Ju-on: The Grudge Review

By Jason D'Aprile - Posted Oct 27, 2009

Based on the Japanese movies of the same name, this horror game attempts to break new ground. Sadly, unless slow and boring were the developer's goals, they don't succeed. Even fans of the movies will likely find this grudge too hard to bear.

The Pros
  • Creepy atmosphere
  • Interesting gameplay mechanic in theory
  • Ghost models look accurate
The Cons
  • Boring and repetitive
  • Painfully slow pacing
  • Not scary
  • Crazy short

With its unique motion-sensitive controls, the Wii could be a hotbed for innovative takes on the horror genre. Most attempts have been standard Resident Evil clones, but Xseed's Ju-on: The Grudge is a different take on horror. Dubbed a "haunted house simulator," it has no combat, pacing is at a near-crawl, and gameplay depends on a battery-sucking flashflight.

Ju-on: The Grudge

A Flashlight and a Grudge

Based on the endless stream of Japanese horror films, the game successfully captures the oppressive atmosphere of the source material. Whether that's a good thing depends wholly on your love of the series, and J-horror movies in general. Like the Ju-on movies, every episode has essentially the same fatal ending. As a result, many gamers won't find the game attractive. However, if creepy, murderous ghosts and their cat-screeching dead sons are your cup of tea, Ju-on holds more appeal.

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A Family Affair

The game doesn't have much plot, but what little it does have centers on the demise of a Japanese family. The game starts off with a girl walking her dog. When her dog gets loose, running into an abandoned warehouse, the girl finds murderous, anti-social ghosts. As in the movies, the ju-on don't simply kill you, but your entire family as well. Logically, each of the five episodes tells the tale of the unhappy fate of a different member of the family. The fifth episode is only accessible if you find the pieces to the ghosts' memoirs, which means that you'll probably have to go through the episodes more than once to find everything.

Even fans of the J-horror films will have a hard time with Ju-on's design. First, the game is pitifully short. Each level can be beaten in less than 20 minutes--and that's a generous estimate. Worse, the physical movement of your character is annoyingly slow, leading to deaths that force you to re-start the entire level -- design choices almost certainly meant to extend play length rather than enhance atmosphere.

Ju-on: The Grudge

Batteries Required

The levels themselves are also boringly linear. You just search through small areas for flashlight batteries and other key items. If your flashlight dies, so do you.  If you can reach them, about seven batteries are scattered throughout each level, which are more than enough even when searching for bonus items.

The controls are simple, and you use only the Wii remote.  It's your flashlight, and the trigger button moves you forward while the down arrow on the D-pad backs you up. The A button activates items. Those three moves suit the game perfectly, or at least they would had the controls had worked correctly. Games like Metroid Prime and The Conduit have proven that the Wii controllers can do solid first person gameplay, yet Ju-on's controls are frustratingly unreliable. Response is jerky and sluggish, and you spend more time battling with the aim of the flashlight than with either of the ghosts. Occasionally, there are close encounters with the ghosts leading to quick-time sequences. Thankfully, the controls usually work here, but are still unresponsive.

Ambiance is a key facet of any horror experience, and Ju-on does a commendable job conveying its sense of doom and gloom. The ghost are spot-on models of their movie counterparts.  Sadly, they are the only other creatures in the game. Even in the wee hours of the morning, the audio is spooky but not scary. There are lots of cheap thrills, like hands suddenly reaching out to grab you. But unless you’re very timid, or maybe just twelve, the gimmicks will leave you cold.

Ju-on: The Grudge

Death by Cliché

In its defense, at least Ju-on: The Grudge is one developer’s attempt to implement an interesting concept.  FeelPlus deserves kudos for trying to do something different with horror gaming. Unfortunately, there's just so little to the experience. The levels are short, the chills cliched, and the controls unreliable. Even diehard J-horror fans will have a hard time getting excited about these haunted halls.