If you consider yourself a survival horror enthusiast, but haven’t ever heard of Gregory Horror Show, then add it to the top of your list of things to play.
So, if you’re here to find out exactly what creepy game you’ve missed out on for all these years and assume the Minecraft-esque animation will lessen the fear factor of this game, then you are beyond mistaken. Oh, and did I mention Capcom made this? Yeah, Capcom made this.
Before I start to tell you why this game is beyond terrifying, you should know it was rated a 12. I’ll let you judge for yourself as to whether children should be allowed to take part in this spine-chilling endeavour. The game begins by setting the scene with a combined voiceover of a young boy and girl, explaining that you are lost in a forrest. You then stumble upon a building named Gregory House - a hotel in the middle of nowhere. You register yourself as a guest in the hotel, inputing your name and gender into the log book. You are then escorted to your room by Gregory, the eerie and strange mouse-like hotel owner who allows you to stay for the night. After this disturbing beginning, you are left to sleep alone in your room.
Soon into your slumber, another character, Death, introduces himself to you. Death recognises you’re new to the hotel and that you’re not comfortable there (he also wears a Swedish hat, and says things like "throw away all dem worries," what a dude). He basically offers to help you leave this hell hole in exchange for collecting the souls of the other guests and handing them to over to him in your dreams, which to me is a totally normal and fair deal to make, right?
You are awoken from your perfectly delightful dreams to the sound of screaming from the room next door. When you get into next door’s room, another character introduces himself as Neko Zombie. He's a cat with his mouth stitched up and is being kept prisoner for unknown reasons, he's also constantly hungry. Neko explains that the guests in the hotel are planning to keep you trapped there for all of eternity and will not hand over their souls easily. He tells you that you will have to find their weak spots in order to steal their souls and teaches you how to spy on the other residents. After finding out some more information on Neko, he then offers you his soul and allows you to ask various questions about the hotel. From then on, you’re basically left to your own devices and are allowed to explore the hotel whilst ripping souls from the other guests (still definitely a kid’s game).
After leaving Neko and being allowed to explore for yourself, you'll soon become aware that you can peek through keyholes and hide in cupboards. This mechanic becomes very useful when stalking the other characters, yet it still feels extremely unsettling. You can be hidden in a guest's wardrobe in their bedroom, watching them go by their daily routines, when suddenly you'll move your analog stick too fast and the cupboard will creak loudly. Only time will tell you whether they'll be smart enough to locate you, and if they do, you better think fast.
The first soul you are challenged in stealing is Catherine's, and from then on it's a free for all on who's soul you can steal. Catherine is a nurse who chases you with a large syringe in an attempt to drain your blood after you steal her soul, oh, and she's a giant lizard.
The general mechanics of the game are very survival-based. Your Mental Gauge is a glowing metre in the top left corner and it represents how good you're feeling. The lower it gets, the more you begin to go insane, and the darker your surroundings become. In order to keep yourself cheery in this jolly environment you must sleep, or take a variety of herbs and medicines. The game is also cleverly timed and structured, keeping it consistently paced. Guests have specific routines, and will complete the same tasks every day, allowing you to use stealth in order to follow them and learn more about their unique personalities. Time ticks by, via a clock in the top right corner of your screen, and will change between day and night. Hours also pass by as you sleep, and specific tasks can only be carried out at certain times of the day, so it's up to you to solve the puzzles and figure this out.
Each soul is, simply put, a puzzle. You will have to figure out how to steal them based upon specific requirements of every character. You explore all 5 floors of Gregory House using your map, closely watching guests and finding hidden objects. What makes this game so terrifying is the fact you are constantly being hunted. After taking their souls, each character becomes an enemy that will ultimately try to get revenge by hurting you.
The chase sequences feel awful to play, in the best kind of way. They provide that feeling I got as a kid of "someone else take the controller I can't do this". Your character will physically jump and shout when they are spotted, which was enough to jolt me a little. As you are being chased, you are made to feel alarmed and will definitely end up aimlessly running into random rooms, trying to escape. The attacks upon you are called Horror Shows (round of applause for that name drop), and definitely live up to their name (you can watch them all here to see for yourself). Once caught, there's no way out. You'll either die during, or survive wounded. Intense.
The fact you play as a child alone, is enough to make this game feel extremely threatening and me, as a player, feel incredibly vulnerable. Whilst playing, even though I'm supposed to be this child, I always felt the need to protect the child. I think that's a huge factor into why this game feels so isolating and intense, because you're so small. The characters feel particularly intimidating because firstly they're all faster than you, and secondly they're all taller and older (for the most part).
