Republished on Monday, 31st October 2016: We're bringing this article back from the archives to celebrate Hallowe'en today. The original text follows.
Originally published on Tuesday, 28th October 2014: Final Fantasy VII isn't your archetypal horror game – far from it – but it does include one of the darkest stories of any title belonging to the long-running series. There are a number of disturbing moments found throughout the game, but what follows are a particular few that deeply upset my younger self. Despite the game being 17 years old, it goes without saying that thar be spoilers below.
First up is 'that' flashback where Sephiroth goes all 'Sephiroth' and burns down Tifa's childhood town, Nibelheim. Now, not only is this deeply disturbing from the standpoint that you'd previously visited the picturesque town to innocently frolic with your childhood sweetheart, but also because the silver-haired menace just had to go to that creepy reactor and show off his even creepier crystal-soldier brothers and his veiny-arse mother, Jenova.
Next is Shinra HQ. Shortly after being captured by the evil forces of Shinra, and incarcerated along with your party, everyone has a nice little nap while being blissfully unaware that Sephiroth is going all 'Sephiroth' again on just about everyone else in the building. Awaking bleary-eyed, I was horrified to discover the trails of blood and bodies that now decorated the corridors of the tower. I'll never forget gingerly making my way through the halls with ominous music pounding, and only gurgling, blood-soaked foes for company, before ascending to the top of the structure, where Sephiroth engaged in a bit more stabby plot progression with an important businessman. Lush.
As should already be clear, I'm no good with horror games – even titles that engage in periods of 'subtle tension' are enough to give me sleepless nights – so when Nanaki (Red XIII) decided to explore his past in the subterranean caverns of Cosmo Canyon, I knew something was up – and up something most definitely was. You see the Gi Tribe haunt these caverns – naturally – so while listening to terrifying melodies, dodging traps, and trying to avoid causing scary images to flash up on the screen, I must've aged about ten years in an hour.
Even worse than that was that in my youthful foolishness I couldn't work out where to go or what to do, so I was stuck wandering around this horrifying hellhole for hours. I did, however, manage to find a way to cope with the terror, in Sean Paul's Get Busy. Yes, the incoherently mumbling music man's latest track was receiving a fair amount of radio play during my playthrough, and while you might assume that it would make a bad situation even worse, it actually helped.
Looking back, my final memory is totally absurd, but the one that most affected my growth not only as a human being, but also as a player of games. Now, the music-savvy amongst you will know that Sean Paul's Get Busy was released in 2002, the year that I first played through FFVII. However, I did actually attempt to play it a couple of years earlier, but I didn't make it very far.
As a child, one might have described me as 'emotionally brittle', and so, dead excited at the prospect of playing this second-hand copy of a weird-looking JRPG, I had made my way to my friend's house for a sleepover. Anything that wasn't Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 was alien and frightening to me, so as we began the game and the opening cut scene started, I freaked out. Do you want to know how far I made it in the end? The bit where Aeris was looking at the glowing flowers.
I've recently gone back and re-watched the intro cutscene, and, you know, it is actually rather discomforting at the start. But I was so fragile, and found the scene so unnerving, that I only managed to make it 56 seconds into the game that would define my game-playing career, before putting it on the shelf for two entire years.
Ultimately, I'm thrilled that I had the stones to go back to it, as there isn't a day that passes where I regret not enduring the horrifying opening sequence. I'd like to think that I've matured a fair bit in the last 14 years – hell, it only took me two years to mentally prepare for scary basilisks, the idea of cross-species mating, and that whole 'Aeris dying' thing – but if Square Enix finally pull their fingers out and give the fans what they want, who knows, the shiny new PlayStation 4-quality opening scene may put me off for another decade.
Have you ever been frightened by a non-horror game, and why? Act all mysterious in the comments section below.