What They Say:
Among 14 strangers, you find yourself at the outskirts of the backwater town of Prehevil. A town that still holds tight onto its ancient rites and macabre traditions. You are forced to partake in the Festival of Termina, an ominous event that only occurs once every pale and sickly green moon. A moon that happens to be grinning and watching your every step… There is only one that walks away once the three days are over.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers, also please note that Fear and Hunger 2: Termina is a game that includes discussions of the following: Sexual assault, intense violence, drug use, suicide, self-harm, murder, etc. While these topics are not discussed in detail in the review, please take these warnings into account.)
These days it’s not often that I find myself fully absorbed in a video game. Recent years have found me drifting away from a medium I used to love. However one thing has held true in my heart, and that is the oft-untapped potential of video games as art. It’s one thing for a story to grab us, to immerse us in the world of the story and to make us love (or hate) the characters. It’s another thing entirely for the work of art to ask the consumer to interact directly with its world, to inhabit its characters, and make the player truly grapple with the situation at hand. Many video games over the past few decades have done just such a thing. Games like Metal Gear Solid 2, Pathologic, The Last of Us, Dark Souls, the list goes on.
One such genre has a stranglehold on this demographic: survival horror. These games, since their inception, have enthralled gamers not with tales of triumph, of mechanics built around empowering the player and extracting a sense of primal fun from their mechanics. They have, instead, found a gaming niche in the opposite direction. Survival horror games push players to their limits, disempowering them and placing them in a world where every enemy is not just out to get them, but has a stark physical advantage over the player. The triumphs of survival horror don’t bring the player the same catharsis as, say, killing a boss in DOOM. They bring the player a different one, the catharsis of triumphing over sheer, insurmountable adversity, pushing players’ resource management and tactical skills to their limits. Fear and Hunger 2: Termina is a survival horror game like no other. A sequel to the developer’s first game, Fear and Hunger, its core gameplay loop is threefold: resource management where you need to keep your characters health, hunger, and sanity topped up, puzzle solving, and turn-based RPG-style combat.
All that to say that Fear and Hunger 2: Termina is a harrowing, brutal experience. You die fast and often. Your health will almost never be topped up, since you can’t afford to waste a heal on someone who is close enough to being fully healed. Every battle, especially at the start, could be your last. This tense dance of resource management and puzzle-battles is complemented by a limited save system. The story of Termina takes place over three days, starting at the morning of day 1, and each time you save that time passes. Morning gives way to afternoon which gives way to the evening. NPCs live their lives with or without your input, with characters dying offscreen if you haven’t been paying attention. The town grows more dangerous. To top it all off, not every save spot is a safe one, with many save spots requiring you to clear whole buildings before you take a much-needed respite. These limited saves, coupled with randomized loot and the nail-biting combat means you have to weigh the pros and cons of each save. “Did I make enough progress to justify it? Will a character I’m trying to keep alive die?” These questions haunt each save, hell, they haunt each decision you make.
The brutal mechanics and harrowing nature of traversal, however, would be nothing without a narrative framework to keep it all together. Dark Souls is not Dark Souls without the worldbuilding, Silent Hill 2 is not Silent Hill 2 without the engrossing story. I’m happy to say that the writing is the macabre oil that keeps the clockwork of the gameplay turning. Each character, playable or not, feels like a full, real person, and they react to the incomprehensible horrors present as such. Karin the journalist, for example, is convinced that the horrors and hallucinations in the town are the result of an enemy army committing war crimes, whilst characters like Marina with more ties to the occult are less fazed by the encroaching extraplanar threat.
Then there’s the sound design. Beyond punchy attacks and anxiety-inducing footsteps, the soundscape of Termina envelops the player even further in its world. The music is discordant, often industrial in sound, evocative of the works of Akira Yamaoka. It’s a perfect complement to every other aspect of the game.
To top it all off are the visuals. The art style of Termina is wholly its own. It mixes painterly styles with pixel art to visually represent truly horrifying monsters in a way that, while it does not undercut the intent, makes the dark subject matter of the game palatable. Overworld sprites are stylized enough that watching someone get beheaded while disturbing, doesn’t detract from the impact by being too well depicted and ripping you out of the experience.
If I had to levy one major criticism against Termina, it’s the lack of something crucial to a game with a limited save system: a suspend function. When you boot up Termina you need to make sure you can commit as much time as you’re willing to before saving, lest you start a session only to lose hours of progress due to needing to step away from the computer. The ability to stop – but not save – your game at any time would make me much more likely to turn this game into a constant in my life.
I’ll bookend this emphatic review with one word of caution. There is a high probability that Fear and Hunger 2: Termina is not for you, and that is OK. It is a brutal, unrelenting beatdown of a game where people die horribly and the horrors of humanity are presented without any pulled punches. You will lose your limbs, you will lose your party members forever, and you will lose your will to go on time and time again, often losing hours of progress as you do.
Fear and Hunger 2: Termina may not be for you, but if you vibe with its brutality and unforgiving nature, you’ll find yourself immersed in a video game like no other, one that lays bare the traumas and pain that make up every person’s life. An instant favorite for me, and perhaps an instant favorite for you as well.
Content Grade: A+
Text/Translation Grade: B+
Age Rating: Adults Only
Released By: Mirio Haverinen
Release Date: December 9th, 2022
Approximate Play Time: 16 hours
Replay Value: A+
Review Equipment: Valve Steam Deck