Hello all! Last week, I talked about a game with psychic powers and a goofy art style.
This week, things get a lot creepier as we investigate a haunted mansion armed with only a camera.
What true story would that be, again?
Fatal Frame is an oldie for PS2, having been developed and released by Tecmo back in 2002. You play as Miku Hinasaki, who is looking for her brother Mafuyu in the haunted Himuro mansion. The mansion is crawling with ghosts, some benign, but most are hostile. Miku's only defense is the Camera Obscura, an old camera that has the power to eliminate the ghosts.
What's great about Fatal Frame's story is, it isn't spoon-fed to you through cutscenes. Rather, you read much of the backstory through newspaper clippings, journal entries, etc. In this way, the game rewards those who take the time and effort to explore.
Otherwise, you spend a lot of time taking photos. The Camera Obscura, being your only weapon, can be equipped with different kinds of film you find throughout the mansion, each type of film being of a different strength. The Camera can also be upgraded, allowing for faster attacks, extended range, and you can even equip special abilities to aid you in battling the endlessly creepy ghosts.
Fighting a ghost is as simple as aiming the camera (initiating a shift to first-person view) and hitting R1 with the ghost centered in the frame. The longer you keep the ghost centered, the more power you build up, leading to a stronger attack and more points. Keep in mind, any particular ghost you're attacking is attacking you in turn, while usually weaving in and out of your camera frame, so it's all harder than it sounds. You also get more points (which you need for camera upgrades) for snapping a picture right before the ghost attacks you.
It's a perfect "risk vs. reward" combat system which a lot of games don't really have. Considering ghosts do a pretty severe amount of damage when they attack you, sitting still and lining up a photo can be nerve wracking. And yet the game basically forces you to do just that, in order to score points to get crucial camera upgrades.
And that style of gameplay contributes to my favorite thing about Fatal Frame: it's unrelenting creepiness. A lot of survival horror games are terrifying or unsettling, sure, but...take the original Resident Evil. In that game, of course you were underpowered at the start, being equipped with just a pistol. But later on, you've gathered enough weaponry to start a war. Suddenly, the game is no longer scary. That's compounded with Resident Evil's abrupt shift from creepy mansion to sci-fi lab. It becomes an action game, much like what the whole Resident Evil series is now.
Fatal Frame, on the other hand, never stops feeling creepy. You start the game with one weapon that's barely a weapon, and while you can upgrade it into an awesome ghost-busting machine, you never feel overly powerful. The game stays on a survival horror path throughout, scary from beginning to end in that Japanese horror fashion-that being more psychological horror rather than "BOO!"
Basically, Fatal Frame never loses its focus. You're promised a horror story, and that's what you get for the entirety of the game. And that's no small feat, considering how many horror movies, games, etc. go wildly off the rails in the third act.
Fatal Frame still looks and sounds amazing (I played a downloaded copy on PS3 for the purposes of this article). There's a persistent grain filter throughout that contributes to the unsettling nature of the game, and character models hold up pretty well. The ghosts still look amazing to this day. Audio-wise, the game consists mostly of ghostly wailing and moaning.
So basically, play at night with the lights off and headphones on.
Fatal Frame is still a solid game. I wasn't really expecting a survival horror game from 2002 to hold up so well (controls are a bit of an issue) but I'm glad to see I was wrong. It makes me miss survival horror games; they just don't make 'em like they used to. And I still hope they bring the Wii U Fatal Frame here.
Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed the terrible pun that headlines this article! As always, leave comments, suggest future games to be featured as Game of the Week, and find me on Twitter! Also, catch up with my other article series here!
Next week, I'm replaying one of my favorite JRPG's, this one for Sega Genesis. Great Genesis JRPG? I really can't be more obvious than that.