The ad above makes the Mansion of Hidden Souls seem like the scariest game ever made for the Sega CD. Created by System Sacom and published by Vic Tokai in 1994, the game made the most out of its CD-ROM medium for Sega’s system in the same way that titles such as Myst and the 7th Guest did on PCs.
According to the story provided with the manual, there’s a legend about a special elm tree in the garden that is said to be the home to an evil spirit. Once every four years, flowers blossom around it and mysterious butterflies appear, flying around the tree. It’s said that anyone who looks at one of these glowing butterflies will turn into one themselves! Spoooky.
Of course, guess what happens next. As the game opens, you and your sister are outside one day, see a strange butterfly, and are reminded of the legend above. Your sister wonders how nice it might be to be one before unexpectedly running off, giggling. Going after her, you arrive at a mysterious mansion that wasn’t there before and instead of freaking out, make your way in encountering puzzles, strange rooms, and talking butterflies that seem to not have you or your sister’s best interests in mind.
Mansion of Hidden Souls, in its day, was a surprisingly remarkable CD-ROM game for the Sega CD. It featured 3D graphics with full, first-person video used to seamlessly blend each rendered scene together so when you turned or chose to “move” in the game, a video of that movement would play before ending at a preset location. While it didn’t allow for free roaming movement, it still looked remarkably good back in the day.
This was a straight up adventure game. Players explored a mansion, examined items, and attempted to discover clues and solve puzzles by finding hidden items as well as navigating through the mansion’s secret ways. A diary kept track of your saves once you found it and keys were kept in your inventory along with whatever else you found. A clock also began the “time trial” of the game leaving you with only one hour to find and escape with your sister before you become a permanent part of the Mansion’s collection.
Even though you’re timed once you find the clock, time doesn’t pass in real-time within the game. As long as you don’t “move,” the clock stays still, forcing players to be as frugal as possible when going about the Mansion. It’s a bit unusual to see a time limit used in a console adventure title like this game, though it’s an old concept that many games would continue to use to great effect such Smoking Car’s The Last Express on PCs a few years later.
Mansion of Hidden Souls would go on to get its own sequel a year later from Sega itself which would also be — confusingly — called The Mansion of Hidden Souls. In that game, which took place after the Sega CD version, the Mansion is calling you back to help solve another mystery and uncover the truth of why it exists in the first place.
Back in the early nineties, The Mansion of Hidden Souls was cutting edge stuff and critical reviews from that era reflected that kind of optimism even though it wasn’t the kind of scary game that the ad above tries to sell it as.
It doesn’t quite hold up too well today in comparison to everything else that has come out since then, but it deserves to be remembered as an interesting, if short, adventure that turned out to be something of a decent FMV game. And that’s rare enough as it is.