Sweet Home is one of the earliest examples of a survival horror game as well as one of the few great video game adaptations of a movie.
|Genre||Japanese RPG, survival horror|
|Purchase (Famicom)||Purchase from eBay.|
* For the 2017 Thai horror game, please check out the review for Home Sweet Home.
Sweet Home is easily one of the most unique games I played this month. It’s an old example of a movie turned into a video game adaptation. As many gamers know by this point, these kinds of adaptations are generally known to be average to low quality. In other words, shit with the sole purpose of promoting the movie. But surprisingly, Sweet Home is not one of those types of games.
The original movie is a Japanese horror cult classic directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa (no relation to the legendary filmmaker Akira Kurosawa), a notable pioneer of Japanese horror flicks. Suuitto Hommu (スウィートホーム) is about a film crew visiting a haunted house of the deceased fresco painter Ichirou Mamiya, but find themselves locked in a dangerous grudge with the ghost of his wife, Lady Mamiya.
It’s an okay flick. The sets are nice, the cinematography helps add to the suspense, and the visuals can be pretty damn creepy. Unlike today’s horror movies, it doesn’t rely heavily on cheap jump scares. It sets up an uncomfortable tone and brings about the scares in a slow and progressive manner, allowing the horror to sink in. Not to mention the body horror and death scenes are well done.
If you want to check out the movie with English subtitles, then here’s the video.
I found a weird piece of trivia too. The soundtrack of the movie was composed by Masaya Matsuura. Guess what game’s soundtrack he composed too?
OOOOOOHHHH MYYYYYYYY GOOOOOOOOOOD!!!!!
That blew my fucking mind, people. That’s a small piece of my childhood you’re looking at.
I said my piece about the movie, so now let’s move on to the video game tie-in.
A Pioneer of the Survival Horror Genre
Some of you might have heard of Sweet Home before, but have never really investigated exactly what this game is. The answer might surprise you.
Sweet Home is the spiritual predecessor to Capcom’s Resident Evil series.
Yeeeeeeep! From the haunted house setting to the enemy designs, Sweet Home inspired a lot of motifs that helped launch Resident Evil. And coming out as early as 1989, Sweet Home is one of the earliest survival horror games ever released. Even before the existence of the term in gaming.
I am using a translation patch by Gaijin Productions, so please bear with me. Here is the short prologue:
An investigation team searches for Mamiya Ichirou’s fresco… But it lies within the haunted Mamiya manor…
Annnnd… that’s it. There’s your premise.
As expected, you play as the five main characters of the movie: Kazuo Hoshino, his daughter Emi Hoshino, Akiko Hayawa, Asuka, and Taro (named Taguchi Ryou in the movie). As soon as they enter Mamiya manor, the front door locks behind them and a rock slide blocks the way. Then the vengeful ghost of Lady Mamiya appears before them, intending to kill everyone for disturbing her.
The game is a loose adaptation, as it seems to take its course in a single day as opposed to the multiple days portrayed in the movie. You also fight all sorts of monsters, which are generally not in the movie itself. But the strangest about this game… is that it’s an RPG.
Yeah. This is not just any survival horror game. It’s an RPG. Holy shit. You usually don’t play these kinds of games, people! Japanese RPGs are typically based on fantasy worlds, but this particular one is for an adult horror film about a haunted house. That is kickass.
So at first, I had no idea what to do in the first room. Whenever you push the A button, a menu pulls up. From there, I got to learn how to play by the game’s rules.
Allows you to change your controlled party member.
Allow you to use an item with your current team. Also takes an item in front of you.
Talks to whichever character is next to you.
Allow you to team up with a character next to you. You can have a team of up to 3 members.
Your character makes an observation in front of him/her.
Restart from the last checkpoint or erase save data.
The Depths of Mamiya Mansion
Basically, each character has a signature item with a specific use.
- Kazuo – Lighter (burns ropes and lights candles; can also be an alternate weapon)
- Akiko – Medical Kit (heals status ailments)
- Emi – Key (unlocks certain locked doors)
- Taro – Camera (reveals hints by taking photos of frescoes; can also be an alternate weapon)
- Asuka – Vacuum (eliminates glass shards, cleans dusty frescoes)
To get past the first room, you need to use Asuka to clean up the glass shards on the floor. Then you can explore the rest of Mamiya mansion and look for a way out.
By using the Team command, you can create teams of up to three people. In all likelihood, you would want to have one team of three people and one team of two people. YOU NEED TO DO THIS TO BE READY FOR THE RANDOM ENCOUNTERS.
You can also switch party leaders with the Party command, so you can control both parties independently. This is a very interesting feature that makes you think about how to keep everyone alive.
