The MoeGamer Awards are a series of “alternative” awards that I’ve devised in collaboration with the community as an excuse to celebrate the games, experiences and fanbases that have left a particular impression on me in 2018. Find out more and leave a suggestion here!
Our first award is a celebration of that most primal of human emotions: fear. Specifically, it highlights a piece of master craftsmanship on the part of a game’s designers in evoking that feeling in the player with nothing more than a simple room. When everything comes together — visual style, environmental design, ambient sound — you don’t need anything to jump out and go “boo” at you to put you on edge, and such experiences tend to linger in the imagination for a lot longer, too.
And the winner is…
Room with Canopied Bed (Project Zero: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse)
Room with Canopied Bed is the single most unpleasant environment in which I have ever found myself in a video game. And I’ve played a lot of video games, many of which feature violent or disturbing content. But Room with Canopied Bed is on a whole other level when it comes to being unsettling.
Everything about it is designed to set you on edge — even the way you get into it. In order to reach it, you have to pass through Room 207 in Rougetsu Hall, which in itself is a pretty unpleasant locale — more on that in a moment — but then you have to go through a tiny door in the back wall that requires an adult (and probably even a child) to crouch down and crawl through.
Room 207 belonged to a patient of the disease at the core of Mask of the Lunar Eclipse’s narrative, Luna Sedata Syndrome. Her name was Ayako, and she was in attendance at Rougetsu Hall — set up as a place in which treatments could be devised for the strange condition — at the same time as the main protagonists.
Early in the game, Ayako is set up to be a seriously frightening individual despite her tender years; you don’t actually learn who the “main” antagonist in Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is for certain until its latter hours, so you’d be forgiven for wondering if it might be Ayako for at least a few hours.
Not a lot is revealed about Ayako; some believe her to be the product of an incestuous union between major characters Sakuya and You Haibara, though no concrete evidence has been found of this. This, of course, isn’t unusual for a series whose creators are rather proud of the fact that they’ve deliberately littered its later installments with “red herrings” that the player is expected to interpret for themselves — but it’s a plausible theory.
Ayako was set up to be frightening. She came into the hospital and was clearly given “special” treatment despite having obviously severe mental symptoms as a result of the onset of Luna Sedata. She was very much a textbook psychopath, enjoying inflicting pain and suffering on others, both physically and emotionally. She is depicted pushing a young version of main character Madoka down the stairs in one of the ghostly “echoes” you can witness, and we learn that this was by no means an isolated incident. At one point she even apparently cut the head off Madoka’s pet canary with a pair of scissors, though thankfully we don’t actually witness this.
Ayako’s room, room 207, is a reflection of Ayako’s instability and her desire to “play” with her victims. There’s constant auditory and visual noise in there, and the room is littered with dismembered dolls; there are even doll arms hanging from the ceiling, and with Mask of the Lunar Eclipse’s deliberately muddy graphics — a mainstay of Japanese horror games — you can’t quite be sure at first glance if they once belonged to humans or mannequins.
We later learn that Room with Canopied Bed is Ayako’s other room, which she escaped to as she found herself “Blooming” — the final stage of Luna Sedata Syndrome, which inevitably results in death. There, she waited, afraid, for someone to come and help her — but no-one came, and she died. As such, the atmosphere in there is completely different to her “main” room in almost every way.
It’s dark rather than bright. What little light there is consists of cold blues rather than the warm oranges of Room 207. It’s small and cramped rather than large and spacious. It’s simple and unadorned rather than lavishly decorated and cluttered. And, most importantly, it’s almost completely silent. Almost completely silent. Here, listen. Caution: nightmares.
The only sound you can hear in Room with Canopied Bed is Ayako dying. But she never finds that final release; the sound never ends. All you hear is this constant weak sound of laboured breathing and soft gurgling; the sound of someone near death and in intense pain, but too exhausted to be able to cry out for help — or just to express their emotions. It’s heartbreaking and horrifying, and it just makes you want to get out of that place as soon as you possibly can.
The design of the environment further complements the unsettling nature of this room. Besides the half-height door through which you enter from Room 207, the main feature of Room with Canopied Bed is, as you might expect, a canopied bed. When you first encounter this room, the curtains on the bed are closed and you cannot see in; you can just hear that terrible sound, over and over. Later in the game, the curtains open, but you’re still not able to reach in and investigate; the whole thing is surrounded by red thread wound around the posts of the bed over and over.
Why is this? You’re never given a straight answer in Mask of the Lunar Eclipse itself, but red thread in East Asian mythology is typically regarded as a symbol of fate. It’s most commonly seen as an invisible, metaphorical symbol of people who are destined to meet, usually tied around the ankles or little fingers. Perhaps in Ayako’s case it’s symbolic of how she was “destined” to die there, or perhaps the protagonists’ discovery of it symbolises how, by breaking the game’s central curse, they will eventually bring her restless spirit final rest and peace.
Room with Canopied Bed is an absolute masterpiece of horrific environmental design, and just one of many strange and wonderful things about Mask of the Lunar Eclipse. That’s why I wanted to celebrate it with this award.
More about the Project Zero series
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