From supernatural occurrences like the “gateway to hell” to government conspiracies like “Area 51,” chances are every person has heard at least a couple of urban legends in their lifetime. As part of the broader folkloric genre, urban legends refer to any stories that circulate as second-hand accounts, meaning that the narrator believes that someone else experienced the legend.
Although all cultures have these stories and not all urban legends are meant to be scary, there are some chilling Japanese urban legends that are extremely memorable and are constantly being adapted into horror movies, shows, and even video games.
Created by independent developer Chilla’s Art, known for making short horror titles like the convenience store Y Overnight Delivery, Hanako is a short-lived survival horror adventure game with a slight VHS aesthetic that was released in late 2020. Based on the famous Japanese urban legend “Hanako-san of the Toilet”, the game follows an unnamed protagonist and his friends, Eri and Yume, who tries to summon the ghost girl named Hanako.
After learning that the legend originated from their school, the three fifth graders sneak into the school at night so they can use Hanako to curse one of their classmates. But, once they complete the ritual, Hanako addresses the three in her place. Depending on the player’s actions, they will receive one of several endings.
Originally released only in Japan as one of many great games for the PC-98, corpse party is a horror visual novel adventure game that spawned an entire franchise. The game follows a group of high school students and their homeroom teacher as they are mysteriously transported to the Heavenly Host Elementary School, which is located in an alternate dimension. To escape from this deadly place, the characters will have to discover the horrible secrets behind the ghosts inside the haunted school.
After the success of the original game, new versions added characters, scenes, and lore to the overall plot. One major addition is the Sachiko Ever After charm, which is the paper doll’s spell that sends the main characters to the other world. Although this particular spell was created for this series, paper doll charms, known as “Katashiro”, are a real part of Japanese folklore.
Given that there are so many great RPG Maker horror games out there, it’s not surprising that some great examples end up being pretty much unknown or underrated. An example of this is the ongoing episodic supernatural mystery series. Arne’s casebook, which centers on a young human noblewoman, Lynn Reinweiß, and a vampire detective, Arne Neuntöte. After a chance encounter, Lynn and Arne begin a wild ride that may uncover the secrets behind their pasts.
Arne lives in a town called Lügenberg, which exists within a parallel dimension where other non-humans live. During the first case and the DLC, the player is able to explore part of the town and meet some of the residents, who are mostly based on Japanese folklore. One of these residents is the urban legend “Hachishaku-sama”, which is a spirit that takes the form of a tall woman and kidnaps children.
Also known as Mantle
Another Chilla’s Art game is the survival horror game of 2019. aka Mantle, which is based on the Japanese urban legend of the same name. Like Hanako-san, Aka Manto is a spirit that appears in baths. Instead of a schoolgirl, however, Aka Manto is a humanoid creature with a red cape and mask, and the spirit gives the victim a choice between red or blue paper. In order to survive, the victim cannot choose either role because both lead to a painful death.
In this game, the player is forced to enter the haunted school at night after two female classmates, Maiko and Haruna, decide to punish the protagonist for “getting too close” to their crush. While there, the player discovers the lore behind the Aka Manto and attempts to defeat the evil spirit.
Developed by Human Entertainment, who also created the clock tower franchise, twilight syndrome is a series of horror and mystery adventure games and is part of the growing list of interesting horror games that have never received official English releases. The games typically follow a group of high school students trying to solve local urban legends in their schools and neighborhoods.
Famed video game director Goichi Suda worked so hard on the 1996 original twilight syndrome and the 1997 sequel moonlight Syndrome, and the series had several new installments through 2008. Since Spike created the later entries, Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair has a whole section directly referencing this series.
Inspired by the twilight syndrome Serie, paranormal syndrome is a series of horror RPG Maker games that focus on surviving and defeating urban legends. After a high school girl named Yuka Kajiro attempts “hitori kakurenbo”, which is an urban legend ritual that supposedly summons spirits, she accidentally breaks an old promise between her family and the family of her best friend, Mikoto. Hymen.
Now, Mikoto must team up with paranormal investigator Hitoshi Himuro and his friends to stop various paranormal events and uncover the mysteries behind Mikoto and Yuka’s families. In recent years, the game has received two sequels and a remake of the first case of the first game.
Spirit Hunter: Death Mark
Released in 2017, Spirit Hunter: Death Mark is a visual novel adventure game and one of the best horror titles for PS Vita. Taking place in the fictional H City of Tokyo, the protagonist, an amnesiac man named Kazuo Yashiki, wakes up with a scar on his arm known as the Mark. According to local rumors, the Mark appears on people who have been cursed by spirits, and those people die shortly after receiving it.
To find out what happened to him and how to get rid of the Mark, Kazuo must explore various locations, talk to various characters, and face multiple spirits inspired by real urban legends. As well as the 2018 sequel Spirit Hunter: NG, there will also be a third installment called Shinigami: Shibito Magire.
Released in Early Access in 2020, horror world is an RPG heavily inspired by Junji Ito, HP Lovecraft, and old computer games. Within the small town of Shiokawa, Japan, the Eldritch gods are awakening and strange events are taking place. As one of several playable characters, the player must solve mysteries and battle supernatural phenomena to prevent the apocalypse.
While this game has many types of creatures, several of them are based on Japanese urban legends. For example, both Aka Manto and Hanako can appear during a run as enemies.
Resident Evil Village
After the franchise was reinvigorated with resident evil 7: biohazard, the next main line delivery had big shoes to fill, and Resident Evil Village it did so successfully by combining the horror and action elements of the previous installments. Created as a direct sequel to resident Evil 7, the game once again follows Ethan Winters as he searches for his kidnapped daughter, Rosemary, within an isolated town filled with mutants.
Of all the characters introduced in this game, the most popular is undoubtedly Lady Alcina Dimitrescu, who is one of the antagonists. One of the biggest inspirations for her character is the Japanese urban legend “Hachishaku-sama”, as her spirit is also a tall woman with black hair, a white hat and a white dress.
Hachishaku-sama reappears, along with many other urban legends, within the popular survival horror series Fatal frame. Set in 1980s Japan, the games follow several different characters as they investigate supernatural events and defeat ghosts using the Camera Obscura, which are objects created by Dr. Kunihiko Asou that allow people to harm spirits by taking pictures.
Since the games are based on the creator’s own supernatural experiences and popular Japanese horror films, it’s no surprise that many of the spirits in the series are directly influenced or inspired by Japanese urban legends. For example, in the last main title, Fatal Frame: Black Water Maidenthe player may encounter a spirit known as the “Tall Woman”, who is based on Hachishaku-sama.
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