Ah, October; that blessed time of year when everyone changes their Twitter profile picture and handle so you have no idea who anyone is. And the perfect time to play some of the best horror visual novels out there! Because as we all know, Halloween now lasts for the entire month of October, and surely a full-on month is long enough for you to get through at least one of these bad boys, no?
Be aware that horror visual novels tend not to hold back; be prepared for violence, gore, sexual violence and all manner of other adults-only unpleasantness along the way. But you’re a big, strong reader, aren’t you? You’re ready for the very worst that the medium can possibly throw at you, right? Of course you are. My brave little soldier.
Now get readin’! And as always, if you have any of your own favourite picks, be sure to let us know in the comments — or pen us a letter for the Rice Digital Friday Letters Page!
To reiterate: 18+ stuff ahead.
Saya no Uta
We’ve already covered this previously in The History of Lewd, but Saya no Uta (aka The Song of Saya) is one of the best horror visual novels ever created. It’s an honest to goodness classic of both the genre and the whole medium, and a perfect demonstration of how visual novels can provide a markedly distinct experience from both video games and conventional literature.
In Saya no Uta, we follow the story of a young man named Fuminori, who has been suffering with a neurological disorder ever since an experimental procedure saved him from being brain-dead after a car accident. The procedure allowed him to live his life normally — normally, that is, aside from the fact that he is completely incapable of perceiving the real world as it actually is. Instead, he perceives everything as a horrifying place filled with fleshy walls, terrible smells and disgusting monsters.
But in the midst of the all the madness is Saya, a young girl who proves to be Fuminori’s salvation — or so he believes, anyway. Is everything as it seems? Of course it isn’t — and as you might expect from a work by Gen “The Butcher” Urobuchi, there are no happy endings here.
Deus Machina Demonbane
Another title we’ve previously covered in The History of Lewd, Nitroplus’ Deus Machina Demonbane is, for my money, one of the best horror visual novels I’ve ever read. Blending elements of hard-boiled detective stories, Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos and giant robot adventures (yes, really), this is an absolutely phenomenal visual novel that by turns excites and horrifies.
Telling the story of down-on-his luck investigator Daijuuju Kurou, Deus Machina Demonbane manages to incorporate both one of the cutest girls ever seen in the visual novel medium (Al Azif, the personification of the Necronomicon) as well as some of the most horrifying sexual scenes you’ll ever see.
The game’s horror works particularly well as it is, at times, rather unpredictable; the tone shifts from light-hearted comedy to absolutely horrendous things happening at a moment’s notice, and you can’t tell me the prospect of a giant robot punching Cthulhu in the face in a low Earth orbit doesn’t fill you with at least a little thrill.
Moonstone, creators of a variety of well-regarded moe eroge like Imouto Paradise, Magical Marriage Lunatics and Princess Evangile, might not be the first place you’d think to look for the best horror visual novels — but Sakuranomori Dreamers is a solid choice that blends colourful moe imagery with some seriously dark and disturbing monster designs.
The premise of the game sees protagonist Shinji coming to terms with his ability to see ghosts. Upon seeing the spirit of a deceased classmate, he feels compelled to investigate how she died — and how her death appears to be part of a series of sinister incidents that are plaguing his hometown. From there, an adventure into the world of dreams begins, as Shinji and his friends attempt to battle against the bodachs who wish to feed on human souls.
There’s a sequel out there, too; this hasn’t been officially localised yet, but judging by the reviews on MangaGamer players are clamouring for it — so hopefully it’s only a matter of time!
Developer Clockup is notorious for action-packed, extremely violent and horrifically gory eroge, and Maggot Baits is no exception to this rule. Those who have held off from trying the company’s most famous title Euphoria due to the scat content can rest easy (relatively) with this one, though — while there’s plenty of other horrific stuff going on, there’s no inadvertent (or deliberate) pooping involved in this one. Which is nice.
Maggot Baits is a dark fantasy story that tells the story of an evil city beyond the reach of the law. Protagonist Tsunuga Shougo fights alongside the mysterious “Witches” in order to battle the great, demonic evil that corrupted the city beyond all recognition. It’s an extremely well-regarded visual novel not for its violent fetish content — though it did win an award for that back in 2015 — but for its intriguing, thought provoking story.
This sort of thing is always going to be an acquired taste, but if you’re really in the market for horror that doesn’t hold back at all, then you’ll have a good time with Maggot Baits. Just be prepared for the absolute worst!
The House in Fata Morgana
The most relatively “tame” game on this list in that it’s not an eroge, The House in Fata Morgana is, regardless, an essential part of any visual novel fan’s collection. Not only is it one of the best horror visual novels of all time, it’s also one of the highest-rated games of all time over on Metacritic, which made people who don’t like visual novels very angry indeed. User “LIke_aFire” was concerned that it “has hardly any combat” and is “just boring overall”.
The House in Fata Morgana is actually a collection of stories that explore the curse on the titular house, and the many interesting tales that curse has led to over the course of nearly a millennium. It’s an enormously ambitious visual novel with a clear artistic vision, and it makes for deeply uncomfortable reading at times. It’s heavy going, quite slow paced and absolutely not for everyone — but if you’re on board with incredibly thought-provoking horror that will stay with you for a very long time after you’ve finished it, this should be top of your shopping list this spooky season.
The more recent “Dreams of the Revenants Edition” releases of the game for consoles include the original “main” storyline, plus the prequel A Requiem for Innocence, sequel Reincarnation and a series of additional short stories. If you want the complete Fata Morgana experience, that’s the one to go for.
And there you have it. That should keep you busy for a month or more. Don’t say I didn’t warn you about Maggot Baits, though.
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