The other day, I was scrolling through a few of my more deeply repressed memories when I had a sudden flashback of one of my favourite childhood video games; Primal. Primal incorporated all of those elements that I wanted from a video game at the time; Goth culture, “heavy” metal, terrifying demons, shape-shifting, and creepy worlds dominated by eternal night, drowned in water, or overwhelmed with scorching sand. Primal was undoubtedly one of the first horror masterpieces, with heaps of untapped potential and a beautifully realised storyline.
Yet gushing about Primal is for another day. Thinking about this game, one of the first real horror games I ever played, reminded me of all of those childhood video games that I’d long forgotten. All of the games in this list were rated 15 or under, yet contain sequences that have been etched in my memory as some of the scariest in my childhood. Without further ado, here are my Top 5 Creepiest Sequences in Childhood Video Games.
Note: This post contains spoilers for all of the listed games.
- Klonoa 2 Lunatea’s Veil: The Ghost House
So Klonoa 2 may not seem like a horror game, but bear in mind that the main storyline is about a villain hell-bent on plunging the world into eternal sorrow. That being said, messed-up though the story may be, it’s hardly a scary game, which is precisely why this sequence freaked me out so much. It comes out of nowhere, and nothing quite prepared me for the uncharacteristic creepiness of it. I recently replayed the game and, at the age of 25, the exact same sequence had me reeling. Perhaps even more bizarre is the fact that it takes place in a level called Joliant or the Kingdom of Joy. Joliant is just one huge theme park and, like every good theme park, it has a ghost house. The ghost house itself isn’t particularly marvellous, but it’s the cut-scene as you enter that gave me sleepless nights.
Cut-scenes are littered almost at random throughout levels in Klonoa 2, so you never know when one’s going to flash up. This one begins with a character simply dubbed “The Butler”, who is definitely more “Lurch” than “Alfred”. He floats through the air and, even though he clearly has no body, he’s inexplicably able to wear a jacket and some adorable blue shorts. His dark face is forever transfixed in an eerie, yellow grin and, just to amp up the fear factor, instead of hands he simply has tiny replicas of his own face. As the language in Klonoa 2 is all expressed through random noises, his voice is a weird mixture of manic laughter and spooky ghost sounds. This guy is freaky enough on his own, but just when you think you’re safe, he suddenly portals directly in front of you. His face practically fills the screen. No matter how old I am, this jump scare gets me every time.
- Pokémon Red and Blue: The Pokémon Tower
Although it’s always been traditionally viewed as a children’s franchise, Pokémon is not without its fair share of horrifying moments. The Pokémon Gothita can see dead people. Drowzee feeds off the nightmares of children. And Banette is a cursed doll that was driven into being by its hatred for the child who abandoned it. Amongst these psychopathic creatures, it’s hardly surprising that Pokémon made it onto this list.
Anyone who has ever played the original Pokémon games will be painfully aware of the Pokémon Tower. Unless they’ve repressed the memory, that is. Like the ghost house in Klonoa 2, the Pokémon Tower is a sudden diversion from the game’s otherwise upbeat, positive atmosphere. As you enter the tower, eerie, 8-bit music pervades and marks the change from “friendly adventure” to “harrowing ascent through a seven-storey Pokémon graveyard”. Now correct me if I’m wrong, but graveyards don’t strike me as an appropriate location for a children’s game. As you attempt to climb the tower, your character will frequently be assaulted by ghosts and elderly members of the occult. But there’s no need to panic, ghost-type Pokémon are apparently able to disguise themselves as the ghosts of human beings, which are far less terrifying, right?
Not to worry, the friendly folks at Pokémon Inc. have invented the Silph Scope, a device that allows you to see the ghosts for what they actually are! The chilling atmosphere builds as you ascend each storey of the tower, until you finally reach the top and the Silph Scope reveals the ghost of a Marowak. Specifically, a female Marowak. This leads to the darkest origin story of the Pokémon canon, the one where you find out that cute little Cubone, the dinosaur with the bone helmet, is in fact wearing the skull of his dead mother, the deceased Marowak. If you look closely, most depictions of Cubone will even feature a lone tear making its way out of his mother’s eye-socket. We’re not sure whether every Cubone tragically lost its mother, or whether one trendsetting Cubone simply popularised the “dead parent skull-hat” look. All we know is, this is really messed-up.
