Sweet Home (NES) review
"Long before Capcom released Resident Evil upon the unwashed masses of gamers, they created Sweet Home for the Famicom. Due to some violent and gory imagery and the common use of prayer to solve problems (a Nintendo of America no-no), this neat little survival horror RPG never reached the shores of America. Too bad that it didn’t, as this quirky little game could have been a sleeper hit due to some innovative aspects. "
Long before Capcom released Resident Evil upon the unwashed masses of gamers, they created Sweet Home for the Famicom. Due to some violent and gory imagery and the common use of prayer to solve problems (a Nintendo of America no-no), this neat little survival horror RPG never reached the shores of America. Too bad that it didn’t, as this quirky little game could have been a sleeper hit due to some innovative aspects.
Sweet Home was based on a Japanese horror movie released at the same time in 1989. Suito Homu (which translates to “Sweet Home” or “Home Sweet Home”, depending on the translator) involved a team of media-type people who went to an abandoned mansion in search of a valuable fresco painted by the home’s owner. What should have been a routine trip sort of gets interrupted by the insane ghost of Mamiya Ichirou, the wife of the owner, who starts butchering folk right and left....or something like that.
The game follows much the same plot. You control a five-person party that happens to get trapped in this wonderfully confusing mansion, which is drawn from the overhead Dragon Warrior point-of-view. As one of the rules of horror movies (or Scooby Doo cartoons) states, protagonists are NEVER smart enough to realize there is safety in numbers, so you’re forced to split your group of five heroes into two smaller parties in order to search every nook and cranny of the mansion.
Each of the “Ghostbustin’ Five” has their own special tool necessary to move through the mansion. Akiko is a medic, so she carries a kit that cures allies of poison and other undesirable status ailments. Emi, on the other hand, has a key that will open a good number of doors for the first part of the game. Other members bring a camera, lighter and vacuum (Ghosts, beware my fantastic HOME CLEANING skills!) to the mansion.
Just like any good old-school RPG, you’ll have battles a-plenty, with various vermin, ghosts and psychopaths challenging you with regularity. While most of these battles are of the random variety, there are a few that actually appear as icons on the screen and chase you until you’ve either left the room or engaged them in battle. Many of these enemies are well-designed with a tiny bit of animation. You’ll see normal-looking humans who reveal skull faces, grotesque giants covered with pulsating sores and all sorts of undead throughout your quest.
Other aspects of the game lead one to believe they are playing a primitive version of Resident Evil. Most of the game’s story is gathered by reading messages strewn throughout the mansion and its grounds or by talking to the twitching remains of the last group of adventurers to brave Mamiya’s abode. Also, as you progress through the game, you’ll find many doors which cannot be opened until you’ve found the right key for the job — another staple element of modern survival horror games.
On a far more significant level, look at each person’s inventory. Besides their special item, they can only hold one weapon and two other items. Do the math and you’ll see that your three-person party can only hold SIX of the multitude of items this game holds at any given time. Considering that among these items are keys to open doors that Emi can’t, ropes to cross chasms, picks to cross icy sections of flooring, boards to cross chasms and artifacts needed to dispel Mamiya and you’ll soon realize that the carrying capacity of your party is pretty pathetic.
And that’s where the beauty of this game lies. Sweet Home is not a huge game. The mansion is divided into a number of areas, but still isn’t exactly a vast RPG world like you’d get in other NES attempts at the genre like Dragon Warrior III. There are only a handful of monsters compared to other games and Mamiya is the only actual boss. However, this game puts such importance on knowing what item to have at what time AND on knowing where each item is, so you can grab it on a moment’s notice if needed. That makes a small world seem a lot larger than it really is. I’m not big on taking notes on RPGs unless they are 3-D dungeon games where maps are a necessity. This game punished me for having that attitude as I spent a lot of time wandering around aimlessly wondering just where I saw that mallet.....or shovel....or whatever. The first rule of Sweet Home is that the more organized you are, the easier the game is.
The second rule is, “When in doubt, pray!” Yep, when your physical and mental attributes fail you, sometimes the best way to solve a problem is to utter a good, hearty prayer. Many of this game’s puzzles are solved by getting the right item, using it and then selecting the “pray” option. The power of your prayer (basically the Sweet Home version of magic) will then cause a doorway to open, wall to collapse or advance the game by other means. The main use of praying is to access new parts of the mansion, although there are a few other ways in which this activity can be helpful.
Sweet Home is definitely an innovative game, especially if you throw in a few crude NES cutscenes that are graphic enough to ensure us Americans would NEVER see a port on our shores. It’s not a perfect game, though. Much like the newer survival horror games, Sweet Home attempts to provide a certain number of cheap scares. As Parasite Eve proved, you can’t translate the panicky feeling caused by monsters busting through windows next to you to a role-playing game with much success (the fact that the screen went gray and everything froze while the Playstation loaded in the battle didn’t help). Sweet Home takes that one step farther, as it proves that the NES is inept at inspiring fear.
Most of this game’s attempts at shocking the player involve piddly little traps that cause a tiny amount of damage. Sure, they may be a bit hazardous early in the game, when your characters are frail and weak, but as time progresses, you won’t care that a giant boulder ran over you or that a blunt object suddenly fell from the ceiling onto someone’s head. Other traps are more annoying than anything else. Maybe that board over a chasm will break under a character’s weight and you’ll have to pull them out. Maybe a ghostly spirit will grab someone and take them to a nearby room. To me, it seemed like these traps only served the purpose of annoying me and putting a slight delay in my exploration plans.
And as your party gains a few levels and gets some good weapons, you’ll be running through the monsters with ease. As the game progressed, I realized that it only took a tiny amount of level-building before I could run through virtually every opponent without taking any damage. Since baddies only attack in groups of one, I spent very little of this game in any actual danger of dying (which is too bad, as I hear the death scenes in this game are great). When you add the fact that healing tonics are reasonably plentiful (unless you’re chugging one whenever someone takes a couple of hits) AND will fully restore the life and prayer points of everyone in a two/three-person party, it’s easy to see you’ll be running through traps with no fear. Even losing a party member to the icy touch of death isn’t that horrible of a setback as there are items in the mansion that act as replacements for the vacuum, key and other special items.
To be honest, the main appeal of Sweet Home is simply that is so much cooler in theory than other ancient RPGs. You’re not trying to save a princess or a world from the forces of evil — you’re just trying to get out of Mamiya’s domain alive. You’re running through room after room only to realize that you need a rope to cross a chasm — which forces you to backtrack until you remember exactly where one is. You’re spending most of the game trying to figure out just why a vengeful ghost is on a murderous rampage and then trying to put her to rest permanently. Sweet Home isn’t as involving and memorable as the better Dragon Warrior or Final Fantasy games on the NES, but it is a fun and innovative little game that should be worth a few hours of amusement.
Community review by overdrive (September 11, 2004)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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