It’s the last week of October and the online community has spooky on the brain. Like everyone else, I gotta get my seasonal lumps in. And while I’m not the first writer to hit this angle, I haven’t done it yet myself (I think). When it comes to the scariest individual moments in videogames, all the obvious ones come up first. But what about scary or creepy moments in games that aren’t all about scaring players in the first place?
We all know the usual suspects, such as the dogs in Resident Evil or any given moment in Silent Hill 2. There are even the more recent hits like highlights from P.T. or The Evil Within. I’m more interested, today, in games that managed to unsettle me when I wasn’t expecting it at all. From both the past and present (and a layup from a Prima copilot), here are some great instances of scary stories popping up outside of the horror videogame genre.
Five Extremely Creepy Moments in Non-Horror Games
As you may have assumed already, this kind of topic comes with a spoiler warning. Proceed at your own risk!
Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers
Good lord. Usually you wouldn’t expect scary things out of Final Fantasy, even when the material gets dour and heavy. But man, there are two points in Final Fantasy XIV that will live in my head forever. One of them is around when Heavensward is getting started, but that one is eventually eclipsed several times over by Shadowbringers.
We’re introduced to the villains of this storyline in one of the most gruesome scenes of body horror I’ve ever seen from a Square Enix game, and that includes all of Parasite Eve. The way this poor girl’s face contorts, the uh fluids, and the music just loses control of itself, immediately sets the tone for Shadowbringers. Whew.
This is an obvious one, but it’s obvious for a reason. SNES JRPG cult classic EarthBound is an odd duck from the jump, and you get several indications throughout the game that there’s something truly disturbing boiling under the surface. Then you get the entire setup for the final encounter, which involves a group of children literally giving up their bodies to save the day. And then this happens.
EarthBound’s final boss encounter is legendary for how abjectly terrifying it is, especially when you start looking at the final details. There are even urban legends surrounding the inspirations for this scene that help carve the narrative of how deeply unsettling these events are. And all this from an otherwise adorably weird 16-bit JRPG. Sheesh.
Undertale just really has no chill. You’re fully aware there’s some horrible shit hiding away in this world from the beginning, but when it all comes to a head… well, there’s some horrible shit that’s no longer hiding. The menacing little flower you encounter at the game’s start reveals its true form, and it’s like a Butthole Surfers album cover come to life. That sounds silly but it’s a lot less silly when everything about the situation screams of murderous intent.
There are many other moments throughout Undertale that will give you some emotional stress, but in terms of sheer, overwhelming discomfort, this battle is the peak.
No More Heroes 3
This one was contributed by Jesse Vitelli, my partner in crime here at Prima Games. Frankly as much as I loved No More Heroes 3 (read our review!) I totally forgot about this moment until he described it to me. That’s the beauty of topics like this; when someone far less jaded than you reminds you that something you won’t bat an eye at can be just as scary as the deeper measures it takes to get you unsettled.
Channeling very Japanese horror tropes, the kinds you’d see in games like Death Mark or Corpse Party, No More Heroes 3 takes just a few minutes to really mess with you ahead of the more familiar action gameplay. It’s brief, but very effective, as Jesse reminded me.
Donkey Kong Country 2
I headed back to my childhood for this one. The Donkey Kong Country series set me on the path I’m on today, and part of it was how well these games produced vibes. From the uncanny 3D visuals to David Wise’s brilliant, atmospheric music, Donkey Kong Country was like nothing else at its time. So when things got a little spooky in the second game, well, my much younger self was not too keen on it.
I’m talking about the Gloomy Gulch area in Donkey Kong Country 2, specifically the stage Haunted Hall in which when a colossal ghost lizard man is trying to eat you. To a child, Kackle is some seriously unhinged shit, lemme tell you. There’s nothing you can do about this ghoul as it hunts you down; the whole level is on rails and the only way to win is hitting time-extending barrels. So not only is the ghost itself scary, but the immediate and deadly ticking clock adds to the stress. I remember being stuck on that level simply because of how jostled I was at the whole situation.
These are merely five moments of genuine terror in videogames that, at a glance, have nothing to do with horror. But genre is a fluid and sometimes cruel beast. Something that scares you can come out of nowhere, and is perhaps even more impactful when you aren’t expecting it. I mean, there’s a game about partially-clothed monkey children in a territorial feud with lizard pirates on the list. Skies the limit when it comes to videogames.