Back in 2013, author Gabe Durham had an idea while reading Jeff Ryan’s Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America. As much a bookish bibliophile as he is a gamer at heart, Durham yearned for publications that covered games in-depth, treating them with the respect and artistry they deserved. At the time there was no 33 1/3 equivalent for video games, so after taking the idea to Kickstarter and successfully funding the inaugural season of books, each of them focusing on one specific video game, Boss Fight Books was born.
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On January 26th 2021, the publisher released the 27th book in the series, a volume on the survival horror classic Silent Hill 2 (the high-water mark for the series). In recent months, as part of the current season of titles, Boss Fight Books has been turning their attention to the horror genre, with both Resident Evil and the surreal, arguably the weirdest and often creepy Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask gaining their own dedicated volumes. It begs to wonder; which games would make for wondrously frightening deep-dives into not only the game world and lore but also the writer’s own personal and psychological association with the title?
The Lineup dug through a few decades worth of survival horror to pick out 10 games we’d think would make for a great Boss Fight Book.
Rule of Rose
From commercial failure to international controversy, this game is one of those lesser-known cult classics on the PlayStation 2. The sophomore effort by Japanese game studio Punchline (whose first game was Chulip, an RPG where you went around kissing people), Rule of Rose takes the horror into new heights. Think Children of the Corn crossed with Silent Hill, players take the role of a 19-year-old named Jennifer stranded in a strange, secluded house seemingly devoid of adults, inhabited by cruel children that call themselves the Red Crayon Aristocrats. The game was banned in Europe for its mature and horrific themes—animal cruelty, abuse, etc. More than that, it’s a game that uses loss of innocence as a metaphor for trauma. In recent years, Rule of Rose has become a highly sought-after game by collectors. Love it or hate it: It’s a game that exhibits a powerful response, one that could make for a compelling volume.
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Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem
We may never get a sequel to this Nintendo Gamecube exclusive, the Lovecraftian masterpiece by defunct Canadian studio Silicon Knights.Those lucky enough to have played it when it first came out so many years ago often wax-nostalgic about the sanity effects, the story, and presentation. The game’s settings take place across time, and the presentation—along with filmic voiceover—plays out almost like reading an old literary tome. At the center of the game is Alexandra Roivas, who spends the game exploring the Roivas Family Estate in Rhode Island after she is summoned there following the gruesome supernatural murder of her grandfather, Edward Roivas. The game is an excellent sendoff on cosmic horror and H.P. Lovecraft’s influence on hellish ghouls and one’s loss of sanity. There’s so much to explore—the would-be writer of a volume on this game would have the game itself to entice, as well as the many controversies behind the scenes of Silicon Knights, which led to a secret mission to create a sequel that would eventually be the demise of the studio.
Deadly Premonition wears its primary influence quite well. Game auteur Swery clearly has a love for David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. Everything from the small town setting to the enigmatic FBI agent says Deadly Premonition is B-game Twin Peaks at its core. The game works well not because of its gameplay (which is clunky) or its storyline (which is derivative of the aforementioned Lynchian classic), but because of its star, FBI agent Francis York Morgan. He visits Greenvale, Washington to investigate the murder of 18-year-old Anna Graham and is quickly marked an odd, bizarre fellow, confusing the local authorities and townsfolk. York has an uncanny ability, much like FBI Agent Dale Cooper, to call upon the supernatural to solve clues. Also inspired by Cooper, York talks to an off-screen character that is never seen; in York’s case, it’s someone named Zach, a placeholder for the gamer. York goes above and beyond Cooper’s occasional chatting into his tape recorder to speak to Zach in the field, during long drives, even at the scene of the crime. I can’t help but see the book written that way too, perhaps as an innovative blend of personal and game production written from the voice of York speaking to Zach, the once-player now reader. It would be quite the fascinating experience, if done right.
Blair Witch Volume 1: Rustin Parr
Now for the outlier of the list, the first in three games developed by Terminal Reality using the Blair Witch Project universe as its inspiration. The game was released about a year after the film, an attempt to capitalize on some of the film’s success by developing a third person game set in Burkittsville, Maryland back in 1941. Players take the role of Elspeth “Doc” Holliday, a research scientist for the Spookhouse HQ—a paranormal investigative agency—as she is given the Blair Witch assignment. The game’s subtitle refers to Blair Witch lore about a hermit named Rustin Parr, who lives in the woods outside Burkittsville and is influenced by the witch to kidnap and murder eight children from the town. Initially a story used as urban legend for the opening minutes of the film, the game does a great job of expounding upon the legend. Terminal Reality created some great atmosphere, complete with dizzying forest trails and creepy iconography. The game stands up as one of those early PC horror rarities that lead to threads on messageboards like NeoGAF discussing how to procure the game and play it. As it stands, a volume on Rustin Parr as well as the always memorable Blair Witch—and yeah, throw in some retrogaming memories in the mix for good measure—would be a compelling trip through urban legends and school yard scares.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
Like Deadly Premonition, this game just screams metafictional Boss Fight volume. The 2017 Ninja Theory developed sleeper hit, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is a true marvel of interactive storytelling. The game is drenched in a palpable psychological horror blend taking place in the 8th century and highly influenced by Celtic culture. Senua is a mentally unstable Pict warrior looking to recover the soul of her dead lover, Dillion, by traveling through hell itself, Helheim. Voices call to her and judge Senua and the player’s every move. There is never a quiet moment. The voices—“Furies” as they are called—urge her on, ridicule her, and effectively demonstrate schizophrenia with the Darkness that threatens to consume Senua’s mind. Ninja Theory achieved a wonderful balance between the atmosphere and the Furies, the third person gameplay and the horror that goes far beyond jump scares. This game is a beautiful thing, full of Celtic lore and, one can only imagine, numerous technical challenges. Imagine if the Furies helped create the frenetic nature of Senua’s mind on the page? What would that look like?
