Deadly Premonition: The Janus of Games
I thought since Halloween is now way past the yardarm—and I’ll be damned if server issues are gonna stop me from celebrating my favorite holiday—that I’d take a moment to whip out an old favorite and give everyone a good, close look. But since doing that last year got me arrested for indecent exposure, I figure I’ll just do a game review instead. And who better to give us a glimpse of the intensely Irish look at All Hallow’s Eve, which the Celts called Samhain, than the Japanese?
What may seem, and indeed is, a comical statement contains certain hidden truths, much like the holiday itself. Though kiddified, Anglicized, and Christianized over the years, Samhain was originally a harvest festival. The darker half of the year came thanks to what was seen as a door to the Otherworld swinging the other way. Spirits from this world could cross over and vice versa. Anyone who has felt the cold wind on their neck on a dark October evening knows there’s something to this, regardless of how much we don’t wish to admit it.
The mind begins to wander, to contemplate the world in which we live, and to question just how much of our reality we believe is true, is. It feels entirely plausible that things too otherworldly to have names move about on a chilly Halloween night. Like the nameless horrors of Samhain, so too is Japanese culture filled with the supernatural.
Elements of both cultures have over the years infiltrated the American mindset. But surrealism is not one such element. This, to my mind, is thanks to differences in religious development. Modern-day Christianity says monsters and ghosts do not exist. Modern Shintoism and Buddhism do not presume to dictate the limitations of this reality, and so beliefs differ.
In Japan, it’s not that they don’t believe in goblins; it’s just that no one’s sighted one and lived to tell the tale.
This constitutes a subjective view of reality. And it’s very useful for storytelling because the characters don’t spend half the story trying to rationalize or prove that what they’re seeing and experiencing isn’t happening. They work to accept the new paradigm and deal with what obstacles it presents rather than giving in to hysterics and denying the new world around them. Subjectivity equals adaptability equals innovation equals new and entertaining subject matter.
For instance, in Deadly Premonition our hero, the too cool for school roving FBI agent Francis York Morgan, doesn’t question suddenly being attacked by ghosts of men and women ripped back from beyond the pale and twisted into forms antithetical to the natural order of things. He just hauls out his pistol, blazes away, then calmly stops for coffee while his spare suit is being pressed.
Released in 2010 by designer Hidetaka “SWERY” Suehiro, Deadly Premonition actually established a Guinness Record for being the world’s most critically polarizing survival horror-game. On October 16th 2012, SWERY consented to a short interview in which he said his team would be releasing a director’s cut version of the game in preparation for a sequel, hard details to be released in the summer of 2013. A recap and closer examination of this phenomenon is therefore pertinent.
It is no exaggeration to say that Deadly Premonition is the two-faced god of survival horror video games. People love it. People hate it. Some say it’s groundbreaking. Some call it tripe. All we can say for certain is that it’s entirely up to a gamer’s past experiences to determine whether or not they enjoy Deadly Premonition. In light of this polarization issue, it is only fair that the game be reviewed twice: one looking at what the game is, and the other looking at what the game is supposed to be.