If there was any one single collection of games I have played the least, it would be those in the survival horror genre. Most games that I try out in this vein frustrate me with either being too hard for my tastes or leave me in utter confusion while playing. Kuon, despite using many common tropes of the genre, was one of my better experiences.
Without knowing those little bits of understanding that have to do with basic beliefs and cultural themes of certain time periods, trying understand the basic plot of period games become harder. This game takes place in the Heian period of Japanese history which, after researching, I learned that it saw local lords ruling regions with help from astrologists, spiritual advisors, who used magic to help balance the forces of nature and darkness. Understandingly, the use of door seals – translated mysteriously from Japanese mythology into Greek, as if that would help North American audiences – and solving zodiac puzzles did not come as easy to me as someone who was more familiar with those ideas.
Starting the game gives you the choice of two different phases, Yin and Yang. One is the tale of one of the daughters of a local priest, Doman, named Utsuki. After not hearing from her father for a prolonged period of time, she and her sister go to the manor in which her father was sent to exorcise demons. Upon arriving they find that many doors have been sealed by mystical powers. While further exploring, they decide to separate. Playing the role of Utsuki, you must battle gaki, “hungry spirits”, with a knife while exploring to find out both what happened to your father and what has affected – and in most cases killed – the people of the manor. The Yang phases puts the player in the role of Sakuya, a disciple of Doman. She joins a group of other astrologists who have been called together at the manor. Battling mostly ghosts using magical powers, she must investigate the many deaths and build ups of negative spiritual energies, tempests, that are plaguing the manor.
While it did not impress me in any real way or really show off any new ideas, it had a couple of neat things. Getting near to an enemy, or when one jumps in front of you, causes the game to produce a heartbeat sound that quickens as you approach. On the visual side, after walking blood spills – and they are frequent – adds bloody footprints to the floor trailing you for a short time. These things, while not innovative, add slightly more appeal than its otherwise generic survival horror play.