The year is 1959. You are Kazuo, Akiko, Taro, Asuka, and Emi, a youthful team of five working for a local Japanese media station.
Your mission is to seek out and report on the frescos of the late Japanese artist Ichirou Mamiya which have been preserved inside the artist’s long abandoned manor in the middle of the woods. However, upon entry the ceiling collapses and you are woefully greeted by Lady Mamiya’s hellbent spirit and discover things have gone horribly wrong. From this critical moment you are forced to venture into the dark depths of the seemingly endless abyss.
Each of your team members possess a unique item which include a lighter, first aid kit, camera, vacuum and key to aid you on your journey in solving the riddles of Ichirou’s frescoes. You must use your wits and act with haste to find the frescoes, fight off the deadly monsters within, and escape this place of certain death — or certainly die trying.
This, my friends, is the plot to Capcom’s 1989 cult-classic NES RPG Sweet Home (Sûîto Homu) which was never released in the states by Nintendo, and for good reason. The kid-centric audience would lose their shit upon seeing the gore and violence that is commonplace in this disturbing tale. Famed for being the precursor to Capcom’s legendary Resident Evil series, it single-handedly started the survival horror genre loved by millions of fans worldwide.
The History of the English ROM
It was merely by the good grace of Gaijin Productions and Suicidal Translations that Western gamers were granted an English-translated version in 2000 via internet forums. A true-to-heart effort, the team spent well over a full year painstakingly translating the game from Japanese to English and did not skimp on any of it. The English version is exactly how the game was meant to be played in all of its nightmarish glory.
As reproduction carts became popular in the past five years, skilled fans took to the chore of creating physical cartridge copies playable on actual NES hardware or modern day multi-consoles like the Retron5. Certain versions boast unique labels and cartridges, of which my absolute favorite would have to be Timewalk Games’ blood red version shown below. I devised a plan to sacrifice a Legend of Zelda donor cart and ended up with a golden version from nesreproductions.com. It turned out to be an awesome idea when combined with a custom game case from eBay.
Mechanics and Gameplay
Sweet Home plays like Final Fantasy or Dragon Warrior, which were (and still are) epic RPGs. However, unlike those titles, there are no safe havens to retreat to, no inns to rest in away from battle’s grasp. You rely on tonics to heal your party, which are in limited supply and need to be found. But there is good news: you can save anywhere and revert to your save at any time due to the game’s courteous use of an internal battery (a la Legend of Zelda style). Hint: save well and save often!
The halls of Ichirou’s mansion are filled with traps, puzzles, demons, and mysteries, all of which want you dead, dead, dead. You cannot travel in parties of more than three people, which means you’ll need to split up to discover new rooms, find unique weapons and hunt down clues. You do have an ability called “pray” to help you in combat, which is a kind of powerful magical spell to ward off evil. However, it should be used only when your back is against the wall as it can be depleted quickly.
I should mention here that it was Sweet Home that created the imaginative door-opening scenes so heavily borrowed by the Resident Evil series years later. When you open a locked door, you are greeted with this tense moment of anticipation.
As you wander around, don’t drift off too far from the core group, or you’ll surely be overwhelmed by the creatures that wander the grounds and thirst for your flesh. Stay close, manage your limited inventory skillfully, and you may just make it through this 15-20 hour masterpiece with all five of your party members still alive.
Yup, you read that right. Each member of your group can die, and if they do, they’re gone forever. There’s no phoenix downs or revival spells to be cast here. The characters’ survival is literally in your hands the entire time. It is ultimately your responsibility to see them through to brighter days.
The Sounds of the Haunted Mansion
It goes without saying that sound is crucial for setting a foreboding tone demanded by a game such as this. While certainly not melodic, Sweet Home’s score is incredibly memorable and callously atmospheric. It paints your thoughts with layers of doom and uncertainty which lurks around every corner and corridor. Different areas have different music, which helps to separate the zones of this large environment that is actually one massive abstract level.
I found the battle music to be simply awesome, and the sound effects always felt just right. The sound in Sweet Home never bores and properly stokes the player’s inner fires for survival while building waves of anxiety for the next thrilling encounter. It’s the kind of music that keeps you up at night and won’t let you sleep. Just take a listen:
Graphics That Push The Limits
The graphics in Sweet Home are also quite amazing for the time, and some of the best to be found on the NES. Everything feels extremely detailed and thought out. The palette is dark yet vibrant. The game plays top down while wandering the house and shows a first-person view when in combat. I loved the contrast that this brought to the gameplay, which always felt fresh and fast-paced. Every pixel promised and granted my impending destruction as I sought out the answers.
The Bottom Line
Sweet Home is an absolute beast of a game that needs to be experienced by everyone. I give it a flawless 10 out of 10 and rank it as one of the best games in the NES library, and one of the best games ever made. If you are looking for something truly unique, please do yourself a favor and seek out a copy immediately. I could not recommend it more highly.
On a side note: I’m a HUGE fan of the board game Betrayal At House on The Hill by Bruce Glassco and thus it is no surprise that I have fallen in love with Sweet Home. If you haven’t played that game, check it out as well. It also includes RPG elements with awesome weapons, monsters and enemies to boot and crazy quests happening in a similar haunted house setting. Both are unforgettable in their execution.
And Don’t Forget About The Movie!
The Sweet Home game is based off of the Japanese film that came out in early 1989, almost a year before the game was released. (Yes, it IS a licensed game, believe it or not!) Capcom jumped on the opportunity and ended up making something truly timeless. Who would’ve guessed???
While critics have said it is not nearly as good as the game, it is definitely worth a watch. But I highly recommend holding off and playing the game first if you can manage it because the movie gives away a lot of the best parts. IMO the game does a superior job in telling the twisted story, similar to how books are usually much better than their film counterparts.
Regardless, here’s a YouTube playlist of the Japanese movie presented in five parts with English subtitles. Kick back on your favorite sofa, invite your buddies over and bust out the popcorn because shit is about to go down.
To life and the living,