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Phantasmagoria is a 1995 horror-themed adventure game developed by Sierra and written by Roberta Williams, better known for the King's Quest and Laura Bow series. Made at the height of the Full Motion Video boom in gaming, the game utilizes blue screen technology to combine real actors with computer-rendered backgrounds.
The story, which borrows quite heavily from The Shining as well as the works of Edgar Allan Poe, is as follows: famous writer Adrienne Delaney and her photographer husband Don Gordon move into a large, fancy mansion, built and previously owned by an eccentric magician by the name of Zoltan "Carno" Carnovasch. While snooping around her new home, Adrienne discovers a mysterious box in a sealed-off chamber in Carno's study and, to make a short story even shorter, unwittingly unleashes something mysterious and ominous that later turns out to be a demon.
Not too long after the event, Adrienne's normally amiable husband starts starts acting uncharasteristically irritable and irrational, growing increasingly violent and picking up new bad habits. Over the course of seven days extensive research and some very vivid paranormal visions lead Adrienne to uncover the mansion's dark history and the gruesome truth behind the suspicious deaths of Carno and his numerous wives.
While Phantasmagoria suffers from many of the problems common to FMV games, mainly less-than-stellar acting and somewhat limited gameplay, it is widely regarded as one of the better games to come out of the fad. Unlike oh so many other FMV titles, it actually manages to feel like a game you play instead of a half-arsed interactive movie, and the story, while not the most original piece of fiction, is well-constructed.
An In Name Only sequel Phantasmagoria: A Puzzle of Flesh was released in 1996. Aside from the full motion video and gruesome death scenes, the games have little in common in terms of setting and atmosphere, and the storylines are not connected.
- And Call Him George: Cyrus accidentally kills Adrienne's beloved cat Spazz. At least, that's what she believes, given that she saw Cyrus messing with him before. It's entirely possible that Don Kicked the Dog and did the kitty in, himself.
- Axe Crazy: A natural result of the demonic possession.
- The Bluebeard: Carno, as a result of a demonic possession.
- Bowdlerise: The Japanese Saturn port heavily edits the death scene flashbacks Adrienne sees at certain parts of the game, usually removing any Gross Up Close-Up shots of Carno's wives being killed. It also skips the Rape as Drama scene that starts Chapter 4, instead starting with Adrienne crying on her bed after the ordeal.
- The original English game also included a more family-friendly option that parents could turn on, locking the original behind a password. Again, this eliminated the rape scene and some of the more disturbing depictions, which is likely what the Saturn version was based on.
- Chekhov's Gun: The snowman ornament. Though not quite to the extend one might expect; it's not enough to snap Don out of his possessed state for real, only to buy Adrienne enough time to do him in.
- Don asks Adrienne early on for some drain cleaner to help with his darkroom project; she buys him some the next day, and it's never spoken of again. She uses it later on the fully-possessed Don to burn the hell out of his face and save her own skin.
- Chekhov's Skill: Adrienne mentions early that she took Latin classes in college which lets her read Carno's spellbook to send the demon back whence it came.
- Curiosity Killed the Cast: Adrienne learns the hard way that walled-off rooms in old creepy mansions with dark pasts are usually walled-off for a good reason.
- Demonic Possession: Don and Carno.
- Drugs Are Bad: After Don becomes possessed but before Adrienne has discovered this, she finds out that a bottle of absinthe in the foyer's wet bar is starting to decrease in amount day by day; likewise, Carno's cigarette holder is suddenly missing one. This could also count as Mistaken for Junkie, but Adrienne never calls him on any possible drinking or drug problems.
- Dumb Muscle: Harriet's dimwitted but strong son Cyrus.
- Eye Scream: Carno kills Victoria by smashing her face eye-first onto a wine bottle.
- Force Feeding: Regina's death. Eww.
- Arguably Hortencia's death if you count having trowelfuls of dirt being shoveled into your mouth as "feeding".
- Gorn: One of Phantasmagoria's main selling points, and a cause of controversy back when it was first released.
- The French website jeuxvideo.com recently voted Phantasmagoria the goriest video game ever.
