Yurei Station follows a young woman on a supernatural journey aboard a train to a strange, frightening place, coaxed into coming by a series of otherworldly messages.
Much of Yurei Station (available on Itch.io) was informed by the developers’ time spent in Japan, drawing from unsettling real-world locations, frightening images on Japanese TV during a spirit photography boom, and even some scary, bizarre experiences they had while travelling the countryside. Siliconera spoke to them about these situations, learning how the unique fears brought on by Japanese horror created the work.
The train is an important part of Yurei Station. Can you tell us some of the train memories that lead you to create this game? What it was about your experiences with trains that lead you to tell this story?
Cécile Brun & Olivier Pichard, developers of Yurei Station – A few years ago, we traveled to the very north of Honshu. One evening, we had to change trains in Noheji, a small fishermen village. We were waiting on the platform when we started hearing drums in the distance. We had some free time before the next train, so we went outside the station. It was getting dark. Lanterns were glowing everywhere and women were dancing in traditional costumes. Suddenly, huge floats decorated with monstrous figures emerged from the darkness. We mingled with the villagers and followed them for a while. When it was time to catch our train, we watched the floats disappear in the night and returned to the station in silence.
This unexpected encounter of a ghostly festival has influenced us a lot. Strange adventures await you at every station when you travel in Japan.
What was it about your time in Japan that brought you to a story about ghosts?
There are many odd places in Japan. We’ve been in Osorezan (the mountain of fear) several times. It’s a desolate volcano, one of the most sacred places in Japan. Parents come there to contact the souls of their dead children. We’ve seen huge crows in the rocks, quarreling over kid’s snacks left as offerings. We’ve heard a mother screaming the name of her lost daughter over the sulfuric lake.
We’ve been in the tsunami area too, one year after the disaster. We’ve seen entire neighborhoods wiped away. Broken remains of household objects (dishes, cups, toys,…) were gathered in small piles on the side of the streets. One house seemed intact in the middle of nowhere. Were there still people living there? We went behind only to find a big hole on the wall: everything had been sucked out of the house.
And somewhere, not so far, there’s this forbidden area where humans cannot live anymore. Like a cursed place, filled with ghosts…
What was it about Japanese ghost stories that captures your imagination?
In the 80s, there was a sudden interest in spirit photographs on Japanese TV. They were scrutinizing photos of ordinary people, trying to spot blurry shapes in the background. Chiaki J. Konaka (also creator of Serial Experiment Lain) was inspired by this phenomenon, and asked people to send ghost stories that really happened to them. Some of the stories he received were so bizarre and minimal they looked like nobody could have imagined them. Konaka gathered them in his television series Scary True Stories, which is considered the birth of modern J-Horror in the early 90’s.
For that reason, Japanese ghost stories are deeply connected with daily life. Ghosts appear in mundane environments, sometimes in daylight. They are a metaphor for the anxiety of contemporary society. They show problems people don’t dare to talk about. It’s not about ghosts bursting in our world to frighten us, but more about the world of the living slowly getting closer to the world of the dead until the frontier between them disappears…
What do you feel is important to capture in a good ghost story? What do you feel worked well in your own?
It’s important to keep a sense of mystery. Some details should resist any explanation. Ghosts are stuck between two worlds. It’s a very strange idea, and our favorite ghost stories are the ones that question our perception of reality. If done well, it can create a pure abstract terror.
Our aim for Yûrei Station was to focus on the heroine’s point of view. We see everything through her eyes. She is lost and confused, so we wanted the player to feel the same. We had to find a balance between what we explain and what the player guesses. We also tried not to fill the gaps ourselves – what’s unknown to the player also remains a mystery to us.
We hope it will help the players to project themselves in the character’s mind, and that the game’s atmosphere will stick with them for a long time.
Your art style is cute, yet deals with some unsettling subject matter. What drew you to juxtapose the two?
The graphics of the game were done during a workshop with high school students. So, we had no idea how the art would look. Realistic? Stylized? It entirely depended on the students. That’s why we chose a teenage girl as the main character: her story is illustrated by people of her age. There’s something true and natural about that.
Is the art style cute? Does it contrast with the tone of the story? We didn’t think about that during the workshop. The students simply drew the way they usually do. We’re very happy with the look of the game, though; there’s something playful and full of life about the graphics and it makes the story even more affecting.
Yurei Station is a striking work, yet you completed it in two days. How did you manage to complete this task? What steps did you take, and how did it come together?
Only the graphics were done in 2 days, during the workshop. The days before, we prepared a prototype with placeholder graphics. We played it in front of the students to show them what kind of game we were making and told them the story. Then, they started to draw with pencils and watercolors. Every time a drawing was completed, it was scanned and the file was pasted in the game’s folder. The game was projected on a wall so everyone could see the watercolor art gradually replacing the placeholder graphics. At the end of the workshop, we could play a first version of the game.
The days after we had to polish it: compose the music, write the dialogue, translate it to English, … Fun fact: at this time, we were traveling a lot in France to sign our graphic novel, Onibi, in bookstores and festivals. So a part of Yûrei Station was actually done in trains!
What challenges did you face in getting all of your artists to work with a single, cohesive vision?
High school is a time where you try to find your own identity and, for artists, your own style. It’s very likely that their teachers usually encourage them in this way. But we told them the opposite – it’s important to keep things simple and to draw them the way they are. For example, the first character design was very sophisticated and it didn’t match the heroine we had in mind – an ordinary girl from the countryside. It was also very difficult to have the main character look the same when drawn by 3 different artists. We asked them to redo everything several times until they got in tune.
For the backgrounds, every element had to be drawn under the same perspective. It was a little bit confusing for some students, so we had to draw simple sketches to show them. We also brought lots of reference pictures, mostly taken during our travels. Another trick was to set the story in the night. We asked the students to paint a blue tone over their drawings before adding the other colors. This blue layer helped to create a homogenous atmosphere.
In the end, all the graphics matched together quite well. For indie developers like us, used to working alone, it was wonderful to witness all those high school students working together. We hope we’ll have more opportunities like this in the future.