Deep Fear (Saturn) – great music, awful voice acting

What is Deep Fear, in a nutshell? It’s a Resident Evil knock-off released in Japan and Europe in 1998, and actually the final Sega Saturn game to be released here in Europe before Sega shut up shop. Set in an underwater military base, the core gameplay is extremely Resi-like – using tank controls you navigate complex environments, fend off monsters, manage your ammo and solve arcane puzzles. Deep Fear’s one unique twist is an oxygen meter which requires you to find computer terminals to re-oxygenate areas where the oxygen is low. It’s a simple but effective mechanic which adds extra tension to exploring.

I have a soft spot for horror games of the tank-control-survival variety, and Deep Fear is very good at what it does. It’s not the most riveting game; I picked up the game about a year ago and put in a few hours with it before getting distracted and moving on. But despite having played for a short time, and the game being rather generic, there are two specific aspects of Deep Fear that make it extremely memorable and almost endlessly fascinating (to me anyway). First is the beautifully produced and composed music, while the second is the utterly abominable voice acting.

To explain why this is baffling, I need to talk a bit about each part. Let’s start with the music. When I said beautifully produced, I really meant it. Sega went to town with this game, going so far as to hire an outside composer for the job. And not just any outside composer, but a man by the name of Kenji Kawai… The name might not ring any bells, but rest assured, if you’ve ever watched the anime feature film Ghost in the Shell you will be familiar with this man’s haunting compositions. (Also more recently, Kawai provided the music for the original Japanese versions of The Ring and its sequel. Not a bad project to have your name on.) For those of you who haven’t seen Ghost in the Shell, or if you’d just like a reminder, there is one memorable sequence of the film where Kawai’s music takes centre stage.

The fact that Ghost in the Shell’s film makers decided to insert this long, wordless sequence right in the middle of this film was bold, to say the least. It shows the confidence they had in Kawai’s music to create and carry the mood of the images without the need for added text or dialogue.

Now, just because Ghost in the Shell did it, I’m not saying Sega should’ve copied them by doing away with text and dialogue in Deep Fear. Really, I’m not. However, I do question their decision to bring together a haunting, beautiful soundtrack from the composer of Ghost in the Shell with embarrassingly poor voice acting. Let’s look at that now: how poor are we talking here, exactly…?

Pretty damn poor actually! This video up to 6mins 30secs is all you need to know. And if you aren’t convinced yet, try this…

It doesn’t get much worse than this. Really, it doesn’t. I don’t know if it makes it better or worse that these were the only renditions of these lines in any language – it’s not like there is a Japanese voice acted version of this game that’s any better, no, actually it’s the same English voice acting in the Japanese and European release.

It’s completely baffling to me that despite having the resources to bring in a renowned film composer to score this game, Sega evidently grabbed the first English speakers they could find off the street, gave them drugs, handed them a script and recorded the results.

Still, let’s at least end on a positive note with a few tunes from Deep Fear.

This piece is entitled Old Friend, and if I’m not mistaken the title refers to the main character’s sidekick Mookie, who we heard in the first Deep Fear video here repeatedly crying out for his beloved chief. As I listen to this piece, I like to recall some of his lines in a kind of mental montage: “Chief! Chief! Chief! April Fools!” It improves the experience no end.

Here’s another wonderfully subtle piece. Again, the title, Recollection, prompts reflections on this game’s characters. I cannot help but be reminded of the protagonist, John Mayor, and his great strength in reassuring Mookie: “I’m right. Above you. I’ll be right there.” And who could forget Dubois’s great pain at his submarine’s misfortune? Can you imagine how strong his pain must be to make his camp accent slide from French to English in just a few sentences? How is it that his anguish here is so real: “This is terrible, my masterpiece is ruined. Ohh!! What am I going to do?!”

That’s the power of Deep Fear, folks. It’s futile, I know, to ask what happened with this game – why this all came to pass. But there are times when asking can be cathartic, when asking is essential to move on, even though there can never be a satisfactory answer. So we ask: how did Sega get the music so right, and the voice acting so wrong?

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3 comments

  1. moresleepneeded

    I have not played this game, but I may have heard of it. I owned a copy of Sega Flash 5. The Sega Flash cds consisted of demos of games (some playable and some consisting of animated sequences from the game). One of the demos from Sega Flash 5 was a horror game set in an underwater or underground facility and seemed really effective. I was wondering it was this game, but I am not sure (I think I am thinking of a game called Enemy Zero). I think there were some good soundtracks for the Sega Saturn games (although I remember a lot of optimistic songs) and I like the idea of using a respected composer to create the music (probably because the developers developed atmospheric music, rather than the tinny mechanical music from earlier games). I think some of the voice acting from around this time was bad (some one told me that the noise of outside traffic could be heard in the background of the soundtrack for the original Metal Gear Solid game). The image of one of the characters edging away from the monster seems to be a rare example of bad acting in a game.
    What is the story for this game? Is this game effective at creating a sense of horror? The bright lighting, smooth surfaces and cartoony humans found in Sega Saturn games seem to make it difficult to make these games frightening. I find it interesting that the title seems to suit the title of a horror film from the same era.

    • veryverygaming

      I looked up Sega Flash 5 and it is Enemy Zero you’re remembering. That game is set on a space station if I’m not mistaken? Completely understandable why you’d get them confused though, they’re very similar premise-wise. And, funnily enough, Enemy Zero is another obscure game with a shockingly high calibre soundtrack – it’s by Michael Nyman, a high profile film music composer!

      Deep Fear is not the scariest game. I’d compare it to the PS1 Resident Evil games – slightly creepy at times, atmospheric, but not scary. And actually I quite like that. It’s fun to play and not as tense as more recent horror games. Saturn games in general tend to be quite big and bold, don’t they? A lot of PS1 games are grainy and dark in a way that Saturn games aren’t. That’s true of Deep Fear too, it’s surprisingly colorful.

      • moresleepneeded

        I thought it might be called Enemy Zero. I cannot remember where it was set, I did not actually play the game, the demo consisted of an animated sequence. The demo was also silent so I cannot comment about the music.
        I agree that Saturn games use a lot of bold colours (which is probably why NiGHTS was able to closely resemble a dream world). I have not played many Playstation 1 games, but I agree that many Playstation 2 games are quite dark and grainy. Games a little later than the Saturn seem to be good at creating a very grim atmosphere, with muted colours, distorted structures and grimy environments.

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