One thing I love about Japanese horror is that it never feels the need to explain itself. Western horror movies always insist on coming up with some sort of rational explanation -- zombies are resurrected by a meteor shower or a virus; hauntings have dark historical origins; giant monsters are created by science gone awry. The Eastern vibe is much more mysterious and bizarre -- it focuses on atmosphere and disturbing organic imagery, and is perfectly willing to live with gaping plot holes and unanswered questions.
So it was with no little anticipation that I ventured into this 1995 PC Engine Super CD-ROM disc. It makes good use of the CD storage medium to illustrate one hundred supernatural tales -- there are plenty of scary music riffs and unsettling sound effects, and digitized photos both mundane and horrific. Some of the vignettes announce themselves as being in "3-D Stereo", which seems to mean that the stereo image pans around a lot, though I didn't try it on a Dolby Surround decoder to see if it has an embedded rear channel.
The game opens with a creepy animation sequence, with children playing a game similar to ring-around-the-rosey:
Once into the game proper, the player is presented with a screen of one hundred selectable candles. Each candle leads to a short story, a few minutes long, illustrated with images, audio and limited animation. At least that's what I have gathered, since I don't speak or read a word of Japanese. The player can watch the vignettes in any sequence, and the disc seems to be meant to be savored at leisure.
After each vignette is watched -- interactivity is generally limited to pushing a button to advance the onscreen text -- its candle is snuffed out on the selection screen.
Even not being able to read the text or understand the spoken language, it's very atmospheric. There are deserted classrooms and empty buildings, with unearthly voices crying and shrieking. More explicitly disturbing human images appear on occasion -- apparitions, deaths, suicides, and phantoms provide plenty of shock value.
Hyaku Monogatari is more of an audiovisual experience than a game, really, but at least one candle leads to a more detailed interface, with what looks like a progress evaluation and scoring mechanism ("POINT"). I got the impression that points were being awarded for witnessing certain events in various geographic locations, even though the stories aren't interlinked. As this interface, like the other candles, can only be accessed once, remembering where this element turns up could be important for a serious playthrough:
Even without understanding the language, or perhaps because of that, I found Hyaku Monogatari - Hontou ni Atta Kowai Hanashi engrossing and fascinating. I was able to make sense of the stories enough to maintain my interest, even though the specifics laid out in the text were lost on me. I certainly saw plenty of intriguing images along the way, so I'll let a handful of my favorite pictures speak for themselves to close this post.
Some things, it seems, are disturbing in any language. Happy Halloween!