By Joseph "Skull Vault" Walter
But those games had little to no effect on me. No, when I think of the scariest video game I can imagine, one that terrified me to my core and still sends a shiver down my spine to this very day, I think of Castlevania: Lament of Innocence.
Yes, that one...
When this game came out, I was in sixth grade. By no means an adult, but by no means a child. I had fallen in love with the Castlevania series, despite having only limited access to it (mainly through the still-super-scary Legacy of Darkness and the original two NES classics), and with no PS2 in hand, I had to rely upon my best friend, Michael, to acquire it. And he did.
Before getting to the meat of this particular tale, it's necessary to talk a little bit about the game.
Aside from the N64 entries, this was the first real jump into 3D for the series, and, to its credit, it was fairly admirably done. Though simple, it managed to take the Metroidvania basics and translate them to a 3D space, even though they were severely watered down. Perhaps more impressive was the exciting combat, which deftly used combos (nearly all of which had a purpose), sub-weapons, magic, and combinations of all the above to create some great sequences. It's also a pretty dopey "origin" story for the Belmont's and Dracula, but I'd take Lords of Shadow's version any day of the week.
That said, the most impressive element of LOI was its atmosphere. It was absolutely drenched in atmosphere, and that is what makes it worth playing to this very day.
Despite every section of the Castle being repetitious with constantly reused rooms and assets, the detail and general design of each section is remarkable to behold. The lighting is just right, the music is just moody enough, and the architecture is both ghastly and stunning simultaneously. You really felt drawn into the many antechambers and corridors of Walter Bernhard's castle, and it was the sense of oppressive immersion and atmosphere that instilled the first sparks of fear into Michael and myself.
Then there were the names of the levels. Some were benign like "The Ghostly Theatre," while others were definitely not.
The House of Sacred Remains. The Prison of Eternal Torture. The Dark Palace of Waterfalls. Anti-Soul Mysteries Lab.
"Anti-Soul mysteries..." Anti-Soul mysteries?! What are they doing in there!? Trying to figure out the great mysteries of eliminating souls entirely!?!?!? (this is much scarier to consider if you went to Catholic school all your life, trust me.)
For kids with very active imaginations, these creepy names dug their claws into us and started to pollute our minds.
Then came the most terrifying element of all, and it was a secret that we wouldn't understand for nearly a decade.
Bravely, we entered.
Immediately, strange sounds emanated through the stairwell we found ourselves in. Down we went. Further and further downwards, using a spiral staircase that seemed like it would never end, the sounds of growling, groaning and scraping becoming louder and more present.
Finally, we reached the bottom... and our breaking point.
And that's when we saw it.
Greatly obscured by the otherwise-solid floor, and the intentionally-poor camera angle, we saw what looked like a giant, wound-covered, flesh-colored worm writhing rhythmically.
We had no idea what this was. In fact, we thought it had no purpose. For all we knew, it was put down here for no other reason than to be extremely ominous and scare kids like us.
We turned the game off and were eternally messed up.
Like a severely traumatic experience, the game became inexplicably bound to us. We'd often discuss that moment, and I would play music from the game outside my house on Halloween, perhaps subconsciously hoping to inflict the same fear I had long harbored on innocent trick-or-treaters.
The weird obsession, overall misunderstanding of the game, and foggy memories of our fearful exploits even lead to incredibly strange shared hallucinations, where we both swore we had discovered some deeply secret level called "The Garden of Silenced Newborns," where the flowers on the bushes were crying baby faces.
Yet this place never existed.
Years and years later, we would discover that what we saw was no worm, but the horned head of an extremely difficult hidden boss called The Forgotten One.
We have never faced off against it... until now.
With the game and a PS2 in my collection, I intend to face my fears by October 31st, eliminating the dreaded Forgotten One and having this long-held fear come full circle.
I just pray that, during this fateful quest, I don't discover that the Garden of Silenced Newborns was a real place all along.
Author's Note: by the time this article was published, the Forgotten One, and its endless nightmares, was finally slain by my own hands. A great saga has ended.