Haunting Ground, known in Japan as Demento (デメント), is a survival horror video game developed and published by Capcom for the PlayStation 2 in 2005. The game shares many similarities with Capcom's earlier licensed horror title Clock Tower 3 (2002), and has been described as a spiritual successor to the Clock Tower series.
The story follows Fiona Belli, a young woman who wakes up in the dungeon of a castle after being involved in a car accident. She quickly befriends a White Shepherd dog, Hewie, and begins to explore the castle with his aid to seek a means of escape and unravel the mysteries of it and its inhabitants. The player controls Fiona as she explores the environment, evades and hides from enemy pursuers, and occasionally fights against the castle's inhabitants. Sometimes Fiona will panic when in danger, in which case she begins to run on her own and the player loses some control. Hewie is a central part to the gameplay, and accompanies Fiona throughout the game. He can be given orders to explore the environment, attack enemies, and otherwise aid in Fiona's survival.
Haunting Ground was first revealed in September 2004, and was released next April garnering mixed to average reviews. The graphics and presentation were praised, but critics found the gameplay somewhat repetitive, predictable, and derivative of previous horror titles. The game's voyeuristic nature and the sexual objectification of Fiona were highlighted by critics as some of the game's best elements; they felt that by exposing Fiona as a vulnerable object of desire, the game makes her and therefore the player feel more fragile and endangered, building a more disturbing atmosphere. The fluctuating degree of player control over Fiona has made Haunting Ground a key subject in the study of avatars and their relationship with players in video games.
The player controls Fiona Belli directly and gives commands to her canine companion, Hewie. Fiona can run and perform a backstep maneuver, both of which reduce stamina. She can also crouch down to hide from enemy pursuers. Fiona can kick and tackle (the latter action also reduces stamina) enemies as well. Losing too much stamina will result in Fiona becoming exhausted, causing her movements to slow down or possibly stop altogether. Exhaustion can be revived with certain items or with time. Fiona can interact with the environment by checking items, opening doors, and climbing ladders. The player can utilize hiding spots to evade pursuers. Other areas act as retaliation points that allow Fiona to use her environment to counterattack against her enemy, although some of these locations can only be used once.
Commanding Hewie is an integral part of Haunting Ground's gameplay. At the beginning of the game, he won't be completely friendly and obey all of Fiona's commands. The player will have to build a friendship and gain his trust in order to survive the game. Hewie can be told to sniff out items, check suspicious areas or items, attack an enemy, or called back to Fiona's side. The player can praise Hewie by petting and feeding him, both which can heal his vitality. Likewise, he can be scolded when he won't listen to commands. He can be told to "stand ready" before attacking, which will increase his attack power. Playing "shake hands" with Howie or healing him when he becomes injured also maintains his interest. Hewie will ignore Fiona's commands and wander off if not given enough attention, and if repeatedly mistreated he may even attack Fiona. On easier difficulty settings, Hewie can be knocked unconscious from sustaining too many injuries but can be revived. On the hard difficulty setting, he is slain after receiving the same level of injuries, causing the game to end.
Enemies can hear footsteps and other sounds. During the game, the enemies chase and attack Fiona, and if evaded long enough will cease for a set interval. While it is possible to retaliate with kicks, Hewie's bites or alchemically created weapons, the game's focus is on the player evading enemies long enough to find a hiding spot. An enemy chase Fiona individually until defeated in a boss battle, after which a different enemy will pursue Fiona. Two enemies exist in addition to the castle's keepers, neither are dangerous to Fiona but can alert Fiona's pursuers to her location and cause panic. The first are small floating orbs of blue light known as Luminescents, which follow Fiona and emit a loud noise if they come into contact with her. The other enemy type are fetus-like disfigured homunculi, who attach themselves to Fiona's legs while letting out a piercing yell.
