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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Nintendo Wii’s ‘Ju-On: The Grudge’ Video Game 15 Years Later

There was a moment in Japanese culture when writers and filmmakers began to update centuries-old fears so that they could still be effective storytelling tools in the modern world. One of the best examples of this is how extremely popular stories like Ringu and Parasite Eve began re-interpreting the cyclical nature of curses as pseudo-scientific “infections,” with this new take on J-Horror even making its way over to the world of video games in titles like Resident Evil (a sci-fi deconstruction of a classic haunted house yarn).

However, there is one survival horror game that is rarely brought up during discussions about interactive J-Horror despite being part of a franchise that helped to popularize Japanese genre cinema around the world. Naturally, that game is the Nintendo Wii exclusive Ju-On: The Grudge, a self-professed haunted house simulator that was mostly forgotten by horror fans and gamers alike despite being a legitimately creative experience devised by a true master of the craft. And with the title celebrating its 15th anniversary this year (and the Ju-On franchise its 25th), I think this is the perfect time to look back on what I believe to be an unfairly maligned J-Horror gem.

After dozens of sequels, spin-offs and crossovers, it’s hard to believe that the Ju-On franchise originally began as a pair of low-budget short films directed by Takashi Shimizu while he was still in film school. However, these humble origins are precisely why Shimizu remained dead-set on retaining creative control of his cinematic brainchild for as long as he could, with the filmmaker even going so far as to insist on directing the video game adaptation of his work alongside Feelplus’ Daisuke Fukugawa as a part of Ju-On’s 10th anniversary celebration.

Rather than forcing the franchise’s core concepts into a pre-existing survival-horror mold like some other licensed horror titles (such as the oddly action-packed Blair Witch trilogy), the developers decided that their game should be a “haunted house simulator” instead, with the team focusing more on slow-paced cinematic scares than the action-adventure elements that were popular at the time.

While there are rumors that this decision was reached due to Shimizu’s lack of industry experience (as well as the source material’s lack of shootable monsters like zombies and demons), several interviews suggest that Shimizu’s role during development wasn’t as megalomaniacal as the marketing initially suggested. In fact, the filmmaker’s input was mostly relegated to coming up with basic story ideas and advising the team on cut-scenes and how the antagonists should look and act. He also directed the game’s excellent live-action cut-scenes, which add even more legitimacy to the project.

Nintendo Wii Ju-On video game

The end result was a digital gauntlet of interactive jump-scares that put players in the shoes of the ill-fated Yamada family as they each explore different abandoned locations inspired by classic horror tropes (ranging from haunted hospitals to a mannequin factory and even the iconic Saeki house) in order to put an end to the titular curse that haunts them.

In gameplay terms, this means navigating five chapters of poorly lit haunts in first person while using the Wii-mote as a flashlight to fend off a series of increasingly spooky jump-scares through Dragon’s-Lair-like quick-time events – all the while collecting items, managing battery life and solving a few easy puzzles. There also some bizarre yet highly creative gameplay additions like a “multiplayer” mode where a second Wii-mote can activate additional scares as the other player attempts to complete the game.

When it works, the title immerses players in a dark and dingy world of generational curses and ghostly apparitions, with hand-crafted jump-scares testing your resolve as the game attempts to emulate the experience of actually living through the twists and turns of a classic Ju-On flick – complete with sickly black hair sprouting in unlikely places and disembodied heads watching you from inside of cupboards.

The title also borrows the narrative puzzle elements from the movies, forcing players to juggle multiple timelines and intentionally obtuse clues in order to piece together exactly what’s happening to the Yamada family (though you’ll likely only fully understand the story once you find all of the game’s well-hidden collectables). While I admit that this overly convoluted storytelling approach isn’t for everyone and likely sparked some of the game’s scathing reviews, I appreciate how the title refuses to look down on gamers and provides us with a complex narrative that fits right in with its cinematic peers.

Unfortunately, the experience is held back by some severe technical issues due to the decision to measure player movement through the Wii’s extremely inaccurate accelerometer rather than its infrared functionality (probably because the developers wanted to measure micro-movements in order to calculate how “scared” you were while playing). This means that you’ll often succumb to unfair deaths despite moving the controller in the right direction, which is a pretty big flaw when you consider that this is the title’s main gameplay mechanic.

Ju-on The Grudge Haunted House Simulator 2

In 2024, these issues can easily be mitigated by emulating the game on a computer, which I’d argue is the best way to experience the title (though I won’t go into detail about this due to Nintendo’s infamously ravenous legal team). However, no amount of post-release tinkering can undo the damage that this broken mechanic did on the game’s reputation.

That being said, I think it’s pretty clear that Shimizu and company intended this to be a difficult ordeal, with the slow pace and frequent deaths meant to guide players into experiencing the title as more of a grisly interactive movie than a regular video game. It’s either that or Shimizu took his original premise about the “Grudge” being born from violent deaths a little too seriously and wanted to see if the curse also worked on gamers inhabiting a virtual realm.

Regardless, once you accept that the odd gameplay loop and janky controls are simply part of the horror experience, it becomes a lot easier to accept the title’s mechanical failings. After all, this wouldn’t be much a Ju-On adaptation if you could completely avoid the scares through skill alone, though I don’t think there’s an excuse for the lack of checkpoints (which is another point for emulation).

It’s difficult to recommend Ju-On: The Grudge as a product; the controls and story seem hell-bent on frustrating the player into giving up entirely and it’s unlikely that you’ll unlock the final – not to mention best – level without a guide to the collectables. However, video games are more than just toys to be measured by their entertainment factor, and if you consider the thought and care that went into crafting the game’s chilling atmosphere and its beautifully orchestrated frights, I think you’ll find that this is a fascinating experience worth revisiting as an unfairly forgotten part of the Ju-On series.

Now all we have to do is chat with Nintendo so we can play this one again without resorting to emulation.

The post Nintendo Wii’s ‘Ju-On: The Grudge’ Video Game 15 Years Later appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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Got any friends who might like this scary horror stuff? GO AHEAD AND SHARE, SHARE!

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