Nintendo's vision for the NES in Europe and America was a frustratingly wholesome one. In the West, Capcom was mainly known as the developer of Disney games and Mega Man, but in their home country it was a very different matter. They birthed a reputation for horror and gore years before Resident Evil with their 1989 game Sweet Home.
Despite being rejected outright for an international release, Sweet Home holds a very important distinction in gaming history. Without this highly entertaining horror RPG, we wouldn't have Resident Evil or arguably the survival horror genre as a whole. You see, that seminal PlayStation classic was originally conceived as a remake of Sweet Home before changes made it into its own behemoth of a franchise.
The game begins like the beginning of a horror film. Five people get trapped in a dilapidated and decaying house with a history of ghoulish happenings. Here the reason is to film a documentary about locating and preserving the lost paintings of a famous artist who once lived and died there. As soon as the quintet enter the first hallway, the entrance collapses and they are trapped inside. Then they die one by one (or not if you're good at the game). There's a reason why it follows the tested formula and tropes of a haunted house movie - it's based on one. Not only is Sweet Home the grandfather of an entire sub-genre, but it's also a licensed game.
Very few games based on movies are any good. I've covered a fair few on this site and for the most part I've chosen to discuss the higher quality attempts (see Blade Runner or Ghost in the Shell). Sweet Home easily sits alongside them as a great example of the much-maligned label.
You controls all five characters, each having their own specific ability.
Akiko, the producer of the film crew is the healer of the group. Her unique item is the Medi-Kit which can cure status ailments - an ability that becomes increasingly indispensable as time goes on. Asuka is the on-camera reporter, an art restorer and an out and out bitch (at least in the film). Her item is the vacuum cleaner that cleans up broken glass and dusts dirty frescoes in order to be photographed. Emi, the youngest of the group, holds a key which can inexplicably open any locked door. Her father, Kazuo, is the crew's director and the protagonist of the film. In the game he has the ability to light candles or burn things with his lighter. In the film, the only flame he has is for the mild-mannered Akiko. Lastly there's Taro, the cameraman, though the game positions him as a stills photographer. He can take photos of the various frescoes to reveal important clues. Much like the film, he is there but not entirely necessary. It's entirely possible to complete the game without uncovering a single clue.
Each character can also hold two additional items, making inventory management an important element of the game - a trait carried over to Resident Evil. You can combine forces with other characters to form a party of up to three people, but you still need to keep an eye on the remaining people. If anyone dies, that's it. They're gone for good, along with their ability. Thankfully, you can find alternative items scattered around so if you lose your key bearer, a replacement wire can be searched for to pick the lock. It will require the use of a decreased inventory space.
So far, it sounds a lot like an 8-bit de-make of Resident Evil, right down to the opening door animations. The RPG element shows up in the turn-based fight sequences. The genre staple of random first-person battles are subverted by their simplicity and lack of fanfare. It's so sparse that it's actually refreshing to play. I do love a good Japanese RPG from the 80s and 90s, but replaying them can be just as arduous as they are entertaining and it's the frequent and time-consuming grinding that's to blame. They may be just as frequent here but most fights take only a few seconds to complete, with only one enemy fought at a time. The odd larger enemy does appear at strategic moments which do require extra time and thought but the main focus in on exploration and puzzle solving.
If you find that your party can't handle a particular enemy, you can call on the other characters to join in the fight, potentially making it five against one. If one group is in trouble, the frantic journey to help them is some of the tensest moments I've had in a game for quite some time, especially as it could be the end for any character at any moment.
Sweet Home is one of the best games on Nintendo's 30 year old system. It may not have received a release outside Japan but the fan translations by Gaijin Productions more than make up it. It may even surpass most official translations from that time. Thanks to this fantastic group, there's no excuse not to play this fantastic game.
To download the game, follow the link below. This custom installer exclusive to The Collection Chamber uses Retroarch with the NEStopia core to emulate the Super Nintendo on PCs. XBox 360 controllers supported. Tested on Windows 7.
* MERGEABLE *This title can be installed to the same directory as other mergeable titles. See the full list HERE.
Sweet Home is © Capcom
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me