When Fiona is in a dangerous situation, she may fall into a panic. During panic mode, visibility gets worse, the menu can't be opened, and she will begin running on her own, tripping and falling into walls. The control pad vibrates in the effect of Fiona's heartbeat. The player is unable to stop Fiona running and must try to prevent her from running into walls and objects. Running into scenery causes her to collapse and crawl away, at this point any attack results in game over. Panic mode will elapse after some time, or certain items can be used to calm her down. If Fiona sustains a significant amount of damage, she will slow down and become unable to backstep. If she receives too much damage she will die. Damage heals with time or items can be used to bring her vitality back to normal. While some items are used to heal Fiona and Hewie, others are used to damage enemies. Some can be thrown while others are set like traps for the enemy to walk over. Some items are found by searching while others can be crafted in refining rooms.
Fiona Belli has somehow found herself in a strange castle, which appears to be somewhere in northern Italy. She has just been involved in a car accident; her memories of this accident, however, are vague and incomplete. When she awakes, she finds herself in some sort of large butcher's room. Noting that the cage that keeps her prisoner was left unlocked, she steps out but is startled by a large, fierce animal snarling and then running past her. She quickly begins searching for some answers and a way out of the castle. Along the way, she befriends the large animal that initially frightened her, who happens to be a white German Shepherd named Hewie and who turns out to be a valuable ally. As Fiona's predicament gets more and more disturbing, she learns that she is the carrier of the Azoth, which is what the castle's residents are after.
The first enemy is Debilitas, who thinks Fiona is a big doll. Debilitas chases Fiona around the Castle and is stopped by Riccardo. Fiona meets Riccardo and Daniella and finds letters and memos given to her by a man named Lorenzo who wants her to escape the Castle. Fiona and Hewie are chased by Debilitas to the Chapel. The way in which the player ultimately eliminates Debilitas influences the outcome of the endings.
Soon after Fiona has rid herself of Debilitas her new enemy, Daniella is brought back into the game after her short appearance in the games first couple scenes. Daniella becomes jealous that Fiona can smell, taste, touch or "experience pleasure" which she later suggests means she cannot engage in sexual intercourse during the scene leading up to her boss fight. Daniella wields a large shard of broken glass (unless the player approaches Daniella while she is kneeling near a fire place which then replaces the glass with a hot poker which deals double the damage).
After Fiona kills Daniella by impaling her with a large shard of glass broken from the ceiling, the third villan is re-introduced, Riccardo. For a majority of the game Riccardo keeps his face hidden under a hood and wields a hand gun. Riccardo reveals his face and his plot to Fiona after cornering her in the woods. He has the same face as Fiona's father, Ugo, and reveals that they are clones and that he is the original. Riccardo murdered Ugo after attempting to kill him in the car crash as revenge for leaving the castle and marrying Ayla, Fiona's mother. He plans to use Fiona (by means of her womb and use of her Azoth) to help him be reborn so that he may live forever. Hewie rescues Fiona and assists in their escape from the tower which Riccardo keeps Fiona imprisoned in.
The final boss of the game is Lorenzo, who takes on Fiona in several different forms. The player first meets Lorenzo as an old, crippled man who after seeing that Fiona is finally his, rids himself of his wheelchair and crawls on the floor in order to chase Fiona. After crushing the elder Lorenzo in a machine, Lorenzo returns to Fiona as a more youthful version of himself and has the ability to teleport. Fiona eventually, with the help of Hewie, causes Lorenzo to fall into a pit of lava. Soon after defeating young Lorenzo, the castle begins to shake and collapse, Lorenzo returns a final time as a flaming skeletal version of his former self. He chases Fiona, but finally dies as she and Hewie escape the castle.
Fortes Fortuna Juvat ("Fortune Favors The Brave") - Fiona struggles to get the key into the lock. Hewie calms her fears and she manages to unlock the door. However, Hewie begins barking which catches Fiona's attention. From the double doors, Debilitas comes out with hedge clippers. In a tense and awkward moment, Fiona and Debilitas stare at each other. Debilitas simply bows to Fiona, showing that he no longer means any harm. With that, she and Hewie walk into the forest. Debilitas looks at the overgrown trees in the garden and begins clipping the trees. To get this ending, the player must defeat Debilitas using the chandelier. This does not kill Debilitas, but rather causes him to retreat and thus no longer pose a threat for Fiona during the remainder of the game. This ending earns the player the Texas Cowgirl alternate costume for Fiona.
