Horror games are better if they're Asian. Hey, don't blame me, I don't make the rules. But you cannot deny that Asian horror games have a certain lore to them that makes them a lot scarier than usual.
So when Malaysian game developer, Spacepup Entertainment, released a horror game, a lot of us were keen to check it out. After all, despite countries like Indonesia coming out with a number of horror games, you don't hear much about Malaysian horror games, much more one that's available on Steam.
But does it live up to the standard of Asian horror games? Well, as a fan of Asian horror games, I decided to find out.
The prologue (which I have played) is simple enough. It's not stated outright but you actually play Charmaine in the prologue, the girl who is missing, and you're being guided by Kim who is a Spirit Whisperer. You’ll see how this girl struggles to escape a haunted house, and no matter how hard she tries, an evil spirit keeps her trapped.
Through this girl's experience, you’ll learn that the best way to see the ghosts is by using a phone camera. The game was glitchy for me, where some instructions were not made clear and I had to guess it out myself, but the prologue was a good experience overall. Use the phone to look out for ghosts with its camera, and listen in for specific tainted items through its speakers.
In the actual game where you're Kim, you're tasked in finding tainted dolls that would help in bringing Charmaine back. Along your search task, you may have to deal with ghosts and evil beings. Kim's knowledge in dealing with these otherworldly creatures is great, and she knows what's needed to either deal with these spirits or recover if you've come into contact with them. Her knowledge is what makes this game fascinating, as you feel more prepared to handle these ghosts even with the lack of weapons.
No horror game is complete without great ghosts haunting you, and those in The 9th Gate are downright fascinating, even if they are annoying at some points. Each being is steeped in Asian culture such as the Shade, who is sent by a magic practitioner to haunt a specific person forever until they die, in which it will then return to whence it came. There are also toyols, which will grab you and will require you to fight back quickly, as well as the ever powerful demon which will stop at nothing to kill you once you've attracted their attention.
Another great part about this game is the sound effects. They weren't kidding when they said the game is better with headphones as they're integral for the gameplay. You will need to listen out for the ghosts as they will make noises to alert you of their presence and the use of headphones will enable you to tell where exactly they are. You will also need to listen for the location of the dolls that are key to finding the missing Charmaine.
Despite that being one of my favourite aspects of the game, it does lead to some major downfalls…
While it's good that you depend on sound to locate the dolls, it's not exactly helpful visually as level design and location has very little to differ from where you are and where you were. Everything looks the same, with the exception of your starting location and the signs to indicate the stairs. There's nothing to differentiate the rooms you've been in either, as every location has the same looking couch, chairs, tables and items. You're not even given a map, so you really cannot tell the difference in where you are and how many levels the building has, so you will need to spend a lot of time to figure that out.
A lot of time... that the game doesn't give. You only have 8 hours to find these dolls. Not 8 hours in real life, but based on the game's timing. And with each hour you fail to find the right doll (you need to get them in order, as they will be rejected if it's wrong), no matter where you are, no matter what you do, you will "die". You won’t be able to save your progress until you find a doll, or your time runs out.
In the end, while I was totally fine dealing with the strange demonic beings, toyols and other singing spirits that haunted me, being unable to figure out where I was and having a timer overhead made the game more stressful than it was scary. On top of that, when you do find a doll, they're not placed in an inventory but is carried around physically instead, rendering you unable to use your camera/light until you put it l down.
Overall, the game had great potential that's thwarted by some questionable gameplay methods. While it's a good step in the right direction for Malaysian horror games, The 9th Gate could use some tweaking not only in the glitches department, but the gameplay as well. The concept is great, having an actual spirit whisperer deal with the supernatural is something we Asians can appreciate, but it could still use a better form of navigation that doesn't just depend on sound alone.
I would recommend this game only if you enjoy being chased by Asian-based evil beings and exploring abandoned buildings in a short amount of time. Other than that, it's a game that will stress you out with an unforgivable timer mechanic and confusing level design.
The 9th Gate is currently available on Steam for RM15.50.