Nanashi no Game is what you get when you add survival horror elements to an 8-bit game. Alas, ’tis another unique specimen from Japan.
|Genre||Survival horror, visual novel|
|Purchase (Nintendo DS)||Purchase from eBay.|
Nanashi no Game is one of the very few horror titles for the Nintendo DS, which is pretty strange considering the NDS boasts an impressive library for a handheld console. And surprisingly, this particular game came out only in Japan. Don’t you just love it when that happens?
Nanashi no Game translates to “The Nameless Game” or “The Game with No Name.” The premise is very much like a creepypasta. Imagine receiving a random game one day, only to find that the game is cursed and those who play it will die. I know this doesn’t sound exciting (considering the terrible quality of many creepypastas on the Internet), but there is something compelling about this game that makes it a scary experience.
Just so you know, I am playing Nanashi no Game with a fan-made English translation by Nagato. Cuz I’m a weeb who no speak-a the Japanese.
The Cursed Game
Okay, so you might be wondering why some DS screenshots look like this. That’s because over half of the game is played using the “book view,” where you play the DS sideways like a book.
Now let’s go over what kind of game this is. Nanashi no Game is a unique survival horror title that features segments of a fictional 8-bit game as part of the plot progression, with some minor visual novel elements. The premise is that a new handheld game system known as the Twin Screen (TS) came out (an obvious spoof of the Nintendo DS). But soon, an urban legend of a cursed game circulated. Those who received and played the game on their TS digitally (a reference to the Nintendo DS’s Download Play feature) will die in seven days. You and your friends, Riko Nagasawa and Fumihito Odaka, had also received this game. On the day you received the game from Odaka, you entered his apartment and found out that he mysteriously died. So it’s a race against time in discovering the origin of this nameless game and finding out how to undo its curse.
I just realized something. In this story, why was the developer working on an 8-bit game for an advanced dual-screen game console? Hell, when you play the 8-bit segments, they only use one screen! I guess that detail is not super important to the story, but it does bug me a little.
I should clarify that I absolutely LOVE 8-bit style games. They have a charm that modern 3D games today can never match, from the simple graphics to the electronic sounds. Sadly, not many games I know of manage to implement horror themes into those types of games.
Sweet Home, a movie-licensed survival horror RPG on the Famicom, is one of the few rare examples of its kind. That game is famous today for being a main inspiration to the original Resident Evil, for its premise of exploring an abandoned mansion full of horrific abominations. It was definitely an anomaly: a GOOD movie-licensed game, a competent turn-based RPG mixed with survival horror mechanics, and some gloriously gross monster designs. And it only came out in Japan.
One of my favorite areas in the free RPG Maker game, Yume Nikki, uses an aesthetic based on NES/Famicom graphics. Considering the creepy nature of that game in general, the Famicom World also does a great job in conveying a creepy atmosphere. The overworld is a barren wasteland filled with active volcanoes (with depressing, muddy-looking colors and ominous BGM), while the surrounding areas are full of ruins inhabited by alien-like residents. There were also a few areas based on the Mother series, which probably shows that the developer of the game loved those RPGs. There is also a special event where you can cause a Famicom glitch, which encompasses how creepy it is for an 8-bit game to suddenly seize up and crash.
And Yume Nikki was made for Japanese PCs, so you had to “localize” your PC if you wanted to play it.
The introductory segment for the Nintendo 3DS RPG, Beyond the Labyrinth (Labyrinth no Kanata), features a 3D dungeon with retro graphics. Just when you thought you’re playing a different RPG, you begin hearing the voice of a young girl crying for help in the depths of the dungeon. And supposedly, you’re some person playing this online multiplayer RPG on a computer. Yeah, it was a creepy moment in the game. Did I forget to mention that this was released only in Japan?
Nanashi no Game is also exclusive to Japan. Are you seeing a pattern here? What is this conspiracy!?
Sorry, everyone. I went off on a tangent there, but I just want to emphasize how rare it is for the 8-bit aesthetic to be mixed in with a bit of horror. I know there are games like Home and Lone Survivor as well, but those games only use the pixel aesthetic but no chiptunes (which I found rather jarring). I’ve been hankering for more of these types of games, hence why I picked up this one.
