This is going to be a bit of a weird one, but bear with me. The game that has scared me the most isn't a horror experience (don't get me wrong, I won't go outside if it's foggy thanks to Silent Hill 2), it's actually Final Fantasy 7. Sounds ridiculous, right? But there's a good reason that no other games have managed to put me quite so on edge as Square's classic JRPG.
There are some horror aspects in the game - you find Vincent Valentine in a coffin in the basement of a mansion. And he's a vampire. But those moments are more box-ticking tropes than anything else. No one's terrified of Vincent Valentine, unless they harbour dark fears about androgynous cybergoths.
It's not the bits in Final Fantasy 7 that were meant to scary that put the fear of Genova into me, it's the moments where it shows just how vulnerable your party is. It's when it shows you just how exposed to the world you really are.
Final Fantasy 7 is perhaps best remembered for its size. Spread across four discs on the PS1, it features a huge world to explore. You don't need to see all of it to finish the main story, but you'll miss out on a lot if you don't.
One of the byproducts of that size is that sometimes the distance between two save points in the game's dungeons can be massive. Especially if you're looking for a secret, or trying to get all the materia in the game. That combines with another famous aspect of the game - its random battles.
For the most part in FF7, you can't see the enemies you're going to fight. One minute you'll be walking along minding your own business, the next there's a swoosh, the screen warps, and you're face to face with some horrible creatures that want to smash your face off. You're low on potions, maybe one of your team is already dead and you've got no way to review them, now what do you do?
That sudden, inevitable turn for the worst is what stuck with me long after I'd dusted off the main story, got Knights of the Round, and headed off to take out the Weapons. When you're playing a horror game, you expect the shock. It's almost like you're holding your breath, waiting for a zombie to jump out of a cupboard or a monster to sneak up behind you. In Final Fantasy 7, it's different.
What is it that makes the scares in a horror game so effective? It's that they're a spanner in the works. Your best-laid plans have come undone because there was a vampire hiding in a bucket. You get the shock, then you get the panic - what on earth can I do now to make sure I don't die?
Now look at FF7 - you get the shock, then you get the panic. The initial scare comes from the sudden change as you're taken to the battle screen. The spanner gets tossed into the mix in the shape of the fight itself, and how well or poorly prepared you are for it. But it works better because it doesn't deal in cliches.
You're genuinely worried about getting from A to B unscathed. The horror isn't arising from some multi-toothed creature stalking you, or the potential for jump-scares, it's coming from your own frailty. It's a fear that stems from something far more primal than "OMG what is that!!!" - it's a fear based on just how difficult it is to stay alive sometimes, both in the game and in real life.
Final Fantasy 7 might be remembered for its scope and its haircuts, but if you ask me it's one of the tensest gaming experiences you can have. There were more than a handful of moments for me where that tension became too much. Not just in my first play, but in every play afterwards. Sure I'm scared of being bitten by a zombie, but I'm far more terrified of the random nature of the universe - and Final Fantasy 7 captures that existential dread perfectly.