- Happily Married: We get one whole chapter of Don and Adrienne acting like a perfectly average couple before everything goes to hell.
- He-Man Woman Hater: The demon essentially transforms the men it possesses into misogynistic, abusive husbands.
- Heroic BSOD: Adrienne in the ending, so very hard.
- Hint System: The Hintkeeper.
- "I Know You're in There Somewhere" Fight: Adrienne's final encounter with Don after the chase scene.
- I'm a Humanitarian: Sort of. Early on in the game, Adrienne has an option to help herself to a drink from one of the wine casks in the cellar. In a later chapter, a vision implies that Victoria's body was stashed in said cask.
- Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Carno and Don.
- Infant Immortality: Averted with Carno's daughter Sofia, age 2.
- Kill It with Fire: Gaston and Marie try to get rid of Carno by sabotaging a stunt of his which involves him getting set on fire. They only succeed in putting him in the hospital, however...
- Large Ham: Don gets hammier and hammier as the game progresses, and his mental state deteriorates. Carno's got quite a flare for the dramatic as well. Overacting must be a symptom of the demonic possession or something.
- Laughing Mad: Don during the final chapter. So much. So frigging much.
- Limited Wardrobe: Despite the game being seven discs in length, Adrienne only ever wears that damn orangey-pink sweater and black jeans.
- According to one of the magazine articles put out by Sierra, the jeans were not originally part of her costume. The actress wore them in on the first day of filming and the producer decided they were perfect. The actress states that, being already somewhat worn, they were held together by duct tape by the end of shooting.
- Magicians Are Wizards: Carno, a stage magician by profession, also dabbled in the dark arts in his spare time.
- Mercy Kill
- Most Writers Are Writers: Adrienne is an in-universe best selling novelist, especially known for a book called Blue Moon Rising.
- Neck Snap: Carne kills Lenora by having her head cranked 360 degrees by some sort of machine.
- Ominous Latin Chanting: "Consumite... FUROO-RE!"
- Peek-a-Boo Corpse: The bodies of Mike, Harriet and Cyrus can be stumbled upon during the chase scene in the final chapter.
- Rape as Drama: Chapter 4's intro cutscene. Don walks in on Adrienne in the bathroom and starts making loving advances on her, which eventually leads to him pinning her in the corner of the room and violently forcing himself on her. After the deed is done, she collapses to the floor sobbing, and he looks around as if confused to what just happened before leaving the room. It's never brought up again.
- According to Roberta Williams, this scene is a turning point in the story. Before, Adrienne didn't find Don's behavior especially weird. This rape is the moment where she finally realizes there's something really wrong happening.
- Room Full of Crazy: Don's darkroom. It's locked throughout most of the game until, in the final chapter, Adrienne finds the door ajar... And she finds a Stalker Shrine inside.
- In a less room-y example, in some chapters, Adrienne can find her laptop opened now and then with insane text littering the screen. In the next-to-last chapter, it's completely destroyed.
- Sealed Evil in a Can: The Demon.
- Spinventory: Leads to a Guide Dang It moment if you don't realize that examined items can also be interacted with; you have to push a button on the back of the black oynx figurine's head to reveal it to be a letter opener.
- Spooky Painting: After they've moved in, Adrienne finds a mostly blank canvas propped up inside the mansion's conservatory. At first, there's only a few peculiar brush strokes on its surface. Every day that follows, if she examines it again, a few more strokes have been added, and the accompanying music grows a bit more foreboding. On the final day, the painting is finished, and it's revealed to be a portrait of the Demon.
- Tarot Motifs: Harriet can do a tarot reading for Adrienne if given the deck of cards. She draws The Fool, The Lovers, Justice, Strength, The Hanged Man, The Tower, The Devil and Death. Yes, somehow, Adrienne managed to draw all Major Arcana cards; Harriet's interpretation of the cards also fudges some of their meanings.
- Tears of Blood: One of Adrienne's nightmares features them.
- Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Harriet horks up a green soupy mass which turns out to be Carno's specter. Ick.