EDITOR'S NOTE:
Oh no, oh no, PS2 screenshots from Gaming Hell. Haunting Ground deserves better than this. Ahem. As usual, you must excuse our poor-quality screenshots here, this is honestly the best we can do. The best we can do. You can click them to make them bigger, I suppose. For what good that'll do. We actually had to adjust the brightness levels when capturing because otherwise you wouldn't be able to see anything. You're welcome. Oh, and thanks to Ultra Powerful Pal of Gaming Hell Kimimi for checking over this and generally cheering us on while we were playing the game for Twitter. Of course, because of Gaming Hell's uncanny ability to have the absolute worst timing on the internet, please look forward to a HD rerelease of Haunting Ground being announced the day after we put this up. Probably.

It's fairly well-known that Resident Evil 4 had a long, troubled development history.

It's also well-known that one of the attempts to bring the series to PS2 resulted in Hideki Kamiya and his team creating Devil May Cry.

What about the other game that splintered off from RE4's spiralling development cycle, Haunting Ground?



Well... Supposedly that's the case. Hey, we had to get around to a clickbaity opening one of these days, right? So, after the first version of Resident Evil 4 got turned into Devil May Cry, three main versions of the game were developed before it morphed into the President's daughter-saving simulator (with added Leon S. Kennedy sass) that was finally released. The first of these, referred to as the 'Castle', 'Fog' and 'Mist' version, was first shown at TGS 2002 complete with a trailer, and had Leon S. Kennedy infiltrating Oswell E. Spencer's European castle, infected with a virus after an attack from Wesker's private special forces that takes over his left arm. It's specifically mentioned in an interview with RE3 writer Yasuhisa Kawamura that this Castle version would've included a girl who awakens in the castle, accompanied by a B.O.W. dog helper. After this version was scrapped and work on the 'Hallucination' or 'Hookman' version of the game, Noboru Sugimura, who worked on the script for this build, passed his draft over to Capcom Production Studio 3, and they eliminated the Resident Evil ties, developing the girl and the dog concept further to create Haunting Ground (sadly, Sugimura passed away before the game was released, with the final game crediting him for Draft Scenario). Well, that's supposedly what happened, with only that interview, Sugimura's credit in HG, and fan speculation to go on, but the pieces seem to fit. In any case, I like to think that the appearance of a dog in the released version of Resident Evil 4 (the famous "Hey, it's that dog!" dog) is not just a strange nod to Haunting Ground (RE4 came out only three months before Haunting Ground in Japan) but also an homage to this earlier concept for the game. A cute little nod to the game's troubled origins, isn't that sweet?

Let's have a look at the game that spawned from the Castle version of RE4, then!

Released in 2005 worldwide (under the title Demento in Japan), Haunting Ground is the story of Fiona Belli, an otherwise-ordinary college student who winds up in a car crash that kills both of her parents. After the accident, she wakes up to find herself in a cage in the cellar of a castle, looked over by a docile hunchback. As it turns out, she has now inherited this castle, but she's not keen on staying. Maybe it's the hostile inhabitants- the hunchback Debilitas who thinks Fiona is a doll for him to play rough with, the icy-cold maid Daniella who wants to slice Fiona's belly open to become 'complete', or the hooded keeper of the castle Riccardo who wants her for her 'Azoth', something she inherited from her father that she's not even aware of. Perhaps it's the fact there's a homunculus factory in the adjacent mansion, or it may even be the eerie fairy lights called Luminessants that are out to get Fiona, or possibly the traps and snares and there's literally an Iron Maiden in this place. At the very least, Fiona is not alone, as she rescues a whip-smart German Shepherd dog called Hewie with whom she develops a quick bond, and she receives intermittent help from the mysterious Lorenzo, seemingly an old man who is very interested in her fate. One by one, the denizens of the estate become Fiona's tormentors and pursuers... Can she escape from this demented nightmare?



