This weekend I decided that I’d put it off for long enough: it was time to play イケニエノヨル (Ikenie no Yoru, Night of Sacrifice). You might have heard of this game; it made a bit of a stir when it came out in late 2010 because it uses the Wii Balance Board (!?) and had a pretty neat commercial of a pretty young lady having a complete meltdown while (supposedly) playing it (better video link). I bought the game last summer while visiting Japan, and had intended to play it right away–the inclusion of Wii Balance Board support had my curiosity piqued. But I got busy. I started a new company and made a video game and stuff. I bought a house. During the second half of 2011 I only played a couple of games.
So Saturday I decided that this weekend would be Night of Sacrifice Weekend. What better way to open the New Year than with an obscure Japanese horror game? I got the game out, unwrapped it, and put the disc in the Wii. I changed the batteries on the controller and installed a system update. All I needed was to get out my Wii Balance Board and the fun could begin. I hadn’t used it in a while, but I usually stash it in a shelf below my TV. I opened the shelf door.
No Balance Board.
I keep Guitar Hero controllers and a Dance Dance Revolution mat in another closet, so maybe I had left it there. I took a look.
No Balance Board.
Hmm, ok. Upstairs I have a box full of random controllers, including my Dreamcast keyboard, Seaman 2 PS2 controller (with mic), and DexDrive PS1 memory card reader. The Balance Board had to be there!
No Balance Board.
Now, I tend to pile papers and CDs and stuff wherever there is room, but when it comes to games I am more organized than a synchronized swim team. I’ve got all my games in one spot, sorted by multiple indexes (first by completion status, then by system, then by series and genre). My game systems are all carefully wired, stacked for optimal heat exchange, and split between multiple power supplies. I may not be able to remember what day of the week it is, but when it comes to my game stuff I am a flipping rocket scientist. Everything is stored in a specific place. Drives my wife crazy.
So the idea that the Wii Balance Board was missing was, to put it mildly, shocking and completely unacceptable. I spent a good part of Saturday ransacking my house looking for the damn thing. When I couldn’t find it in the obvious places, I started to look in spots where nobody in their right mind would store a game peripheral, like under my sink and above my refrigerator. Finally I had looked everywhere. Everywhere, that is, except for a pile of boxes marked “Baby Toys” in the garage.
Today, after six months of avoiding it, I cleaned out the garage. Exploded some old IKEA shelves, moved things around, compressed our stuff into a smaller amount of space. It’s good, the garage is nice and clean now, our stuff more accessible. But my real motive, of course, was to locate the Wii Balance Board. My wife finally found it this afternoon at the bottom of a box of baby clothing. Our theory is that the movers put it there when we moved last summer, and therefore we are blameless in its disappearance. The batteries had started to leak acid, and I am struggling to remember the last time I turned the thing on.
With the crisis over, I waited until my daughter was asleep to finally boot up Night of Sacrifice. I’ve only played for an hour or so, and I’ll post more impressions when I’ve sunk my teeth in a little further, but so far it’s awesome. The game mechanics are nothing special, just the same kind of first-person flashlight exploration and one-hit-kill ghosts that seems to be in vogue lately (Calling, Juon, and Nanashi No Geemu all share pretty much the same interface). But the use of the Balance Board completely changes the feeling of the game. You use the Balance Board to walk in the game: you walk in place and your character walks forward at the same rate (you can also play without the Board by hitting a button for each step).
I theorized that this might be an effective agent of horror because walking on it can get your heart rate up, and per the Two Factor Theory, elevated heart rates can make you more susceptible to fear. And it seems to work: the initial hour of Night of Sacrifice is much scarier than it really has any right to be.
The Balance Board also helps the game be scary for another reason: it links your movement directly to the movement of the character in the game. No longer do you just hold down a button or stick to “go forward,” now you’re actually controlling your speed by walking or running in place. It’s a much less precise form of input, but one that feels very natural and authentic. When you see a blueish ghost with black splotches for eyes coming for you, you slam your feet on that board like you’re trying to set a Wii Sports world record. Because movement is no longer a button, everything is more analog; it’s not clear how much speed is required to actually outrun the ghost. This ambiguity in the movement system is extremely tension inducing because the game is no longer simple enough to predict what will happen if you press the right buttons. You are robbed of the knowledge that the enemy can be outrun, and thus are never given a chance to relax.
This could all still go south, but for the moment, I’m pretty impressed. And as a plus, I got my Wii Balance Board back and totally cleaned up my garage. Thanks, Marvelous Entertainment!