Recent Articles

The History of Haunting Ground


Back in the 2000s, the survival horror genre was a mainstay in the gaming industry, and one that several developers sought to pursue. It’s noteworthy that this has resulted in the emergence of interesting concepts and revolutionary mechanics. For instance, titles such as the classic Alone in the Dark have laid the ground to what would be perfected by Capcom’s Resident Evil 4, the tank controls.

Among other groundbreaking survival horror titles that comes to mind are:  Forbidden Siren, Fatal Frame, and The Suffering. What makes these titles worth mentioning is the fact that, instead of following the mob, they introduced a couple of interesting features that are still not picked up to this day. For example, Forbidden Siren included a psychic power known as “sight jack “. Basically, what this ability does is granting the player the power to see and hear what a nearby enemy or human sees and hears.

Fatal Frame and The Suffering are great games too. The first game features a girl holding a camera that can purge wicked ghosts, and the other one puts you in the shoes of a prisoner trying to survive hell inside prison. However, of course, these titles were pretty known in the survival horror community when they were first released, except for one game, Haunting Ground.

Haunting Ground (Demento in Japan) is a survival horror title that uses assets from Resident Evil 4. But instead of following the formula, it ditches it to bring the player a unique experience that you, unfortunately, won’t find elsewhere. Despite Haunting Ground being a superb survival horror game, with amazing soundtrack design, impressive graphics, and an engaging atmosphere, it failed to capture an audience of its own. Hence, it received the same fate as Clock Tower 3. Today, we are taking a look at the history of Haunting Ground. A forgotten masterpiece by Capcom. 

From Clock Tower 4, To Something Else

At the time, it happened that Capcom was working on three Resident Evil 4 versions before settling with the last vision. The initial version known as “the castle” went through several phases before the developers realized that the project was technically tasking for both the PlayStation 2 and GameCube. But what’s surprising is that, according to an interview with RE3 writer Yasuhisa Kawamura by Project Umbrella, the castle version would have included a girl who awakens in a castle accompanied by a B.O.W dog companion. He speaks:

I wanted to make biohazard 4 scarier and suggested using a particular scene from the film "The Lost Souls", where the main character (played by Winona Ryder), while washing her hands in a bathroom, suddenly finds herself in a derelict building with a killer on the loose. An arranged version of this idea eventually turned into Hookman.

Leon infiltrates the castle of Oswell E. Spencer seeking the truth, while inside a laboratory located deep within, a young girl wakes up. Accompanied by a B.O.W. dog, the two start to make their way up the castle... Unfortunately, there were many obstacles that needed to be overcome and the cost of development was deemed too expensive.

In the end, what ended up becoming biohazard 4 was the best idea out of all of them

(Image source: Resident Evil Plus)

After the castle version was scrapped, Noboru Sugimura, who happened to have been working on a script of the castle version, offered his draft to Production Studio 1, and so the work on Haunting Ground began.

Before passing away back in February 25, 2005, Noboru Sugimura left behind plenty of lessons and skills for others to adopt in order to move forward. Thanks to his draft, the developers managed to bring Haunting Ground from nothing to something.

When Clock Tower 3 turned out to be a commercial failure, Capcom couldn’t accept the bitter defeat and so work on a new project has began. Initially, the plan was to give Clock Tower a second shot, but that quickly changed.

The developers knew they wanted their next game to feature a capable female as the lead protagonist in the style of Clock Tower franchise, and Trapt (Kagero). Developers also knew that if the game resembled Clock Tower 3 excessively, it may not end up aligning with people expectations, or it may end up being accused of being a mere clone. Hence, a dog companion was introduced to help her attack enemies and solve puzzles together. This idea of cooperation results in creating a bond between these two throughout the course of the game.

The whole concept of Demento is built around getting used to the dog, praising, commanding, and building a strong bond. In an interview conducted by Gamespot with Tatsuya Minami, he talks about it in further details. He says:

(NOTE: the interview was edited since the original translation was confusing, so I fixed it for clarification. Feel free to check the original at the end of the article)

I wanted to create an action survival horror game starring a female character. Of course, she can't perform attacks. So, in order to add the ability to execute attacks or any different kind of action, we decided for her to have a companion dog. This not only fit with our vision but also give us an opportunity to integrate cooperation into the game’s progression.