Ignis Aurum Probat ("Fire Tests Gold") - similar to Ending A, except that Debilitas does not appear. As Fiona is opening the gate out to the forest, she stares at the castle for a few moments, before turning and following Hewie into the forest. To get this ending, the player must have Fiona kill Debilitas, either by using Hewie or repeatedly attacking him with several explosive chemicals and minerals she encounters.
Dona Nobis Pacem ("Give Us Peace") - similar to Ending A, except there is no Debilitas and there is a special scene at the end. Lorenzo calls out to Fiona not to go and falls down the stairs, loathing the fact that she has left. To get this ending, the game must be completed once. Debilitas must be defeated with the chandelier. Then, Fiona must go visit Debilitas in his hut, where he will give her a key to one of the locked bathroom stalls, which reveals a hidden cellar. In that cellar, Fiona finds the key to the castle's main gate. This ending earns the player the Fiona The Frog alternate costume.
Tu Fui, Ego Eris ("What You Are, I Was. What I Am, You Will Be.") - Fiona wakes up in a glass box, where Riccardo taunts her and says she belongs to him. She screams in her frustration. The scene cuts to her castle bedroom, where Riccardo enters the room and tenderly strokes Fiona's head and her bulging stomach, as she is now heavily pregnant. As he walks away, she wakes, gives a faint smile, and issues a hollow laugh, having gone insane. To obtain this ending, Fiona must have a weak relationship with Hewie. Hewie does not recover from Riccardo's gun attack in the Chaos Forest level, and hence does not rescue Fiona, thus ending the game. This is likely non-canon as Fiona seems to care for Hewie very much, also it happens before meeting Lorenzo the main antagonist.
Capcom began development of Haunting Ground because they wanted to make a survival horror game with a lead female character. Believing that a lone female lead would not bode well with retailers and players alike, they added in a dog partner that could attack enemies. After this change, they further designed the gameplay around this partner mechanic. Kazuhiro Tsuchiya served as the director, Koji Nakajima as the producer, Yukio Ando as the art designer, and Jun Takahashi as one of the programmers. Makoto Ikehara and Noboru Sugimura were responsible for the writing while Seiko Kobuchi and Shinya Okada served as the composers.
The cinematics were directed by actor and director, Naoto Takenaka. He directly supervised the motion capture performances used for all the characters, placing emphasis on dramatic performance. He took inspiration from Universal Monsters such as Frankenstein and Bela Lugosi's Dracula. Takenaka played the motion capture role for Riccardo, and Japanese actors Yasue Sato and Jiro Sato played Fiona and Debilitas respectively. Rather than streaming audio files, the music for Haunting Ground was generated by using the PlayStation 2's built-in sounds. This way, the composers could easily change the tempo of the music during gameplay.
On September 24, 2004, Capcom debuted Haunting Ground under its Japanese name Demento at the Tokyo Game Show after launching a teaser page on their official website two days prior. The game was released in Japan on April 21, 2005, and later in PAL territories on April 29, and in North America on May 10. Critics described the game as a spiritual successor to the Clock Tower series, although it has never been officially declared as such.
In July 2012, Haunting Ground appeared to be slated for a PlayStation 3 re-release as a "PS2 Classic", having been rated by the ESRB with Sony Computer Entertainment named as the publisher. On April 21, 2015, it was re-released for the PlayStation 3 via the PlayStation Store exclusively in Japan.
Haunting Ground received "mixed or average" reviews per ratings aggregator Metacritic. Critics were quick to compare it to the Clock Tower series, specifically its 2002 installment, Clock Tower 3, which was published by Capcom. The defenseless heroine elements and hide-and-chase gameplay were found to be highly derivative of the former titles. The dog companion was, for some, a well-received addition to the gameplay formula, with Eurogamer's Kristan Reed comparing it positively to Ico. Others found the dog and other gameplay elements to be repetitive and contributors to poor pacing. The graphics, cinematics, and atmosphere were universally praised. The staff at 1UP.com described the environments as "some of the most detailed, lavish 3D environments Capcom has ever produced." Kill Screen's Zach Budgor compared Haunting Ground's "psychological landscape" to Dario Argento's film Suspiria (1977) and also highlighted its grotesque expressionism. Despite these highlights, critics ultimately felt that Haunting Ground was too predictable and relied heavily on clichés previously established in the horror genre. For this reason, Reed said it "becomes stifled by its own eventual lack of ambition to break away from the norms instilled by two generations of Japanese horror adventures." The staff at 1UP.com felt the game was dated when compared with the recently released Resident Evil 4 (2005), but said, "Haunting Ground isn't without merit, it's just that the merits are buried deep in an occasionally thrilling, mostly 'been there, done that' game of indistinct origin."
