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Sweet Home (NES) artwork

Sweet Home (NES) review

"Regardless of Sweet Home's lacking challenge factor, the game still won my heart. As a lover of all things horror, from films to literature, playing an NES game that was as brutal as some of my favorite '80s fright flicks was a treat."

Sweet Home asset
The original residence of evil

Before Jill and Chris crossed the threshold into the zombie-infested Spencer Estate, Japanese gamers crept into the similarly sinister Mamiya Mansion. It was there that five treasure seekers cracked open the house's long-shut front doors and crept into its decaying frame in search of several lost frescoes. What they anticipated was a slightly risky venture, where their only concern involved avoiding unstable areas of the house. However, they came to understand what was truly at stake when the front door slammed behind them. They realized then that Mamiya Mansion was never abandoned, as the former lady of the house, now an insidious phantom, appeared to foretell their grisly demises. So the quintet, with no means of egress, pushed into the depths of the house to unravel the mystery behind its ghostly phenomena.

Despite its genre and innocent-sounding moniker, Sweet Home isn't a sword-swinging epic of an RPG or a silly boo-scare game similar to those on Atari 2600. This is the game that gave birth to many modern survival/horror concepts while defying contemporary RPG elements, especially those pertaining to healing. When the going gets tough, you don't pad back to the nearest inn to sleep off mortal wounds or cast a healing spell. Instead, only potions found throughout the mansion restore health, and they're finite in number. Also, you can't farm them from enemies or rack up gold to buy more, as encounters give you naught but experience. In other worse, this game really emphasizes the first part of survival/horror.

Sweet Home screenshotSweet Home screenshot

On top of that, it demands tight party management. Despite having five characters total, you can only form a party of up to three. If you're thinking you'll outwit the system and leave the other two behind, think again. Since each character brought a different personal item to the bash, you'll have to boogie with each of them at various points throughout your quest. Asuka, for instance, brought her prized vacuum cleaner, which can clear broken glass or clean dirty frescoes to help reveal clues. You also have Kazuo, who's lighter is handy for burning impeding ropes. Even without their special tools, it's highly recommended you keep all five characters as close together as possible. This is especially so since your overall item capacity is extremely limited, allowing for each investigator to carry up to two items in addition to their personal object and equipped weapon.

Don't think for a second that you'll rarely fill up your inventory, or that Capcom is going to let you solve every puzzle using only the five initial tools. You'll find as you advance that you'll have to balance your inventory wisely, keeping with you a decent stock of consumable items (potions and wooden planks for cross gaps) and special tools like a mallet for destroying boulders or a flashlight for eliminating shadowy barriers. If you happen upon a new item that you need and your inventory is full, then you'll have to swap one in your current stock with the new one, but the real killer is remembering where you left certain items. I remember at one point losing a pair of gloves that I needed to navigate a patch of thorns without taking damage. I drove myself nuts scouring the house for them, but wound up pushing through the thorns without them. Every painful drop in my party's HP taught me to keep better track of my junk.

While the micromanagement aspect is engaging, it's not the main attraction. The best part about Sweet Home is its uncompromising stance on death. When a character's HP hits zero, they aren't injured, knocked unconscious, or "swooned..."

Sweet Home screenshotSweet Home screenshot

They're flat out dead.

You can't toss a Phoenix Down on your comrade, cast a life spell on her, or rush to the nearest church to pay a priest to resurrect her. Instead, you have to leave her blood-soaked corpse in the middle of the hallway and carry on with your quest.

Once I understood the permanence of death within Sweet Home, the game's tension factor took a sharp increase. I dreaded every step I took, thinking at any second I would be thrown into a random encounter against a gruesome assailant. Though I knew it would come eventually, I still feared the moment an undead maniac with a curved blade would attempt to lop my head off. I also cringed at the notions of being engulfed by a clew of poisonous worms, torn apart by a hellhound, or spirited away by a specter. Even though the 8-bit sprites representing these creatures were not at all terrifying, they inspired many lurid scenarios that played out in my horror-hungry mind, leaving me on edge.

