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.

Monster of the Week: The Brood Mother and her progeny (Vigil)

Origin: Vigil the Longest Night

Appearance: The boss is a giant and grotesque abomination, showing female humanoid traits combined with insect morphology. The abdomen especially resembles the one of a giant larva, or of the queen of a hive. Atrophic wings are falling on her back, like vestigial elements clearly unable to lift such a massive figure. The arms are extremely long and dangerous, used as a weapon, especially for the claws at the end. The long neck and the face are the only elements still keeping a sparkle of her female appearance, especially the pale face that resembles a marble mask. However, when her mouth is wide open, the creature shows inevitably her grotesque nature. Her body is curved under extreme sufferance, an amorphous and unfunctional mass acquired through wild experimentations, with scars and stitches covering her body as proof. But the Brood Mother would not be described as a mother without having a progeny, and definitively this is the most grotesque detail about this creature.

Background: The deformed and grotesque creature was not always in this way. The Brood Mother was once just a normal girl, following religious duties, and in love with her boyfriend. Sadly one day, she was betrayed and became the guinea pig of an insane doctor. Her body was subject to twisted experiments, while she slowly lost both her mind and her humanity. Now the pain of those wild experiments is a clear mark on her body, as the twisted path of stitches crossing her body.

The main weapons of the gigantic boss are of course her arms, incredibly long and dangerous, able to easily crush even the most worthy opponent. Her strength is so abnormal and human, that even the ceiling of the cave will collapse under her devastating punches. But as previously specified, the progeny of the Brood Mother is her most dangerous and twisted detail. Small and grotesque infants will be expelled from her body as rounded eggs that, if not promptly destroyed, will hatch in her swarming progeny. The small creatures have deformed bodies fused together like an amorphous mass of sufferance, a sort of sick combination between a fetus and a larva. The void expression on their faces and the infant-like appearance almost create a deep feeling of guilty uneasiness inside the player, who will be forced to slay the apparently harmless creatures. An interesting detail is that, even after slaying the boss, her infants will continue to grow and evolve, from larvae to fly-like monstrosities.

By coming back to the cave later in the cave, the main character will face these new and disturbing abominations, able to spit poison and to self destroy after charging the player. Definitively this time the sense of guilty will disappear. One terrible and macabre detail hinted behind the tragic story of the Brood Mother, especially since the poor woman was in love and having a boyfriend, and the mutated Brood Mother is constantly giving birth, is that probably the woman was pregnant when the experiments started.

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.

Discover the original stories of eerie and creepy characters that I created in Soul Calibur 6 [Characters, Diaries and Stories]

The power to create monsters and creatures born from your imagination is a powerful tool, especially if you are able to draw. There are also other ways to create monsters that convey a story, for example creating creepy and bizarre creatures with a complex background using character creation tools from different games. It is easier to achieve such a task in RPGs, as I previously made for Fallout 4 or Code Vein (The Bloody Captain of Diamond City: the story of a baseball superhero searching for the absolute fame – Fallout 4 [Characters, Diaries and Stories] and The dreamlike tale of Elaiza, an imprisoned soul able to travel between dreams and nightmares – Code Vein [Characters, Diaries and Stories]), where the complete freedom of the gameplay helps to shape dozens of possible stories. But other powerful tools can be also used to create interesting characters and monsters.

In the following article I created 10 creatures using the amazing character creator of Soul Calibur 6. Even if in this case the characters can only be created to fight each others, I used the tool trying to design characters that convey a story. Of course the character creator has its limits, so in some moments you should use a bit of imagination. For me this is a formative experiment, a meeting point between my passion for games and writing. Each character and story that I created here is completely original, built trying to create a connection between a creepy design and an interesting background.

The Herald of the Blind Horde

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Do you know why crows start to eat dead bodies from their eyes? It is because those birds are messengers of the Blind Horde, in charge of sending souls to strengthen their ranks. A phenomenon that was especially true on the battlefield, the main feast for the crows and the Horde. Following the destruction brought by the Blind Horde in feudal Japan, after each main battle, it was common to burn the head of the corpses to avoid the spreading of the Horde. The Blind Horde is a savage and barbaric army composed of pale humanoid creatures, usually half-naked and wielding tribal weapons made of bones, appearing from the mist and slaughtering everything in its path. Each soldier is almost identical to the others, like clones, each of them missing proper eyes, but having instead a huge and grotesque eye opening where the mouth should be. After they have wiped-out another army, the Horde will also remove the eyes from all the dead bodies, so their spirits will join the Horde. According to other legends, this is not the only way to be a gear of the Horde. Some stories claim that a human being that spent 100 years in complete blindness will also join the Horde, but as a sort of high-class elite, keeping the intellect. In Japan, the common belief is that the Blind Horde is a unique hive-minded Yokai, where each monster is just a small part of something bigger.

