Fiona Belli, the heroine of Haunting Ground, performing one of her special moves- laying unconscious and helpless.
Capcom has given us a lot of survival-horror games, primarily through their flagship series, Resident Evil. Usually though, it’s not so much horror as it is monster-fighting action as you take the roles of various take-no-prisoners, kick-butt heroes who take on mutant beasties with both eyes open. And so it was with a bit of surprise and refreshment that Haunting Ground for the PS2 appeared.
Similar to the Clock Tower series, Haunting Ground puts you in the boots of 18-year old Fiona Belli, a lovely (if deathly pale) young lady who wakes up one dark night in a cage, dressed only in a bed sheet and surrounded by the sprawling expanse of a creepy castle. Soon afterwards, she finds herself being chased by a hulking man-monster named Debilitas, and encountering an eerily beautiful maid named Daniella. A mystery voice calls out from the walls, telling her that she will be his. Fiona doesn’t have a clue why she’s here, what this castle is all about and why this crew of freaky denizens are after her… all she wants is to get the hell out of Dodge.
Unfortunately, Fiona isn’t a veteran special forces agent, or even a member of the local martial arts club… she’s just an ordinary college student, home from university before a frightful event that caused her to get into this mess. She can’t really fight save for a weak kick and tackle- the best thing she can do is RUN… and hide, given that there are tons of places to huddle behind, under or against in the shadowy castle. But if things get really hot, her panic level gets bad and things go blurry and wild and then Fiona’s in real deep goo as she’s practically helpless.
But then, not all’s dead roses- assuming that Fiona survives her first hour or so in the castle, she’ll hook up with Hewie, an odd and intelligent albino dog that soon becomes Fiona’s best friend, guardian, constant companion and fellow escapee from this gothic madhouse. Only by befriending and building a relationship with Hewie and using his abilities to help her can Fiona have a chance of defeating her pursuers and unlocking the secret of the nightmare she’s in.
Now, a game where the heroine you play isn’t a deadly femme fatale who can do high kicks and kill with her thighs is different for me, but it’s actually cool. Haunting Ground especially strikes a pretty good tone as a survival horror game, with a refreshing new way of keeping tension and mystery.
First of all, the game is freaking gorgeous. Apart from the incredible CG cinemas, the real time graphics are simply exquisite, with the characters appearing and moving better than most other PS2 games you’ll ever see; Fiona herself is animated incredibly well, and will please fanboys as she’s as bouncy as the DOA girls.
The castle itself is a great gothic maze to explore for some scary fun. And the mechanic of the game being pretty much a deadly game of hide and seek- is pretty slick. Best of all, the cool relationship-building game between Fiona and Hewie, and how you can use the dog to fight back, is just awesome. Haunting Gorund gives back a bit of replay value with unlockable costumes, extra endings and surprises that make going through the adventure multiple times desirable.
Haunting Ground’s graphics and gameplay are simply superb- it’s a great contrast to most other Survival Horror games out, and I highly recommend this to gamers who want a mature adventure romp with suspense and quite a bit of fanservice on the side. Don’t be scared away by the Damsel in Distress scenario; this is a scream of a good time.
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