In the past, I’ve had trouble going back to certain influential games. It’s sort of like listening to a Beatles record, I suppose. You can acknowledge and understand the importance of the work, but have a difficult time actually enjoying it, either because you lack the context or due to the simple fact that it’s so influential that nothing it does feels special anymore. I ran into this problem with Metroid, in particular. Having already played a million games that it influenced, it was hard for me to fully appreciate it.
Sweet Home, despite being the grandfather of survival horror, doesn’t have this problem. Though I’ve name-dropped it several times this month, having already covered a lot of titles that would cite it as an influence, the game itself has a novel quality about it that still holds up. There’s not really anything out there like it, even now. Though Resident Evil was initially conceived as a remake of Sweet Home, even it only picks and chooses bits of theme and design. Because of the shift to a 3D space, Alone in the Dark filled in a lot of the color where Sweet Home left the outlines, which is a shame, because that obscure Famicom RPG had a rather unique palette of it own.
For starters, yeah, it’s an RPG. While I expected there to be a bit of compromise to the horror experience within the 8-bit framework, I conveniently forgot that it was made in a time when there were a grand total of a half-dozen genres. As such, the opening moments of Sweet Home are awkward, to say the least, asking you to navigate an oddly structured menu and inventory system to even leave the first room. To cap it off, you have a five person party, each with a unique item, but are only able to move a group of three at a time. This means that you will always have a second weaker party of two people that you have to be extra careful with, all the while having to deal with random battles, just like any other role playing game.
It’s a strange mashup, to be sure, but once you get the hang of things, the atmosphere starts to settle in, replacing your frustration with a genuine interest in the setting and subtle narrative. Though battles are a constant threat, the real challenge is one of inventory management – making sure that you have access to the right people with the right items, and keeping them alive. There are no shops to buy from and your medic character can only heal status effects, so recovering HP is dependent on whether or not you’ve found any Tonics, of which there are only 21 in the entire game. Most importantly, if a character dies, they stay dead, and you lose access to their item. While there are replacement items, you have to take up an extra inventory slot to use them, further hindering your chances of survival in this… horror, hence the term. As one would imagine, things can unravel very quickly.
Part of me would have liked to see how different things could have been if we ever did get that direct adaptation instead of what became Resident Evil. I’m typically not a huge fan of remakes, but in the case of a game that’s never been officially translated or even rereleased, I’d welcome it. There was never a prayer for a Virtual Console port because of just how violent the game is, so it’s only hope of being enjoyed now is via the big E or through dudes on the internet selling overpriced reproduction carts.
I’d say one of these options is worth pursuing. Choose wisely.