Calling Review

Japanese horror, no matter what the medium, thrives off of thematic convention. Hudson’s Calling is no different. Although it suffers from sub-par visuals, awful voice acting, simple puzzles, and minimal gameplay variety, it still maintains its appeal thanks to intriguing presentation, atmosphere, and its ability to connect with natural human fears and curiosities.

Covering the gamut of J-horror cliches, Calling sends players through a school and a hospital, among other locations, in hopes of discovering the truth about “The Black Page,” an internet chat room that draws its users into a world where the living and the dead walk among one another. In this “Mnemonic Abyss,” ghostly torment and seemingly perpetual darkness impede progress, while cellular phones allow for physical transport from location to location.


Characters cannot be harmed in Calling. Being assaulted by ghosts only raises the player’s horror meter, which begins to decrease after breaking free from their clutches in true Wii-waggle fashion. What is impressive about the system is that the player begins to dread fear itself, and the idea that the characters can be driven into a state horror that will turn them into ghosts and end the game.

The unknown and revealing the unknown are the significant themes in Calling. Players consistently find themselves in environments with very little light, making exploration — primarily on-screen “grasp” and “examine” icons that interact with environmental objects — impossible until a light source such as a flashlight or candle is located. Players can never be sure whether incoming calls on the always-equipped cell phones (via the Wii remote speaker) are from friendly characters or hostile spirits. One particularly effective scenario early in the game features a voice telling the player that it’s coming to get its phone, after which the ghost continues to call every 30 seconds or so with updates on its progress. This all happens as the player frantically runs through dark school hallways that all look the same, quickly increasing stress levels and having a field day with one’s nerves. The cell phones’ other primary function, transporting, is simply a game of roulette; each time a number is found, the goal is only to escape the current location in hopes that the unknown destination is somehow nicer.

Calling does a good job of making the player feel hopelessly lost, in part because basic exploration is so slow to reveal the way forward, but also because the environments repeat all the time. Every hallway in each area is the same, low-fidelity collection of images, from doors and windows to furniture and objects, and although this aids the game to produce its desired effects, it is a cheap and transparent way to do so. The use of light and dark, on the other hand, is very well implemented, as flashlights illuminate in long columns with soft, graduated edges and limited overflow into peripheral space. Perhaps more important than light and exploration, however, is the guidance from a number of spirits on which the player grows dependent as the story progresses. In a way, Calling plays the player, using these otherworldly apparitions to point the way forward. They demonstrate that constantly checking doors and searching rooms isn’t the best way to proceed, but only after dropping the player into environments where they would logically conclude the opposite. What initially feels like fumbling in the dark turns into following cues and ignoring the irrelevant, later on.


Some aspects of the game did degrade over time, however. Environmental sounds — thumps, cracks, creaks, etc. — and visual abnormalities like shadowy figures darting across the screen or images of faces quickly flashing and disappearing may have frightened players early on, but were easily ignored only a little later in the game because they were rarely an indication of immediate danger. They were essentially boys who cried wolf. Voice acting, too, is a weakness for Calling. The awkwardly timed and abnormally inflected speech of ghosts would have been fine, but when those same speech characteristics are present for living characters, narrative suffers. It is also slightly annoying that so much was left in Japanese in the North American version of the game. It wasn’t so much the signs and posters in the environments, because those can at least be examined to find out what they say, but more pertinent to un-examinable words scribbled on walls, in lockers, on bookshelves, etc., where the player has no way of knowing what is written. Because so much of Calling is about building atmosphere, the fact that a non-Japanese speaker’s native language effectively cuts out parts of the game can diminish the overall experience.

Calling has as many factors working against it as it does working in its favor; dates visuals, poor voice acting, repetition, and weak puzzles suggest a worse experience than the game provides. But while leaning heavily on traditional J-horror themes and conventions to deliver scares and suspense, Calling creates a captivating, dark atmosphere and manages to connect with gamers’ psyches in a way that makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts.


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Author: Eddie Inzauto View all posts by
Eddie has been writing about games on the interwebz for over ten years. You can find him Editor-in-Chiefing around these parts, or talking nonsense on Twitter @eddieinzauto.

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