There have been many survivor horror games I’ve played, but the one I recalled as being the most memorable is Friday the 13th for the NES, published by LJN and released in 1989. It’s a retro game known for its difficulty, repetitive music, and not true to the franchise. But that’s why I like it. What makes a horror game is not always about the blood, gore and twisted-looking creatures, it’s how much of a psychological impact it has on the player. I was only a child at the time when I played the game, but looking back at it now as an adult, I still believe it’s one of the scariest games.
First off, the game takes place on Crystal Lake campground. There are three male counselors and three female counselors that the player controls. The player can control one counselor at a time. There are fifteen children total but they are all spread out and can be found in the cabins. The main objective of the game is to destroy Jason because he kills children. If all the counselors and children are dead, it’s game over.
The game sounds straight-forward and you might be wondering why the game is scary. It’s the environment. Looking at the map, the way the campground is laid out, it forces me go round and round until I die or I destroy Jason. My impression of the campground reminds me an eternal hell because nothing terrifies me more than being trapped. Every cabin looks the same, and the landscape doesn’t change much other than there is a shift from day to night time, and backtracking seems never ending. I remember constantly checking the map to see where I am at, which was frustrating at times, considering there are zombies, crows and wolves to fend off. Jason appears randomly on the trails, cabins, lake, and woods. So no place is safe, especially the cabins.
I thought it was clever that the music sounds upbeat on the trail, but sounds eerie in the cabin because naturally if you are running from something, you probably want to hide. I think home is the place where we all feel the safest. But these cabins have no furniture, and it felt like a maze just walking through it, pressing the button forward, left, right, then coming to a dead end, to a window or sometimes to a fireplace. I felt nervous that Jason could appear anytime and when he does, the sound always startled me.
Overall, the game was difficult and felt never ending, because each day, Jason got stronger. Player has to beat him three times in three separate days. But once the pixelated Jason is defeated, he looks cute and reminds me of a distress child.
So I think this game is scary for children. The developer knew that kids were going to play this game, which may explain why Jason goes after children. The purpose was to scare them. Just look at the encounter between Jason and the counselor in the cabin. Jason is abnormally huge compared to the counselor which resembles a child.
I think it’s always difficult to convey horror in video games because the main focal point in games should always be the game-play. This game reminds me of playing chase with school friends but it’s done in a videogame—Jason is playing chase with the children. And maybe because I was very young, I was less critical and more receptive to the game. It left an impression on me. I was comforted by the music in the cabin but terrified by its world.