- Monkey Island: My Friend the Severed Head
The comedy franchise Monkey Island has churned out some of the most memorable and beloved games of my childhood. At the tender age of twelve, Guybrush Threepwood was one of my first crushes and the numerous, long-running jokes throughout the series had me roaring with laughter every time. Any game with a character named Ignatius Cheese is bound to tickle my funny bone. Yet I recently replayed the excellent remake (remaster?) The Secret of Monkey Island and found myself…a little taken aback.
Towards the end of the game, you acquire an object known as “the Head of the Navigator”. Throughout the game, you’re led to believe that this is some short of fancy compass or perhaps a monkey-themed Satnav. Well it’s not. It’s a severed head. With a necklace made of eyeballs. As a distant, pixelated image in your inventory this is creepy enough, but at one point in the game you have to have a conversation with it. The camera zooms in on the withered face, with its boss eyes, wispy hair, and coy hint of a spine. The original and redrawn versions are both equally terrifying, giving you absolutely no respite from this shrivelled, chattering skull. If that wasn’t bad enough, you need it to navigate your way through a cave made of deformed body parts. You won’t find that in Shameless Disney Rip-off…I mean Pirates of the Caribbean.
- Jade Empire: Mother and the Cannibals
Okay, so Mother and the Cannibals may sound like a hip 80s rock band. But rest assured, it’s far from. Lest I gush too much, Jade Empire is my favourite video game of all time. I love it. Like, really love it. I’d marry it if I could. So during my many play-throughs of the game, I came across this sequence many times. Throughout the game, you’re constantly exposed to ghosts, spirits, and demons, usually bearing down on you with the intention of corrupting you, killing you or…most terrifying of all…telling you scary ghost stories. Your character is no stranger to terror, as you suffer disturbing visions of the Water Dragon and navigate your way through a world plagued by those who cannot crossover.
So when you reach the second stage, Tien’s Landing, and are met with still more ghosts and ghouls, you’re feeling pretty prepared. That is, until you head into the Great Southern Forest and make a pit-stop at Pilgrim’s Rest Inn. You’re initially met by the Keeper, a man who simply oozes charisma. And by charisma I mean used-car-salesman charisma. This guy is clearly hiding something. As the story progresses, you discover that all of the men in the inn except Hen-Pecked Hou are actually followers of a powerful demon called “The Mother” and have gained supernatural powers by eating human flesh. When you finally confront the innkeepers, they start to…change. Their skin turns ash-grey and hangs, sallow and gaunt, on their thin frames. Their bodies contort into twisted shapes. And their teeth become sharp and ragged. Perhaps worst of all, amidst the Rat Demons and skinned corpses in the tunnels below the Inn, you’ll finally confront the Mother. There are no words that aptly portray how repulsive this abomination is. No words.
- Shadow Hearts: More Cannibals!
Shadow Hearts was one of those JRPGs that largely went under the radar, but was popular enough to spawn two sequels. Although the game explored dark themes, such as vampirism, loss, and attempted kidnapping, it was never explicitly a horror game. Most of the horror tropes littered throughout the game are kitschy and stereotypical, making them more laughable than terrifying. Yet, within the first hour of playing the game, you swiftly come upon a place called Zhaoyang Village. Just like Pilgrim’s Rest Inn in Jade Empire, there is immediately something not quite right about Zhaoyang. From the two creepy kids that doggedly follow you through the village to the maniacal laughter of the “Granny Mayor”, the inhabitants of this small village immediately unsettle you.
It is not until you reach the village shrine, shrouded in human bones, that you uncover the horrible truth; the villagers are cannibals. As you tentatively return to confront good ol’ Granny Mayor, she openly exposes her overwhelming desire to gnaw on your juicy, juicy shinbones. That being said, with an army of just one OAP and two children, they can hardly overpower you. But, since the village is sealed by dark magic, it’s not like you can just leave either. All the hungry villagers need to do is wait for exhaustion to overcome you and, as you gently drift off to sleep, they’ll set to preparing some tasty human stew.
With the formalities out of the way, the village uncovers its “true form”. The children become Hell Cats, their skin riddled with scar tissue. Granny Mayor transforms into a fearsome boss named Felinus, its claws daubed in blood. And, worst of all, the town itself appears to be covered in a fleshy substance that squelches under your feet as you walk. That awful, squishy sound still makes me shiver. Ew.
So how do you think the list stacks up in your experience? And what were your creepiest video game moments? Comment below and let us know what childhood trauma led to your chronic, adulthood insomnia.