It was released in 2006 by 505 and Punchline for the PS2 however it was never released in the UK, due to controversy with its content, basically some fearmongering douche bag politician spread some lies about it. It wasn’t banned but neither was it released, 505 just never let it free. Some copies were made though so if you have tons of disposable income you might want to get yourself a special magical UK copy. There’s one on Amazon at the moment for £699.99. If you are a normal person then I’d say get yourself a European copy, I have a French one which cost about £40 and it is worth that. You have language options anyway and all European copies should work on all European consoles so you should be good. If you’re American then you’re in luck, 505 and Sony disproved the lies spread about the game over here so you guys could get it. Not sure how rare it’ll be for you though.
As for Genre well it’s a survival horror with a twist, well lots of twists. Some might say it’s pretty twisted. But when has that ever been a problem for a horror game?
Is it scary?
It may surprise you when I say this considering its controversy but no, it’s not scary, not really it’s just rather unsettling. Most of the game is done through symbolism and everything just kind of represents something else, so while the little imp things you fight are a bit creepy they aren’t going to send you running screaming from the room or hitting pause to let your heart rate drop a bit (if you’ve played Amnesia you should know what I mean there). The game contains creepy little girls which, while children are terrifying to some of us, aren’t exactly horror gold. The disturbing factor of this game comes through when you learn what these kids have been through and what it has turned them into.
These girls torture each other, they have created their own society called ‘The Red Crayon Aristocrats’ and if you don’t do what your higher ups tell you then you will be punished in a creative and rather creepy way. There is something deeply abhorrent about any kids that can hurt loveable house pets I refer you to that scene in ‘Elfen Lied’ or if you’re not an anime nerd then ‘Butterfly Effect’, these kids seem to quite enjoy that past time too. When you first find Brown he is tied up and suspended from his legs dangling from the ceiling, I must admit I died a little inside. I thought, ‘Oh, it’s one of those games,’ Brown’s fate is not the worst in this game and what the kids do to each other is much, much worse. So what makes children do such horrible things? Well, I think you can probably guess much worse has been done to them.
The theme of child abuse in this game is a strong one, and it was one of the reasons it was so fought against. But it’s not as bad as it sounds, the propaganda against this game stated that there was a part in which you, as Jennifer, bury a child alive; this is not at all true. In fact within the confines of the game very little happens to the kids, unless they do it to each other, that all happened before and screwed them up. You fight against the negative influences in the children’s lives and not the children themselves. While the way they act is pretty disgusting it only shows what child abuse can cause. I’d say it’s a pretty bloody strong case against it.
How about the story?
The story is brilliant, it’s the area in which this game truly shines, and even the way it’s delivered is brilliant. But alas due to the clever twisty, turney way in which it is delivered there is not too much I can say about it without massive spoilers. But I will say what I can. You play as Jennifer a teenage girl who encounters a strange young boy on a public bus, following this boy she is brought to an old Orphanage in which live a group of girls who have created their own society in the place of any adult supervision; ‘The Red Crayon Aristocrats’.
The game is mission based and each mission is presented as a chapter in a fairy tale drawn by a child. Jennifer has to survive each mission and do whatever task it is the higher ups of the Red crayons want done. Throughout her journey she discovers lost memories as she learns more and more about the orphan girls and their tragic lives.
There are some pretty big clichés in the story; you see a creepy orphanage you know it’s going to contain abused children with the poor, lone, female protagonist having to fight her way through such a cruel place. The symbols throughout the rest of the game are luckily so bat-shit crazy that it does over shadow all of that though.
Characters and settings: any good?