Some critics highlighted Haunting Ground's sexual themes surrounding the objectification of Fiona as one of its best elements. Jeremy Dunham of IGN stated that "Haunting Ground's success comes from making the player feel like a desired and endangered object." He found the plot was kept interesting due to the disturbing suggestive behaviors of Fiona's pursuers. Kill Screen's Budgor also found the drive for the enemies to kill Fiona creates a continuous tension, as its unclear nature lends to an uncomfortable confusion for both Fiona and the player. GameSetWatch's Leigh Alexander stated that "disparaging Haunting Ground for its copious objectification of women is a facile task...it’s precisely that off-putting sexuality that makes Daniela terrifying, that makes Fiona’s circumstances so explicitly repugnant, that sharpens Haunting Ground’s fear factor to a knife in the gut." Alexander praised the game's voyeuristic themes and presenting of Fiona as "an object of desire." She notes that "Fiona is both a sex object and a victim...a fragile little woman...both male and female players can distinctly feel the threat to her person, the disconcerting wickedness of her enemies, thanks to her overt sexualization throughout the game." Budgor found that removing the player's control at critical points highlights Fiona's subjectivity, with the sounds and images expressing ideas of "violation, transgression, and bodily autonomy." Alexander ultimately felt Haunting Ground to be a "perfect illustration of how sexuality can be used to great effect."
Haunting Ground has been a subject of game studies regarding the relationship between players and their avatars. It was found that the altering states of Fiona's subjectivity change the role of the player in the game. The player is never a spectator, nor do they take on the embodiment of Fiona, but float between these states of involvement.
- Haunting Ground has some similarities with another PlayStation 2 exclusive game, Rule of Rose; both protagonists are English female blonde orphans (Fiona and Jennifer respectively) in their late teens and also have a demure personality. The protagonists rescue a dog (Hewie and Brown) that will help them during the rest of the game, which assists them by finding hidden objects, barking at enemies and also attacking the enemies.
- It is commonly believed that the white dog that Leon S. Kennedy frees and later helps Leon against El Gegante in Resident Evil 4 is Hewie.
- There is an obscure disturbing cutscene that can only be seen by replaying the game through a "complete" save file. It displays what Riccardo did to a still fainted Fiona in between the time he carried her after she fainted and when she wakes up (assuming Hewie rescues her). During the first playthrough the only hint of the events is in Fiona's journal with her commenting she feels weird and asking "what did he do to me?".
- Haunting Ground is one of the few games on the Playstation 2 console that is capable of running at 480 progressive scan if component cables are used, increasing the visual quality of the game by a noticeable degree. This feature also helps greatly if the player is using a HD television, as the lack of interlacing from the otherwise 480i means the television doesn't have to de-interlace the signal before displaying it and increase display lag.
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- cite book|title=Haunting Ground instruction manual|date=2005|publisher=Capcom|location=PlayStation 2, North America|http://replacementdocs.com/download.php?view.2681
- Youtube: Retro GameSpot - Haunting Ground Developer Interview (2005)
- cite book|title=デメント オフィシャルコンプリートガイド|date=2005|publisher=Capcom|location=Ōsaka|isbn=4906582710|pages=154-159|language=Japanese|chapter=Naoto Takenaka (Cinematics Director) Special Interview
- Original Sound Version - Mass Exodus From Capcom Part 3: Interview with Hideaki Utsumi
- Official Japanese site (archive)
- Clock Tower wikia article - for a more in-depth look on the game.