Haunting Ground: A Survival Horror Classic about a girl and her dog
Join Tony, the host of PlayStation Rumble, as he takes you on a spooky journey through Haunting Ground!
With Halloween quickly upon us, it is once again time to visit my favorite genre of any and all media. I’ve always been pretty big when it comes to anything Horror-related, even at a very young age when I found anything even remotely spooky absolutely terrifying. I would always be ready to come back for more even if it meant having nightmares for the rest of the weekend. Naturally, the older I got the less any of it would bother me and it just became more of a casual form of entertainment. That’s not to say things still don’t get under my skin, it just takes a bit more effort for something to really get to me, and when it does it usually sticks with me for a while.
The survival horror genre is one that I have always been fond of, I remember the first time I fired up the demo for the original Alone in the Dark way back when and being absolutely floored by the overall presentation. The demo didn’t offer much outside of the very first room in the game, but it still left a lasting impression on me and the game itself would end up giving birth to a whole new genre, with Capcom’s Resident Evil taking inspiration from it just a few years later. This would of course result in Capcom perfecting the survival horror formula and creating one of the most popular gaming franchises in gaming history, as well as many other cult classics in the genre. One of those cult classics is Haunting Ground, a unique survival horror that unfortunately got a bit lost in the shuffle at the tail end of the 6th generation.
Haunting Ground is a survival horror game developed by Capcom and released on the Playstation 2 in 2005. It was originally planned to be Clock Tower 4, but that idea was scrapped sometime during production (allegedly due to Capcom not being happy with Clock Tower 3 sales) and it was made to be more of a spiritual successor to the series. The story follows Fiona Belli, a young girl who wakes up in a strange castle with very little recollection of how exactly she got there, with the only thing she can remember are brief flashes of a car accident. While exploring the castle grounds she befriends Hewie, a stray dog that came to her aid during a deadly encounter with one of the castle’s occupants, and together they must figure out a way to escape.
The gameplay revolves around Fiona exploring the castle and solving basic puzzles, as well as avoiding the Stalker that lurks around the surrounding area. A chase sequence begins when Fiona is spotted by a Stalker, requiring the use of the surroundings to evade them, this can range from hiding under a bed, in a closet, or simply ducking behind something to get out of view of a Stalker. When Fiona discovers something disturbing or is attacked by an enemy, it heightens the chance of her panicking. If she becomes too stressed out, the screen will become distorted and she will go into full panic mode, making her hard to control until she calms down. Fiona is not completely helpless though, she is able to kick and shove enemies if she has to and there are also environmental hazards that you can lure enemies into to knock them out momentarily. These hazards aren’t entirely one-sided, since they can easily be used against Fiona and could result in a game over if you aren’t careful.
(Fiona in full panic mode)
Learning how to command Hewie properly is going to be your best line of defense, the Right thumbstick is used to issue various commands, such as directing him to grab an item out of reach, having him stay in place, or attacking an enemy to give Fiona enough time to escape to safety. How responsive Hewie is entirely based on how he is treated, you are able to build up his relationship with Fiona using treats, as well as praising or scolding depending on whether or not he obeys a command. If Hewie feels ignored, or overly praised he will become more difficult to command, but if he is scolded too much he might end up becoming aggressive towards Fiona, making it very important to find the right balance to make sure he performs actions when needed. It is also essential to make sure Hewie remains healthy, if he takes too much damage from a Stalker he can be temporarily knocked out, making it essential to always make sure that he is in good health after an encounter.
One of the things I liked most about Haunting Grounds was how accessible the gameplay is, there isn’t a heavy reliance on inventory management, and getting the best ending is easily obtainable during a first playthrough. Fiona’s sanity and stamina replenish when standing still and there are also fountains scattered around that she can use to regain her composure. Hewie’s health can be recovered by petting him or a simple handshake, which is as adorable and satisfying as it sounds. There are also healing items for both Fiona and Hewie, but I didn’t find myself using them all that much until the very end of the game. There are defense items that Fiona can use to help fend off Stalkers, as well as accessories that can be found to boost stats. I personally didn’t find a need to use any of the defense items and felt that Hewie was more than efficient at giving me some breathing room when a Stalker had me cornered, but I’m sure more novice players would find them useful if they find themselves having a hard time.
Haunting Ground has a very moody atmosphere and interesting camera angles that give it a very strong Giallo horror vibe that really helped draw me in. I'm not sure how intentional it was, but Haunting Ground definitely seemed like a bit of a love letter to the genre. The original Japanese title for the game was Demento before being changed for the localization, which is as Giallo as you can get as far as titles go and perfectly sets the tone of what exactly you’re getting into. There are some moments in the game that felt like they were greatly inspired by some of the films, the end scene of one boss fight in particular felt like it was directly taken from Dario Argento’s Suspiria. The story can feel rather nonsensical and maybe even a bit exploitative at times, which is something not uncommon for the genre. Fiona is treated like an object of desire by most of the characters throughout the story and while nothing explicit is shown on screen, there are definitely things implied during a game over screen depending on which Stalker kills her, with the game leaving it up to your imagination to fill in the blanks.
Haunting Ground flew under the radar during its initial release, likely due to the survival horror genre kind of falling out of favor with the mainstream audience at the time, which is a shame because it definitely stands on its own against even the best games in the genre. Unfortunately, a physical copy of the game goes for a rather hefty price nowadays and it only received a digital release on the PS3 PSN in Japan. With the recent renewed interest in the classic style survival horror, I hope that Capcom re-releases Haunting Ground in the future whether it be as a remaster or just a straight port, and makes it more readily available on modern gaming platforms.
About The Author:
Tony is a lifelong game collector, Batman fan, and enjoyer of B-movies. He is also the co-host of the podcast PlayStation Rumble, alongside fellow PlayStation enthusiasts (and sometimes adversaries) Jamie and Joshua.
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