Cosmology of Kyoto is a remarkably chilly game. While its roots in Japanese horror folklore and rich atmosphere definitely make up the foundations for its incredibly uncanny and often outright frightening visualscape, I think what I got most out of it was just how cold a world it presents. Cosmology of Kyoto, is a very old and now very forgotten game, with really its biggest lasting impact in the current modern climate is that it was the one video game that famous movie critic, Roger Ebert, had reviewed and praised as a work of art. And for a game that came out in 1993, it is hard to ignore what an insanely in-depth piece of work that this game is. First, and foremost, Cosmology of Kyoto, while definitely a point and click, is most importantly, an edutainment game. While you scour the fictional world of demon run Heian-era Heiankyo, your best tools will not be your money or sword, but instead an in-depth and often very exhaustive feeling encyclopedia of various folklore and history of the region you are exploring.
Of course, reading about what you’re seeing in front of you, is a very important part of what the game wants to give to the player. What you will mainly see in your adventure are barren streets, grotesque and often faded painted caricatures of beggars, nobles, and commoners, and of course, the bizarre and often quite terrifying demons themselves, that can easily kill you for a quick game over if you’re not careful. Heiankyo, in this game, is not a kind place, oftentimes it's visual landscape is empty, loomed over with a devastating bleak blue night time sky, and shrouded shadows over everything, making sure you never quite get a feel for the world the game sets up. This in turn makes your map, practically a necessity if you plan on getting any familiarity of this place at all, but even that won’t help you truly grasp the seemingly empty hallways where horrors can pop up at any moment.
Something you will notice right away about this game is how powerless you are. While you are given a sword and a sultra fairly early on that will help you avoid near death against the game’s countless horrors, you are not safe from any of the game’s myriad of events that can and will happen, and show you the true frightening reality of this dog-eat-dog world. Death is everywhere in this game, Onis will eat the weak and the powerful all the same, the seemingly endless hallways are littered with corpses, sometimes well before you had gotten there, and some of the freshly killed robbers you’ll defend yourself against along the way. There was a moment early on in my experience of some children playing what was essentially just a sport, before accidentally coming into contact with a noble carriage and getting decapitated. The almost bleak blue pitch of the sky is oftentimes turned into a hellish red, almost always meaning some horrifying death in an abandoned temple that your encyclopedia essentially warns you about beforehand, not that it can truly prepare you regardless.
I think I could talk forever about what a feeling this game has over you. It is a game you will essentially bumble around in, seeing new events in which you’re more or less just an observer to. And my experience just happened to coincide with the weather dropping to be quite chilly, really enhancing that cold and barren experience of walking along the huge walls of the city, wondering what new terror may lurk in the darkness ready to scare me. Cosmology is a game that can be hard to set up proper (as is many older PC titles) and harder still to properly adjust to, especially with how little information there is online about this game. But if you can take the time to let this game soak into you, it is a truly haunting, unforgettable, and indeed, very informative experience, and if nothing else, it is an important and fascinating project in the world of pre-Resident Evil horror games in the medium. It is a chilling experience, an unsettling look into the cruelties of early living, and the petrifying legends that come out of it, and is also just an insanely cool experience.