Long before the rock band, Bring Me the Horizon borrowed the title for their COVID-19 anthem, Parasite Eve was a Squaresoft offering for the original PlayStation. Blending mature modern themes with an action RPG system, players take the role of Aya Brea, a fashionable investigator that fights the sudden outbreak of people spontaneously combusting or otherwise turning into horrible creatures. The game was loosely based on the Japanese novel of the same name, whose premise delves deep into hard science and genetics to explain the cause of the combustion and mutant deformity. The mitochondria of the cell, which produces energy, is to blame, being manipulated by unseen genetic forces lengthening across time. It’s a really well done story for an RPG that set itself apart by aiming to render modern day New York City at a time when most RPGs on the PlayStation delved into fantasy and purely fictional settings. The game was a modest success and produced a few sequels, though none ever captured the original’s charm. With so much to the mitochondria narrative, there’s a lot to explore and chew on, and with ancestry and lineage also a key theme, the prospective author could find a number of correlations and points of relation in the game and their experience.
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D (tied with D2)
The late Kenji Eno was one of those 90s game auteurs that hardcore gamers know about and often take the time to peruse his eccentric list of developed titles. But like the consoles themselves to which they were published—the Panasonic 3DO, the Sega Saturn, the Sega Dreamcast—Eno’s work was always niche, and the development of each was equally as bizarre as the games they produced. It’s too bad, because his masterpiece, 1995’s D is still a unique experience. The game plays a bit like Myst, wherein every move the player makes is matched onscreen with FMV sequences. The story follows Laura Harris as she investigates a hospital where her father had a psychotic break and went on a mass murdering spree. D was a commercial success at the time, selling a million copies in Japan and becoming a system seller on the 3DO. Sony promised to print 100,000 copies of the PlayStation version, but only ended up printing 28,000. A testament to the always insane development and process surrounding Endo’s games, he became upset with Sony and swore allegiance to Sega and never again published a game for a Sony console. Eno would go on to create games like Enemy Zero and D2, using Laura as his recurring digital actress. D and its sequel are games that act like puzzles, the player peeling back not only the cryptic layers of the games themselves, but also the layers surrounding the game’s production, publication, and place in videogame history.
Ah, Alan Wake, the game that feels about as close to Stephen King’s "Secret Window, Secret Garden" as we’ll probably ever get. The game’s production wasn’t a smooth one, with many reports of its evolution over the five years it took to eventually complete. First it was an open world game, only to later be an homage to horror televisions series, complete with “previously on” recaps at the beginning of every new chapter. The entire development is fraught with the usual lessons with regards to new hardware (at the time, the new darling was the Xbox 360) and inflated ambitions. Alan Wake ended up becoming a competent third person horror game that plays much like a fan fiction of Stephen King, with its stereotypical full-time bestselling writer battling his own creations and characters coming to life to attack. If it were to be written about, Alan Wake would open up the world of games and art, as well as horror tropes like our continual romanticization of “the writer."
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Though it may not be strictly horror, Atlus’s narratively driven puzzle game is its own breed of thriller, for sure. Developed by the same studio responsible for the influential and popular Persona series, Catherine carries the same attention to art and detail. This time though, the game is all about supernatural nightmares and sordid affairs. Vincent Brooks is a man caught between a long-term relationship and a new infatuation, buried by guilt and the dangers waiting for him when he sleeps. Apparently, men are dying off one by one, killed in their sleep. It soon becomes clear that they were all in some way being unfaithful. Catherine examines the nature of romance, intimacy, fidelity, and more mature themes that are less common in gaming. One can imagine the Boss Fight volume to explore those themes in game, while the writer opens up about their own past exes as much as they would be comfortable (and truly, if one were to write the volume, they would have to examine the worst of their past romances, be it traumatic and/or shameful) to explore the heights and essential euphoria of connecting deeply with another.
This one still affects me. PT stands for Playable Teaser, which is exactly what it was: a teaser released by Konami during Gamescom 2014 with no fanfare and silently described as a demo for a “mystery horror” game. In a few short days, players discovered that it was in fact a publicity stunt for the grand reveal of a Silent Hill reboot, a collaboration between Hideo Kojima, Guillermo del Toro, and Norman Reedus. It was to be called Silent Hills and the gaming world was beyond hyped. PT did a masterful job with what little resources it had. The same hallway repeatedly traversed as initially minor changes become major and outright maniacal, a dead woman by the name of Lisa, evidence of a husband killing his entire family… Kojima and del Toro told a story in the way a game should: using its surroundings and interactions, the player putting all the pieces together. Of course, despite the fanatical response to the teaser, Silent Hills was cancelled and, as of this writing, nothing has amassed by way of a proper Silent Hill reboot. The wondrous reveal, all the way to its devastating cancellation, plus the gaming community’s grieving process and subsequent remaking of the demo—and even PT’s influence on the future of interactive horror—there’s just so much to study. Really, the book would stand up as a complex tale of hope—because that’s exactly what PT was and still is: a wonder that became a worry and heartbreak that has, over time and subsequent grieving, become a metaphor for hope. You just never know if a new Silent Hill will one day reappear…
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