Our plan was to give the player the complete control over the dog. The player can give orders to the dog like to sit, look for clues, or defend. Upon completion, this plan of ours turned out to be a good decision for the game after all!

The dog is not familiar with the player in the beginning. You as a player has to tame him. At first, the dog won't listen to your commands all the time using the buttons. So, by scolding the dog, you teach him to obey the commands. On the other hand, if the dog proves to be loyal, you can praise it. These situations bring the dog closer to you and it creates a bond between the character and her companion.

This kind of situation will work on your favor, especially when chased by an enemy. The dog will protect you by attacking your foes. Moreover, other things the dog can do is that they can go through a hole, find something the player can't normally reach, or help the player solve puzzles together.

The dog is a helpful companion that will really help you a lot in the game. This gameplay system kind of differentiate Demento from other survival horror titles since you have your own character, but you also have a dog as your right hand.

Fear, Predicament, and Hopelessness

It all begins when an 18-year-old college girl named Fiona awakens in a cage in the middle of an eerie castle. Clueless, with foggy memories, she marches out of the cage to explore the area hoping to find answers.

The castle is ominous and massive; Fiona (or the player) can’t help but wonder if anybody is watching her every step. The further she explores, the more she realizes that she’s not alone. Someone is out there.

"Um. Excuse me, but where are we. And how did I get here?" As she steps outside the basement, she feels cold and alone until Daniella shows up to give Fiona some clothes. At first, Daniella is depicted as this silent maiden whose sole purpose is to serve her miss, but as the player progresses, you realizes that everyone in the castle is insane, and their goal? To hunt down Fiona.

Fear, predicament and hopelessness when Fiona encounters Debillitas, an enemy similar to Clock Tower 3’s Scissorman. Both of these maniacs know how to evoke fear into the hearts of players. And the only solution? To hide. Debilitas is not someone to joke with, and despite his size, he knows how to catch up with you quickly. Luckily, you can easily fool him using silly tricks.

When it feels like Fiona is all alone in her dilemma, she encounters a Shepard dog called Hewie. Hewie is a good boy from the moment players lay their eyes on him. He proves to be a worthy companion along your journey, protecting you, and helping you look for clues. But most importantly, you create a bond with him that has greater effects on the game’s ending.

Fiona is pretty helpless without Hewie. Most of the time when I was absorbed in my exploration of the castle, I’d hear him bark or growling. Of course, for starters, they’ll just ignore the signals, but Hewie is actually warning you that someone is headed your way, and that you should be prepared.

Haunting Ground, A Project Ahead of Its Time
An aspirant project that was perhaps released too late. Yet, after its release, it left a glaring mark that is not yet matched to this day. Basically, what Haunting Ground did was sticking with the survival horror roots instead of bringing innovation like Resident Evil 4 did. While it’s true Capcom’s RE4 brought the survival horror genre to new heights, it alienated the feeling of fear, and instead, it focused entirely on making the player a powerful soldier rather than a helpless one.

Sticking with the traditional survival horror philosophy was a positive boon for Demento. But quite sadly, it was released at a time where the new generation of consoles was on its way, and the survival horror community demanded innovation and for the games to look better, control better and to feel better.

Haunting Ground was actually an ambitious project due to the immense effort that went into crafting it. Naoto Takenaka took the helm of directing the in-game cinematics. He also supervised the motion capture performance for every character while placing greater emphasis on dramatic execution. To bring the best he could at the time, Naoto Takenaka borrowed several influences from several Western movies such as Dracula as portrayed by Bela Lugosi and Frankenstein which was originally written by Mary Shelley. 

(Image Source: Haunting Ground Fandom)

Similar to Ă”kami, the number of talented figures that were involved in the making of Haunting Ground is worthy of praise, including: Yukio Ando as the game designer, Koji Nakajima as the producer, Seiko Kobuchi, Hideaki Utsumi and Shinya Okada as the game’s soundtrack composer. And finally, Makoto Ikehara as the scenario writer while Noboru Sugimura being credited for his draft that brought Haunting Ground to life.

