Hellnight Changes its Story With Every Deadly Encounter

Hellnight (or Dark Messiah, the Japanese version), a first-person PS1 horror title from 1998, sees you lost in maze-like tunnels that lie beneath Tokyo. There’s a handful of companions who can walk with you as you wander this confusing place. But that’s assuming you can keep them alive. Or yourself. There’s a fast, tricky monster following you throughout your journey, and a single run-in will kill either you or your travel buddy. As these partners are tied to various endings, and they’re the only buffer between you and the creature, keeping them alive makes for a tense adventure where things can go wrong at any time.  

After a subway crash, you find yourself trapped in a series of confusing underground passageways. These corridors and rooms were built by the military in case the whole city needed to evacuate for some reason. As they’ve been sitting unused, the homeless, unwanted, and unsettled have turned them into their home. Which you’re currently intruding upon. So, don’t expect to feel while you’re here. The disturbed people here don’t seem quite right, making for uncomfortable company whenever they pop up. Also, there’s a strange monster following you. Which doesn’t do much good for your reputation with the folks down here.

This beast, which changes shape throughout Hellnight, is a cunning creature. It often spontaneously appears on paths you need to take to reach a specific item or location. It also has a tendency to patrol areas of importance, forcing you to be careful about the routes you take. The main way you’ll know it’s around is by listening for its growling, too, so, at most, you tend to know that it’s SOMEWHERE nearby. Also, the game plays out in first person, so the only way you’ll catch sight of the monster is by seeing it round a corner right ahead of you. Or if you hear it snarling right behind you.

If it sees you, you’re in for a chase. When you see it coming your way, you’ll immediately note that this thing is fast. If you give in to your instinct to turn and run, you’ll probably die unless you’re very far away from it. Your character can run faster than the creature, but not by a whole lot. However, turning around takes ages. I guess your character just doesn’t know how to pivot. This often means that the best route to take to escape is running straight at the creature. Not that you can run forever, as your character has an invisible stamina meter. As it drains, you’ll get shakier and shakier until your speed slows to a crawl.

This method is terrifying, to put it lightly, as Hellnight kills you in a single hit. If the monster makes contact with you, you’re done. However, you turn so slowly that there just isn’t time to escape if you blunder into the creature in a tight corner. Despite your every instinct to flee in the opposite direction, your best bet is to charge at the beast. Early on, this is fairly viable. The creature is humanoid sized, so you can dart around it if you’re careful. It’s just as slow to turn around as you are, so if you can surge past it, the monster takes ages to turn and chase you back. However, the creature grows throughout the game. The space to rush past it gets tighter and tighter. You’re almost always in some small tunnel with little room for error.

It’s also scary as hell to run at something you know will kill you, too. It’s difficult to fight that urge to turn away. To face the monster and move toward it. By the game’s end, you’ll need to hug the walls to lure the creature to one side, then send yourself hurtling to the other side and past the creature. And again, that’s assuming you even had enough time to think when you ran into the creature in a small corner. You have to do this while your mind is overwhelmed with fear and still shaking from the shock of blundering into the beast.


Only a few things will save you if you screw up in Hellnight. Your saves will at least let you return to where you left off, although there’s not many places to save. Besides that, your possible travel buddies will also absorb a hit for you. You can have one travelling companion at a time, and can only take a different one if your current one dies. There’s five people who can travel with you, so you can survive a handful of hits through them alone.

These partners offer several abilities. Naomi, your initial one, can sense when the monster is nearby, marking it on your map. IF the creature is nearby. This ability tends to be a bit dodgy at times, so you can’t always trust her directions. The rest of the serial killers, occultists, and monsters who are willing to join you can stun the monster if it gets close. They can only do this a few times, and if you mess up your aim, they’ll die. These abilities can help immensely, but it still only takes one bad turn or a missed shot to die.

Each of these characters may offer some help and an extra hit to take, but they create their own tension as well. Hellnight has several endings you can unlock, and these are all tied to whoever survives the journey with you. If you want to know the whole surreal story of this game, you’ll need to keep them alive. This tale behind this game is a surreal, strange one. The kind of story that leaves you dying for answers as to what’s going on. So, what was initially something that should have taken some pressure off is now something that adds even further tension. If you want to know what happened here, you need to finish the game without letting your companions die.

But when the chase is on, and you’re a hair from death, you might be tempted. Again, the monster is intelligent, persistent, and you have limited energy to escape it with. It’ll drop down out of nowhere or catch you by surprise as you try to look out for it. You’ll feel an urge to just let one of your partners die just so you can live. It’s hard to fight this as the creature slaughters you by surprise yet again. This creates an interesting sensation, using fear to draw out a sense of self-preservation even in this imaginary game world. It was a fight to make it through the game with each character – one that made the journey all the more tense as I fought to keep everyone alive. And often failed.

Hellnight is a surreal, bizarre, pulse-pounding journey underground. Death comes quickly, too, requiring you face it down with courage even when your heart’s pounding. It’s also easy to just let someone else die in order to keep on going. If you want to fully understand the story, or just keep people alive, you’ll have to face this fearsome monster without making any mistakes. Move alarmingly close to it to escape its claws. It’s an exhilarating, frightening experience that ends quickly and often, but makes for an incredible horror experience. And possibly a discomforting look at what you’d do if you had to let someone else die so you could survive.