The Gregory Horror Show was the passion project of Pecola creator Naomi Iwata, taking the recognizable box-like aesthetic of his comedy series and applying it to a horror-comedy franchise about exploring the troubled psyche of its protagonists. Each season followed some foolish sod who became trapped in a hotel and had to confront harsh truths about themselves to escape from the clutches of its evil inhabitants. Does that sound a bit like Resident Evil? Capcom sure thought so.
This Playstation 2 exclusive turns the player into the latest visitor at Gregory House, where you are soon approached by the Grim Reaper. He needs your help to gather the souls of all the residents at the hotel, which will prove to be tricky because people are generally quite attached to their souls. Fortunately, you soon find an ally in Zombie Neko, a patchwork, undead cat, who wants to help you on your mission.
The game is best described as a mix between Majora’s Mask and Resident Evil. You explore the complicated layout of Gregory House, unlocking more areas as you progress through the game. Each character has a story to them that you uncover through conversation, spying on them, or gathering rumors from other residents. To get their souls. you’ll need to figure out how to trick or help the resident, which might require finding key items hidden around the mansion or completing side-quests.
How does Majora’s Mask come into play? Well, the entire game runs on an in-game clock and each resident has a set schedule and behavior by which they abide and which you manipulate. If you need something from their room, chances are you’ll have to discover when they leave for long enough that you can pilfer their belongings. With over a dozen characters in a fairly confined space, it becomes an interesting puzzle to figure out when you can go where.
Because your quest for gathering souls is sure to make a few enemies. Characters who know you are after them might just run away, whereas others will immediately attack. Even friendly characters might turn hostile after you stole their very spirits, making the halls of Gregory House more dangerous the longer you play. You peek through keyholes and sneak about to remain stealthy, but once they have spotted you, all you can do is run and hope for the best.
Enemies will chase you for quite some time, even as you go into different rooms or even wings of the hotel where they would otherwise never go. If they catch you, you’ll be subjected to a horror sequence unique to each character, which depletes a bunch of the meter representing your mental stability.
This meter is basically your health and it depletes non-stop as you play, though it can be replenished by reading, sleeping, or consuming food and herbs. You also gain various status effects based on what happens to your character, which usually impact how quickly the meter drains.
These are a lot of interesting ideas, but I quickly found that Gregory Horror Show was obnoxious to play through because of them. Having to solve opaque puzzles while under a constant, visible timer was frustrating and made every moment where I wasn’t making tangible progress feel wasted. The puzzles themselves are incredibly short once you realize what you need to do, so the game relies on all the hostile NPCs to stall you and waste your time, requiring you to use items to continue playing. Items you might have been gathering because you needed them for a puzzle
Some puzzles just don’t make much sense. One character asks you to bring a personal belonging, but what you actually need to do is go on a fetch quest for other characters until you get a random book. In fact, the puzzles might actually make less sense if you’ve seen the show. Nobody who watched the TV series would actually consider looking for the little girl’s lost doll, you can’t just retcon a character like that for the sake a puzzle. Is this a prank, Capcom?
I feel that there was some confusion as to what elements from the series should be put into the game. I loved exploring the familiar hotel and seeing its locales now tied together as a coherent whole. It’s a beautiful and atmospheric place and it’s genuinely unnerving to be sneaking around, peeking through the keyholes, all while knowing one of the evil residents could be right behind you as you do.
However, the TV series did admittedly decline over time, owing to it constantly recycling the same characters and story beats for each season. Characters that themselves varied from interesting horror monsters to incredibly basic jokes that weren’t even that funny when season 1 did them. People who have seen the show will likely be exasperated having to sit through the same jokes and stories a fifth time, whereas newcomers will just be perplexed with the very random nature of half the characters.
For a video game tie-in to an incredibly niche CGI anime, Gregory Horror Show is better than I could have expected, but nevertheless quite a chore to play through for me. Horror fans may want to visit this obscure title, however. Even if that is just out of a pilgrim’s obligation. It’s a horror game by Capcom that is inspired by Resident Evil and experiments with interesting innovations like a mood-based status effects and sanity mechanics. It might be bizarre in places, but go into it with an open-mind and you may be very surprised with what you find. Additionally, I can recommend the first 2 seasons of the TV series to anybody whose interest has been sparked.