Imagine being an 18 years old Japanese guy on a fun and relaxing group-vacationto Egypt with your friends. You studied and worked hard the whole year (ganbatte ne!) so your parents decided to award you with a flight ticket to the Pharaohs’ Land. But as you reach the Giza pyramid complex your exotic vacation very quickly turns into a nightmare when Professor Tsuchida, a leading Egyptologist, literally recruits you and your Japanese teammates as you were chilling on the steps of the notorious Great Pyramid, in order to go on an unauthorized expedition into the unknown lower levels of the complex, after discovering a secret passage together with his assistant Kouji Kuroe. That’s the premise of Shuujin e no Pert-em-Hru (“Peret em Heru: For the Prisoners”), a freeware RPG for the PC98 created using RPG Maker Dante 98 II, much like Corpse Party.
He is the protagonist of the game and is picked by Professor Tsuchida to be the pathfinder of the group simply because he was wearing a cap (“That makes him safer,” said the professor). While a little passive, he is anoverall good guy who thinks objectively and often ponders the situation in a reflective way. He is one of the few quite strong personalities of the game, trying to always pushing to the end and sometimes putting himself in other people’s shoes to understand their feelings.
Doctor Kuroes is the assistant to Professor Tsuchida and the healer of the group. He is a man obsessed with self-development, almost never satisfied with his lifeand always craving for more. This is why, despite being a kind and considerate gentleman, he can lose sight of the bigger picture in his pursuit of personal success.
A simple-minded boy and straightforward in nature, Kyōsukeusuallyacts before he thinks, thus being sometimes misunderstood due to his impulsivity. He is among Ayuto’s four school friends who came to Egypt together and clearly has feelings towards Yōko.
Mitsuru is a college student always unmotivated to do anything, often complaining of being hungry, sleepy and is unwilling to do anything except for constantly taking nap breaks. Evidently apathetic, this guy leaves a bad impression on others due to his selfish nature.
Like Kyousuke, she has a straightforward personality. She secretly likes Ayuto. Nei is considered to be the heroine of this game, being generally optimistic and blunt. However, she is also the type of person who will often stick her nose in other people’s business, if the opportunity arises.
Nobody knows how this nine-year-old elementary school student was able to somehow tag along with the group. Under her annoying and cheerful appearance hides a fragile heart seeking for love. She is a liar who is considered negatively but deep inside she feels lonely and craves for attention.
The tour guide who voiced concern over the safety of the group and over the nature of the mission from the very beginning. She is a trustworthy and arguably possesses some qualities of a leader. During the expedition, she tries to put forth her own priorities, but these are inevitably cut down.
An arrogant high school student. According to Otogi, Saori and her boyfriend both registered for the trip to Egypt, but only Saori came. She usually stays behind the group, looking at a photo of her boyfriend. She is very pessimistic and, apparently, has taken to the idea of harming herself.
He is a journalist specialized in unearthing society’s vices, though he is arguably subject to the same weaknesses. Always able to avoid being personally involved, Souji can keep a cool head under stressful situations even if, in the end, he only cares about himself and satisfying his own appetites.
A purpose-driven professor in archaeology who stops at nothing to pursue his goals, even if it means harming the people around him. Being an expert in the field, he obviously knows a lot about the tomb he is in, thus assumes the role of the group supervisor. He holds a deep desire for prestige.
She is the subject of Kyousuke’s affection, but she secretly likes Ayuto instead. Despite having a kind, tender and fragile personality, Youko admits having once stole a pendant from a local department store. She bears no hostility against anyone, resulting in this being her only means of self-defense.
The group soon realizes that the underground ruins are full of death traps, when the worker they hired is suddenly beheaded by a thin metal wire, showing from the very beginning the intrinsic violence shown in the game. Professor Tsuchida, unwilling to back down, goes then outside the pyramid to lure the Japanese tour group nearby to basically act as his “human shield.” Inside the pyramid, one by one, the members of the entourage become one by one subject to dark pharaoh Khufu’s punishment for their sins, but the professor insists on heading deeper and deeper into the complex despite knowing the fatal dangers of the environment.
This interesting and creepy story was fully developed inside the RPG Maker Dante 98 II engine by creator Makoto Yaotani (then a 21 years old young man under the alias “Makoto Serise”). As some Egypt enthusiasts may have already guessed, “Pert-em-Hru” refers to the Egyptian Book of the Dead. While Yaotani was responsible for most of the development, Kei Mizuho helped in composing the soundtrack for the game, which took a year and a half to complete. It was published independently and released on May 31st, 1998.