Yanichi, Protector of Written Secrets

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The guards were too busy talking about the new girl at the brothel to notice how the thief was using the roof to sneak inside the Holy Room. Sacred instruments and ancient forbidden knowledge were scattered around the room, centuries of treasure collected by the religious elite of the clan. But the thief had only one specific object in mind, a single tome containing the secret he was looking. He found the book easily and immediately opened it to search the correct spell. A freezing wind entered the room, accompanied by an acute female laugh. The thief was terrified because he understood while the guards were so lazy. The books were protected by Yanichi, and he was already a dead man. Yanichi is an ancient spirit protector of words, symbols, and knowledge. With the right ritual, Yanichi can be summoned and bound to scrolls or books, as a fierce and bloodthirsty guardian. If unwelcome eyes should read a protected text, Yanichi will appear in the physical world to punish the curious. Her favorite punishment is to pierce golden nails through the eyes of the unwelcome readers. So they will not search anymore for secrets.

The Gray Jester

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A long time ago, in a mysterious and far land, a king was obsessed with his own laughing. The monarch was an extravagant one, full of bizarre beliefs and superstitious rituals. His late-life obsession became his own laughing. According to his views, each laugh was in reality part of his spirit flying away to feed an invisible demon. No matter how weird and insane his beliefs were, the castle was forced to agree with his rules. But the king didn’t want to spend all his life without laughing, for this reason, he contacted a famous alchemist to find a solution. The royal laugh will not be feeding anymore the mysterious demon. The alchemist had an easy and bizarre solution: building the marionette of the Gray Jester to be the recipient of the king’s volatile laughs. The Gray Jester was born as a sad and futile being, a puppet existing only to ease the obsessions of the king. But its purpose and functionality were not a mere placebo and, through a zipped opening in the abdomen, the Jester was collecting the laughs of the entire castle. But the more the laughs collected, the more the sadness that reclaimed that empty shell. Nobody would expect the blind fury waving inside the castle when the Jester got alive. It smashed everybody with a giant hammer, painting a giant smile on its face with the King’s blood. The alchemist truly created the demon that was before only an obsession in the king’s mind.

The Void Astronaut

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There are not many astronauts of this kind. Far planets and remote galaxies were not their dream, nor a crucial part of their job. Void astronauts were trained and equipped to travel and explore a vast space of infinite nothingness. This empty and aseptic space could open everywhere. Sometimes it is the door or a wardrobe, other times inside an old and abandoned vehicle. Each time a new access is discovered, a void astronaut is sent to explore it. But one Void Astronaut discovered that the void space was not empty as expected, and he took contact with “something”. Whatever was the energy or the entity that caused the anomaly, he was never more the same. And never got home. Fused in his suit, the astronaut is wandering in the void, as both a flesh prison and a string-less puppet. Something is constantly trying to crawl out of his body. A white and empty face is slowly emerging from his flesh and suite, while hands and eyes are pressuring his body from the inside. Whatever thing he will become, and whatever power he will again, it is a terrifying mystery.

Summer Siren

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Summer, sun, seaside, and eyes to look around in complete relaxation. Nothing better to ask for. But the unexpected can ruin everything in a second. It could start with a gorgeous girl in bikini standing on the edge of a rock. Then, the tragic fall inside the battling waters. In a matter of seconds, you could be jumping in the sea, swimming to the rescue of the mysterious stranger in distress. The waves are strong, and the girl is barely a shape submerged by water, but you try anyway your best to reach her, motivated both by the aim of saving a life and the mystique beauty of the mysterious stranger. When you finally reach her, swimming against the sea itself, you realise how many details are wrong. If her body is well-shaped and defined, her face is somehow off, like if it was blurred by some camera filter. The truth is hard to digest, her face is in fact only a shapeless and blurred mass of water. Strong arms block your escape, thick instruments covered in blue scales. When you try to fight your way out of the water, away from the deadly hug of that shapeless face, something starts to burn your skin. The yellow palms of the creature are not different from the biology of the deadliest jellyfish. The paralysing poison is already circulating in your body, when every biological machinery in your body starts to shut-down.

