You needn't look only in the direction of survival horror, first-person shooters, or jump-scare thrill rides to send shivers down your spine. In fact, some of the most terrifying moments you'll have ever faced can be sought out in the place you'd least expect them: visual novels. The unacquainted seem the genre as a repository for saccharine boy-meets-girl-and-date's-girl's-best-friend love triangles or perverted paradises of bunny girls and innocent lolitas, but it's actually rife with satisfying and mature horror stories that deserve far more exposure than they receive in the small communities of visual novel enthusiasts out there.
Next time you're looking fora proper scare, you might consider one of these fantastically creepy tales to get you in the habit of walking down every dark hall in your house with a flashlight.
1. Saya no Uta
Saya no Uta is the ultimate exercise in Lovecraftian horror you can find, save for actually sitting down with some of Lovecraft's works or perhaps playing Call of Cthulhu. Featuring a mindbending dilemma where the protagonist's perception is shifted so that, bizarrely, he only sees grotesque imagery in everyday situations, the novel is disturbing beyond reason in so many aspects. Beautiful women are now foul beasts with meaty appendages reeking of offensive stenches. Delicious food is now rancid and disgusting. Most of all he's no longer able to communicate effectively with the outside world as their words now sound foreign and unwelcoming. He's alone, locked in his own mind in this new world, except for a lone girl who still appears as nubile and human as can be. Why is she unaffected and how will her terrifying secrets affect the protagonist?
Not even a third through the story Saya no Uta kicks over into mindscrew territory with a chilling soundtrack and imagery to complete the package. Equal parts sexual thriller and grotesque imagery, Saya no Uta seeks to crawl directly underneath your skin and make its home there.
2. Higurashi: When They Cry (Higurashi No Naku Koro Ni)
Visual novel veterans and otaku alike share praise with Higurashi, a deceptively demure mystery/horror adventure with chills and thrills aplenty. It begins innocently enough, with a gaggle of adorable, wide-eyed heroines who actually seem quite docile. Things only progress downhill from there in an all-out creepfest complete with adorable little girls stabbing themselves and other, more decidedly adult sequences that involve freakishly long nails, creepily-drawn eyes, and more unsettling motivations than you can shake a stick at.
3. Lux Pain
This hidden DS gem didn't reach the cult status it should have deservedly received, but it was a solid supernatural adventure that relied on eerie visuals, aural cues, and creepy dialogue to weave a horrific tale. As Atsuki Saijo, a member of the FORT organization, you're tasked with tracking down victims of the mental parasite SILENT, which is born in the negative feelings of human beings and can eventually drive them to suicide.
Isolating and destroying a SILENT (or lesser WORM) is a disturbing process in itself, but the accompanying narrative and incidents surroundings that seem a little out of place for an ordinary high school. We dare you to curl up in bed under your blankets to play in the dark. If the typos fail to scare you, the first time you use Sigma will.
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