On the surface Haunting Ground owes a lot to Clock Tower with its basic setup- a teenage girl alone in a secluded castle, pursued near-relentlessly by an assailant they cannot defeat by normal means- and it's an easy connection to make, given that Capcom teamed up with Sunsoft two years before this game for Clock Tower 3. The execution, in particular when compared to Clock Tower and Clock Tower 2 (released in the West as... Clock Tower), is quite different though, mostly because you have direct control of Fiona rather than relying on a point-and-click interface. As in most games like this, you'll have to explore the castle (roughly split into four areas- the castle, the mansion, the water tower and the final area), using items, switches and contraptions along the way to solve puzzles and, ultimately, face against the tormentor of that area in a final showdown. Fiona doesn't have too many actions but they're enough to get the job done, including running (which slowly wears down her stamina), kicking (not just for defense, as you need it to jolt machines into action or to kick down broken doors), and... Panicking. Obviously, being caught by a pursuer raises your panic, but also things like haunted TVs and checking big spots of blood get Fiona in a state, something reflected wonderfully in visual form- things get blurry, and the colours start to become desaturated- and when her panic peaks, she screams and will run, just barely under your control, until she calms down, with her only dog command available being 'Help!'. Sometimes this speed is useful, but she also takes a lot more damage in this state, so if you're trapped in a corner...

Of course, unlike other horror game protagonists, Fiona has an ally, in the form of Extremely Good Boy Hewie who she rescues from a wire trap early on, soon after tagging along with her. He's a smart dog, and serves as both Fiona's main offensive tool- she can sic him on assailants to stall them, and is also needed for a few event traps that incapacitate them for a while- and a puzzle-solver, as you can command him to sit on switches, reach objects Fiona can't, look for hidden items and fit through small holes to fetch items. On paper this sounds like an absolute nightmare because you're entrusting Fiona's life to an AI playing ball, but fortunately, this works a lot better than you'd expect. Commands to Hewie are mapped to the right analog stick and while you will need to take care of him (please fuss Hewie and feed him treats) for him to trust you, when it comes to puzzles that need him Hewie will know where to sit if you point in the right direction. In combat, at the start of the game he will mostly help out, but treating him right and earning his trust will guarantee he will do as he's told. He's such an integral part of the experience that in the few places where you're forced to go without him, you feel really lonely and even more vulnerable than normal! He's not a crutch by any means- he'll rarely defeat assailants without your help, and relying on him too much will tire him out and run the risk of him being knocked out- but he's absolutely the MVP of this game, and props to Capcom for getting his AI to work as well as it does.



As good as Hewie is, the odds he and Fiona have to face, the assailants, are another integral part of the experience. They're not the only things you have to contend with- Luminessants give your position away and make you panic when touched, and homunculi grab you and hold you in place- but they're absolutely the main attraction in this haunted house ride. The very first time I played the game, I gave up because the chase sequences were a little too intense, and I had no idea where I was going wrong with them, but once you understand how they work, things go a lot smoother. The first thing to understand is that a few of the encounters are scripted in that making progress to a certain point will make them appear, but also some events will make them go away. The game uses this to teach you their mechanics in a relatively safe way- for instance, the first time you encounter Daniella, you can easily outrun her. Once you reach the door you can now open at that point in the game, she'll reappear but quickly be out of the game for a while because she catches her reflection in the mirror- both a chance for you to catch your breath and a clue to help you when she chases you again. The second thing to understand, especially early on, is that hiding is often better than fighting, and as long as you get to a fresh hiding spot early enough, you should be OK... Just always wait until the normal music resumes before leaving, as they can recheck the room. It helps that there's usually clues that they're coming- the ambient music stops, doors you left open are closed and vice versa, and Hewie starts growling in their direction (this is definitely a game that's quite reliant on audio cues, for better or worse- while subtitles are provided, they're only for cutscenes, so players with hearing difficulties are not catered to, sadly).

Once you have a better grasp of Hewie and have more offensive tools at your disposal (Antimony is a throwing item that stuns enemies, Magnesia is a trap they walk on to talk damage) fighting becomes more of an option (and rewards you with goodies) but evading definitely feels like the intended way, and unlike Clock Tower, if you are spotted, it's not a brutal death into instant Game Over- you still have a chance! The main criticism I'd offer in this area is it's pretty rough on new players- getting lost will lead to more encounters, and if you start running out of consumables, your only real choice is to use the game's alchemy rooms (found by ducking into incredibly suspicious-looking holes) and play a slot machine minigame with Medallions found around the estate. There is a knack to the timing, but not only is it finicky and difficult, doing poorly will give you items that decrease Fiona's stamina, gradually make her panic or even make her deaf, or food that reduces Hewie's stamina and friendship level, and you have no idea what does which without finding notes or just trying them. Being unable to solve puzzles or use keys when being chased definitely adds to the game's difficulty when starting out, as does Debilitas himself as he's pretty hardy and takes a lot of punishment for your first assailant, but there are concessions- you can always restore Fiona and Hewie's stamina without the need for items when you're not being chased either by waiting or using sinks, the Debilitas area has a lot of traps you can use that take him out for a while, and the first two times he chases you are basically 'gimmies' which can be ended quickly. Using the tips in our overview should help, so don't give up- you can do it!