Auto Neko Slasher

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Super Neko World was once considered one of the happiest places in the world. An amusement park built around the concept of the figure of the cat, expanded with the use of the best technological and robotic advancements that Japan had to offer. Not only crazy roller-coasters and huge-wheels but also parades everywhere, where silly and cute cat robots were performing. The protagonist of this story was a humanoid cat robot in charge of cutting grass and hedges inside the park, of course creating complex architectures based on cats. It was a true marvel that filled the eyes of children with pure joy. The technicians at the park were controlling its behavior using a camera in its chest, observing and judging the structures it created. As many dystopic stories about robots told us, at some point even the cutest robot could go rogue. There was not a proper explanation for that, just a random but critical malfunction. The scissors became its weapon, while the camera on its chest an instrument to show to the world all the nefarious murders it committed. Would you believe that the revolution started with a gardener cat-robot?

The Never-to-be Bride

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Dying on your wedding day is not a destiny to wish even to your worse enemy. Sadly, such a nefarious fate can still happen. Dying on the wedding day also marks a huge scar on the soul, a burden of grudge and anger. The bride lost everything, not only her love, but also her beauty and humanity. The body and the skin, shaped by care and vanity, were now only white bones. Destroyed in every inch of her existence, the bride planned to recover what she lost. If a bride is staring too much on a mirror during the wedding day, it could summon the Never-to-be Bride. Not only she will strangle the living bride-to-be with a whip made with the twisted flower of the ghostly bouquet, but the spirit will take the place of the bride, including her dress. Of course, the future groom will realise of the skull under the veil at the moment of the kiss, breaking the summoning. But the ghostly bride will persist in her search for the lost love and beauty. She forged a golden mask using wedding rings of the murdered brides, a mask of a beautiful female face, a simulacrum of her lost humanity. Will somebody be so crazy to marry her now?

I AM SKIN

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A creature born from the Gurgling Abyss, an amorphous place made of raw flesh. The female shape is only composed of dense layers of skin, a humanoid but terrifying being. Her body works as a grotesque magnet for skin material, sucking away layers of cells from screaming humans. Her mere presence at some meters away and the skin of living organisms will flow to join her body in a sort of grotesque river of dense tissue. Of course, few people could survive this horrible and painful effect. The motives and the behavior of this creature are a mystery, but the Gurgling Abyss generated also two other sisters, this time made only of blood and bones. Their effects on the human body are comparable to the one of their sister.

Bringer of the Purple Moon

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When he saw for the first time the Purple Moon, he was astonished by its magnificent presence. It was an ecstatic moment that changed his life forever. He still can remember the radiating purple light coming from the sky, the scythe form, and the thin tentacles dancing from the gigantic figure. Under the purple light, he was blessed and reborn, washed away from his physical form. The words of the Purple Moon forever carved not only in his mind but also in his flesh. Wearing a scythe and the Purple Moon’s helm, he became the inquisitor of this alien and mysterious entity. No matter how many people he should burn in nights without moon, or how thick must be the purple smoke coming out from the screaming victims, the Bringer of the Purple Moon will find a way to summon again his forgotten god. When the sky will be engulfed by the purple smoke of thousands of sacrifices, the Purple Moon will be physically summoned again. Or at least this is what he wanted to believe.

Abstract

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Sculptures so lively to be mistaken for human beings, and selected to decorate the most majestic churches. That was a time of artistic wonders and marvelous minds. But there was something keeping even Michelangelo or Bernini awake at night, a too much real nightmare associated with creativity crisis. No matter how genius you can be, at some point, whichever sculptor will be staring at an amorphous mass of marble without any idea on how to free the statue from the stone. For how much it is difficult to believe, every sculptor knew that the more this creativity crisis continued, the higher the possibility of calling the attention of Abstract. The uncanny and cryptic entity can morph from any unfinished statue, shaping the stone into creating its body. The female body made of stone is covered in chains, while empty geometric figures are floating around its body and covering its face. Abstract is the material representation of creativity and sculpting, an ancient god of ideas made physical. But it is also an executioner, a sort of ancient boogeyman that terrorises sculptors that are unable to finish their creations. When Abstract finds its way into a statue, manifesting itself in the tangible realm, the fate of the involved sculptor is far from becoming a happy ending. Abstract will chain the body of the sculptor in an impossible and uncomfortable position, like a puppet made of flesh. The sculptor must finish the statue from this position, or his fate will be much worse than physical pain. His body will slowly turn into a statue, and the only way to prevent the process is by finishing a masterpiece. But this rarely happens. How many famous statues in the world are in reality the artist petrified by Abstract?

