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 gameplay shares many similarities with Capcom's earlier survival horror title, Clock Tower 3. The player controls Fiona as they explore the environment, solve puzzles, unlock doors, and evade, hide, or otherwise attempt to fight against the castle's inhabitants. Hewie accompanies the player throughout the game and can be given orders to help solve puzzles and aid in Fiona's survival.
Capcom added the dog mechanic during development thinking retailers and players alike would not enjoy a survival horror title with a lone female protagonist. Haunting Ground was revealed in September 2004, and was released in April of next year garnering mixed to positive reviews. The graphics and presentation were praised, as well as the sexual overtones which were described as "disturbing" and "off-putting". The dog, 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.
Throughout the game, the castle's inhabitants chase and attack Fiona, although if they are evaded for long enough, they will cease to do so for a set interval. While it is possible to retaliate with kicks to the groin, Hewie's bites, or alchemically created weapons, the game's focus is evasion. To facilitate this, there are numerous hiding places found throughout the game's levels. Ultimately, however, Fiona must face off against each pursuer in a boss battle, after which a different enemy will begin to pursue her.
In addition to the main enemies, two other type of enemy are encountered during the game. Neither are inherently dangerous to Fiona per se, but each can alert Fiona's pursuers to her location, and cause her to 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 second are small fetus-resembling homunculi, who attach themselves to Fiona's legs and let out a piercing scream.
As well as controlling Fiona, the player also controls Hewie. Using the right analog stick, the player can order Hewie to stay, follow, attack, fetch and shake hands. In order to maintain a good relationship with Hewie (which can affect the ending of the game), Fiona must issue commands, and then praise or scold him depending on whether or not he obeys. Praising or healing him when he becomes injured increases Hewie's friendship level. If not given enough attention, Hewie will ignore Fiona's commands and wander off, and if he is repeatedly mistreated he will turn on and attack her. On normal difficulty, Hewie can be knocked unconscious by enemies, but he cannot be killed. On hard difficulty, however, he can die, which results in a game over.
When faced with certain scripted events or prolonged enemy attacks and chases, Fiona begins to panic. If allowed to remain in a panic for too long she will enter full panic mode and begin to run. Panic mode causes a blurriness of the screen, saturation of the surroundings, inverted black and white coloring and a freeze-frame effect during which time the control pad will begin to vibrate. The player is unable to stop Fiona running (although they can control the direction in which she runs) and must try to prevent her from running into walls and objects, as doing so causes her to fall and begin to crawl; at this point any further damage whatsoever will kill her. Hewie can be called upon for help during panic mode, encouraging him to attack any pursuer, and thus prevent Fiona from being killed. If enemies are avoided long enough, panic mode ends after a set period of time.
Fiona Belli awakes in a cage in the dungeon of a castle. She has just been involved in a car accident, but 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. The way in which the player defeats Debilitas affects the ending of the game.
Having rid herself of 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). Wielding a large shard of broken glass (or a hot poker depending on which cutscenes the player sees), 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 Ugo are clones, and that he murdered Ugo 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. The player 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 Ugo. 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, developers debuted Haunting Ground under its Japanese name Demento, at the Tokyo Game Show after launching a teaser page on the Capcom 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 Haunting Ground in Japan on April 21, 2005, in Europe on April 29, 2005, and in North America on May 10, 2005.
Re-release and sequel
In July of 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 21 April 2015, Haunting Ground was re-released on the Japanese PlayStation Store. There has been no news of a Western re-release.
During an interview on February 27, 2013, Christian Svennson when approached about the future of Haunting Ground claimed that
"...We had a developer ask us if they could submit a pitch for a new Haunting Ground recently – a western developer. And we were like, 'yeah, I don't think that's going to find a terribly receptive audience in Japan from the producer's team and the like'. So we kind of steered them away. But it's interesting that even within the dev community there's still some fans out there who want to see it come back. And that's my very long-winded way of saying no, I don't think there’s any activity on that happening that we can talk about."
The game received mixed to positive reviews, with scores of 72.99% and 67 out of 100 on GameRankings and Metacritic, respectively. Scores ranged from as low as 4.75/10 from Game Informer to a 89/100 from Finnish gaming magazine Pelit.
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 named him "one of the best-implemented efforts" of a dog in video gaming.
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