Waypoint Weeklies: Scariest Moments in Non-horror Games

Hello everyone! Welcome to another Spooky October edition of Waypoint Weeklies!

There are plenty of games that have been crafted with the intention of scaring the player as a top priority. Horror games have a long history, and are certainly thriving in the current era. But sometimes scary moments in games come out of nowhere, and may not have even intended by the developers.

This week we’re talking about our favorite scary moments from non-horror games, intentional or not! Maybe it’s a particularly memorable jump scare, or a haunting detail from a character’s backstory. What frightening moment from a non-horror game stands out most in your memory?

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Not really a moment in the game per say but anytime you find out the terrifying backstory behind a bunch of Pokemon

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Some of the best horror in non-horror games comes from unexpected eerie moments in the soundtrack. Lavender Town is not particularly scary as a place, but the song puts you in that headspace. The Giygas fight in Earthbound is - for all that the sprite work is suitably strange - largely still just a normal battle but with some extremely off-putting sounds behind it (something shared with its spiritual successor in the Secret Lab in Undertale, though I think that sequence works well with or without the music).

Bonus Pick That is Maybe Not Quite *Not* Horror

Luigi’s Mansion is largely a pretty silly action-adventure game that happens to be set in a haunted mansion. But there are some moments that are actually rather atmospheric and unsettling. Hearing Mario wailing for help with the Mansion (Exterior) version of the theme playing… the joke of the game is that Luigi is scared of things that aren’t really scary, but sometimes it zags on you.

Mansion (Exterior) - Luigi's Mansion - YouTube

But for a non-music answer, I find moments with characters becoming unreal, usually like robot characters starting to glitch out, can be quite discomforting. Metal Gear Solid 2 has a series of codec calls with The Colonel that are a good example of this.

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In a decidedly not-horror game, your first encounter with Planet Orxon in the OG Ratchet & Clank scared the shit out of me as a kid.

The atmosphere on Orxon is so toxic that initially only Clank can leave the ship. The enemies are huge compared to Ratchet, let alone Clank, and you spend a lot of time just avoiding everything. There’s also this nocturnal banger of a theme turn playing that gives the whole level a menace that I’ll never forget.

EDIT: here it is

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I have some pretty intense thalassophobia (fear of large bodies of water) that make sequences in otherwise innocuous games range from uncomfortable to debilitating.
I recently exprienced this in FFXIV Stormblood of all places, where you have to dive underwater to reach a dungeon entrance, the ocean is devoid of combat, but it’s vast and deep, and the thing about this specific dive is that it gets darker and darker until you’re finally at the sea floor.
I had to obscure my vision and just hold the stick forward just to get through it.
There is also another diving sequence much later on in that expansion that had me tense as a bow.
So I guess my nomination is kind of just mandatory underwater sequences in games, but that one was rough simply for its vast depth.

So FFXIV:Stormblood - Shisui of the Violet Tides Dive for me.

(Outer Wilds also messed me up with Giants Deep.)

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  • Outer Wilds. Dark Bramble. If you know you know.
  • The Stalfos et al emerging from Hyrule Field at night in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Look, I was very young, and they were very scary.
  • Disco Elysium has a few deeply unpleasant reveals, but perhaps none more so than asking around too much about how the world actually works. The Pale is terrifying.

I’ll have to try and think of others. While ‘pure’ horror games are probably scarier overall - nothing is really going to top the sustained tension of, say, Alien Isolation - there’s something about adding a touch of horror to an otherwise ‘safe’ game that makes it really stand out.

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I don’t think Majora’s Mask classifies as a horror game, so I’ve got to give a nod to the mask transformation sequences, which are absolutely terrifying as a child. Not just the transformation itself but the idea that the masks are made from the souls/essences of those characters and now you are becoming those characters to some degree, at least to the point that multiple NPCs confuse you for the person who was transformed.

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The Piano from Big Boo’s Haunt in Mario 64 is probably my earliest memory of a jump scare in a video game. That whole game is a little eerie though

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When my little brother threw my Chao off the cliff in the Mystic Ruins Chao garden in the Dreamcast version of Sonic Adventure which killed it. They patched this in the Gamecube version.