Why fighting when you can ally with Cosmic Evil Gods in Hellpoint? [Evil Quests]

Hellpoint is an interesting meeting point between the mechanics of Dark Souls and the oppressive horror sci-fi atmosphere of games like Dead Space or Doom. The game is set on a gigantic space station orbiting around a black hole. Everyone is dead, or worst, and the station is invaded by hordes of monsters. A cosmic occult ritual went wrong, and 3 abyssal gods invaded the station with their hordes and followers.

Interestingly, each god has its philosophy, and it is somehow associated with a specific level of torment: Uthos is the tormentor of the mind, Ozy of the flesh and the body, while Nemundis is associated with a more spiritual and subtle pain. The station is now a battlefield between cosmic powers, a chessboard where each god is moving its twisted pawns. Each god is trying to control the station and this is also reflected in the gameplay. When a god is killed, the equilibrium of power will be shifted and the followers of the other gods will replace the dead’s ones in the station, even altering the previously visited areas and possibly increasing the difficulty. Plan well which god to kill last because then its followers will be everywhere.

Interestingly, killing the gods is not the only option and it is possible to befriend each god, becoming its herald or champion. Well, sooner or later there is no way to avoid becoming a god-slayer, but the possibility to do quests for these colossal and evil entities is really rewarding. Before the inner chamber of each boss, sometimes hidden in a very secluded area, there is always a monolith, which allows access to the mysterious Underworld. This parallel universe stores different items and creatures than the original world, a land full of bright colors and mystic winds. Entering the boss room while in the Underworld will not trigger the usual fight, but it will instead allow the player to talk directly with the Cosmic Gods. Each god will have a similar quest, based on collecting trophies from the bodies of the champions of the rival god. Of course, the gods will offer a very satisfying reward after the quest is completed, specifically unique weapons for magicians, each associated with a different element. But let’s check the quest-line and the dialogue with each evil god.

Uthos, the Ashen Born

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This giant demon, where classic hellish design joins with cybernetic elements (quite in Doom style), is more friendly than it looks like. Seated on a throne in a sort of meditative pose, the God of Agony looks quite peaceful. It defines itself as the eternal renewal of agony, a creature pursuing sufferance as purification for every creature. In its cosmic vision, suffering is the pressure to live, a sort of positive energy giving life a meaning. Somehow, this demonic abomination is respectful of the gift of life, at least in its own way. Uthos and its followers see agony as an evolutionary mechanism, an instrument to transcend and to grow (from the description of the Daemon Fragment). The god searches weakness in every living being, using sufferance to discover them. Fire is the mark of Uthos, integrated into its body and connected to all its followers. Fire is purifying agony, an instrument to pursue its cosmic plan. Its followers are all associated with fire, especially the Lava Daemons, tall humanoid demons wielding a scythe used to create walls of flames. Uthos sees in the twisted and distorted followers of Ozyormy a waste of the gift of life, dumb and parasitic creatures that don’t deserve to be alive. For this reason, Uthos will ask, in exchange for becoming its Executor, the fragments from the bodies of 10 Consumers, obese creatures with mouths in their bellies, and champions of Ozyormy.

Ozyormy Goija, the Master of Puppets

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The god of raw flesh, twisted meat, and grotesque transformations has one of the most absurd but metal names ever [Ozy(Ozzy)+Ormy(Orm)+Goija(Gojira)+one of the best Metallica albums]. The creature looks like a twisted Hindu deity, not only in the appearance but also in its movements, like in a perpetual dancing. Ozy lives in a bloody room at the bottom of a hole, which can be peacefully accessed from the Underworld. Ozy sees its followers as a Happy Family and will offer the player to join it. Everything about this deity is related to twisting flesh and body, to discover physical ways to wrench bodies. It will offer the player to teach torsion to break a man, something that is probably called the Weak Dance. Both during dialogue and fight, Ozy is always like performing a twisted and unpredictable dance, which can be a direct application of the Weak Dance, a perpetual and unnatural dance that works also as a fighting technique to break bodies. Sadly, the player will not truly learn this technique even if joining Ozy’s family. Ozy holds strings, pulls lie, and twists truth, probably using torture and modeling flesh as tools to shape the world to its image. The god is a chaotic energy, an insane and disturbed cosmic entity with bizarre and unclear aims. The Master of Puppets has many different followers, generally called Thespians, wrenched and grotesque creatures serving their master. Melee Thespians are thin and fleshy swordmen, fast and agile. Consumers are giant obese creatures with long and flexible arms, with a mouth in their bellies. Hostesses are incredibly tall female-humanoid figures wearing a mask, with well-shaped bodies and a long blade. To conclude, the Vicious Hands are exactly what you expect: giant walking hands that attack like a swarm. Ozy hates Nemundis and its followers, calling them dull minded beings. To join the family and receive the reward, the player must kill 10 Archons, powerful magical beings living in the Underworld. After completing the quest, Ozy will promote the player to puppet-master, who should teach the puppets who runs the show.

