(cw: honestly given its inspirations, any content warning that applies to Berserk applies to this game)
Horror RPG is my version of people getting mad at calling Zelda games RPGs. They’re essentially normal horror games that just happen to be made in RPG Maker, with no actual RPG aspects in it. Some games have battles, but a lot of them are so arbitrary that the creator should have just focused on the adventure aspects. The closest thing to a horror RPG to me was OMORI, and even then there’s such a clear delineation between the RPG and horror parts that it’s more like a game that’s sometimes RPG, sometimes horror.
But today? I’ll be looking at a game that perfectly embodies a horror RPG. A game with survival horror aspects and RPG aspects that perfectly blend together.
Fear & Hunger is a game by Miro Haverinen. Somewhere in the kingdom of Rondon in fake Europe lies the dungeon of Fear & Hunger. Intended to house prisoners of the kingdom, the place has morphed under the watchful eyes of gods. A totally normal revolutionary, Le’garde, is trapped there, and for one reason or another, four individuals head to the dungeon to seek him out.
The four player characters all offer different niches that can be diversified with the backstory quiz you do before properly starting the game. Cahara the Mercenary is a decent all-rounder who can learn dirty tricks like how to lockpick, which can make his rescue mission easier. D’arce, The Knight and Le’garde’s lover, comes with hardier defenses and can take up stances to fight more optimally. Enki the Dark Mage seeks Le’garde out as a stepping stone to greater power, and while he’s more fragile than the other characters, he can start out with magic skills (normally obtained through luck) by default. Then there’s Ragnvaldr, the Outlander, who wants to murder the shit out of Le’garde for war crimes and can learn stuff that really sustains him for violence.
While you can only pick one character, you do get chances to recruit the others if you run into them in Fear & Hunger. Though, there’s different circumstances to account for (like, you can imagine that D’arce and Ragnvaldr might not see eye to eye). There’s also a few guest party members to recruit with more specific niches, though you won’t be able to recruit any of these characters on the harder difficulties.
But anyway, what will our poor saps be facing in Fear & Hunger?
There are many threats, but true to the name of the titular dungeon, fear and hunger are big, passive threats. Adventuring steadily raises your hunger that you’ll need to satisfy with stuff found in the dungeon, lest you starve. Your character’s mind also drops the more fearful they grow, especially in dark areas. Torches are incredibly important even without that mind drop because the dungeons are dark and there’s very rarely light scattered around – especially if you’re playing on any difficulty besides the first, because you won’t even get a customary light radius around your character. Mind is also interesting in that it also acts as MP for the skills you can get, which presents an interesting resource conflict in battles.
Then there are the active threat of the freaks and weirdos scattered throughout Fear & Hunger, starting out as monstrously deformed guards that soon escalate to eldritch guys. Most chase you around, but some enemies have unique behaviors like the yellow mages, who telepathically rip you limb from limb if you don’t put them down fast enough.
Speaking of which…
Instead of getting game overed by the local RPG horror chasers, you get into battles with them. Raw stats matter far less than tactics here, where you can dismember enemies. You can hack away at the enemy’s main body to do guaranteed damage, or you can press your luck by going for the head for the instant kill (well, instant for some enemies, anyway). Going for the headshot though is much easier if you hack off the enemy’s legs, or whatever it is keeping them stable.
But of course, you gotta watch out for the enemies’ attacks, too. You can chop off the body parts that’s using attack skills until the enemy is only capable of far more feeble tackles, but you also have to remember: they can do the same to you. If they destroy one of your character’s arms, say hello to a heavily nerfed attack or defense since you can’t hold a weapon/shield. Get your legs fucked up? Have fun traveling around with slow speed.
But of course, you don’t have to fight the enemies, you can treat a lot of them as standard RPG Maker chasers. In fact, running is an encouraged tactic, as fights don’t give experience and only a few enemies have stuff worth fighting for. Another encouraging factor is when it comes to healing resources, the game leans toward the survival horror half of things: you won’t get a lot. Items that heal the body are few and they only heal a little bit. Get a body part infected in a fight? Well, unless you have a red herb to cure it, you’ll have to use the more common bonesaw to voluntarily saw the infected part off, lest you suddenly die of tetanus while walking around. There’s plenty of food, but most food only heals hunger, and sleeping only lets you save, both cruel bits of enforcing realism.
Fear & Hunger effectively combines the resource use inherent in turn-based RPGs and survival horror. Do you dare use the bonesaw now, or hope to get that less debilitating herb later before tetanus sets in? Do you think you can successfully run from battle, or are you scared of a wasted turn where the enemy goes ham on you? If you have multiple party members, who should you spend your limited healing items on? Do you spend your mind to use skills, or do you save it for the sake of sustaining yourself in the long-term? Outside of battle, are you willing to spend the cloth fragments you’d normally use to stop bleeding on making torches, or do you think you can brave the dark for a bit? These situations that you can run into create a sense of anxiety, showing that horror RPGs can create a good horror atmosphere through game mechanics beyond “what if a fucked up guy chased you around?”
But you may wonder, how do you get stronger in the game if experience isn’t a thing? Well, you’ll find a special altar where you use soul stones that you find, which first needs to be imbued with the soul of something you killed. You can use these stones at an altar to learn new skills or power up a weapon. You may end up needing to do this for endgame stuff, where the freaks are far more hardier, like the normal old lady pictured.
