Putting the "Joy" back in joystick

Now here’s a cult classic for indie gaming. Today, I’m exploring the dark halls of Demonophobia, a freeware guro adventure game by the elusive 237, made all the way back in 2008. In true independent ero-gaming fashion, you’re casually thrown into the game with no tutorial and threadbare context for what you’re even doing: upon waking up in a creepy room, 14-year old Kunikai Sakuri has found herself in a hellish nightmare world. Supposedly, she’s actually in hell after a ritual went awry and only wants to find her way out. There’re a variety of enemies and traps to avoid as you make your way through hell, including a recurring, axe-wielding monster draped in yellow seeking to strike you down.

Demonophobia is a cruel, sadistic game, as well as a fairly old one by now. Right from the get-go, you’re given no indication of what your controls even are. There’s no options menu, nor any difficulty settings; only a windowed screen while you’re thrown into the nightmare of Hell itself, awaiting the salvation of escape or the release of death. Make no mistake, that latter option will come often, as this game is littered with cheap traps and enemies that require quick reactions to avoid, even when you’re familiar with their attacks. A lot of these traps are noticeable, but are obscure on how to actually tackle them. If it wasn’t for the saving grace of the death animations being surprisingly well-done and the hellish landscape growing progressively more bizarre and intriguing, you’d have no motivation to actually attempt to get further into this game; and believe me, getting further in this game can be a real bitch.

The gameplay itself is rather straightforward, using the arrow keys to move left and right through rooms and down to crouch or go into a crawl. There’s an inventory that can be brought up with the space bar, which ties into the item-centric puzzle-solving, such as finding an item to use with a door or another type of interface. Most items are simply dots on the ground that fit into holes on a wall or door. There isn’t much direction in regards to what key unlocks what, leaving you collecting an object under the assumption it opens whatever is locked. You’re not looking so much for a specific item, as you’re more looking for any item.

The crouching has a slight delay as it transitions into the crawl, so you need to react early to dangerous situations, such as the tentacle monsters or various boss attacks. There’re a variety of interesting monsters, though they’re regrettably not too scary, largely due to the trial and error way you go about progress; the only drawback to death is respawning, so being introduced to a new threat is more exciting than terrifying. Some of the death sequences are of Sakuri simply falling to her knees, shared amongst a random selection of enemies, which is quite boring compared to the variety Demonophobia sports in other areas. The real tension comes from the more serious fights against the game’s boss-like enemies or various scenarios that will lock you in somewhere, requiring you to avoid attacks or activate some kind of runic device to avoid death.

The art in Demonophobia is somewhat endearing in way. There’s a crude and unpolished authenticity to it that makes the game look intriguing, even if it’s not attractive or overly impressive. All the art was obviously made in MSPaint or an equivalent, what with its jagged, aliased edges and all. Similarly, the background textures are tiled pretty clearly and a lot of the scenery is low quality. There’s some downtime in this game where you’re casually wandering the halls of Hell glancing at the backgrounds, leaving one with a feeling of disappointment that they’re so underdeveloped; very interesting ideas, but poor execution. The variety in scenery is at least serviceable, with the world gradually becoming stranger and more enemies littering the halls as you travel further into the game.

There are six such levels to venture through, with just enough diversity in their choice of color palettes so that it doesn’t get too bogged down in the cliched “dark and dreary” representation of Hell. One of the most disappointing concessions in  Demonophobia is the complete lack of audio. Surprisingly enough, the omission doesn’t feel like as much of a drawback as you’d initially expect; the eerie silence is unique, and as a plus, allows for the option to play music or a podcast in the background while you’re combing for new death animations after the initial excitement wears off.

Demonophobia delivers on ryona and guro in droves, with every second room holding some way to murder you, such as impalement on a spike, constriction by some kind of worm monster, or crushed to death. There’s a plethora of death animations in the game, with some being quite long. Seeing Sakuri’s reactions and pleas before dying is great during the initial viewing, but given the frequency of deaths, you will probably see these scenes multiple times over while working out exactly how to solve a puzzle. While the gore is amusing and creative, it can occasionally overstay its welcome quite quickly due to that repetition, making it more of a curse than a blessing at times.

It’s a shame too, as a hefty selection of these death animations are quite nice. They’re generally impressively detailed, with Sakuri having muscle spasms while dying, various spurts and streams of blood, pissing herself, being burned alive and seeing her charred body in the aftermath. It’s all good, harmless fun, but some of the unique death animations feel incomplete. There’s a scene where Sakuri is crushed by a compacting ceiling and it simply closes in on her; rather than ending there, for example, the ceiling should have been raised to reveal her massacred, flattened body. When the gore is on-point, it’s truly great, but it can leave you wanting at times.

For all the good that’s in Demonophobia, I don’t feel it outweighs the bad. The violence and atmosphere are admirable, but it’s painfully obvious how limited this project was by the resources and the time it was made. The background textures can turn into an eyesore quickly, and if you’re trying to do the sensible thing and actually progress through the game, it becomes a grueling test of patience. The passage of time was not kind to Demonophobia, and for all its novelty and clear passion as a project, it might be better left as a nostalgic memory; although, that’s not to say it isn’t worth dabbling in at least once. If you’re new to Demonophobia, you might admire the perseverance 237 had to make an ero-guro game.

237 is a mysterious fellow, to say the least and there doesn’t seem to be any sort of official website that hosts a download of the game. Seeing how it’s a freeware game, there are a myriad of mirrors available online to choose from. If you’re interested in trying out DemonophobiaThe Free Games Blog has a download to get you started.

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