Okay, so let’s get this out of the way. The retro segments of the game are the main highlights for me. While there isn’t really any “gameplay” per say, they do a good job in setting the mood.
At first, this “nameless game” seems innocent enough. It looks like a typical 8-bit RPG and comes with one cheerful tune.
But it isn’t long until you realize that there’s something off about this game.
It’s a slow descent into darkness. The audio becomes dead silent. The NPCs speak in cryptic messages while ominously facing a single direction. NPCs drop dead for no apparent reason. The screen glitches up as your character walks. A glitchy gray sprite is following you around. NPCs become strangely hostile towards you. Eventually, the one song that plays becomes distorted as well.
Those last few seconds, man…
Its execution is glorious. It’s like real-life creepypasta unfolding before you, and it’s off-putting to say the least. Despite the minimal gameplay here, these segments are enough for me to appreciate Nanashi no Game.
Of course, everything can’t be ghouls and ghosts in just 8-bit horror land. Let’s take a look at the MAIN GAME.
7 Days Left
Alright, let’s get this out of the way. The 3D sections have crappy controls. Your POV character moves sluggishly, the camera takes forever to rotate properly, and you have to be really close to an object to interact with it. In a game where you have to constantly flee from monsters, this is unacceptable.
These sections only make use of the D-pad and touch screen. The walking speed is terribly slow. The running speed is laughable. It’s like you’re trying to jog, but you’re never moving your back leg forward. Seriously, every time you “run” in this game, it never looks like you’re running. It’s like your back leg is broken or something, so you’re just moving your front leg and dragging your back leg to move as fast as you can.
Also, you have to hold the Nintendo DS sideways (book style). I’m never a big fan of playing games like this (even for good games on the system), as I don’t think it improves the experience for some of them. In fact, I find it more of a nuisance since it makes it easier for my big hands to get carpal tunnel. Yes, I know it’s a matter of preference, but I personally find it grating.
Case in point: Nanashi no Game’s camera. It definitely takes some getting used to. You have to use both the D-pad and the touch screen to move it. But because of your narrow horizontal view, it’s harder to see enemies coming from the sides. And between these two screens side by side, it feels like a large portion of the environment has been cut off. And strangely enough, the left screen feels like it’s closer to the environment than the right.
Imagine you’re driving a car right now. The front view is like the DS’s right screen. But the left car mirror (with the words Objects May Be Closer Than They Appear) is like the DS’s left screen. This is so strangely disorienting. Why does the left screen have to be this distorted? It doesn’t help improve the gameplay. It only makes it harder to look at the environment around you.
Why can’t both screens look like they’re facing forward and look more seamless? That way, I can see a point in using the “book view” for this game. Otherwise, it just hurts the experience.
I will say this, though. When the game wants to be scary, it can surprisingly pull it off pretty well. The graphics are pretty decent for the Nintendo DS. Even the short FMVs look pretty good. I mean, look at this creepy shit!
When I first saw this drawing in the dark, I thought it was just low-res textures playing tricks on my eyes!
Hell, I personally think the below screenshot is the scariest moment in the game.
Though I will admit that the lighting in this game can look off at times. Your flashlight sometimes looks more like a big yellow spot rather than a translucent directional light source. Though that’s probably because of the limitations of the Nintendo DS.
But the sound design totally owns it all. It’s excellent quality for this system, even more so with headphones on. It’s like I am playing a horror game on a home console.
The train level is a good example. You hear someone calling out “Riko” over and over. But as time passes, the voice becomes more and more distorted to the point where it sounds like you’re hearing it through a surface of water. And it’s so fucking creepy, man.
Eventually, you will meet the main enemies of the game: the Regrets, wandering spirits cursed by the nameless game. They’re pretty much your typical Japanese horror zombies, what with the pale skin and black voids covering parts of their faces. But these guys are much scarier, thanks to Nanashi no Game’s sound design.
The wet footsteps, the hollow breathing and that theme music that gets louder as the chase goes on. But because of how the camera and movement work in this game, it’s easy to meet a cheap death against these creatures.