Going further, you can expand the range of skills you can learn by growing affinity with the old gods through various means. Praying to them certainly helps, yes, but also, if you feel that a party member isn’t going to make the cut… those sacrificing ritual circles sure seem tempting, especially if you’re low on food or sanity healing stuff. Or maybe, if you got the consenting adults, you can “perform marriage” to get everyone healed up and create a Normal party member.
So speaking of marriage, there’s some sexual content in this game. Fear & Hunger will probably be the closest I’ll ever come to playing one of those hentai RPG Maker games. This also results in what might be the most controversial aspect in the game. Losing to certain enemies in certain ways shows your character getting sexually assaulted; while you don’t die, your character’s left in such a terrible state that you might feel like you may as well have died, which is somewhat reflective of the feeling someone could get from that trauma.
I’m not going to say it shouldn’t be in the game, because it feels like something that would happen in the setting and it’s treated seriously. But also – it definitely could have just been left as an implication. In fact, there is an instance of sexualized violence where restraint is shown. There is a group of wolf-masked people that partake in cannibalism while having an orgy and you’re given the option to partake to heal hunger and raise a god’s affinity. Doing so, your character isn’t actually shown onscreen, but the text and sound effects do enough to imply what’s happening, and I do feel that the sexual assaults could have been afforded the same restraint if it was going to have them.
I will also say though that there’s complete restraint shown when trying to perform a marriage toward one of the child characters, and for one of them it gives you a straight up game over if you try. So despite being much darker, Fear & Hunger clears the barrier of not being as weird as something like Kio’s Adventure. Well, there’s that one NPC that wants you to trade kids to him but he’s very obviously a huge creep, so (shrug).
On a less morally distressing level, there’s the annoyance of RNG. The crates and barrels around the place all contain stuff but their contents are randomized. Some events are triggered with the visualization of a coin-flip – you can have the chance to tilt the odds in your favor by using extra coins, but those in themselves are randomly gained and can still fail you.
Got an infection and nothing for it? Uhhh, hope you find a cure for that within the next few minutes, idiot. Want a book that gives you a skill? Nah, here’s another copy of a lore book. There are fixed places to get items like all beds providing cloth fragments, but these aren’t things to fully rely on. Oh yeah, and speaking of those beds, they’re your normal save points but they’re also random chance reliant, so unless you have the one-time use save books, cross your fingers and hope for the best.
On one hand, it’s incredibly annoying. On the other hand, it’s possible that you may not need to interact with randomness much at all. The actual structure of the game’s dungeon is largely the same between characters, and nothing really gets randomized when you save/load (besides item contents, maybe), so you can gradually learn the game’s mechanics and level layouts. As such, you can learn to avoid situations that require you to use those randomly required items – or at least, depend on them less. Having this set structure makes these arbitrary roguelike elements much more tolerable than they would have if this was a straight up roguelike, which I probably would have given up on.
The explicit storytelling, in line with the game’s stated Dark Souls inspiration, is rather light. In fact, the direct narratives of the player characters are straightforward, especially if you go for the easy ending. However, there’s a lot going on in background details you learn from books and out of the way content that points toward the world of Fear & Hunger being a cosmic horror show, ruled by crazed old gods and new gods that were previous mortals that ascended to godhood. In fact, maybe you can push to see the birth of a new god, if you put the effort into it.
And speaking of which, there is a surprising amount of stuff to do in the game. There are multiple possible routes through the world depending on what you have available, and there’s multiple endings to tackle – with each character even having unique endings. So hey, there’s certainly replay value if you’re that kinda nerd.
In fact, after finishing the game, you also unlock a new mode: Dungeon Nights.The game suddenly takes a turn for the silly, where the surface world is a school that the player characters and major NPCs (monsters included) attend. Thing is, prom is coming up, but you don’t have a date ready! You must build rapport with whoever you want to date, be it through conversations, dates, or some dungeoneering.
In spite of the sillier framework, the dungeons below the boarding school is largely the same but with a few changes. You can pick whatever floor you want, but the levels are restructured to be linear ventures, because what good student turns around and escapes from a challenge they put themselves into? The primary goal of these ventures is to accomplish tasks for whoever you want to date, like getting that stupid goth nerd Enki a book stashed down below. Also, unlike the normal game mode, there’s reliable shops waiting for you back at campus, so you can build yourself up without having to rely too much on lucky item drops. Not what I expected from an extra mode, but it’s neat!
All in all, Fear & Hunger is a game that I really enjoyed. I’ve said in the past that I prefer more story heavy RPGs, but even without all the backstory stuff you can find and dig into, the core experience is deeply engaging in a way that no other horror oriented RPG had me. I certainly wished that resource gathering didn’t make me want to pull my hair and it really didn’t have to show your character get sexually assaulted onscreen, but… yeah, I liked this game.
So, when I first started writing this, I was actually unaware that the game’s sequel, Fear & Hunger 2: Termina was close to finishing development. As it happens, it’s actually out now! I don’t know when I’ll get around to playing it, but it looks like it really builds on its predecessor, with way more characters to play around with and a more open world. For now though, I’m satisfied with the time I had with this game and would like to dig into it more in the future.