Back during the early days of the console wars when the Nintendo64 battled the PlayStation in the arena of Cartridge vs Disc; Sega attempted please its failing market and fan base with their red headed step child the Dreamcast. Though the Dreamcast failed to compete with the newly developed PlayStation, with its lack luster hardware awkward controller and gimmicky memory cards it did however host some fairly unique exclusive titles such as the first truly 3D Sonic games.
One such game was Ill Bleed, one of the first Japanese survival horror games and predecessor to games like Silent Hill and Fatal Frame. Despite the Dreamcast’s poor graphics quality, the clunky controls and the games goofy cartoonish, not quite anime style look, this game has the distinction of achieving something that no other video game, horror movie or haunted house, has ever done; making me crap my pants in fear.
The games story centers on a group of four friends who love horror and decide to visit the Ill Bleed Amusement park, a theme park where the attractions are built around and feature real live serial killers. I am not kidding in probably the worst entertainment idea since reality TV, someone actually built a park and set murders loose in it as a fun family bonding adventure, the insurance rates had to be mind boggling.
Separated and lost you start out as the female lead character and have to find and rescue your three friend which then allows you to switch to one of them if injured or killed. This brings us to the game play, comprised largely of exploration and survival with little to no combat. What little combat there is to be had is of the kind thing you experienced in the Silent Hill series a kin to more panicked failing than actual fighting, leaving you to flee most fights.
The real meat and potatoes are the exploration and horror. Because this is a Japanese game and oddly enough for an early attempt this game does it right by pacing psychological fear with sparse and balanced pop up frights. The game lets the player work themselves up in fear making those pop up scares more effective. You have to be careful though get scared too badly and your character will die of fright.
The game employs a interesting hub system of the 4 senses: sight, smell, hearing, sixth sense. It also incorporates a horror monitor that allows you to check your heart rate and blood pressure. While your senses will alert you to potential “trap scares” that can affect your heart rate, you can defuse them using the horror monitor and preserve your “health”. If you heart rate gets to high from being scared you die of a heart attack. The game does however supply you with items to help restore your characters senses and lower their heart rate, though it does nothing for the player themselves.
The almost haunted house style of game play doesn’t translate as well in Ill Bleed as it did in games like Silent Hill due to its lack of dark atmosphere and cartoon appearance, however the game can still scare the hell out of you once it gets going and it has a rather steep difficulty curve. I literally spent two years just trying to beat the first level before giving up, only coming back to it years later with a complete walk through.
The graphics are rather low quality, even though the Dreamcast used disc due to the advantage of information that could be stored compared to the cartages. However unlike the PlayStation the Dreamcast didn’t have same power but developers still tried to make the most of it. It didn’t help much since the graphics are very pixilated and the character models looking like origami figures with faces drawn on. This was both a pro and con to the game as it distorted and took away from a lot of the gore that the game tries to push, though the tradeoff is that Ill Bleed managed to get a rather low rating allowing it more accessibility to US markets.
Possibly the worst thing in the game was the music, it was terribly cliché horror music with the same 30 second sound bites played over and over to the point of being player abuse, luckily the options menu allowed users to turn off the BGM.
The story is long enough and engaging enough with multiple endings and some rather dark comedy that makes up the few major bad points. I for one had a ton of fun playing it as a kid, so if you have an old Dreamcast and never played Ill Bleed, dust it off pick up a copy and remember to wear a diaper.
If you don’t you can always pick up Dreamcast emulator and Ill Bleed Rom online and experience this survival horror retro classic for yourself.