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in Ocarina of Time, the introduction to Gohma is a pretty scary way to start off the game

CW: Bug monster thing with uncomfortable eye movement

tumblr_aac5c42f6a950a13949fa0ec56acee92_cb41771c_500

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I am just going to say Majora’s Mask and its unceasing countdown to apocalypse, with every 12 ingame hours serving as stark reminders that everyone is going to be crushed by the moon. And all you can really do is run away from the death of everything over and over and over again.

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When I wrote up this weekly, I didn’t expect that there would be so many stories about stuff from games we played as children being unintentionally terrifying! It makes sense, because adults have no idea how kids are going to react to basically anything.

To add to the list of kids games that were accidentally scary, the final boss of Kingdom Hearts really got me as a kid! Well, not specifically Ansem (Xemnas? Ansem’s nobody? Honestly, I have no idea!), but the arena you fought him in. CW endless voids I guess! Basically, you’re floating in an endless expanse of blackness with only a strange structure in the middle to really anchor you visually. When the cutscene revealed the stage I remember my stomach flipping and the blood rushing to my head. Something about being in and endless void scares me on a fundamental level! I’ve gotten a similar feeling from other games, like when I fell into the black hole in the center of Brittle Hollow without my ship in Outer Wilds, or jumping off the shelf in Subnautica, but KH was the first that I can remember!

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Dark Bramble feels fairly intentionally designed to be scary, but it surprised me how many of the standard things in the solar system ended up making me absolutely jump out of my skin. The quantum objects suddenly popping up next to you is an obvious one that got me basically every time

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To add to the gaggle of people discussing Ocarina of Time, can we talk about the Bottom of the Well? The Shadow Temple is creepy enough but Dead Hand goes beyond anything you encounter in there, and the BotW (lol) has the added bonus of requiring Child Link to enter. There’s an undercurrent of horror in a lot of Zelda games but I don’t remember it ever cropping up as explicitly as there, in these dungeons that are explicitly about histories of torture and death.

Also, on to Majora’s Mask, remember how the Deku King tries to boil a monkey alive? I was a teenager when I played that game and that was still terrifying.

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I remember being terrified of everything when I was doing the final level of Dishonored’s The Brightmore Witches. Without going into spoilers, i found it quite harder than the base game and you a get a sense of vulnerability that makes for a very tense experience. On the other hand, of course, it makes for a very satisfying ending when you beat the level lol. Another thing that contributed for my fear was the characterization of the ambient, which in true Dishonored fashion is very detailed and well crafted. The enemies hanging out and doing sinister stuff makes for very good spooky vibes, imo!

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I remember finding the Deep Roads from Dragon Age: Origins to be incredibly creepy when I played it (which was probably almost a decade ago at this point, but still). It’s a disturbing area from a story standpoint, and the setting (a network of underground tunnels) added to the unnerving vibe.

Also, while I think the game borders on horror in many ways (not from a gameplay standpoint, necessarily, but in terms of tone), I wanna give some props to the Soulforge from Thief 2: The Metal Age. Incredibly tense and atmospheric, and represents a even darker turn for the plot up to that point.

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I’m going to add another Sonic moment, specifically when you start to run out of air in the early Sonic the Hedgehog games. I made that noise my alarm for awhile and it sure does do a good job at jolting you awake.

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Yeah, I haven’t been to Dark Bramble yet (because… well, everything about it screams “this is meant to be intimidating”), but in my run through of Outer Wilds in the last few days, I’m pretty sure there’s been more scary/anxiety-inducing/tension-inducing/horrific moments than there have been gentle explorey moments. Inherently, any game with a space travel mechanic which lets you damage your ship from poor piloting has terrifying moments if you’re not good with the controls, for a start, even without going into spoilery aspects.

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ah, for me it’s the twins in outer wilds

the caverns slowly filling with sand as you’re trying to navigate the platforms, and getting trapped in a crevice while it runs out of space is really claustrophobic, and I’m not a person who has tons of trouble with small spaces

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Absolutely, that experience (plus the whole ‘the system primary is terrifyingly huge overhead when you’re on the surface’ thing) that finally broke the camel’s back for me and the game.