Okay, so when I said that my first From Back In The Day would be about Star Ocean: Til The End of Time, I lied. But this subject is far more interesting, I think and may just awaken you to things you had no idea existed. So instead, you get this.
In the distant year of 1989, in January, a new horror movie was released in Japan entitled スウィートホーム (1989), also known as Sweet Home (1989).
It was graphic, gory, and involved shadows that melt people. But at its most basic, it was just a haunted house movie. It was certainly enjoyable, and the make-up, special effects, and puppets were all pretty impressive.
Later that same year, in December, and also only in Japan, a video game was released on the Famicom by Capcom. This game could really only be classified as a survival horror RPG, and is, in fact considered not only the first survival horror game, but is indeed a precursor to Capcom’s many Resident Evil games. It was challenging, filled with puzzles, surprisingly atmospheric, tense, and creepy despite its 8-bit limitations, and brutal and violent to look at. Unfortunately, because it was so visually violent, it would not see an international release.
Luckily for me, some enterprising internet dweller decided to translate it and release it for emulation online, so I got to play it. This video game is entitled スウィートホーム, also known as Sweet Home. Coincidence?
No. The film and the game share the same title, because they tell the same story. The Famicom game is a remake of sorts. In fact, it’s said that the film’s director, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, was deeply involved in the development of the game.
So, having experienced both the film and the game, I thought it would be an interesting venture to compare the two.
Like I mentioned, they share the same plot. A group of people enter the ruined mansion of Ichiro Mamiya, a famous fresco artist, in order to recover and document a lost painting (or paintings in the game). While there, shit goes down and people melt.
Both the film and the game are, in their own ways, grind-fests. The film is pretty damn slow at the beginning, but picks up nicely by the end. And the game, being a turn-based RPG, requires a lot of level grinding, even moreso than many other RPGs considering that if one of your five characters dies, they’re gone for good, healing items are so rare, and each character can only carry two items at a time.
Normally, I would really hate such a limited inventory, but in this case, not only does it work, but it really works. It does wonders to add to your sense of desperation, having to decide which items you need to bring with you at what time. It makes you really think about the survival aspect of this survival-horror game.
As much as I wish Capcom would have taken the random encounters and all of those other JRPG elements out, with the limitations of the Famicom, it’s hard to imagine what else they could have done to keep the horrific and tense nature of the game at the same level.
Visually, both the film and the game are done remarkably well. Though it almost seems like a joke to compare the two. The filmmakers had a great deal more resources at their disposal than gamemakers for the Famicom. But both did very well with what they had. Though, the overworld perspective in the game is a bit off. They use the same character sprite no matter which direction you face, so it always kind of looks like the characters are laying on their backs. It’s weird.
Where the game kills it though, is in the soundtrack. The overworld themes do a great job of making you feel uneasy throughout, and the battle theme is frantic, giving you the feeling that every battle is a desperate struggle, even when it really isn’t. I rarely remember the soundtracks to movies, mostly because the soundtracks to movies are rarely a point of focus to filmmakers. And I can’t remember a single tune from the film.
But there is one deciding factor here when it comes to determining which version of the story I enjoyed more. And that is how the story is told.
Now, without giving the plot away, I can say that it is not bad, especially for what boils down to a haunted house story. It’s disturbing and just plausible enough to work.
In the film, the story is pretty much a mystery until a character, which had only been in the movie briefly until this point, just kind of comes out and explains everything… and then he melts.
And you know what, that’s acceptable. They only have so much time to tell a story and cultivate a sense of mystery, a sense of horror, and a body count. And at least he was in the movie for a short time before just appearing to tell us everything that we were wondering.
But the game goes above and beyond here. The story is told mainly through journal entries of the owner of the mansion, through hidden messages in his frescoes, and through corpses that talk to you. And though the character mentioned above is in the game, and does shed some light on your situation, he’s only a small part of it. For the most part, you discover what happened and why by yourself, through your own investigation. And that’s just brilliant. It makes the entire game multitudes more immersive. And that puts it over the top. You discover the clues, you uncover the horrific reasons behind this haunting, and you put it all to rest or die trying. Some guy didn’t just come out and tell you what happened.
And it is that factor that makes Sweet Home for the Famicom superior to Sweet Home the film. As strange as it might be to think that a mass of 8-bit pixels and noises can be superior to a film with real-life actors and special effects. But it’s all in how the story is told, and the way the game did it kept the pacing even and the atmosphere tense and dreadful. And though the movie is pretty good, that one factor makes the game more successful in the endeavor of telling this particular story.
Now, if anyone who happens to see this post wants me to do a full review of either the film or the video game, let me know. But if not, this is all you get on the subject of Sweet Home, and I hope you enjoyed it.