More than a gory death, I feared that a battle, any battle, would disturb the delicate balance I worked hard to maintain. For instance, I fretted that my character Taro would lose most of his HP and that I would have to spend a potion prematurely. I worried about my characters like they were my virtual children trapped in Lamberto Bava's rendition of Home Alone.

...and honestly, I loved the game for it. After all, what's a horror story with characters you have no stake in?

Unfortunately, the dread that I relished soon dissipated as I made a grievous discovery. As if invoking the spirit of id Software, Sweet Home allowed me to save any time outside of combat. Deep within the region of my brain that exploits loopholes and flaws, gears began to turn. I escorted my entourage to a sector of the mansion with weaker enemies that still bestowed decent enough experience, saved, and then picked a fight with every monstrosity I could. If things worked out in my favor with little to no HP lost, I saved. If the situation grew too hairy for my liking, I reset the game and reloaded. Thanks to constant grinding and unlimited saves, there was rarely a moment when I didn't overpower my opponents. You might advise that I not game the system, but how couldn't I? If the developers are going to make it that simple, then I'm damn well going to take advantage of it.

Sweet Home screenshotSweet Home screenshot

Regardless of Sweet Home's lacking challenge factor, the game still won my heart. As a lover of all things horror, from films to literature, playing an NES game that was as brutal as some of my favorite '80s fright flicks was a treat. I also respect Sweet Home, mostly because of its legacy. Remember, it helped kickstart the same survival/horror party that provided me with experiences I'll never forget: outrunning Tyrants with Claire, avoiding Kirie's killing touch, or watching helplessly as Pyramidhead closed the gap between himself and Maria while I was trapped in an elevator. This game, along with a few others, inspired a genre that was only a dream for horror fans like myself ages ago. Thank you, Capcom, for helping make our nightmares come true.


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Community review by JoeTheDestroyer (October 31, 2012)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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If you enjoyed this Sweet Home review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!

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overdrive posted October 31, 2012:

Very strong review. Yeah, I kinda game'd the system, as well. Not with save/resets, but with spending lots and lots of time in areas where I could get exp without much risk, so I could run through those tougher areas without messing around more than necessary. Spend time in areas where friendly chaps such as the Maniac in one of those pics lives, so I could get through places like that hellish late-game part with the dopplegangers of your party with as little trouble as possible.

Do that and you can get through without losing anyone with ease, as long as you can make it through the early stages. That's where the game is toughest...when you're weak and one mistake can be fatal. You'll be dreading crossing those disposable planks because if one breaks, someone will be in trouble. And the rooms where spirits can steal away one guy, so your two-person party becomes two one-person parties...guh.

It's kind of like an old-school console JRPG answer to a game like Wizardry, where things are really tense and touch-and-go early on, but after you've gotten stronger, the difficulty largely fades as long as you play intelligently.
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zippdementia posted October 31, 2012:

Extremely strong review for a game I've long been interested in. Question: if you lose a character, can you still beat the game?
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overdrive posted October 31, 2012:

Yes. There are special items scattered through that can serve as replacements for each character's essential item. Of course, that just makes juggling inventory more of a pain, but you can still win the game!
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zippdementia posted October 31, 2012:

That's pretty cool; so it could be a REAL challenge going through with one character.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted October 31, 2012:

Thanks, man! Your leveling strategy was more or less what I did. Before attempting that, I was left wondering how the hell I was going to beat the game.

I think the least number of characters needed to beat the final boss is two, as you actually need to use four different items to beat her (a photo, a diary, a tool, and a coffin if memory serves).

I think if you wanted to boost the challenge factor, you could have each character acting alone and equipped with low level weapons.

One other tidbit: depending on who survives, there are multiple endings to the game as well. I've only seen the "good" ending, so I don't know what other ones exist. I guess I may have to go back one day and find out.
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zippdementia posted October 31, 2012:

This is my favorite of your Halloween reviews, by the way.

I think I would be inclined to force myself not to use the save function as liberally as you have; only to increase the challenge and maintain the fear factor. I would have to find some way to limit myself, either by designating save rooms or by determining a set amount of time for each play session before I could save.

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