I do have a point of criticism. The story is kinda… absurd.
If you can buy into the premise of a cursed game, then you might be able to tolerate this story. But here’s my main criticism: the main supporting character is your university professor named Houki Ooyama. And he knows WAY too much. Much of the story focuses on plot convenience based on the assumptions this professor tells you. For one thing, he criticizes modern-day police for not believing in ghost stories and folklore—if this were the real world, this behavior is totally justifiable since folklore is inherently false. Furthermore, he immediately believes in the idea of a cursed game that kills people in seven days.
Though it’s later revealed he owns a TS and he received the cursed game without playing it, one day before the protagonist. Despite never playing it, he still becomes a victim of the curse and dies in seven days. So the fact that he believed in the curse immediately and that something like this deeply fascinates him (to the point where he doesn’t mind losing his life to it) are probably enough to justify this plot point.
I mean, you can probably buy into this since this is a social studies university professor (and real-life college professors are supposed to be professional thinkers). He also mentioned about having connections to the police—though the police is handing him confidential information about a past murder case and a game company shutdown. But this guy manage to single-handedly dig up dirt on the nameless game and helps you solve the mystery behind it. Based on how Nanashi no Game treats this character, he comes across more like a detective than a social studies college professor.
But that’s just me. Otherwise, the story feels like a watered down repeat of Corpse Party, down to the Japanese onryou antagonist and other similar characters. I will admit that the cursed game premise is a unique premise, but the execution could’ve been done a little better. But considering this is a short Nintendo DS game, I would at least say it’s serviceable for those looking for a decent horror game to play at night.
My other main criticism is that it’s not always clear on what you have to do next. If there’s anything this game taught me, it’s to AVOID the Regrets. But sometimes, the game puts you into a situation where you have to run STRAIGHT AT ONE (like in the example above) to advance through the level. Generally speaking, these leaps of faith are not good game design. And they happen with random (but scripted) moments, so it’s pretty annoying. The seventh day is especially guilty of this, since it wasn’t made clear at all that you had to run into the Regrets to beat it properly.
Road to Sunrise
Nanashi no Game is a pretty short experience overall. On my first playthrough, I beat the whole game in about four hours. I played as a male protagonist and got the normal ending. On my second playthrough, I played as a female protagonist to see how much the game changes based on that trait. I find that it doesn’t change the playthrough that much, aside from some different dialogue during the early days. But I also decided to use this playthrough to get the BEST ending.
To get the best ending, you have collect six hidden items in the nameless game. There is one to find each day, except for the final day. Even without a walkthrough, they’re all easy to find. They’re usually going to be located at a unique sprite on the current map. Just be sure to find them before you interact with the NPCs. Otherwise, your game session can end abruptly and you would have to start the day over to get that item again. I should also note that the best ending is pretty satisfying and does feel like you accomplished something. No ambiguous ending or sequel baits.
Overall, Nanashi no Game is a decent Japanese import. It has good scares, great audio, decent visuals and a unique premise. While its gameplay leaves a lot to be desired and its story is nothing special, it’s a commendable effort for a survival horror title that is forced to work under the limitations of the Nintendo DS. There is also a sequel called Nanashi no Game: Me, which I’m interesting in playing in the future. If the idea of an 8-bit game being associated with horror interests you, I recommend trying out Nanashi no Game.
Nanashi no GamePrice Varies
- The premise is unique, as it is among the few games to do a proper mashup of horror themes and retro games.
- The 8-bit segments are the main highlight of this game.
- The 3D graphics are decent overall, and the FMVs look pretty good.
- Sound design is really good.
- The horror aspect is surprisingly good for an old Nintendo DS game.
- The best of the two endings is quite satisfying and conclusive.
- Exclusive to Japan.
- Terrible movement and camera controls.
- The left screen of the NDS has some odd distortion to it, like looking at a side view mirror of a car.
- The story requires some more suspension of disbelief, even by horror game standards. It also feels like a weaker retelling of Corpse Party.
- The game doesn't always make it clear what you're supposed to do next, despite its linear level designs.