Each character can carry up to two random items and equip one weapon. Because there are so many items in the Mamiya mansion, you’re likely to get to your cap of 10 items sooner than you think. The only ways you can get the other items right after is to use your current items up or swap your current items with the other items.
While this limited inventory feature is a nice survival horror mechanic, I personally believe each character should be able to carry up to three items. A cap of ten items is very small. If you’re not carrying the right items to progress forward, then you have to go backtrack and get the right item again. I guarantee that this alone will waste your time.
And being an old Famicom game, Sweet Home does not explain how to use the items. You just have to experiment with them and try them yourself.
But if you want to save yourself a lot of time trying to figure them out, I have a full list right here (mostly spoiler-free, of course):
- ARMOR – a decorative spear required for a puzzle
- AX – used to chop woods blocking the way
- BLUE CANDLE – three candles required for a puzzle
- BOOTS – used to safely walk across the green sticky floors without getting stuck
- BOW – shoots to other stakes to cross pits/chasms; longer reach than the ROPE item, but cannot rescue people from sand pits
- BROOM – a replacement for Asuka’s vacuum, if she dies
- CAMERA – a replacement for Taro’s camera, if he dies
- COFFIN – a special item needed for the final battle
- DIARY – a special item needed for the final battle
- DIARY (key) – opens the diary’s lock
- DRESS – a hidden item that can recover Pray Points; can be used an infinite number of times
- F LIGHT – a flashlight item used to destroy the shadows blocking certain areas
- FIRE X – a fire extinguisher used to eliminate fire in a room
- GAS – a gas can required for a puzzle
- GEM – a gem required for a puzzle
- GLOVES – similar to the BOOTS, used to safely walk across thorny floors outside of the building
- GOLD (key) – a key that can open certain doors
- IRON (key) – a key that can open certain doors
- JADE (ring) – required to bypass a NPC
- LADDER – used to access a new area
- LOG – used to cross the water at the lake area
- LOW (key) – a key that can open certain doors
- MALLET – smashes boulders and mirrors; can also function as a secondary weapon
- MATCHES – a replacement for Kazuo’s lighter, if he dies
- PAIL – used to carry water to help solve a puzzle
- PHOTO – a special item needed for the final battle
- PICK – an item that stops you from sliding on moving water or ice floors
- PILLS – a replacement for Akiko’s +kit, if she dies
- PIPE – can function as a secondary weapon
- PULLEY – a hidden item that allows you to walk twice as fast
- ROPE – shoots to other stakes to cross pits/chasms; shorter reach than the BOW item; can rescue people from sand pits
- RUBY (ring) – required to bypass a NPC
- SHOVEL – helps dig a hole at the lake area; required to give to a specific NPC
- SLIDE – three projector slides needed to access a new area
- TONIC – restores party’s health and Pray Points to 100%; MOST IMPORTANT ITEMS IN THE GAME
- TOOL – required to access a new area; a special item needed for the final battle
- TWO (key) – a key that can open certain doors
- WAX (candle) – lights a small portion of a dark area
- WIRE – a replacement for Emi’s key, if she dies
- WOOD – red planks of wood used to cross small gaps, but can randomly break; blue planks are much stronger
Some rooms contain a fresco hanging on the wall, which you can get clues from. By using Taro’s camera (or any other camera in the area), you can take a photo of the fresco which will reveal either a clue or a bit of backstory. If the fresco is dark, that means it’s dirty—meaning you need to use Asuka’s vacuum or a broom to dust it off first.
Some rooms have blue or purple spirits floating around. You need to avoid the spirits, or else they will kidnap one of your party members and whisk him/her away to a random remote area. To save yourself the annoyance, avoid them as much as possible.
Now let’s talk about random battles. As you explore Mamiya mansion, you will have to fight a lot of monsters. Here is a list of battle commands.
Standard attack with your equipped weapon.
Use an item. Some items like Kazuo’s lighter and Taro’s camera can damage specific enemies.
Allows you to call a specific external party member to join the battle. VERY USEFUL FEATURE.
Depending on the number of Pray Points you spend, it will summon a powerful attack against the monster by the end of your turn.
Your character attempts to run away from the battle.
For each enemy encounter, you only fight one monster. However, some monsters are tough to kill so you may want to have all five of your characters fighting.
To do this, you can have one of your character engaged in battle use the Call feature. This will let you temporarily play as the called character on the map—bringing over whoever he/she is teamed up with. When you run into the group engaged in battle, then your controlled team joins in.
Does that make sense? If not, you should play the game and see for yourself. It’s really straightforward, I promise.
