North American cover art
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 story follows Fiona Belli, a young girl who wakes up in the dungeon of a castle after being involved in a car accident. She quickly befriends Hewie, a White Shepherd roaming the castle. With his aid, Fiona seeks to escape the castle and unravel the mysteries of it and its inhabitants. The game shares many similarities with Capcom's earlier survival horror title Clock Tower 3, and has been described as a spiritual successor to the Clock Tower series. The player controls Fiona as they explore the environment, evade and hide from enemy pursuers, and occasionally fight against the castle's inhabitants. 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. Capcom added the dog mechanic during development thinking retailers and players alike would not enjoy a survival horror title with a lone female protagonist. The game was released in April of next year garnering mixed to average reviews. The graphics and presentation were praised, as well as the sexual overtones which were described as "disturbing" and "off-putting." Hewie was credited for giving the game a unique feel. However, the story was found to be cliché, and some of the gameplay was noted as predictable and dated. Haunting Ground was re-released digitally in Japan for the PlayStation 3 in 2015.
Haunting Ground is a survival horror game with similar gameplay elements to Clock Tower 3. 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 enemies as well, but tackling also reduces stamina. 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.
Enemies can hear footsteps and other sounds. 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. 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 can 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 is an 18-year-old girl who recently moved to college. While visiting her parents, she is involved in a car accident, and awakens in a cage in the dungeon of a castle. Her memories of the incident are hazy. Noting that the cage that keeps her prisoner has been left unlocked, she steps out, but is startled by a large, fierce animal that runs past her. She quickly begins searching for answers and a way out of the castle. Soon, she befriends the animal that initially frightened her, a White Shepherd named Hewie. As Fiona begins to unravel the mystery in which she finds herself, she learns that she is the carrier of the Azoth, which, for unknown reasons, is sought after by Riccardo, the castle's keeper.
The first enemy Fiona encounters is Debilitas, a large, mentally disabled groundskeeper who thinks of Fiona as one of his dolls. Fiona then makes contact with a mysterious man named Lorenzo, who seems to want to help her escape. He tells her that to do so, she needs a staff from the chapel. However, upon taking the staff, Debilitas corners Fiona and Hewie, forcing a confrontation. After eliminating Debilitas, Fiona soon finds her next enemy, Daniella, the icy maid. Daniella covets Fiona's ability to smell, taste, touch, feel, and "experience pleasure." She is especially jealous that Fiona can create life (via a fertile womb). Daniella is defeated when she is impaled with a shard of broken glass from a ceiling window.
The third villain is Riccardo, who wields a flintlock pistol. For the majority of the game, Riccardo keeps his face hidden under a hood. Upon revealing himself however, Fiona is shocked to see her dead father's face. Riccardo reveals that he and her father, Ugo, are clones. He murdered Ugo in the car accident as revenge for leaving the castle and marrying Fiona's mother. He plans to use Fiona (by means of her womb and use of her Azoth) to bring about his own rebirth, so that he may live forever. As they fight atop a water tower, Hewie rescues Fiona by attacking Riccardo, causing him to fall from the summit.
The final enemy is Lorenzo, who seemed to be an ally, but who now menaces Fiona in several different forms. Fiona first meets him as an old, crippled man. He tells Fiona that Riccardo was always the problem child, and that he created both Riccardo and Ugo in an attempt to find a body with an Azoth which he could use to gain immortality. Ugo had the Azoth, but left the castle to marry Ayla. Now with Riccardo dead, Lorenzo believes that Fiona is his, so he can take the Azoth she inherited from her father. He chases after Fiona, but she is able to crush him in a rock press. However, she soon encounters a resurrected, youthful Lorenzo; the life energy he acquired from Riccardo's body has allowed him mastery over his own aging process. With the help of Hewie, Fiona causes Lorenzo to fall into a pit of lava. At this point, the castle begins to shake and collapse, and Lorenzo returns as a flaming skeleton. He chases Fiona as she heads for the exit, and attempts to block her escape, but as they reach the door, he finally dies, and Fiona and Hewie eventually leave the castle.
Development and release
Capcom began development knowing they wanted to make a survival horror game with a lead female character. Believing that the 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. 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. While the text was in Japanese only, the English translation of the teaser page read: "One person awakes / Continuation of a nightmare / An unknown place / Fraught with insanity." Capcom released the game in Japan on April 21, 2005, in Europe and Australia on April 29, 2005, and in North America on May 10, 2005. Critics have 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 "average" reviews according to video game review aggregator Metacritic. The game's sexuality was noted as a positive point by critics. IGN wrote, "Haunting Ground's combination of high-end presentation, disturbing sexuality, and psychological mindjobbing makes it one of the most interesting games of the last couple of months," and selected it as the "Game of the Month" for May 2005. They described it as an "interesting horror experience" that would appeal to "old-school adventure fans", although they found weakness in the narrative, calling it "clichéd" storytelling. GameSetWatch also felt the sexuality of the game was a positive; "Disparaging Haunting Ground for its copious objectification of women is a facile task, and so is discrediting its storytelling for the gratuitous exposure. Easy, easy, to fetishize a horny maid, a half-naked young blonde in dire straits and at the mercy of grasping, perverted men. But it's precisely that off-putting sexuality that makes Daniella terrifying, that makes Fiona's circumstances so explicitly repugnant, that sharpens Haunting Ground's fear factor to a knife in the gut."
1UP.com praised the graphics, character models and environments, arguing that the game featured "some of the most detailed, lavish 3D environments Capcom has ever produced." They did however feel the game was dated compared to the newly released Resident Evil 4, stating it "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." GamePro stated that "despite a few fresh ideas, Haunting Ground is no classic. The thin story relies too often on cliché and titillation, the villains aren't terribly frightening, and the gameplay becomes too predictable too quickly. Ultimately, this is Resident Evil Lite with a dog." Despite this, they praised the cinematic presentation and found the visuals as "stark but appealing." GameSpot noted that Hewie, despite being well-trained, occasionally did not obey orders, adding realism to the game. They found the relationship between Fiona and Hewie and its gameplay mechanics give Haunting Ground "its own special place in the horror genre". They believed the gameplay to have flaws, "but if you're a big horror fan and don't mind something different, Haunting Ground is worth a look." Other critics also praised the use of Hewie. Just Adventure called him "adorable" and "an asset of the utmost value," whilst 1UP.com named him "one of the best-implemented efforts" of a dog in video gaming.
In a retrospective analysis, Kill Screen's Zach Budgor compared Haunting Ground's "psychological landscape" to Dario Argento's 1977 film Suspiria. He commended the game for making symbolic choices in its design, over more literal and sensible choices, creating a dreamlike atmosphere. The game's grotesque expressionism was also highlighted. 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." He 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.
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