Many years ago, I played through the Nintendo DS remake of the original Resident Evil and fell in love with the survival horror genre. What I didn’t know at the time though, was that Resident Evil itself actually began its life as a remake of a Famicom game. That game was Sweet Home. Upon discovering the premise of the game, and finding out that it had existed as an English fan translation since the late 90’s, I set out to find myself a copy. About a week prior to me ordering a loose reproduction cart online, an ad popped up on Kijiji, and I knew that I needed to jump on it.
Sweet Home is probably the most interesting part of my quest so far. A survival horror RPG released in 1989 by Capcom in Japan, the game was never actually released in North America. This is more than likely due to the subject matter. The amount of censorship that would have had to occur to conform with the Nintendo of America content code of the NES days would have been huge. There probably wouldn’t have even been a game left to play.
The game starts with 5 people arriving at the mansion of a great artist, Ichiro Mamiya, with the intention of searching the mansion to photograph and preserve his frescoes (mural painting, for those like myself unfamiliar with the term). However, shortly after arriving, the roof collapses in the entranceway, sealing them inside the mansion, which they soon learn is haunted by the ghost of Ichiro’s departed wife, Lady Mamiya, among other things. This is the extent of the story presented at the start of the game. The rest of story is told via various hidden notes and messages found throughout the mansion. In order to get the full story behind the horrors that occurred many years prior, you need to seek out and photograph as many of the artist’s frescoes as you can.
There are no shortage of great things that I can say about this game. Each of the five characters has a specialty that makes them useful. For instance, one character carries a lighter, which can be used to burn various obstacles blocking your path. Another has a vacuum, which can clear broken glass from the floor, or cobwebs from a fresco. A third character has a skeleton key, extremely useful for getting past those locked doors. The remaining two characters have items with more obvious purposes: a med kit for healing status effects sustained in combat, and a camera for photographing the frescoes.
However, this is where things get interesting. Only three characters can travel together at a time, and each character can only carry two items besides their specialty and their weapon. These two limitations make this game an exercise in party and inventory management right from the get go. Should you pick up that potion because you might run low on health soon? Or should you pick up the rope to get to the fresco in that next room? These are the types of conflict that occur frequently given the limited carry capacity of the characters.
Although the rope in the previous scenario would seem like the easy choice, low health is not to be taken lightly in this game. If one of your party member’s HP reaches 0, there is no using a Phoenix Down or Revive. That character can not be brought back. Death is permanent. If a character dies, you will need to devote one of your precious inventory slots to a replacement item to take care of their special ability. It is possible to finish this game with just two characters out of five remaining. The harsh environment of some mansion rooms can be dangerous as well. In one play though, I had three party members drown in quicksand while my other two party members were in another area of the mansion. Just like that, I was down to two people. Needless to say, I wasn’t able to finish that one.
These aspects of the game make sure that you tread carefully, making sure to keep an eye on character health and position. This careful management, combined with the puzzles of the Mamiya mansion, made for an RPG experience unlike anything that I’d experienced before. The combat was nothing to write home about, with most of it being fairly easy if you take the time to grind a level or two in your travels. The enemy design though, was superb. Each boil covered ghoul and rotting corpse fit in perfectly with the disturbing atmosphere of the game.
All in all, Sweet home is by far my favorite RPG of the era.With 4 different endings (depending on how many characters survive) and so many frescoes to find, the replayability is surprisingly high as well. I’m glad I picked it up.
One final thing about this game that I like: there is a movie adaptation. It can be found on YouTube subtitled in English. I think I’ll save my review of that one for another day though.