The Pray ability is sort of like your typical magic system in a RPG, though it’s very simplified. As such, you have a limited number of Pray Points. You should only use them against tougher foes, because there are moments in the game outside of battle where you need to use Pray to get to the next area.
Eventually, your characters will level up and gain increased hitpoints, Pray Points, strength and defense.
By this point, you should notice that there is no place for your characters to heal up. However, the mansion is full of Tonics, which are basically the usual RPG potions you use to heal up. Tonics are very powerful, restoring the health and Pray Points of a whole team. You should try to use them sparingly in order to increase your chances of survival.
There are also life-endangering moments in the game, such as one of your characters crossing over a gap covered by a wooden plank. And then the plank snaps and your character is hanging on the edge for dear life. During these moments, you have to get another character to rescue the victim by using the Team feature. If you fail to save the victim in time, then the victim dies immediately.
For good. You can never bring that person back.
This is when you realize the heavy stakes of the game. There are a limited number of Tonics you will find, and you have to keep everyone alive as long as possible. Because once one of them dies in battle or from a scripted event, that person is gone. Period. Just like in Fire Emblem.
There are also moments where you’re faced against a falling chandelier or a thrown spear coming your way. You need to react quickly and get your character to dodge the attack. But if you fail to dodge in time or select the wrong option, you take some damage.
These are very nice touches that add a new level of depth to the game. Not only do they remain true to the source material but they make very good game mechanics.
The main objective of Sweet Home is to explore as much of the mansion as possible to find a way out. Along the way, you have to solve puzzles and gain access to new areas. And of course, you need to make your characters stronger so that they stand a chance against the monsters up ahead.
You may find NPCs, such as zombies and skeletons, who were victims of Lady Mamiya and will give you hints about how to solve certain puzzles. As such, the Gaijin English translation patch does a very good job to give you clear and straightforward clues. They really help make the job of exploring a vast and complicated mansion a more bearable one.
The monster designs are very well done. You’re not just looking at cartoon skeletons and goofy ghosts. The monsters are legit intimidating and grotesque, even having nice animations such as the Maniac’s pulsating cysts or the Grave monster vomiting. Despite Sweet Home being an 8-bit Famicom game, it does an excellent job in making you feel unnerved and keeping you in that suspenseful mood. It’s unprecedented that a game from this era is able to pull that off very well.
Lost in the Incinerator
Sweet Home is definitely a joy to play through, but it does come with its own share of flaws. As I mentioned, the game is very tedious when it comes to inventory management. This is partially because you can’t just set items down anywhere you want. You actually have to switch with an existing item on the map. And because of the 10 items max rule, you often have to go back and go find all that shit again. In a mansion with such a complicated layout, it’s a complete pain in the ass.
So not only you have to kinda know the mansion’s layout from memory, but you also have to remember where you placed specific items so you can come back for them when you need them. It really becomes a test of patience at that point.
There is also a complete lack of bosses, with the exception of Lady Mamiya at the end. But it’s not a conventional fight at all. It’s a partially scripted fight where you have to use specific items against her at specific times in a specific order. Considering this is an RPG—in hindsight, not a very deep one either—, it is a disappointment.
Due to its creepy atmosphere and unique gameplay, Sweet Home is one of the best retro turn-based RPGs I ever played. It impressed me in more ways than one. It is also one of the best video game adaptations of a movie I ever played. I am legitimately surprised by how far ahead of its time this game is.
It tried to be more cinematic. It tried to create an atmosphere. It even did something kinda similar to modern-day quick-time events. It’s a very innovative game that unfortunately didn’t get the attention it deserved, since it was restricted to Japan.
So as it stands, both the movie and the game are solid cult classics. I would LOVE to see Capcom do a full remake of this game with improved visuals and improved game mechanics, kind of like the makeover that Duck Tales got. If you love old-fashioned RPGs or good horror games, then this is one that you need to pick up.
Sweet HomePrice Varies
- The unique gameplay, such as controlling independent teams and open-ended puzzles, are a lot of fun. Exploration feels rewarding as you enter different areas with different music playing.
- Once you understand the gameplay, the hints you receive from NPCs and frescoes are actually quite helpful to the point of steering you away from walkthroughs.
- The combined graphics and sound design are superb for a game of this generation, which help create this unsettling atmosphere.
- An early example of cinematics in a game and quick-time events, which help add to the main gameplay. Even the death scenes of the characters are pretty gruesome.
- The game is not very self-explanatory in its gameplay, which may require you to get a walkthrough.
- The exceptionally strict inventory management. There is also the fact that you can't drop items to free up inventory space. Instead, you have to switch your held items with other items on the ground.
- The lack of boss battles, as well as the disappointing final battle.