Echo Night: Beyond Captures the Suffering, Sorrowful Side of Ghosts
Ghosts scare the heck out of me. I think it’s their proximity to humanity that does it. How they’re often just regular people who died horribly. Who suffered in terrible ways before meeting their ends. Or maybe they have regrets about the folks they’ve left behind that are now keeping them here. Pains that haven’t been dealt with. Worries about their loved ones. Echo Night: Beyond really touches on the humanity behind the idea of ghosts, creating a chilling, sorrowful horror adventure that has stayed with me for years.
Your ship has crash landed on a lunar colony. You and your fiancée just HAD to get married on the moon, didn’t you? Well, now your shuttle is all exploded, and your fiancée is nowhere in sight. The colony isn’t looking so hot, either. The place is in rough shape, there are no people around, and a strange fog has settled over the place. A fog that’s full of enraged phantoms so frightening they’ll give you a lethal heart attack. Thankfully, some ghosts are willing to help if you help them, first.
Echo Night: Beyond has an overwhelming atmosphere of loneliness and sadness. The lunar colony is empty when you arrive. Your only living companion seems to be a broken robot on your shuttle, its neck twisted at a sickening angle. There’s not a single other living person here at all. You can find some company in the ghosts, but for much of the game, you’ll be walking through these tarnished metallic halls alone. Largely in silence as well.
It’s when you meet the ghosts that the game’s bleak, depressing nature starts to settle in. Many different phantoms wander the halls or stand around, fading into sight once you get close to them. If you can get over your initial shock of having a ghost just pop into view, you can carry on a talk with them. So many of them talk about missing loved ones, though. Are they hurt or missing? Others mutter strange things about events that came before. All of them seem to be in pain, trudging about the place while wallowing in suffering.
Much of your time will be spent helping these people in Echo Night: Beyond. By poking around the facility, you can find items that will soothe them. Stuff that will let them know that their loved one has passed on safely. Things that will let them find peace in some way. Their bleak stories are strikingly normal, though. They talk about the kinds of things I’m afraid will be left unfinished when I’m gone, some day. The business so many of us have to leave unfinished when we finally die. Their stories weigh on you the entire time, carrying you deep into your own fears about death. It’s all you hear about, so it’s hard not to think of it yourself.
You might find out what life after death is like pretty quick if you aren’t careful in your exploration. While the game aims to create a sense of loneliness and sorrow as you explore, being so afraid that you die is also one of its goals. There is a fog that fills some of the areas in the game, and that fog drives ghosts to violence. If you stumble into a ghost in that mist, they’ll come charging for you, causing your heart rate to spike. If your on-screen heart rate hits over three hundred beats per minute, you’ll drop dead.
There are ways to deal with this problem. You find ways to ventilate the fog, which will calm the ghosts. This tends to require items and legwork, though, with ghosts hunting you while you try to deal with the fog. So, you might have to duck into side rooms to keep alive. The ghosts aren’t too persistent, thankfully. You can also take a syringe of medication to calm your heart down, but that’s a temporary solution. These hostile ghosts tend to stick to areas you need to cross, though, so expect to spend a lot of time running from them throughout Echo Night: Beyond.
Many of the ghosts that dog you through the fog have those same bleak backstories as the friendly phantoms. They’re children who died in terror in this place. People who are lost and confused by what’s happened to them. There’s a fear you feel when dealing with them, for sure. I don’t exactly want to die of fright, here. There’s a feeling of pity as well, even when you’re running through a hallway praying there’s an escape route nearby. I’ve felt pity for my enemies in ghost-based horror games before (Fatal Frame is filled with sad stories), but here, with all of this sadness around you, that feeling seems more powerful. Hard to ignore. Even when running for your life.
As you find the items these ghosts are looking for, or calm ghosts by getting rid of the fog, the game’s story slowly unveils itself to you. As you rifle through the things these people left behind, you get a sense of their lives. Echo Night: Beyond also lets you look through security cameras to see even more of what happened before. If you catch sight of strange lights and images on the screens, you can watch playbacks of old memories, steadily filling yourself in on the dark events that transpired before. The entire colony feels like one big ghost, in a sense. It’s like all of the phantoms within are just pieces of its sad story. A dead place with its own tale of loss to share.
Your whole purpose here is to dwell upon this story. To unravel it. In doing so, the emotions of loss and sadness start to seep into you. Your own questions about death and what it means play in your head. You immerse yourself in death and things left undone. The only way to progress is to bring these ghosts some measure of peace by caring for their loved ones or finding what they need to move on. It’s unsettling and sad to spend so much time among these ghosts, hostile or not. It’s hard to bear their suffering. But the glimmer of hope you feel in helping them carries the game forward in powerful ways.
While the events are supernatural, it’s those emotions around loss that feel all too human and real. The things that drive the danger in the game are things we all fear will happen some day. Yes, space ghosts are frightening, but it’s their regrets that scare me. That won’t get out of my thoughts. I fear losing loved ones. I worry about how people will carry on when I’m gone. What will my children do without me? These thoughts scare me, and this game forced me to take a little time to think about them. It also showed me that there may be others who will help after I die. That it doesn’t have to end with just me. There is a hope as you play, even if you spend a lot of the game drowning in ghostly misery. Or dying of heart attacks.
Echo Night: Beyond is an excellent horror game. Fleeing from phantom children before they make your heart beat so fast it bursts? Scary stuff. It’s the sadly human fears and confessions that made this game stay with me, though. The game is permeated with these feelings, and you can’t help but mull them over as you wander the lonely, quiet halls. The game forces you to reflect on your own feelings around death in this void. Hopefully, though, a part of you will feel some hope through the actions you’re taking within the game. You’re carrying on for these ghosts. Helping them find closure. Perhaps in your own death, others will carry on for you as well.