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Posted on Oct 27th 2017 at 08:00:00 AM by (Disposed Hero)
Posted under Review, NES, Famicom, Horror, RPG, Capcom, Japanese

The Japanese Famicom exclusive title Sweet Home has always intrigued me.  It is a hybrid of two of my favorite genres: turn-based RPGs and survival horror, and it is often regarded as a large inspiration for one of my favorite video game series, Resident Evil.  I have tried to play this game a couple of times in the past, but it can feel incredibly daunting to newcomers who are not familiar with its mechanics.  However, I have finally been able to experience this game in its entirety, and I found myself impressed with many of its unique and innovative ideas.

Sweet Home was developed and published by Capcom and was released on December 15, 1989 exclusively in Japan for the Nintendo Famicom.  Based on a Japanese horror film of the same name, the game was never released outside of Japan due to its graphic and horrific imagery.  The game's director, Tokuro Fujiwara, later went on to produce the original Resident Evil, with many ideas and themes being borrowed from Sweet Home.

Where have I seen this before?

Expanding upon the film that it is based on, the story of Sweet Home follows a team of five filmmakers who visit the mansion of the famous artist Ichiro Mamiya.  It is rumored that Mamiya hid several precious frescos throughout his mansion before he mysteriously disappeared thirty years ago, and the filmmakers hope to find these frescos and capture them for the documentary they are filming.  As soon as they enter the mansion, the roof collapses behind them and blocks the exit, and the ghost of Lady Mamiya appears telling them that they will die.  The team must then explore the mansion in an attempt to find their way out while solving the mysteries of the mansion in the process.

On the surface, Sweet Home will look familiar to anyone who has played an 8-bit RPG such as Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy before.  You explore the environment from a top-down perspective, engage in random encounters, and fight enemies via a turn-based battle system.  However, there are quite a few unique and innovative gameplay mechanics present that help Sweet Home stand apart from other comparable titles.

While exploring the mansion, you can choose between any of the five filmmakers at any time, and each has their own special item that is necessary to progress through the game.  You can also choose to form parties of up to three people rather than send all of your characters out on their own.  There are items and weapons scattered all over the mansion, and many will be required to solve a puzzle or progress in some way.  Inventory space is limited, so you will often have to drop one item in order to carry another, and it is important to remember where you leave items in case you need them later.  You will also find notes and corpses along the way that will give you hints on how to progress.

Interacting with objects is necessary to progress.

It is also important to note that Sweet Home was designed to be a difficult game, and it certainly starts out as such.  There are many traps scattered throughout the mansion that can damage - and potentially kill - a member of your group, as well as the threat of enemies.  These threats begin to taper off later in the game once your characters become stronger.  What sets Sweet Home apart from many other games is that it has a permadeath system, meaning that if a character dies at any point in the game, they're gone for good with no way to revive them.  Of course, any difficulty this game had is practically eliminated due to the overly generous save system that allows you to save anywhere at any time outside of battle.  Frequent saving and loading can be used to get through the game with relative ease, although players looking for a challenge may want to impose some limitations on themselves in order to keep the tension high (this is a horror game, after all!).

Another important aspect to the game is the turn-based battles.  Battles are quite simple with only one enemy appearing in any given battle.  You input commands via a simple menu, and actions include Attack, Pray, Tools, Run, and Call.  Attack and Run are self-explanatory, and Tools is just the command for using items.  Pray is basically a simple magic attack that deals damage based on how many Pray Points (MP) are used while casting.  Call allows you to call other team members not in your current party to assist in the fight, although the assisting teammates have to make it to the battle within a certain amount of time or the turn is wasted.  There are no boss fights in the game other than the final boss encounter, but that fight is quite interesting and different from other encounters in this game or other RPGs in general for that matter.

The battle screen.

This brings us to what I would consider to be Sweet Home's biggest and most fatal flaw: the inclusion of random encounters.  Exploring the mansion and backtracking to earlier locations becomes incredibly tedious when you have to stop every few steps and deal with a random encounter.  It also doesn't help that the battle system is so simplistic, causing battles to be fairly uninteresting in general.  Fighting doesn't reap very many rewards either, as enemies do not drop items or money (there are no shops in the game), and experience becomes fairly worthless as you will likely become overpowered due to fighting so many enemies.  I do think that some opposition is necessary for this game, so maybe having enemies appear on the overworld screen would have worked better than random encounters, and in fact the game actually does this in a couple of rooms.

Sweet Home was a great looking game for its time.  While some of the environments can look fairly plain, others are fairly impressive, particularly the dark hallways with lightning flashing through the windows.  Enemy battle sprites look great and some even have animations, but unfortunately there isn't much variety to the enemies, so you'll be seeing the same sprites over and over.  There are some shockingly graphic scenes in the game, and these look great for a Famicom title.  As for sound, most of the audio tracks are quite good, but, much like the enemy battle sprites, you'll be hearing these tracks over and over again.

Pretty intense for a NES/Famicom game!

Despite its shortcomings, Sweet Home is a solid title that has many innovative ideas.  However, due to the patience required to make it through this game, I would only recommend it to those accustomed to the grind of early 8-bit RPGs.  Fans of Resident Evil may also want to experience this game in some form, whether by playing it themselves or watching a playthrough online, since the inspiration will likely be obvious to fans of the series.  Sweet Home was only ever available in Japanese for the Famicom, however reproduction carts and translation patches do exist for those who would like to play this game for themselves in English.

Happy Halloween!

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Awesome write-up. I really want to see the movie, actually.
@GrayGhost81:  Thanks!  You can find the movie on YouTube with English subtitles.  I wanted to watch it myself and incorporate it into this review, but things have been busy for me lately and I couldn't find the time.
This is one of two retro horror games I want to play. Thanks for the article!
@Addicted:  Thank you for reading!

Would the other game be Clock Tower for SFC?  That's the only other retro horror game that I can think of off the top of my head.
Clock Tower would be a good guess.

It's Shiryou Sensen: War of the Dead for the PCE.

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