The other half of the game is the puzzling, figuring out where to go and what to do when you're not being chased, and for the most part it pulls this off pretty well. There's no awful sliding puzzles, only two box-pushing puzzles (and one of them is in the form of a boss fight) and generally they can be worked out if you study your environment carefully, with only a few examples we'll mention shortly standing out as a bit much. In particular, the game keeps a log of 'comments', observations made by Fiona, that can be accessed from the menu, and a jingle plays whenever a new one is added, so checking these often is critical to figuring out your next objective (one complaint is that the jingle for this is extremely quiet, so it's easy to miss). These puzzles do manage to hit that 'aha!' sweet spot for when you figure them out, but they're not super-easy for the most part. There are a handful of puzzles that do stand out as unfairly baffling without help though. In the Mansion area, at one point you find Daniella stoking a fire, and talking to her makes her attack you and gives her a burning poker weapon... But later on you find her again when she's not chasing you and she gives you an important item for solving a puzzle, with no indication she won't attack you again, so there's no real precedent for this. This does add to the unsettling nature of Daniella, but it could've done without the hot poker bit. There's also a puzzle in the Water Tower that relies on you picking up the only one of three key items on the ground floor that's not bogus, lest you have to go all the way back down to get it again. By far the worst 'puzzle' of the game is the very last thing you do, where you have to stop a statue falling on top of Fiona by Track & Fielding the Circle and Square buttons... Except unlike Resident Evil 4, there are no on-screen prompts for this. Also if you didn't reach the statue fast enough, the final chaser will kill you anyway. You can thank us for spoiling that one later, you're welcome. Those stumbles aside, the puzzling is done pretty well here, with just the right level of ingenuity needed.



So, with all these elements combined, Haunting Ground establishes its main appeal- solid mechanics (with Hewie being a standout) and puzzling with an overwhelming, oppressive atmosphere, one full of mystery without many answers. There are a few moments of real exposition-dumping (mostly related to Riccardo) but for the most part, a lot goes unexplained or not elaborated upon in great detail, and that's actually a plus in a way- it gives the player room to interpret the antagonists in their own way. They all seem misguided in some respect (with the portrayal of Debilitas being the most sympathetic, and there is an argument for Daniella being just misled rather than truly evil... Although after you see the window scene- you'll know what we mean- that's a bit trickier to argue for!) but you're not going to find a diary or a file explaining, in detail, their elaborate back-stories, which makes everything all the more intriguing and sinister. (Admittedly, there was an official website, translated here that went into more detail- only read if you've beaten the game- but in-game, you won't find any of this). The visual and audio presentation for the stalkers adds even more- Daniella's Teminator walk and her robotic theme music, Riccardo muttering to himself as he cradles his gun, and the fact that their theme music speeds up and slows down when appropriate (due to being output by the PS2's on-board soundchip rather than from the CD). As such, Haunting Ground is far less reliant on jumpscares or loud noises to create fear, but instead uses the presentation and intentions of its tormentors to instill dread into the player. The game definitely goes in hard on those intentions being horrid and awful, with some moments that will definitely leave you mouth-agape in horror and disgust, so while it tiptoes on some dark thematic territory, if you ask us it pulls it off pretty well.

On that note, Fiona's portrayal is especially interesting- she's not a superheroine saving the world, she's not rescuing anyone else, and she doesn't care about Azoth, alchemy, or any of the other stuff the pursuers are so obsessed with. She just wants to get out of this place. She has a few quiet moments of sass (mostly towards the player- she'll call you stupid if you try and hide while Daniella's stoking the fire) but other than that, she's fragile and vulnerable in this hostile environment, which definitely comes across when she's confronted directly by her tormentors. The mechanics also mesh with this really well, especially the panic system that does the work both for presenting information and establishing fear as it starts to cloud Fiona and the player's vision when it takes over. The game really makes sure to emphasise the point of Fiona's vulnerability, with each of the pursuers viewing her as something merely to acquire, either stemming from amusement (in the case of Debilitas) or as a means to a greater end (Daniella, Riccardo and the final chaser), and so their lack of empathy leads to some chilling reveals, shocking cutscenes, and a general sense of unease at this situation, to egg the player on into helping Fiona out. Additionally, Fiona's empathy, which the tormentors lack, leads her to Hewie and, in the case of one ending, a really neat little payoff for the player doing the sympathetic thing. It's surprisingly effective, and pulls this sort of thing off far better than, say, Corpse Party: Book of Shadows- like some of the leading ladies in that game, Fiona is fragile, but she doesn't crumple immeadiately without a dude to save her. She's more like Aya from Mad Father- scared but eventually growing enough resolve to overcome the odds. Hewie helps too, of course. (If you'd like a more thorough analysis of these themes in the game, we recommend Stacie Ponder's write-up on Daniella which has spoilers and, of course, we only found after we'd written all this out but before we published it, once again proving that Gaming Hell is the true Slowpoke of video game writing).



