…Iru! / …いる！
Format: PS1 (1998)
Developer: Soft Machine
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Possibly the most obscure horror title to grace the PlayStation, …Iru! Is a low-budget first-person Lovecraftian adventure from Soft Machine. The game’s title itself has no easy expression in English; “iru (いる) ” denotes the presence of a living being, so the closest translation is probably “…It’s here!” While unintentional, it’s very fitting for a work so tightly entwined with Lovecraft to boast a title that actively defies translation.
On a small island off the coast of Japan, it’s the evening before Kirigaoka High School’s cultural festival, where protagonist Tatsuya, his love interest Yuma, and a handful of their classmates are staying late to finish preparations. Before long, the lights go out, Yuma vanishes, and the ravaged corpses of Tatsuya’s friends start piling up. The few teachers on-site are no help, either cowering in fear or—worse still—acting as if nothing is amiss.
It soon becomes apparent that a cadre of faculty and students are engaged in an occult ritual, summoning all manner of Shoggoths, Deep Ones, and other ghastlies in an effort to prepare Kirigaoka for Cthulhu’s rebirth. It’s a very silly “Best of” homage to the entire Cthulhu Mythos, drawing not only from Lovecraft but Derleth, Ashton Smith, Howard, and Chambers—there’s even a copy of The King in Yellow to be found in the Principal’s office.
Despite all these horrors, Tatsuya is actually quite rarely in active danger. …Iru! is an inventory-based adventure game first and foremost, and you’re free to wander the halls unmolested to solve puzzles at your leisure. Threats are highly scripted: at key story points, an antagonist descends on Tatsuya as he’s automatically shuffled into the next room. A meter displays how far your would-be killer is from the door and you have to pick out a hiding place before time runs out. The time granted is generous, the hiding places are apparent, and there are no wrong choices. Tatsuya even helpfully points out hiding spots during exploration, just in case they’re not obvious. Outside of these segments, there are a few instant deaths, but these are also highly telegraphed: after a cutscene in which the Hound of Tindalos appears from a mirror to eat a student, maybe it’s not a great idea to pick that mirror up!
Indeed, the biggest challenge in …Iru! isn’t the threat of death, but rather its obscure flagging system. Figuring out where to use items is always simple enough, but the real problem is figuring out how to hit the flags to make said items appear. A repeat player can easily hit credits within 2-3 hours, but the length is artificially padded by a lot of running back and forth. Without a single hint, you’re often arbitrarily forced back to early areas just to see if anything’s changed before you’re allowed to proceed.
For its frustrations, …Iru! is a fairly charming game, from its goofy story to its blocky polygonal world that still manages to be expressive. Although too safe to be scary in the slightest, those enticed by the lo-fi horror surge currently sweeping indie game development would be remiss not to check it out.