If your Chinese-Filipino friends haven’t filled you in on the occasion yet, August 19 of this year marks the beginning of the 7th lunar month, which is more commonly referred to as Ghost Month. It’ll last until September 16, and it’s a time for remembering and honoring the dead.
Ghost Month is celebrated across many Asian cultures because of its Buddhist and Taoist origins, and the traditions and superstitions that come with the arrival of Ghost Month vary per country. One of the core beliefs of cultures that practice Ghost Month is that the souls of the dead come to visit the human realm on certain days (and in some cultures, for the whole month). It’s definitely an eerie thought, but it also makes for an appropriate time to scare yourself with some Asian horror.
There’s something about Asian horror movies that make them scarier than their Western counterparts, and for us it might be the familiarity of seeing Asians get haunted by Asian ghosts, rather than white people haunted by white ladies (pun intended). This is why the Asian horror genre translates so well to the video game medium: when you trade out Western characters and settings for ones that feel much closer to home, the resulting game is just much scarier.
If you and the four or five ghosts in your room are looking for an Asian horror fix this Ghost Month, but you’ve already seen everything that Netflix has to offer, here are five Asian horror games for your consideration.
Detention is a 2D side-scrolling horror game from Taiwanese developer Red Candle Games, whose horror elements take from both Taiwanese mythology as well as true historical events. Detention is set in the 1960s during Taiwan’s “White Terror” or martial law period, during which over 100,000 Taiwanese citizens were imprisoned for their opposition to the Chinese Nationalist Party.
In Detention, you play as students Wei Chung-Ting and Fang Ray-Shin who find themselves trapped by a flood in their rural high school. As you navigate your way around Greenwood High School to find a way out, evil creatures begin to appear in the halls to stop you from finding out about the school’s dark past.
Detention’s mix of both real-world and supernatural horrors makes it a thought-provoking and emotional ride, on top of already being hair-raisingly frightening. It’s a horror game that shows the many forms a monster can take, with some of the scariest ones being human rather than ghosts.
If you’re a fan of found-footage horror films like The Blair Witch Project, REC, and Paranormal Activity, you might like Paranormal HK. The game is set in the Kowloon Walled City during the Hungry Ghost Festival (which in real life is set to take place on September 2, 2020). You play as Ah Lok, a member of a small crew entering the walled city to film an episode of their supernatural web series, “Beyond the Invisible”.
Shortly after you and your crew enter the walled city, strange incidents separate you from the other members as well as Kathy, the actress who hosts Beyond the Invisible. As you walk through dark alleys and scary buildings in search of Kathy, you’ll encounter some frightening spirits trying to stop you from getting out.
While the game does make use of a few jump scares to up the ante on its horror, you’ll want to keep your eyes on the screen because of how well-detailed the game’s depiction of the Kowloon Walled City is. The real-life city, which already has enough urban legends to its name, is the perfect setting for a horror game.
The Convenience Store is a short but sweet J-horror game about, you guessed it, working at a convenience store. You play as an unnamed college student who works the graveyard shift at a nearby convenience store, where customers rarely come to visit. The game takes place across four in-game days, and each day you’re given different tasks by your manager and the occasional customer.
For each in-game day, you’ll receive a VHS tape containing cryptic, creepy footage that seems to hint at something more sinister happening behind the convenience store. In order to get the good ending of the game, you’ll need to figure out what the VHS tapes are hinting at and find out who’s sending them. There’s also some crucial decision-making in the game’s fourth and final day.
The Convenience Store makes use of VHS-quality filters to make the game feel like an old Japanese horror movie, and its “bad” graphics serve to enhance the game’s horror factor. It’s a must-play for fans of old J-horror movies and games.
White Day: A Labyrinth Named School is the 2015 remake to the original White Day, a 2001 first-person horror game by Korean developer Sonnori. If it’s Korean horror, you know it’s gonna be scary, and this White Day remake doubles up on the scare factor of its original, with improved graphics and a more detailed interface that won’t break the game’s immersion.
The plot of White Day: A Labyrinth Named School shares similarities with Detention, having you play as a student trapped in a haunted school with your main goal being to find a way out. Where it differs from Detention is its gameplay, which feels more like a Resident Evil game minus the combat. In White Day: A Labyrinth Named School, you progress through the game by solving various puzzles that require you to manage the items in your limited inventory. The game also has no combat mechanics, so you often have to hide and be sure to have health-replenishing items in your inventory whenever you get caught.
White Day: A Labyrinth Named School is a frightening game that demands a lot of exploration and searching around, and its horror is most effective when you’re trying to look for some key items only to be caught off-guard by a ghastly visage. You’re gonna want to play this with the lights on.
Paper Dolls is a series of first-person horror games made by Chinese developer Litchi Game. Due to horror games being banned in China, Litchi Game made the Paper Dolls games into international, English-language releases, but they’re undoubtedly inspired by Chinese horror. The Paper Dolls series is comprised of the original Paper Dolls, its VR version, and the sequel Paper Dolls 2.
In the Paper Dolls games, you’re made to explore an old, haunted mansion with architecture and interior design based on Chinese culture. You take control of Yang Mingyuan, a divorced father who suffers from mental health disorders as he searches for his daughter. The nightmarish setting of the first game and the sequel are made to seem like visions caused by Yang Mingyuan’s failing mental health, but the mansions start to feel real as you hear your daughter crying for help and asking to be found.
Paper Dolls’ gameplay shares similarities with classic horror adventure games, as you’re required to solve environmental puzzles and collect key items in order to seal away the game’s several ghosts. The game’s story unfolds with each puzzle solved, which makes it more immersive as the story is never spoon-fed to the player. If you like piecing together mysteries and exploring dark, ancient environments, you’re going to love the Paper Dolls series.
During Ghost Month, it’s a common superstition among the Filipino-Chinese community to avoid doing anything that might attract bad luck, lest some mischievous spirits decide to have some fun with you. Whether you believe in superstitions or not, it seems that nowadays you’re still better off staying safely at home–there might not be any ghosts, but there’s still a very real virus in the air. If you’re looking for something exciting to do at home, why not check out these Asian horror games?
If you have some other Asian horror game recommendations, feel free to share them with us in the comments! And for more updates on new horror games and releases from indie Asian studios, be sure to stay tuned to our page and social media accounts.
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