Halloween is coming up soon and while this year may not be the year for costume parties packed with tons of drunks, it is a good time to play through some frightful horror games as you continue to stay in the comfort of your own home. When gamers think of horror titles, many immediately name genre mainstays such as Resident Evil or Silent Hill, or more recent properties that managed to drum up a loyal fanbase like Telltale’s The Walking Dead or Friday the 13th: The Game.
But how about you go a little deeper? Brush off the cobwebs and pry open an old and rusted chest to find priceless treasures hidden within.
Here are some niche yet jaw-dropping horror titles that create a tense, anxiety-choked atmosphere by use of unsettling visuals, nightmarish monster designs, unique premises, and just plain old excellent character and story writing.
These five indie titles are sure to satiate your desire for a deep and fulfilling horror experience, especially with Halloween right around the corner.
Hylics and Hylics 2
Hylics was developed by Mason Lindroth in 2015, and self described as “a recreational program with light JRPG elements.” In other words, this game is an acid trip. It’s also one of the best examples of “daylight horror” I’ve seen implemented in a horror game. You play as protagonist Wayne, a man with a waning moon for a head, as he travels to find and defeat the Moon King Gibby. You use the power of gestures in order to attack and cast special skills. A sequel was also released just this year, Hylics 2.
The game is a surrealist nightmare of strange NPC dialogue, eldritch abominations masquerading as monsters, and a plot heavily buried under miles of symbolism. While there is no actual danger presented to you (death is essentially a slap on the wrist), there’s this undercurrent of terror as you slowly explore a world that’s completely and openly hostile to your hero. The enemies are horrifying, complementing the unsettling visuals, and even the party members mostly resemble bizarre abominations. Coupled with the purposely janky animations due to the use of claymation, and you have a world that leaves you unsettled at every turn as you carefully explore the unsettling land.
She Dreams Elsewhere
Combine hip hop, jazz, and funk with copious amounts of pixel graphic charm, memorable characters, and a fun and fresh turned based combat system, and you have She Dreams Elsewhere. With skills such as “Roast” and a terrifying dreamscape world filled with horrible creatures born from protagonist Thalia’s mental illness, She Dreams Elsewhere is unlike anything else that you’ll likely have played.
Dark colors saturate the palette and paint a bleak picture, reflecting the mental landscape of our hero. As voices echo in her head, monsters creep closer and trap her in a never-ending dream unless she uses her skills, weapons, and wits to conquer her fears and escape. The thick and unsettling aura, compounded by the inner psychological elements around locations even as mundane as an apartment building, is testament to how simple yet well crafted the horror is.
She Dreams Elsewhere will release in 2021 for Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC, with a free demo currently available on Steam.
The Starship Damrey
Back in 2014, Level 5 game designer Kazuya Asano and writer Takemaru Abiko desired to make a title inspired by the classic adventure games of the old days. And unlike many other such titles that added in more modern sensibilities (such as the Etrian Odyssey franchise and Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light), they wanted to remain true to that classic experience.
The Starship Damrey was born from their work, and that design choice of no in-game aid is tied in brilliantly to the horror of exploring an abandoned and poorly lit ship using a small surveillance robot. The burden of slowly unraveling the mystery behind the horrors that remain on board is squarely on your shoulders, and the strange white spirit and bizarre creatures waiting for you won’t make things easier. It’s a tense, atmospheric, and terrifying experience that will keep you on your toes until the very end.
The Starship Damrey is available on Nintendo 3DS through the 3DS eShop.
This adventure game follows a group of Japanese high school students who–after celebrating their school’s culture festival–are telling ghost stories. Suddenly, an unexpected earthquake transports them to a dilapidated schoolhouse in an alternate dimension that is haunted by the ghosts of people who have been trapped there. The “closest” title to being considered mainstream, Corpse Party is still very much a niche title that has managed to reach cult classic status among its devoted fanbase, and for good reason.
Though the graphics are simplistic and clearly from RPG Maker, the characters, lore, and script is top notch. Everything in Corpse Party comes together to weave a tonally dark and oppressive atmosphere that soon gives way to gore and violence that can be inflicted on the hapless students, if you choose wrong. The first entry in the series premiered back in 1996 and has gotten remakes and sequels that have fleshed out the franchise’s mythology since then.
The first Corpse Party title–as well as all of its sequels–can be found on Steam, as well as other platforms like Nintendo Switch, PS Vita, and mobile.
If you have a taste for even more dark and bleak school-themed horror, The Coma will be right up your ally. This 2D horror-survival video game series follows students investigating the mysteries behind their high school, Sehwa High, during the already stressful and all important final exam season hanging over their heads.
Similar to Corpse Party, The Coma favors survival-themed exploration as you wander the suddenly terrifying remains of a once warm and familiar environment. Depending on the game, you control various students as they discover how truly sinister their school is, all while surviving the wrath of a relentless serial killer. The art style of the series is well detailed and backed by a stellar script and great lore that compels you to solve it.
The Coma and its remake and sequel can be found on Steam and other platforms.
These are only several of many smaller titles buried deep in the horror genre landscape. While they don’t carry the reputation of even more popular indie titles such as Five Nights at Freddy’s or Among Us, the experiences they offer are incredibly varied and well crafted. Diving into the more obscure wares can net a truly frightening surprise that’s well worth the journey, and I hope that any one of these more unique horror experiences can make your Halloween even more frightening.