You’d think that immense effort would bring fruitful results, but sadly that wasn’t the case. Demento was greeted with countless criticism from every corner. Critics and gamers were hasty at comparing it to Clock Tower 3. Despite the developers trying to make the gameplay diverse and engaging, the game couldn’t flee from being criticized as a repetitive title. Moreover, it was a moot that brought heated discussion that pointed fingers at the implementation of sexual themes surrounding the objectification of Fiona along with criticizing the perverted male characters in the game whose whole aim is to own Fiona.

Haunting Ground was an ambitious project for its time, but came too late. Greeted by an inhospitable audience that was injected by Resident Evil’s 4 success. There was no room for an actual survival horror starring a helpless character. No room for the traditional survival horror formula to shine again because, after all, the generation deemed that outdated the moment RE4 came out.

What Inspired Haunting Ground?

Hunting down what inspired Haunting Ground can be a rough mission considering how obscure the title is. Anything that I’m going to talk about below should be taken with a grain of salt. However, a couple of movies were stated by the fandom community as being influential on the game’s overall plot and atmosphere.

The great influence of Dario Argento
The developers of Clock Tower and Haunting Ground pay huge respect to Dario Argento due to his influential works. Similar to H.P Lovecraft, Clive Barker, Stephan King, and Mary Shelley, Argento’s works continues to cast a spark of impact. Not only in cinema, but also in video games.

Clock Tower is one of those victims that borrowed plenty of influence from Dario Argento. In an interview by with Hifumi Kono, he explains it in a short paragraph. He speaks:

The direct inspiration is Phenomena, a film by Italian director Dario Argento. Y’know, back then, there were a lot of game characters that conspicuously resembled characters from famous films. I must apologize to Mr. Argento, because I did exactly that!

And since Haunting Ground borrows elements from Clock Tower, we can deduce that the developers may have borrowed some influence from there as well. I believe that Suspiria might have played a role as well in shaping Haunting Ground and several titles.

Alone in the Dark and the bastion of inspiration

The title that single-handedly paved the way to what we know as survival horror before Resident Evil did. Clock Tower and Resident Evil developers admit that Alone in the Dark had a massive role in influencing the look of their games. For instance, Shinji Mikami admits it one of his interviews with Gamespot. He speaks:

That was when we took a look at Alone in the Dark. The environments were pre-rendered, and the characters and such were in real-time 3D. It seemed like that approach would allow us to create the game that we wanted

Hifumi Kono, Clock Tower’s creator, admits it as well in one of his interviews when asked about his primary inspiration when developing the title. He says:

I’d have to say my biggest inspiration was Alone in the Dark.

But the question you’re pretty much wondering right now is “why am I mentioning these titles rather than sticking with Haunting Ground”. The answer is simple: Haunting Ground borrowed many scrapped assets from Resident Evil 4, and it’s apparent throughout the entire game. For instance, the castle architecture resembles that of Resident Evil 4. Not only that, but also the herbs Leon uses are pretty similar to Mundus, Torva and Sedetio.

The Future, Is it Really Bleak?

With the success Capcom has been garnering lately with their recent titles, you would think Capcom would finally have the balls to revive a couple of their dead franchises, but sadly that’s not the case. Capcom have no plans of remastering Haunting Ground anytime soon.

However, the release of Clock Tower has contributed in the emergence of plenty of pretenders that attempted to mimic the formula. Most of these games were developed by small indie creators who perhaps wanted to create something that could fill the void they felt when finishing the Clock Tower franchise. Such games that come to mind are: Lone Survivor, House of Velez, and Clea.

The absence of a true spiritual successor has played a tremendous role at nudging the original Clock Tower creator, Hifumi Kono, to develop something worthy of being titled a “spiritual successor “to Clock Tower. In March 29, 2016, Nude Maker, would release NightCry, the game that would shackle the Clock Tower community upon its arrival. This would be the last time we hear about anything related to Clock Tower. However, we can only hope that these types of games would make a return to the scene and hence push Capcom to re-consider bringing back some of their classics, including, of course, Haunting Ground.

I hope you liked this article. There will be more stuff like this in the upcoming weeks, so make sure to read it when it's ready. Thank you.


  1. I personally appreciate the time and effort you took into putting it all together. Thank you for providing this information.

    1. Thank you for reading, kind user. I hope you found it interesting and helpful in any way!


Post a Comment