Like I mentioned in last week’s post, pseudo horror games are a great way to see if you’d enjoy a full on horror experience without needing to completely commit to one. This is because, as you may have guessed, pseudo horror games aren’t really horror games. They are games that have plenty of horror elements but either not enough or they aren’t focused on enough to be considered a horror game. Which makes them a perfect gateway into actual horror games! So if you’ve been curious about trying out horror games, these games might be some of the best places to start.
Bloodborne is one of the best and worst examples of a pseudo horror game. This is mainly because it really rides the line between the two. Like, when just describing Bloodborne it honestly sounds like a horror game. You play as a Hunter who finds themselves in an unfamiliar city called Yharnam where beasts and crazy towns people roam the streets looking for anything to kill and it’s up to you to survive the night while also trying to figure out what exactly is going on. And that’s not even getting into the Lovecraft inspired stuff! Even beyond the premise, the game can certainly be terrifying at times as well. The look of the game, from the enemies to the locations, screams gothic horror. But having played it multiple times over the years, I can confidently say that Bloodborne is far from a true horror game. At the end of the day, it’s the game play that really keeps it from being a horror game. Bloodborne is a Soulslike game, meaning you can generally kill or fend off most things that come at you. As spooky as the world can be you are a Hunter and you are meant to hunt! And while you are sure to die lots and lots of times, it’s a Soulslike game after all, you’re always meant to get back up and try again to kill what killed you last time! It’s a lot harder to be scared of things, even extremely deadly things, when you are getting stronger at the same time. And honestly, the more times something kills you over and over again, the less scary it becomes. You just have to take that first dive in and get use to your surroundings!
While Bloodborne doesn’t really feel like a horror game when you play it, it still uses a lot of horror elements. This is why it can be perfect for those that want to see if they enjoy those elements. I feel like if you enjoy a game like Bloodborne but want a more horror focused experience then you should try some survival horror games. While it may be a little hard to find one with specifically the same kind of atmosphere and setting as Bloodborne, it should be easy enough to find a game that shares the elements of fighting back against the horrors you face while exploring new areas and trying to get a better understanding of where you are. That’s basically what survival horror is all about!
That being said, it can be hard to recommend Bloodborne if you aren’t really into Soulslike games. That can understandably hold some people back, even if I think people should still try it regardless. I could also say that it’s a bit hard to recommend since it’s a PS4 exclusive but given how many people own PS4s I don’t think that will hold too many people back. But let’s talk about some other pseudo horror games now! Ones that can provide a different kind of horror than Bloodborne.
Rather than talking about one game in particular, let’s talk about a series as a whole, as just about every Metroid game can be considered a pseudo horror game. Most games in the series have you exploring an unknown place filled with aliens and other things looking to kill you. But the horror elements come less from the things trying to kill you and more from the exploring! You really do feel alone in Metroid, you’re isolated and cut off and it’s up to you to make it out alive. While a Metroid game has never personally made me jump or scream in fear, exploring the environment is always an eerie and unnerving experience. The isolation you feel while exploring also plays a big role in this. There are plenty of horror games that feature a silent main character but even then they normally have a supporting cast to help and speak for them. This isn’t really the case with Metroid. At most you may have one other character that assists Samus, the main character you play as, from afar talking to her every so often to provide a bit of insight but that’s mostly it, they don’t do much else to assist you in your journey. And while you can generally be pretty confident there won’t be something terribly horrifying around the next corner in the Metroid games, that doesn’t stop things from being frightening when you realize just how alone you are.
Despite what I said about most Metroid games all being about the same level of pseudo horror, there are a couple of exceptions. Namely Metroid Fusion and Metroid Dread. Both feature enemies that you are forced to run from as you have no chance of fighting back. In Fusion this enemy is the SA-X, a copy of Samus with all of her abilities and upgrades that will appear throughout the game every so often looking to hunt you down. Trying to fight back against them will always lead to your death so you need to run away when they show up. You will eventually get the abilities necessary to take them on but for most of the game you are running. In Dread there are multiple enemies that you have to run from, they are called the E.M.M.I. Similarly to SA-X, they also seem to share some of Samus’ abilities, abilities you get back after you defeat them. Unlike in Fusion though, you don’t have to wait till the end of the game to defeat them. But unlike the SA-X, the E.M.M.I all behave differently from one another and will hunt down Samus in different ways, meaning you need to approach each one carefully. This is actually extremely similar to a lot of horror games! As I mentioned in last week’s post, running and hiding from a threat you can’t beat is a staple of hide and seek horror and haunted house horror. The main difference here is that you are actually able to defeat the threat chasing you. Something that does happen in horror games but very rarely and usually only right at the very end. However, this does give you a very good sample of what that kind of horror is like and you also get to experience the isolation and exploration that can also be found in other horror games as well! And unlike with Bloodborne, I feel like more people will be able to pick up Metroid without having to worry about the difficulty of the game all too much. Not that the games are exactly easy, but still!
Bloodborne and Metroid are both amazing examples of pseudo horror games and they provide different kinds of horror experiences as well with some overlap when it comes to exploring unfamiliar places. But there is another kind of horror that they don’t really show off too well. And that’s psychological horror! A very popular form of horror as it relies much less on shocks and jump scares and more on deeper and darker fears. Things that will sit with you a bit more than a scary face popping up out of the blue. And surprisingly there is a pseudo horror game that covers that pretty well. And even more surprisingly, it’s often considered a kids game. I’m talking about The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask!