It resembles other RPGs as it involves exploration and random enemy encounters, but its focus is curiously not on combat itself but rather on puzzle-solving in order to save party members from punishment. Ayuto, throughout the course of the game, can learn action commands such as “push”, “crawl” and “look above”, with these actions being crucial to save his teammates. If he fails to save a party member, not only does that person die and leave the party forever but he or she will come back to life in a creepy mummified form to attack the party during the latter stages of the game and, according to who you saved, different combinations of survivors result in different dialogue in the epilogue.
As for the main influences, Yaotani cites the aforementioned Corpse Party as a direct motivation to make Shuujin e no Pert-em-Hru, since it exceeded the boundaries of “what commercial games could not do” at the time, especially the depictions of splatter gore. He also drew inspiration from Indiana Jones, Sherlock Holmes, Father Brown, and the works of Junji Ito for the adventure, mystery-solving, and horror elements of the game. Judging from the rare interviews available, Yaotani considers working around the limitations of game creation as an enjoyment, despite some challenges like RPG Maker Dante 98 II only supporting 16 colors, thus forcing Yaotani to set Shuujin e no Pert-em-Hru inside a dark pyramid, so that the color palette could be narrowed.
The retro music and sound effects do a great job for setting the mood, whether intentional or just as a result of the intrinsic limitations of the hardware. This mood combines well with the game’s old school mechanics, which are potentially easy for the most part, also because difficulty here is not the key point. Rather, you should focus on solving a puzzle and this can happen in the combat as well: let’s say an enemy grabs you and the combat sequence starts. You may discover that you character is constantly missing the enemy because attacking is not the right code of conduit in this case and it is important to maybe do a special action, eventually hinted to in a previous scene. Sometimes, the combat system involves fun elements like a rap music buffing the whole party but in general you feel the impression that your options are kind of limited.
These are the premises for one of the most obscure PC-98 freeware horror RPG out there, which was thankfully localized into a Windows-only English language version by underground American fan team Memories of Fear, famous for translating freeware Japanese horror games (unfortunately, they retired as of February 23rd, 2021). This version is great because it comes with an executable that takes care of the emulator itself. Also, a remake version utilizing RPG Maker VX is currently under development since 2012, 14 years after the release of the original.
The game, which takes approximately two to three hours to complete, received many honors including, in August 1998, the Platinum Award in the ASCII-held monthly event “Internet Contest Park” (consisting of150,000 ¥, roughly 1,040$at the time) since, as it often happens when the artist is given total freedom and control during the creation process, the result is something unique and interesting; this is why the judges for that award praised the game for its original puzzles, the graphics, its suspenseful plot and the intricate depiction of characters. The game also ranked fourth in the annual popularity poll in 1998 of the Top 10 Popular Works and ninth on the Most Popular Works of All Time, both categories for “Internet Contest Park”. Lastly, Shuujin e no Pert-em-Hru also won the Third Ascii Entertainment Software Contest in the “Ascii Maker Product” category, netting Yaotani a ¥1,000,000 prize (roughly $8,000), with the game being also covered in magazines like Tech Win and Nikkei Click. In the end, if you are into themes like dark ruins, esotericism and gruesome deaths, this game will satisfy your curiosity. And if you are not into these, the intricate stories, the characterization, and the beautifully designed sprites will arguably still make it worth a run.
Making games is a place to release frustration–Katsunari Murai from Niconico interviews Peret em Heru developer Makoto Yaotani (Japanese)https://ch.nicovideo.jp/indies-game/blomaga/ar112848
Peret em Heru– Ember from Emberger’s Cornerprovides probably the only complete yet very short review of the game in English language https://emberger.xyz/reviews/peretemheru/
Peret em Heru: For the Prisoners– The English release by American fan translation teamMemories of Fearhttps://memoriesoffear.jcink.net/index.php?showtopic=61
RPG Maker: History & Games– CRPG Book creator and gaming historian Felipe Pepe provides a brief retrospective of some RPG hidden gems developed with this legendary indie dev tool https://felipepepe.medium.com/the-history-of-rpg-maker-its-games-c93685f41ae6
Shuujin he no Peret-em-Heru– The well-known cut content wiki The Cutting Room Floorunearths a wide range of unused maps, drafts, cutscene images, memory fragments and scrapped hidden characters https://tcrf.net/Shuujin_he_no_Peret-em-Heru
Shuujin he no Peret-em-Heru – Original archived Peret em Heru website (Japanese) https://web.archive.org/web/20160324024927/http://www.tsukuriya.jp/syuujin_site/
Shuujin he no Peret-em-Heru – The website opened in 2020 for the remake https://syuperu.com/