Written by  :  Kyle Levesque (935)
Written on  :  Jan 20, 2011
Rating  :  2.86 Stars2.86 Stars2.86 Stars2.86 Stars2.86 Stars

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Pushing your comfort zone.

The Good

  • Lots of detail in menu pages, interesting interface.
  • Logically built locations.
  • Breakable objects were an interesting addition.
  • Very good light sources for the PS2.
  • Texture mapping, cloth flapping is exceptional.
  • Atmosphere is nailed perfectly; the older furniture of the castle, the newer touches like a television set - all very realistic.
  • Character designs (faces, bodies) are well done.
  • No complaints, but no compliments. Not at all memorable. Except the dog sounds Japanese, funny how that works, isn't it?
  • I liked the blend of Japanese themes in a western/European setting.
  • I enjoyed the adult story, the creepy factor of it, but...
  • A lot of the cinematic sequences are well shot, which ads to the story.

The Bad

  • If you're willing to read the essay at the bottom, you'll find my main beef.
  • Some of the 'alchemy' components are the least believable part of this game, which is mainly grounded in reality.
  • The dog's AI is not as complex as it could be.
  • The 'fainting' aspect of the game still annoys me, if you want to make a compelling game with a vulnerable character - how about a person in a wheel-chair? Do something progressive instead of portraying a healthy female character in this way!
  • The 'rush', 'push', and 'kick' moves seem like wonderful tools, but knowing when and if you can use them to over-come obstacles is not at all straightforward. I wasted a lot of time trying to push over a bookcase because it was difficult to tell if I could do it or not.
  • Given the tone of the game some of the graphical feats like having Fiona's breasts jiggle and sway are a little out of place. I'm not arguing against realism, but it's a very exaggerated animation. Again, if she were a Clarice Starling or Lara Croft style character I'd get behind this, but she's more like friggin' Chi from Chobits.
  • I've got nothing to say, it made no impression on me either way.
  • This is really the gem of the game, it is written so much better than Resident Evil, and yet let down in places by poor localization by Capcom Europe staff. I don't mean they left a bunch of Engrish in there, I mean that the Japanese themes can and will be awkward to Western audiences. It just didn't feel right to me, I got the impression that this character is supposed to have great appeal and I'm to care for her, but she mainly just annoyed me with her ineptitude and ignorance.

The Bottom Line

There is a prevailing mindset to the vast majority of games released in the last 20 years (yes, the 90's are now 20 years ago, hard to believe), and when I started to play Haunting Ground I was suddenly put outside of that comfortable mindset.

The first feeling I had was emasculation, I felt very powerless and weak. This differs from feeling in awe of your enemies or obstacles as in Devil May Cry. In almost any other game you are given a character who is more capable than yourself, a wish fulfilment avatar that you will enjoy playing as because you admire them. My emasculation had nothing to do with being asked to play a female character, but rather how the character is portrayed in the opening and the first few hours of play - I do not think I have ever been asked to play as such a frail person. Let me give you an example of how disconcerting it was; there are segments in Resident Evil 2 where you play as Sherry Birkin, a 9 year old girl. Sherry is more of a competent character than Fiona, capable of shooting a 9mm handgun, and to my mind is much more realistic.

When I found out (through play) that enemies cause you to experience a state of panic, from which you can faint due to stress... I sat with a still controller for a few minutes debating whether I wanted to continue. Obviously I did, and the story was worth it, but one of the main reasons I play games (especially role playing or adventure) is for escapist fantasy - and that need was not being met here. That's not to say I need to play as a phallic-sword toting muscle-bound man-hulk to enjoy a game, but that I felt more engaged playing Ecco the Dolphin than I did this.

So if the mindset isn't wish fulfilment fantasy (and I don't believe that it would be for either gender) what is the allure of the game-play? From the way the opening is orchestrated with partial nudity and up-playing the weak and feminine nature of the protagonist (who has a body that doesn't match her personality at all, women who look like that in any society are much more self-confidant unless they suffer from mental abuse) - this is a game aimed at the male demographic with the allure being to protect and guide the beautiful, shy girl to safety.

From what I understand of Japanese romance (and sexuality), this character is fulfilling the ideal submissive role. While I understand the appeal of protecting a character, and have enjoyed doing so in other Japanese games like Ico and the segment with Emma in MGS:2, the payoff is much greater when you play as the character protecting someone instead of playing as a frail character. I think they wanted the player to develop a dependency on the male dog 'protector' figure, but I don't believe it came off quite right. If the player switched controls between Fiona and Howie for exploration and battle respectively I think I might have enjoyed it more.

Bottom Line: It's a very different game, it has a different mindset that sets it apart from other games presented in the 3rd person direct-control Isometric. The story is interesting, the characters are well thought out. I could do without some (okay, a lot) of the over-sexualizing and objectifying of Fiona; she's a weak character and it just seems wrong to do that - Lara Croft is also a very sexualized character, but it fits on Croft because she's a strong character who is confident in her sexuality. Fiona seems almost mentally deficient for her age, ignorant of sexuality (again the Japanese ideal at play), and completely helpless. I say give this game a chance if you are intrigued by the screenshots and the several reviews, try to get a good deal on it though.