If you can overlook how unnerving the guests are, they're all pretty amazing. They all have creepy backstories you can read up about in-game through books, and they all feel so perfectly horrifying. There's a few characters that felt particularly haunting, including Lost Doll, Hell's Chef, Mummy Papa, and Angel/Devil Dog. Each of those few had something particularly ghastly about them, whether that's an axe in their head or having two faces. Just totally spooky. On each floor of the hotel are a variety of rooms, some that you can easily enter and others locked or blocked off. For a game based in one building, it's got so much to give. There's 20 residents in total, and more rooms, hidden items and collectables than I can count. If you're looking for survival horror with replayability, this really is it. Sure, the animation is a bit dated, but the game works and performs so well, I honestly can't ever see this getting old or losing it's scare factor.
So earlier I mentioned your Mental Gauge, remember that? Well, that will decrease quickly if you become sick. In this game you can suffer from a variety of illnesses, including headaches, melancholy, confusion, nervousness and more. You can visit Gregory's Horror Shop (nicely named there, Greggo) to trade herbs and other items for medicines, if you're lucky enough to make it there in time. Gregory's shop is one of the only places in the game that doesn't feel cold and evil. Upbeat music plays as you enter, and the room is well lit and is genuinely a happy place to be! Also, the other guests can't get in there, making the room a safe zone, so that's a bonus if you're being chased by 8 angry soulless monsters.
Sometimes when you're sick, hallways become darker too, and it makes the game much harder to navigate. This kicked off an intense feeling of panic for me, making me scramble back to my room to sleep it off and end the nightmare, ironic, huh?
It's difficult to emphasise how scary this game actually is without physically viewing it, so I can't recommend enough that you pick up a copy or sit and watch a few play throughs of it in the dark. The sound honestly does make this game, it's almost on par with a Resident Evil soundtrack, seriously. If you don't believe me, then click this link and have a flick through of some of the music, particularly at 4:01. It's also brilliantly voice acted, and each character sounds incredibly unique. You can be wandering through a dark hallway and hear a distant voice and instantly recognise which individual you are about to bump into. Also, the noise that doors make in this game puts me on edge. It's that typical elongated creak that just makes me shudder, much like nails on a chalkboard. Eek.
The choices you make in this game also feel strangely difficult. Sometimes you'll come across a hole in the ground and you will be questioned as to whether you'd like to jump in. From what I know, the order you do things in doesn't have a butterfly effect and won't change the game (other than who is chasing you at what point in time). Even though you become aware of this, sometimes you'll stumble upon a lever, or a button and feel genuinely frightened as to whether you should leave it be or act upon it. The basement floors do this particularly well, as the music changes and the game feels particularly dingy down there. There's tons of rooms, levers, gears to turn, and deep dark pits that descend to hell (not genuinely hell, but that'd probably be more welcoming than Gregory House). Each corridor has a sharp turn, and leads you into darkness, giving you a feeling of "if I bump into that damn lizard again I might cry".
On the topic of choices, Judgement Boy (pictured below) is also a bit of a moral compass. He'll wander around the hotel and is one of the only guests that won't try to hurt you, even after you take his soul. Occasionally you can enter his room and he'll ask you a question based on a situation, a "what would you do?" kinda thing. You'll choose one of the options and he'll let you know whether you're more focused on money, or love. He's definitely a strange character, but he starts to feel familiar and almost safe to be around, as he's the only dude that won't try and break your neck.
One thing that's actually pretty forgettable during gameplay is that you are a child. The game made me feel so focused on trying my best to survive, that I totally forgot at times that I'm a kid. Remember, this game was rated a 12. What shocks me is this is considered less frightening than Star Wars Battlefront, which is a 16?! I know they're totally different things, and there's a big generation gap, but are Stormtroopers supposedly worse than murderous demon dogs? Really? It's hard to explain how scary this game is to play without actually playing it, and it was likely rated a 12 due to the animation style, but honestly, if this was made to look real, I think it'd be rated an 18. This IMDB page for the show this game is based on literally reads "This is NOT a kid's show. It has disturbing themes and characters".
Even when you have to save the game, it's scary. The only way to save is to enter a dark room with a fortune telling frog inside, who only speaks to you if you'd like to save your progress (to be fair I think it's her eyes that worry me, just look at them, she looks dead inside). Overall I'd give it a 9/10 for how terrifying it is, and I'll never get how it got away with being a 12.
What gives the game it's "just one more soul then I'll stop playing" feeling is the amount there is to do. I've played through this around 7 times now and each time there's always parts that I forget about that still shock me. It may not look like much from the outside, but it's forever going to be one of my favourite PS2 games of all time, and I honestly can't fathom why it didn't get more attention upon release. It costs around £20 to get your hands on a copy of this game now, but if you're looking for something creepy to play alone or with friends, Gregory Horror Show might just be the game for you.