like.
After the sight, the Shadow will destroy your hearing. After that, not only the screen is completely black, but also without any sound to guide the bullets. You can’t see and hear nothing, something quiet disturbing since the Shadow will continue to strike you with electrical bolts. At least there is still a way to hurt it and fight back, while healing. After the hearing, the Shadow will take away your ability to move. Now things are even more challenging, because you have no way to fight it back. You are simply there, blind and deaf, without any way to harm the boss. Also the health points will drop down to 1. The only way to survive is by healing really quickly, while using the items to stay alive. Blind, deaf and paralyzed, there is no more way to fight it back.
A voice in your head will change the dark fate of the battle against the Shadow. A new item can be used from the inventory, revealing a Flower. The power of Nature will help to fight back the negative energies of the Shadow, regenerating all the senses. The player can now fight again at full power. With all the senses back, the last part of the fight is easy and straightforward, as at the beginning.
The final boss of D2 is really weird and anticlimactic. An easy battle, static and boring at the beginning, but with an unexpected twist affecting directly the senses of the player. This is more a puzzle than a proper battle, but the confusion during the fight when the screen fades to black for the first time is still really unreachable, altering the concept of “negative effect” that is usually quiet static in JRPGs. The psychedelic background, full of lights and colours contribute to create a unique setting for a really bizarre and peculiar boss.