The characterisation of the game is also pretty brilliant. Jennifer, your main character, is pretty infuriatingly pathetic, even when compared with your normal horror victim girls. She is supposed to be say 17? And yet she allows these little girls who are, on average about 10 or 11 treat her like their play thing. There is a particularly infuriating part right at the beginning when the younger girls pour an entire jug of water over her head and she just sits there and takes it looking up at them like a wounded puppy. Later in the game you see that there is a reason for this so I can’t be too mad at her but still, show some back bone Jenny! Her combat style and the way she walks are also rather irritating – she will hold whatever makeshift weapon you’ve managed to find and swings it blindly, like a frightened child and she runs in a style which makes my back ache just watching her; all hunched over as if she’s ready to curl up in a ball and cry. But of course these are actually important aspects of her character so unfortunately we just have to put up with them.
Brown is your four legged companion in this game, a golden Labrador who keeps Jennifer company and gives her just a little bit of hope which keeps her going in this place. His purpose in the game is to sniff stuff out, including items such as healing and also people and things to continue the story. His presence is the main link of this game to ‘Haunting ground’ through your Canine buddy in that one, Hewie. Unlike Hewie, however, Brown does not attack and can only bark and startle enemies so you can take a hit or run away. Now this might just be the dog lady in me but I like to think there is significance in this; Brown is a Labrador, a dog bred as a retriever, they also have soft jaws so wouldn’t be much good in an attack situation. Hewie is an American white shepherd (basically a white German shepherd) – dogs primarily bred as police dogs. Though I imagine the real reason is just that Brown has an important part to play in the plot, whereas Hewie is just there to protect Fiona, the protagonist of their game.
The other girls in the game are the most interesting. They have had difficult and dark lives and you can see the aspects of their upbringing in everything they do. The creation of their hierarchy shows a connection with fairy tale type characters without any grounding in the real world. They have never been taught right from wrong so they can’t see the wrong in the punishments they dish out to each other. The other way that their upbringing has affected them is the other cause of controversy about the game; the lesbianism. That’s right – lesbians! The problem with this was of course the sexualisation of minors but you don’t really get much sexualisation. The bonds the girls make with each other are those of love and not sex, they crave love and protection, like they might have seen in their fairy tales, so they have the ‘Prince’ title presumably to the girl who is seen as the protector. But there is no sex involved. The girls associate men with fear and pain, I’m betting you can figure out why that is, but they still need love so they find it within themselves.
The enemies of this game seem to represent aspects of the girls troubled childhoods; it is the dark past you’re fighting not the children. The bosses of the game tend to be the adults from the children’s’ past. So this furthers that theory the girls while cruel are not the true enemies but instead what made them that way.
The settings of the game are quite varied, the orphanage, a cabin and an airship, which for some reason is represented as a giant fish. They all represent aspects of the girls’ childhoods and are interesting and fun to explore. They have items and decorations which hint at the type of lives the girls have had, while in places they can be a bit clichéd for horror settings they are fun to explore and locked doors or blocked corridors always create a desire to explore.
Any other Redeeming/Condemning features?
The combat, as I’ve said is awkward and unrewarding, but as a survival horror you’re supposed to want to avoid confrontation whenever possible so it works. There is always a bit of creepiness after you’ve killed an enemy when you start to wonder if they are monster or in fact children themselves, I guess that might be where the controversy comes from but it’s not a good thought, and rather makes you feel you are becoming like the girls as well.
The rest of the gameplay is quite fun, the exploration and small puzzley bits are always good though it can get a bit dull when you just have to follow Brown about for ages while he sniffs things out.
The music has been an area of praise for the game, but personally I find it irritating. While it’s very effective for the cut scenes and creating atmosphere it gets infuriating during gameplay. If you get stuck or lost having to listen to the screetchy, discordant violins get infuriating. It’s nothing compared to the ‘Silent Hill’ music.
It’s a good game for horror fans, though it may not have the full on scares you want it definitely has the tension levels. The story should keep anyone who like games for reasons other than blind action. It’s definitely worth a play if you can get it for about £50 and with multiple endings and an interesting story it’ll take a few play throughs to get everything out of it. Don’t be put off by the lies spread by the daily mail style fear mongering spread about it. You do NOT bury a child alive.
Great for fans of ‘Silent Hill’ and anyone who wants a good story.
Here’s the opening few minutes to give you a taster