Undisturbed Defas Nemundis

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Apparently a peaceful and meditative being, Nemundis shares with the other gods connections to Asian religions, in this case the pose connected to Buddhism. Regardless of its appearance, Nemundis is not all sugar and friendship, since it is even addressed as the abyss that stares back. Nemundis is the god of the cold and infinite terror, of the empty and aseptic void, the ruler of the silent darkness. The god also defines itself and its followers as both medium of creation and its ultimate destroyer, a sort of Alpha and Omega in the sci-fi occult world. Even while fighting, Nemundis will keep the meditative posture, but a sort of angry soul made of radioactive energy will emerge from its body to smash and grapple the enemies. Nemundis is also officially the god of the Underworld, the parallel dimension that can be accessed through monoliths. This lonely and empty wasteland is the birthplace of energetic creatures called Archons, being made of entropic energies that sometimes can also roam in the material world. Common Archons are like humanoid figures full of tentacles, which float around in a state of mindless agony. The Archon Knights are instead more powerful and sentient beings that can use multiple powers. Nemundis hates Uthos and its followers, beings that feast on agony, creatures that value more the physical torments more than the existence of mind. To become the Prophet of Nemundis, the player needs to kill 10 Lava Daemons associated with Uthos.

 

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

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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.

Catholic Art and Architecture in the twisted world of Blasphemous: how religious iconography can build nightmares

As the name suggests, Blasphemous is a horror metroidvania that really uses inspiration from religious art to create the unique world of Cvstodia. In this horrific land, the Miracle is a sort of eldritch energy that grants wishes to the believers, but twisting their desires and martyrdom in a disturbing and unexpected way. In this fictional land where religion and fanaticism are founding elements, existing classic and religious art is the most important reference. Dark fantasy elements are combined with the aesthetic and extremes of Catholicism, shaping a unique world full of interesting places and memorable characters. Not only famous paintings of saints and religious figures are partially reshaped into disturbing creatures, but also symbolism and religious iconic elements are used to create nightmarish entities. Between the many twisted creatures and characters inhabiting the world of Cvstodia, in the following article I selected the most striking references to Catholic art in terms of paintings, sculptures, and architectures.

One of the strongest and most evident connections with religious art is the boss called Ten Piedad. Probably the first boss to be faced in the game, the creature immediately strikes for the resemblance with the iconic Michelangelo’s statue the Pietà. If the statue of the Virgin Mary is identical to the real one, Jesus, by contrast, is far more different, because the boss itself is lying in the arms of the statue. The reference is familiar but disturbing at the same time, since the hideous and disfigured monster is still posing at the beginning of the fight as the statue of Jesus. The name of the boss is also not hiding the reference, since Piedad is the Spanish name for Pity, same as Pietà in Italian. Other than a striking artistic reference, the boss also works reverting the religious symbolism, transforming the body of Jesus ready for resurrection, in a disturbing figure. The monster was once a man, who just wanted to sleep in the arms of the statue of Mary. During his restless sleep, the Miracle morphed his body in a disfigured monster, imprisoning his sleeping mind in this hideous monster. This concept could be a symbolism of “what if the resurrection of Jesus went wrong?”. A creepy what-if, imagining how after sleeping, or being dead, the man-that-once-was would instead come back as an evil version of himself.