The last thing worth a mention is the other element that kept me playing Haunting Ground, one I wasn't expecting- this is actually a really fun game to speedrun! While I enjoy the Resident Evil games, the only one I ever felt like playing again to get a faster time was Resident Evil 2- it's difficult to articulate, but for me at least, the other Resident Evils feel a bit too daunting to effectively speedrun, with so much item shuffling in particular to remember. Haunting Ground is a decently long game, but its structure makes it ideal for seeing how fast you can beat it. Specifically, the way that each area has set points where stalkers will appear and one-use traps such as a loose floor or a bookcase you can push over, a speedrun involves not just planning out where to go and what to do to advance, but also having a strategy to end every encounter as cleanly as possible, and having a contingency plan in mind for when things go wrong or your assailant appears unexpectedly. Each area of the game is shut off from the others too, so there's no backtracking between them, and there's also no item management beyond opting not to pick up items you won't be needing (mostly standard Medallions). When we started the game, we expected to do a few standard runs, but our last few ended up as genuine speedruns! From someone who rarely does this for survival horror games, that's a strong sign of Haunting Ground doing things right.



I think the way to wrap things up here is to elaborate a little on my personal experience with the game- the first time I played Haunting Ground, I bounced off it almost immeadiately, and bounced off it hard. I found the game pretty frustrating because I wasn't getting very far, and honestly found the chase and panic sequences stressful in a way! Going back to it though, I was in a much different frame of mind and found the game a lot easier to click with, especially when I got the basics of using Hewie and found out how best to evade Debilitas early in the game. Strange to think that I could go from writing the game off to liking it so much I wanted to do a sub-3 hour run, eh? It's a little rough starting out, but if you stick with it a little and learn the ropes, Haunting Ground is a tense, disturbing horror game that's effective at what it does with solid mechanics in most of the areas that matter. Definitely one where you need to be in the right mood for it though, and a few of the puzzles are a little head-scratching with little in the way of clues, but this is one we can definitely say is a PS2 horror game absolutely worth trying out today. Sadly, the only rerelease was exclusively for Japanese PSN for use on PS3 with no alterations, but it's well worth tracking down a copy. Do it, please, for Hewie.

For being a survival horror I actually wanted to speedrun, Haunting Ground is awarded...

In a sentence, Haunting Ground is...
The best horror game with a dog in it.



And now, it's that time, folks!
EXTENDED PLAY!





Let's cover the game's extras and unlockables, then, as there's quite a lot.

First, beating the game for the first time with any ending unlocks both Hard Mode and the Secret Room options on the main menu. Hard Mode is, well, as the name suggests, a more difficult experience. We've not spent too much time with it, but the main differences are that the pursuers are considerably more aggressive and use stronger attacks more often, Fiona's stamina seems to drain a lot faster, homunculi start showing up much earlier in the game, and there appear to be no Camomile (full stamina restoration) or Lavender (gradual panic reduction) items to find. At all. To get stamina and panic restored, you either need to use the sinks or create items with Medallions, so good luck with that. Oh, and the pursuers now have different costumes, and the in-game comments come from Hewie's perspective which might make it worth playing by itself, and you'll want to protect him because if he gets knocked out, the game is instantly over. This FAQ over at GameFAQs details the exact differences.



