The Gothic genre employs themes of degradation, horror, emotionalism over objectivity, and the supernatural to elicit wonder, suspense, and terror in audiences. From Ann Radcliffe to Mary Shelley, from Edgar Allen Poe to H.P. Lovecraft, from Bram Stoker to Tim Burton. Elements of the Gothic genre have been fascinating creators and their audiences for two centuries, and video game creators are no different. From these sensations, a distinct aesthetic and cast of reoccurring villains have emerged.
Dracula in his Gothic castle, the werewolf prowling under the moonlight, the occult creeping up in isolated villages, the witch in her hut, the living scarecrow, the zombie plague, are all staples in the genre.
This top 10 list will be looking at which video games did it best; and, to keep things fair, only one entry from each franchisee will be allowed.
10 Resident Evil 4
Beginning in rural Europe, Resident Evil 4 instantly taps into a sense of mystery and dread when Leon Kennedy comes upon an entire village bewitched by some unknown force. As the game progresses, players are pushed further into the depths of a vicious, science-wielding cult with plans of unleashing a plague to enslave the planet. While Resident Evil 1 was also a top contender for the top 10 Gothic games, Resident Evil 4 takes the number 10 spot due to its greater inclusion of religious symbolism, pervading dreariness, and, of course, the mesmerizing Gothic castle where much of the game takes place.
9 Dante's Inferno
No Gothic's games list would be complete without some reference to the best virtual adaptation of the quintessential epic that so much of the genre takes its inspiration. The game is based on the first book in Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy and does its best to include as much from the source material as possible. In this action-adventure RPG, players take on the role of the crusader Dante as he willingly claws his way down the nine circles of Hell to save his beloved Beatrice from Satan. Filled with demons, the damned, and epic boss battles, Dante's Inferno is a must for Gothic lovers looking for a fast-paced challenge.
This entry is the most recent game on this top 10 list. Blasphemous takes the number 8 spot for showing that the genre still has just as much grit as ever — even if it is a pixelated, Metroidvania side-scroller. In Blasphemous, The Penitent One must end the Miracle to reverse the world's corruption and simultaneously end his hellish cycle of death and rebirth. The game is filled with Christian theology and incorporates biblical narrative elements to set up a plot that seems like something straight out of Revelations. Possibly the most liberal with its use of gore, each boss battle is a brutal catastrophe in its own right. The graphics team pushes the medium to its visual limits, and the result is a sight to see.
7 Dark Souls 2
In Dark Souls 2, players occupy the role of a nameless human who has become Undead. To prevent his transformation into a Hollow (a mindless zombie without freewill), players must traverse a dark, unforgiving, Medieval landscape to collect the Great Souls of four Old Ones.
Each of the Souls games are worthy contenders, but Dark Souls 2 occupies a special place in most gamer's hearts for its rich plot and perfected difficulty, for which the series is renowned. In blending Lovecraft with the creators' unique take on dark Medieval and Japanese lore, Dark Souls 2 is a must-play experience for any gamer and fan of the Gothic genre.
6 Amnesia: The Dark Descent
The Gothic genre often incorporates elements of mental degradation, showcasing the slow break down of a person's psyche as they fail to grasp the often-unimaginable supernatural forces which beset them. Amnesia: The Dark Descent use of one innovative mechanic encapsulates this motif: the "Sanity Meter." Armed with nothing, Daniel must navigate the monster-infested castle while managing his sanity. To do this, players will have to advert their eyes from the many disturbing scenarios and images waiting around each turn. Furthermore, the lack of weapons makes for a heart-wrenching endeavor. It has since been incorporated many times in games, with the most notable being Outlast.
5 Diablo 2
Descent into the depths of Hell, whether real or imagined, has become a staple plot element for the Gothic genre. Diablo 2 takes the number 5 spot for being one of the best ever to do it while using the video game medium — not to mention being one of the greatest computer games ever made. Of course, each major installment of the Diablo franchise features this plot in one way or another. However, it would be hard to deny that the second installment did it better than the first and the third installment, while graphically fantastic, was a dull, 3-hour cakewalk in terms of difficulty. Players know exactly what kind of experience they are getting from the first moment of Act I: a dark and lonely descent into Hell.
When a game begins with a dialogue regarding the importance of blood, you know you're in for one hell of an experience. Out of all the games on this list, Bloodborne definitely has the most well thought out plot. Practically an homage to Lovecraft, Bloodborne seamlessly incorporates all the best ideas from the Cosmic Horror writer — with the exception of fish-men, of course. As a Hunter of the Dream, players must uncover the secrets of Yarnham by going back and forth between Yarnham, which has been overtaken by beasts, and the Hunter's Dream which acts as a sanctuary for those on the hunt. Throughout the game, players learn more about the source of the miraculous blood which acts as both a miracle cure and a curse in the world, as well as the dark origins of the University which set off the events in the game.
3 Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
This Stoker-inspired cult classic takes our number 3 spot as one of the best Metroidvanias of all time and one of the most aesthetically pleasing side-scrollers in history. Playing as Alucard, the half-vampire son of Dracula, players must explore Dracula's castle and slay the returned vampire king. With a simple but excellent plot, wicked gameplay, tasteful aesthetics, and one of the most memorable soundtracks of all time, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night had to be included. Additionally, it has aged amazingly, still being as fun to play as it ever was.
2 MediEvil 1 / MediEvil Remake
It is right there in the name: MediEvil is just about as Medieval as it can get. The entire game is a cacophony of Gothic everything: Pumpkin Kings, dark sorcerers, witches and cauldrons, vampires, talking gargoyle heads, imps, mind-controlled villagers, zombies, demons, a monster-slaying skeleton knight, and the list goes on. This Tim Burton-inspired game somehow manages to fit it all into one cohesive story. Despite the dark content, the game is full of humor and never takes itself too seriously.
MediEvil takes the number 2 spot for incorporating nearly every Gothic monster that comes to mind when people say the word "Gothic." One leap into the world of Gallowmere will show any gamer just about everything they need to know about the genre and its symbolism and creatures.
1 Ghouls 'n Ghosts
Number 1 goes to Ghouls 'n Ghosts, a side-scrolling Gothic arcade game that introduced many players to the genre, as well as being the first game to do the genre justice. In Ghouls 'n Ghosts, players take on the role of Prince Arthur as he hacks down demons and monsters to save Princess Prin Prin from the devil. What most gamers will remember about this game is its insane difficulty. You get one life to beat the game. No saves, no resets, and two hits will kill you. And to top it all off, just when you think you have slain Lucifer, he laughs it off and sends you back to a revised version of Level 1 to do it all again. From its landscape to its plot, to its characters, Ghouls 'n Ghosts was the first to do it right and undoubtedly directly or indirectly inspired all those that came after it.