In the spirit of Halloween I thought I would really dig into on of my favorite little import gems, a quirky horror-based RPG called Sweet Home. Sweet Home has a fascinating history unto itself, not to mention the impact it had on the formulation and development of the Resident Evil franchise and to the survival horror genre itself.
From Cinema to Console
Sweet Home is actually a licensed game. Based on a Japanese film called ‘Sûîto Homu’ (which translated, as you may have guessed, is Sweet Home) which was written and directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, whose other film credits include Tokyo Sonata and Cure.
The film follows a group of documentary filmmakers as they enter the sprawling, decrepit mansion of infamous painter Mamiya Ichiro. Once inside they are attacked by supernatural forces and must to try and escape the unspeakable evil within the cursed mansion. It’s basically a haunted house story punctuated by startling scenes of terror and gore. The game was released to coincide with the premiere of the film in Japan.
Unfortunately, due mainly to the fact that the movie never saw a western release, the game was never translated and localized for release outside of Japan. It also didn’t help that the RPG style of Sweet Home resulted in a fairly text heavy script, and translation and localization was very expensive and risky undertaking in the late 80’s, a time when audiences outside of Japan had yet to latch onto the console RPG genre.
Development of Sweet Home
The game itself was developed and published by Capcom, and released in 1989. With Capcom’s numerous previous successes on the Famicom such as Mega Man 1 & 2, Ghosts n’ Goblins, DuckTales, and Destiny of an Emperor, the company’s reputation was all but cemented as one of the elite third party developers for Nintendo’s 8-bit juggernaut. Development of Sweet Home was helmed by an internal Capcom team with the music composed by Junko Tamiya, whose other memorable video game soundtracks include 1943: The Battle for Midway and Little Nemo: Dream Master.
The game very closely follows the plot of the film on which it’s based. You control a team whose task is to enter the mansion of Mamiya Ichiro in order to document the many frescos (paintings) that adorn the mansion walls. Upon entering the mansion the doors close, trapping you within the confines of the run-down estate. You decide to split into two teams and explore the mansion in hopes of discovering clues to the mystery in which you are now entangled.
The First Survival Horror Game?
A very unique aspect of the game is that each character has a specific tool that only they can use. For example, one character possesses a vacuum which is used to get rid of other wise impassable broken glass strewn about the mansion floors, another has a medical kit which is the only way to cure status ailments. Another interesting obstacle that really puts you on the edge of your seat is that if a character falls in battle, there is no way to revive them. You must continue on in the game and find alternate routes, if possible. In some instances you may have to use the ‘restart’ feature from the menu window and basically reset the game to the beginning.
It is this element that adds unnerving tension to each and every battle. It is also this feeling of tension, as well as the mansion setting, and even the ominous door opening animation that Shinji Mikami would borrow heavily from when he began development on his first game for Capcom nearly 6 years later. Unlike Sweet Home, Mikami’s creation would make it to the North American shores… and it would also become not only a huge success, but also spawn one of Capcom’s signature franchises. We would play it as Resident Evil.
Shinji Mikami himself freely admits that he took a large amount of inspiration from Sweet Home, which could be argued as being the first survival horror game. Earlier games such as the Atari 2600 titles Halloween, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Haunted House definitely share in the survival horror lineage, but the most copied of the 80’s horror games is still Sweet Home, with its primitive character development, environmental puzzles, reliance of the use of specific weapons and tools, and frightening visuals, it was the first scary game that attempted to not only challenge your thumbs, but to also mess with your psychological well being. Games such as the obviously influenced Resident Evil series, Eternal Darkness, and Silent Hill would build upon these basic concepts and continue to refine and improve them.
Sweet Home is still worth a play through today. The uniquely Japanese RPG battle mechanics and level building combined with what would unknowingly (at the time) be the fetal stages of modern survival horror make for an interesting look at the evolution of a genre.
You can purchase the reproduction cart at Game Reproductions, or find the patched ROM at any number of websites.