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The martyrs are a common topic in many religious paintings, often adorning the colourful windows inside churches with images of their ultimate suffering. San Sebastiano (Saint Sebastian) is probably one of the most famous martyrs, at least for the strong and iconic image of his death. The Christian man was executed by Romans after they discovered his true religion and, after being bound to a stake, he was shot with dozens of arrows. The image of his martyrdom was portrayed many times by famous painters, becoming an iconic symbol of unjust sufferance. In Blasphemous’s world, the character of Gemino is a direct visual reference to the martyrdom of San Sebastiano. He is imprisoned inside a metal statue, bound to an olive tree, exposed to extreme coldness, and pierced by multiple arrows, resembling in the pose every painting of San Sebastiano. Gemino is also a martyr, suffering this terrible torture until he will become part of the tree itself. Gemino’s only treasure is a small olive, the last gift that nature offered him before starting his torment, a small symbol that he will treasure in his hand till it will freeze.

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Between countless artistic references to Spanish traditions or masterpieces such as the works of Goya or Velazquez, it is difficult to decide which reference is more interesting. But focusing on the religious more than on the artistic side, Cherubs, for example, are a very common concept used in many characters and creatures of Blasphemous. Sometimes, the reference is used quite literally, for example in the collectables, which in this case are flying childish angels imprisoned in cages.

Even if there are several references to Cherubs, especially to the way they are portrayed in religious art, the case of the Headless Chamberlain is probably the most emblematic. The nightmarish creature has the body of a man but missing the head, going around with a pillow with on top the head of a Cherub. To highlight its creepiness, the creature has also a bag full of disembodied heads. The Headless Chamberlain attacks by throwing the flying head, which can move on its own while hunting the intruders. In this specific case, the Headless Chamberlain is directly inspired by the painting The Immaculate Conception (1662), as stated by the creators of Blasphemous in the official artbook (NDR which is really gorgeous, if you didn’t buy it). In the painting, several angelic heads are flying in the top corners of the painting, harmless and angelic in this case, but used as the core element to create the nightmarish Headless Chamberlain.

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Child-like angelic faces are common in many other designs in Blasphemous universe. The lord of all the Cherubs, called Jocinero, is a particularly interesting and disturbing character, but I will talk about him in a future article. The embodiment of paedophobia, or the fear of children, is clearly Exposito, the most iconic and disturbing boss of Blasphemous. The creature is a gargantuan baby with the strength of dozens of men, resembling a giant Cherub. However, Exposito is also very similar to Baby Jesus, especially due to the golden crown of thorns adorning is head. I will not speak more about Exposito since I already covered its design and symbolism in a previous article, available HERE.

The artistic religious references inside Blasphemous are not only limited to paintings but are also connected to more architectural details. Churches are specifically implemented inside the design of several enemies, a combination of flesh and architecture, connecting the sacred with the profane. Some enemies simply use as main weapon church elements, such as giant crucifixes or bells. The Shield Maiden is a small exception and, even if it uses religious architecture as weapons, the design of the weapons is more interesting and elaborated, integrating complex decorative elements. The most interesting detail is that while using a golden decorative element as a shield, the creature removed the head of the statue to wear it as helm.

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On the other hand, other creatures have architectural elements directly embodied in their design. Let’s talk for example of the Blazing Icon. The female figure is covered with red velvet, looking like an elaborate walking curtain. The most interesting detail is the cage-like structure around her head, which uniquely defines the design. The structure is clearly inspired by architectural elements inside churches, for example resembling the famous baldachin in the middle of St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. The baldachin is positioned in the middle of the church, marking the entrance to the supposed tomb of St. Peter. The head-ornament creates a figure that is practically a living and walking element of a church. The baldachin-like cage is probably quite heavy, and this is reflected in the Blazing Icon, which is slowly walking around oppressed by such weight.

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Another enemy brings the concept of religious architecture integrated into the design even a step further. The creature is not present in the game, at least for the moment, but its beautiful concept is available in the artbook. The heavy knight shows an incredibly detailed and complex design, practically looking like a weaponized chapel. A tower-like tabernacle, which is used to store the images of various saints, would be probably used as the main weapon of the knight, like a sort of improvised holy mace. The body itself works as a reliquary, with the probable head of a saint exposed behind glass. This is a very common phenomenon in several churches, where body-parts of saints are exhibited as religious emblems. The knight is the quintessence of religious architecture integrated into the design, a walking chapel ready to smash down the infidels.

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Still, there could be a lot to talk about artistic and religious elements inside characters and monsters of Blasphemous. For example, Sepulcro Errante is a golem-like creature bringing on its back the tomb of a Spanish king, while the iconic creature Amargura could be almost considered as a living altar. But I think that the creatures analysed in the article are the most iconic and direct integration of catholic paintings and architectures into the grim world of Blasphemous.