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
Majora’s Mask is a very dark game. Like, it’s amazing that the game was originally rated E for Everyone when it released on the N64 and later rated E10+ for the remake on the 3DS. Granted a lot of the darker elements are probably lost on younger players, they certainly went over my head when I first played the game as a kid, but replaying years later I realized just how messed up and scary the world of Majora’s Mask is.
The entire game is basically based around the idea that everyone is going to die in three days when the moon falls and it’s up to you to save everyone before that happens using the power to turn back time. It’s a very different kind of set up from the usual Zelda game! There’s no Ganon to fight and there is no Zelda to save. Instead you are trying to stop Skull Kid, or more specifically the spirit of Majora that lives in the mask Skull Kid is wearing. To do that you have to travel to four different parts of the world to collect pieces of a song to summon the four giants to stop the moon from falling. And while the moon crashing down and destroying everything might sound like a scary premise on it’s own, that’s not where the horror elements really come in. The real horror and dread comes from the world and the people inhabiting it and how they are reacting to all of this.
While there is actually some shock horror in Majora’s Mask, the animation for putting on one of the three main masks that changes Link’s body can be pretty horrifying, it’s the somber and sad nature of the world that really brings out the horror elements. Unlike with a lot of games where you are trying to save the world, the people of Majora’s Mask are well aware of what is happening and don’t think anyone is coming to save them! You get to experience their lives over the course of the three days and how they deal with it. Some people deny that anything is wrong just trying to go about their business, others are terrified of what is happening, and some honestly simply accept it, trying to find some peace before the end. Majora’s Mask is a game about loss more than anything else. As I mentioned before, there are three main masks that change Link’s appearance. All three are based off of characters that have passed on, and two of them you actually have to be the one to help them pass on by helping the spirits accept what has happened to them. You do this by looking into their lives and seeing the loved ones they are leaving behind and helping them in place of the spirit that no longer can. Giving them some closure so they can finally accept the reality of what has happened to them and move on… Just a reminder, this is a kids game. And it’s far from the only dark and mature thing too! In fact, Majora’s Mask and it’s dark themes have even spawned a popular fan theory about how the game is actually about Link dying and his journey of acceptance so that he can move on as well. And there is actually quite a bit of evidence supporting the theory. I personally don’t believe this is the case but just the fact that people came up with and believe in this theory goes to show you just how intense the game can be.
It’s for those reasons that I’d call Majora’s Mask a pseudo horror game as there are a lot of horror games that take on this psychological angle. Silent Hill 2 for example also tackles a lot of these themes and then some! I was actually kind of surprised by how similar some of the themes are between the two games. It’s a very different kind of pseudo horror than what you’d find with Bloodborne or Metroid but it’s still horror. It’s far more oppressive and bleak, not being afraid to shy away from darker subject matters. Going back to what I was talking about in my last post, I mentioned that it can be hard to write off horror games as a genre just by playing one game and this is exactly why. There are so many different kinds of horror out there and you don’t need to love them all. You just need to find the right kind for you and hopefully one of these three pseudo horror games can help you with that! I guess you could say that’s my goal for this month with these posts, to get more people into horror games. Because it’s such an interesting genre with so many creative games! It shouldn’t be over looked just because you normally aren’t into being scared.
But before we wrap up this post I wanted to do a bit of a lightening round where I quickly mention some other games that could be consider pseudo horror games but either really ride the line or just didn’t give me much to talk about.
So… Here we go!
Another great pseudo horror game! I didn’t want to bring it up in this post because it covers a lot of the same horror beats as Metroid and being a PS5 exclusive can make it a bit tougher to recommend. But Returnal is a great game with lots of great scares and plenty of that isolation kind of horror!
The Souls Series
While Bloodborne focuses the most on horror elements, you could honestly argue that any of the Souls games are pseudo horror games! Especially when you consider that tense feeling of carrying around a ton of souls looking for a bonfire to rest at so you don’t lose them all. It’s very similar to the tense feeling you get from survival horror games.
Specifically the Ravenholm section. This area of the game, that appears about half way through, is really just a horror section. You deal with all kinds of head crab zombies around every corner as you try to escape the overrun town that’s filled with nothing but the living dead and one really crazy guy that luckily wants to help you. It screams horror game!
Specifically the Genocide route. This is a bit of an interesting take! In the Genocide route of Undertale you have to kill every character. It’s a bit different from the usual kind of horror as you aren’t the one running away as much as the one people are running from, and the game doesn’t pull it’s punches when telling you just how much of a monster you are for doing this! It’s a really neat angle that still has that horror edge to it.
And with that, I suppose we’re done with pseudo horror games! For next week’s topic, as we continue our way through spooky month, we’re going to be talking about indie horror games! Specifically how they can be both the best and worst kinds of horror experiences. But for now though, hopefully this post helped you find some neat pseudo horror games to jump into! As I really do feel like they are the best gateway into horror if you’re on the fence about it.
Those are just my thoughts though! What are some of yours? Thinking about giving some of the games I mentioned a try? Are there any pseudo horror games you think I should have brought up? I’d love to hear your thoughts so don’t be shy!
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