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Hellnight, known as Dark Messiah (ダークメサイア?) in Japan, is a first-person survival horror video game developed and published by Atlus Co. in collaboration with Konami in 1998. The game's popularity was low, possibly because it wasn't released outside of Japan and Europe, and received little media attention. However, the game did get a small cult following due to the increasing popularity of horror games in recent years.
Tokyo at the end of the millennium is a megapolis with a huge system of subway tunnels and sewers. The game opens with the protagonist fleeing from a group of notorious cult members through the city streets and escaping on a late-night subway train. As he contemplates why they want to kidnap him specifically, the scene changes to a secluded research station. There, a symbiotic lifeform breaks free of its confines and attacks a research scientist. He soon mutates into a zombie-like creature and makes a bloody exit towards the subway system.
Time passes and the protagonist's train is derailed by the creature roaming the tracks, as if purposely being drawn to that point. The only survivors of the crash are the protagonist and a schoolgirl named Naomi Sugiura. They both flee the train wreck when the creature starts systematically killing everyone left alive on board. They're soon confronted by a black-ops squad (secretly sent to destroy the creature from the lab), but the creature wipes the team out within seconds.
The protagonist and Naomi travel deeper into the sewers and find a place called "The Mesh", an underground area full of self-sufficient citizens who have given up their identities above ground to live a more peaceful life. Their lives are about to be disrupted by the pursuing creature, who has now evolved into a faster and more exoskeletal-like form. Can any of them make sense of the mysterious cult's intentions, find a way to defeat the relentless creature and reach the surface?
The game uses a first person perspective, very similar to first person shooter games, only without any means of combat. Throughout the game, players must travel through different areas of The Mesh and beyond, and must solve puzzles to progress to the surface. The player will encounter only one type of enemy, and that is the mutating monster. The only possible way for players to survive is to run away. Any close contact with the enemy will result in the deaths of their companions (and finally themselves). Once the companions are attacked, they're killed off permanently.
However, the player will meet other characters that may replace their lost friends. Only one character may tag along at a time, each having a different ability. Since the game doesn't allow any physical force towards the enemy, players are still able to 'stun' them with the help of their companions; the amount of stuns possible differs with each character. Players start with Naomi as the default. To replace her, Naomi has to die and the player must meet up with the new member. Having someone in your group negates the choice of another character to join; the character ultimately continues their journey without you, with their fates being revealed towards the end.
There is no combat, as the primary "weapon" players possess is the ability to run fast. After a period of time the characters will get exhausted, and the screen shakes and later flashes red to warn the player that they have reached the characters' limits to run. Therefore, a strategic plan to move about the areas in the game must be considered. Most of the characters apart from Naomi are able to attack the monster and help players temporarily. Naomi helps by telling the players the position of an approaching monster, either by dialogue or by a symbol on the map.
The main objective of the characters is to reach the surface. Not everyone in the Mesh is friendly; some serve as antagonists to the player's goals, while others can help. The player must be able to interact, take note of clues and find alternative paths to avoid losing a member in the group or other negative phenomena. An example of this is during the events in the Residential Area; if the player chooses to go down in a set of stairs despite warnings, a companion dies and the player is left alone until they find another companion.
Thus, it can be concluded that the members in the game represents the amount of lives the player has left. Once the player is alone, any close encounter with the monster results in a game over.
The bulk of the game consists of 3D maze-like maps that all have their own look and feel. Some are set on one level, while others have several layers. Aside from the maps, the only other 3D representation is that of the monster. To some older gamers, Hellnight can be seen as a modern 3D Monster Maze. Other characters, including your companion, appear as static 2D renders, though they've been modeled in 3D. They're never physically present on the map until the player activates them through movement, a completion of a task or pressing the 'talk' button. It's never been made clear if this is intentional to scare the player with a 'pop-up' cast (the creature 'pops-up' albeit animated) or if it is due to budget and time restraints.
When a player enters a room, rather than the exit to another maze, the game's stylistic presentation changes from 3D to 2D. The pre-rendered representations of each room is played out as a basic point and click. The player must click on certain areas that are already designated hotspots; eliminating any need for pixel hunting. By pressing left or right, these points of interest are cycled through accordingly. It is in these pre-rendered spaces that the majority of puzzles and conversations take place (some puzzles towards the end of the game take place in the 3D world). The monster never attacks the player in these rooms (except one instance), so they can be seen as a quick safe haven before venturing out into the tunnels again.
The game's atmosphere relies on alternating between the puzzles and solutions in certain rooms (the 2D renders) and the dangerous legwork between each point of safety (the 3D world where the creature roams).
Although these characters are able to join the player, they are not directly controllable and use their abilities independently of the player's actions. They are always by the player character's side, and since it is made in first-person view, it is impossible to tell who is being directly controlled. These characters only offer to accompany the player if they are alone.
- Naomi Sugiura
A 17 year old schoolgirl who ended up in the sewers after being chased by a group of occultists. She is the default partner and talks with the player-character in the early parts of the game. Her ability is to sense when an enemy is approaching, and while she accompanies the player, the monster is visible as a small yellow dot on the map whenever it is nearby. She seems to suffer from memory lapses of her past (which are revealed if she survives to end). Near the last level, she develops an ability to use psychic attack to stop and slow down the pursuing mutant monster. After being kidnapped by a monster on the stairwell (if The Player decided to go up), she can be found in Residential Area (2 floor). She develops romantic feelings for the player-character, and suggest a date when they reach the surface.
- Kyoji Kamiya
A 28 year old serial killer who carries a gun stolen from his first victim, who was a cop. He's already headline news and revels in his new-found infamy. A smooth talker who finds it hard to repress his murderous urges, he helps the protagonist because he believes they aren't his sort of prey. He already knows about the creature, since Kamiya is also seen on the train (in the intro movie), but he somehow escapes before the player and Naomi notices his presence. He is the first person players meet that may be recruited as a party member.
- Leroy Ivanoff
A 30 year old Russian soldier that attacks using a powerful rocket launcher as a weapon. Leroy heads up an international black-ops squad who deal with high-risk, confidential missions. His team is called in to stop the creature after the massacre in research center and subway disaster, but he becomes the only survivor. He follows the creature deeper into The Mesh in a quest for vengeance. He is the next person players may recruit after Kyoji.
- Rene Lorraine
A French journalist intent on exposing the secret of the cult that are kidnapping people around Tokyo. Well known for her preference of dangerous assignments, Rene is prepared to do what is necessary for her survival at the expense of others. She carries an uzi with limited ammunition. She appears near the end of the game after the player makes it past the three levels of The Mesh.