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Sweet Home - The NES Gorfest That Inspired Resident Evil

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Sweet Home - The NES Gorfest That Inspired Resident Evil
Packshot © Capcom
The goriest 8-bit game for the Nintendo Entertainment System was based on a moderately successful J-horror movie Sweet Home, and served as the inspiration for the Resident Evil games. While it was the seed that spawned the survival-horror genre this elaborate and effective horror-RPG never made it past the shores of Japan.

The Basics:

  • Publisher/Developer: Capcom
  • Release Date: 12/15/1989
  • Platform: Nintendo Entertainment System
  • Genre: Horror RPG

The Good

  • Unique RPG style gameplay mixed with traditional turn-based combat
  • Revolutionary inventory management system.
  • Simultaneously control multiple characters, each with a unique skill set.
  • Creepy and gruesome 8-bit fun.

The Bad:

  • Highly repetitive, the same enemies and battles over and over
  • Character death is permanent. No respawning or multiple lives.

By 1989 Japanese actor and filmmaker Juzo Itami (The Funeral, Tampopo) had written and directed four highly acclaimed feature films, won numerous Japanese Academy Awards, and was being compared by critics to being one of the finest filmmakers since Akira Kurosawa. At the highest point of his career Juzo took an unusual turn by producing a haunted house movie as well as its video game tie-in, Sweet Home.

Taking the same basic concept and story of the movie, Sweet Home the video game became an extremely unique title for the Nintendo Famicom (aka Nintendo Entertainment System), combining gruesome horror with a full and elaborate RPG.

The film and game received moderate success, and while neither saw a release outside of Japan, they were both cemented into the annals of video game infamy by inspiring game designer Shinji Mikami to create one of the most influential survival horror franchises of them all, Resident Evil.

The Game

Packshot © Capcom

Thirty years after the mysterious death of famed artist Ichiro Mamiya, a documentary film crew has descended on his mansion where they hope to find the lost fresco of the reclusive artist. The surrounding township reluctantly rents the mansion to the show's Producer Kazuo Hoshino, but neglects to tell him of the cursed home's gruesome past.

But that doesn't mean we can't tell you…

Ichiro Mamiya and his wife we're an extremely happy couple and blessed with a child. Their love was so great that Ichiro began a series of frescoes illustrating the life of their baby. One fateful evening when Lady Mamiya fired up the mansion's furnace, she failed to notice that her child had crawled inside the stove and fallen asleep. Horrified, she tried to save their baby, but she was too late and suffered scarring burns herself.

Grief and guilt drove Lady Mamiya mad. She soon started kidnapping children from the local town and burning them alive to give the spirit of her late child playmates in the afterlife. Eventually her demented deeds caught up with her with and Lady Mamiya kills herself, leaving a restless spirit behind.

Now the arrival of the documentary film crew has woken up the insane spirit of Lady Mamiya and she's set her sights on starting her work up again, and this time she doesn't care of she's taking out kids or adults.

While Sweet Home is considered one of the earliest examples of the Survival Horror Genre, it's structure firs that of an 8-bit Japanese style RPG, with the goal being to keep your team alive and find, then lay to final rest the demented spirit of Lady Mamiya.

Shown from a top-down perspective, players control a team of five characters, each with a unique skill set. These skills are used to progress though the game via puzzles, locked doors, and battles with zombies, ghosts, wolfs, possessed worms, and all sorts of other spooky baddies that never actually appeared in the film.

As the player progresses through the mansion, they are supplied hints to not only what the heck is going on, but how to escape their gruesome predicament. These are delivered via diary pages of the late artist Ichiro Mamiya and a mysterious old man, Ken'ichi Yamamura, who pops up to provide clues and aid.

The Team:

As with most classic team RPGs, each member of the team serves as a specific key to progressing though the game. One of the more unique aspects of how Sweet Home is structured is that once a character is killed, there is no way to resurrect them. This makes for frustrating gameplay, as you basically need the skills of everyone, and since it's an NES game, there is no way to save, not even a password system.

To compensate for a deceased member of the team, the designers placed in the environment items that will balance out the missing skill, such as keys and first aid kits.

Packshot © Capcom

Team Members include:

  • Kazuo Hoshino - In the film he's the bumbling producer of the documentary and recovering widower. In the game he lights the path through the dark mansion via his handy, dandy pocket lighter.

  • Emi Hoshino - In the film this little girl is Kazuo's daughter and the main target of the demonic Lady Mamiya. In the game she is the key master, holding a skeleton key that will open all locked doors.

  • Akiko Hayakawa - The show's director and Kazuo's potential love interest in the film. In the game she's the team's nurse, and while she might be the weakest of the group, she can heal injured teammates.

  • Asuka - In the film she is the eccentric moody host of the documentary and professionally restores art. In the game she uses her restoration tool, a vacuum cleaner, to remove dirt and dust covering clues, and clear away broken glass and other obstacles in the team's way.

  • Ryo Taguchi - The goofy cameraman from the film uses his camera in the game to decode hidden clues and battle baddies.

Final Thoughts:

While Resident Evil does indeed share numerous similarities to Sweet Home, such as the setting of a spooky mansion, zombies, and demonic animals, the inventory system, puzzles, and even the door opening animations, the gameplay itself is quite different.

For a classic RPG with horror themes, Sweet Home is quite a treat even though it can get repetitious and frustrating at times, but it's all worth it for the most violent, goriest, 8-bit game of all time

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