As for the Secret Room, it's an interactive menu with several galleries and extras for you. Specifically, there's a concept art gallery, music player, cutscene viewer, character model viewer, play type listing, costume change box and an additional mini-game, Dog's Best Friend, where you play as Hewie and have to guide Fiona to safety across four different stages. You don't start with everything here, so here's a rough guide to getting all of them:

Unlockable Requirements
Full Art List Beat the game on Hard (any ending)
Full Cutscene List See all four endings (any mode)
Full Music List See all four endings (any mode)
Full Character Model List Beat the game on Hard (Endings A and B only)
Dog's Best Friend Stage 3 Beat Dog's Best Friend Stage 1
Dog's Best Friend Stage 4 Beat Dog's Best Friend Stage 2

As for costumes, there's a few of them for both Fiona and Hewie. First, the requirements:

Unlockable Requirements Attributes Preview
Fiona - Normal A Standard Standard Click
Fiona - Normal B Beat the game (any ending) Standard (worn in the Water Tower normally) Click
Fiona - Under the Scalpel Beat the game (any ending) Standard (worn in the Water Tower normally) Click
Fiona - Texas Cowgirl Beat the game (Ending A) Kick is now a short-range pistol shot Click
Fiona - Illegal in Some States Beat the game (Ending A or B) Kick is now a mid-range whip Click
Fiona - Fiona the Frog Beat the game (Ending C) Backstepping takes up no stamina Click
Hewie - Normal Standard Standard Click
Hewie - German Shepherd Beat the game (any ending) Stronger but less well-behaved Click
Hewie - Stuffed Toy Beat Hard Mode (any ending),
earn Top Breeder or Dog Lover play title
(any run)
Will never faint, can still get tired Click

As you can see, a few of them actually change how the game's played, and Texas Cowgirl in particular is worth discussing. It sounds great- hey, a proper weapon for Fiona, and one that really packs a punch against your pursuers- but it can just as quickly backfire horribly. The windup for firing is long, the range is quite short, it's difficult to shoot pots for items with it, and you can shoot Hewie which drastically lowers his health. He will sometimes jump out the way, mind you, but that's pretty rare. If you can master it, though, it is extremely useful for speedrunning as it will incapacitate assailants easily (either by making them recoil or just knocking them out after enough punishment) so with practice it can become very useful. Illegal in Some States also has an attack that does more damage than the normal kick which may be more helpful if you struggle with Texas Cowgirl. That sure was a sentence I just wrote, huh.

Finally, what happens on a second playthrough? There's no real New Game + but there are some changes on subsequent playthroughs on the same Memory Card. A few new cutscenes are added in near the end of the game, dealing with what happens to Fiona when she's taken to the Water Tower, and the ultimate fate of Riccardo. The alchemy rooms where you use medallions also get two new additions, a plate key machine that accepts codes for extra items that you're supposed to get from particular play style rankings (you can steal them from the internet if you want, though) and a clothes box for changing costume (there's also one in Fiona's room). Finally, meeting the conditions to get the Smudged Key and unlocking the door in the restroom gets you the Metal Boots as normal, but also another item exclusive to a second time around... The Castle Gate Key! This allows you to get Ending C and just leave. Fiona's had enough, clearly. All of this applies to Hard Mode too, so you can unlock Stuffed Toy Hewie really easily by going for Ending C.



Next, there are references to Haunting Ground in other Capcom games! Specifically, two. There are two.



First, Fiona, Hewie, Debilitas and Belli Castle make an appearance in Joe the Condor's ending in Tatsunoko Vs. Capcom: Ultimate All Stars.

In his quest to rid the world of all evil Joe blows up the castle, rescuing Fiona and Hewie in the process.

(That picture comes from the Capcom Database Fiona gallery, so glad someone got this shot!)



The other one is a bit more substantial.

Cammy has a Fiona costume in Street Fighter V, which you had to get through four time-limited Extra Battles in September & December 2018.

On the plus side, if you did get it, holding LP+MP+HP+LK+Up while a match loads changes it to the Texas Cowgirl costume!

... That didn't take long. It's more love than Capcom gave to Clock Tower 3, at any rate.



Finally... A silly little extra.

In the Crypt area (accessible during the Daniella and Riccardo sections), there's a golem you can activate with lettered plates.



And, well, you can make it do this too with the right plate key. SALTATIO.

It works just like using the sinks by restoring your status completely, too!





Now, should you play Haunting Ground yourself, there is one condition we ask you to uphold.

Press R3 near Hewie to make him sit, then press R3 again to make him shake hands.

WHO'S A GOOD BOY? WHO'S A GOOD BOY? HEWIE IS! YES HE IS, HE'S THE BEST BOY!