Run or Hide, Escape With Your Trusted Companion
Haunting Ground was a Capcom published survival horror released in 2005 for the PS2. The game was developed at the same time as Capcom’s major release, Resident Evil 4 and is an obscure survival horror that has its own unique take to the genre. The game plays similarly to Clock Tower, a series of games that follow a group of characters, mostly young girls, as they run and hide from villainous pursuers. In fact, Haunting Ground is described as a spiritual successor to Clock Tower both in game play and atmosphere.
The game focuses on a young woman named Fiona Belli as she tries to navigate a massive medieval styled castle while avoiding several pursuers who have their own ulterior motives for her. Sometime later Fiona encounters a white German Shepherd named Hewie, and the game then splits between evading danger and training Hewie so he can cooperate better in the environment. The bond between Fiona and Hewie is a key element to the game’s progression and can also alter the course of the ending.
The game play is identical to Clock Tower by revolving around finding items, avoiding traps, running or hiding from danger. The key difference is the development relationship with the dog. As a result of a complex AI system, Hewie behaves like a realistic dog and after decent interaction in the game he can defend Fiona, grab unreachable items, and detect dangers. Another mechanic in the game is a crafting system that revolves around alchemy elements and formulas, allowing Fiona to create defensive items and tools that can stun opponents or temporarily boost herself.
Fiona Belli doesn’t have a health bar and neither does Hewie. Instead, Hewie plays dead after taking enough hits. Meanwhile, the screen starts going monochrome and erratic when Fiona gets scared. After being overwhelmed with stress during a pursuit, Fiona goes into a full-blown panic and becomes nearly impossible to control and the visuals become harder to see. If caught in this state, Fiona dies and it’s game over. The game makes the player feel helpless in these situations and ensures that keeping Fiona calm is just as important as hiding and escaping with Hewie’s help.
There are many hiding places that can help restore Fiona’s composure along with giving the pursuers the slip temporarily. But they can’t be used too often or the pursuers could start investigating the hiding spots and then catch her, forcing Fiona to start running again. There are some hiding spots that even allow the player to see where the pursuers go so Fiona can go the opposite direction to avoid them.
The first pursuer Fiona faces is Debilitas, a massive hunchbacked being with the mind of a child that chases her relentlessly. The second is Daniella, a maid that’s revealed to be an emotionless Homunculus that wants to violently kill Fiona. The third and fourth pursuers are members of Fiona’s family, Ricardo and Lorenzo. All four villains have one disturbing element in common with their appearances and motivations, in different forms they all objectify Fiona and want something from her regardless of her choice.
All the different ways they objectify her go with the disturbing themes of Haunting Ground which generally focus on the dark side of having a helpless damsel in distress. Debilitas views Fiona as a life-size doll to play with and doesn’t understand her lack of consent. Daniella is envious of Fiona’s body, and Lorenzo wants her Azoth, the essence of life and power sought out by alchemists. The most unnerving motive in the game is Ricardo, Fiona’s paternal uncle. Ricardo views Fiona as a vessel for his rebirth and only wants to impregnate her so he can have her Azoth. These dark themes of female objectification and exploitation make Haunting Ground the most thematically disturbing of Capcom’s Horror games.
Fiona’s predicament leaves her completely disempowered and much of the game revolves around how powerless she is. Video games rarely focus on the implications of the damsel in distress or how upsetting it is to be a character that’s objectified not just by the game developers, but by the villains that only see her as an object. Haunting Ground as a survival horror game gives players a unique perspective to follow and makes them more emotionally invested in getting Fiona out of this terrifying situation.
Overall Haunting Ground is a visceral experience. It’s one of the few gaming examples of sexuality and vulnerability being used to make a point in horror by portraying the character as having unwanted attention. Fiona’s plight is something that’s relatable to real life issues and her bond with Hewie makes the game easy to invest in. Haunting Ground is a true hidden gem among the many Survival Horror games released in the PS2 era of games and is a bargain for anyone who can find it in the market. Ebay and Amazon prices are staggering due to the rarity of decent physical copies so the best way to experience Haunting Ground is cutscene videos and walkthroughs on Youtube.
Haunting Ground (2005) Official Playstation 2 Trailer