Haunting Ground, developed by Capcom and released in 2005 for PlayStation 2, is a survival horror game in which players control Fiona Belli, who finds herself trapped in the dungeon of a castle. Haunting Ground included several unique design decisions for a relatively Resident Evil-like game – for better or worse – including the fact that Fiona must work together with a dog named Hewie in order to escape her captors.
The game is a spiritual successor to Clock Tower 3, another title developed by Capcom, and shares many similarities with the classic franchise. Haunting Ground offers no weapons to defend against enemies, unlike the company’s more popular Resident Evil series. Instead, players must either find a safe place to hide or issue attack commands to Hewie in order to slow down the game’s relentless assailants. The result is a tense and unique survival horror experience, especially since Hewie doesn’t perfectly follow Fiona’s commands until they’ve built up an understanding of each other through praising and scolding.
The original concept for Haunting Ground differed significantly from the final product. According to a 2005 GameSpot interview with developer Tatsuya Minami (via Austin532 on YouTube), Haunting Ground did not initially include White Shepherd dog Hewie. Capcom was concerned the game would perform poorly with a lone female protagonist and decided to add the dog in mid-development. The change drastically altered how the game would be played, leading to the buddy partner mechanic.
While the buddy partner mechanic was innovative for the time, Haunting Ground has a number of issues working against it. Capcom’s decision to try and replicate the gameplay of older survival horror games failed to appeal to the players, with many feeling too much of the game involves quietly wandering around a mostly empty castle. Fiona’s hidden Panic meter, similar to the Sanity meter seen in Eternal Darkness, is also a point of contention among players, as it is difficult to gauge the character’s status. Other than some visual effects and Fiona occasionally tripping up, there is little indication of just how close she is to losing it and becoming unresponsive.
Fiona’s revealing attire has also raised debate, with many citing it as another example of the oversexualization of female video game characters. Fans of Haunting Ground have argued Fiona’s scant clothing, given to her forcibly by her captors, increases the player’s sense of fear and vulnerability, which is emphasized by the game’s deeply disturbing subject matter; antagonists such as the lumbering homunculus Debilitas are seemingly infatuated with her physique, and others threaten sexual and other forms of violence. The game itself, however, often objectifies Fiona, too, via copious suggestive camera angles and revealing unlockable outfits.
At Haunting Ground‘s core lies a unique survival horror game held back by questionable design choices and unintuitive mechanics. While the game has garnered a cult following over the years, Capcom’s failure to broaden its appeal seemingly led to disappointing sales, as the game is rather rare on the secondhand market and the company has steered clear of this Clock Tower-esque design formula ever since.