Review by Toger
What quirk of my nature makes me enjoy being scared, either by
a good story or movie? I can remember frittering away whole Saturdays
ensconced on the couch watching one horror movie after another
until my brain was so overloaded with images that it was next
to impossible to go to sleep. To this day, if I watch a disturbing
movie on TV, I have no hope of sleep unless I purge my brain of
the images by watching cartoons before going to bed!
I'd heard that Fatal Frame was spooky in the extreme,
so when it was originally released last year I ran right out and
bought a copy with the intention of immersing myself in some good
Japanese horror. Naturally, I got sidetracked by something else
bright and shiny and never got around to playing the game until
I heard about the sequel. As of this writing, the second game,
Crimson Butterfly, is planned for next month, so I thought
I'd dust offliterallythe original and give it a go.
Supposedly based on a true story, Fatal Frame tells the
story of the Himuro mansion. A huge, sprawling affair located
deep within a secluded forest, the mansion is at the center of
a host of folk tales and legends about strange disappearances
and forbidden Shinto rituals. The original owner is said to have
killed off his entire family, while subsequent families have either
quickly left the premises or simply disappeared. Now the mansion
lies empty and has fallen into a state of disrepair. A famous
novelist, Junei Takamine, and his assistants have gone to the
mansion to do research for an upcoming book on the mansion's dark
and bloody history. While there, his entire team vanishes. When
her brother, Mafuyu, also disappears while in the mansion, Miku
Hinasaki sets off to search for her missing brother. Now the fun
Fatal Frame is played in the third-person perspective.
You'll guide Miku through the mansion using only a flashlight
and her antique camera. Included in the survival horror genre,
Fatal Frame is not chock full of weapons with which to
shoot, blast or bludgeon your way from one end of the game to
the other. Miku's weapon of choiceand only weaponis
an antique camera that belonged to her mother. Said to possess
the ability to see things not seen by the naked eye, the camera
can also seal a spirit's soul in a photograph.
During combat with ghosts, you'll enter camera modewhich
is a first-person viewtarget the ghost, and take the shot.
The viewfinder's reticule will turn blue once the camera is armed
with "spirit power." How much "spirit power"
the camera currently possesses will dictate how much damage is
done to the ghost. You'll also receive points based on what kind
of picture you take of the spiritclose-up head shots are
worth more than basic it's-way-across-the-room pictureswhich
goes toward upgrading the camera with faster response time and
a larger field of view. When the ghosts were slow-moving or stationary,
I didn't have any problems; however, later in the game quite a
few of the ghosts either transported or were very fast on their
ghostly feet so I'd end up snapping useless pictures of the background.
As there are a finite number of film packs to be found in the
game, you'll want to be careful when confronting those tortured
As you wander through the mansion, you'll be able to look at
and pick up quite a few objects. Miku will make comments as to
whether or not the item is essential to the problem at hand. Film
packs, herbal medicines, journal pages and the like can be found
scattered throughout the mansion and are denoted by twinkling
lights. In some cases, you'll need to solve a puzzle or capture
a ghost's soul in order to get the item you need.
There is one nit to pick ... the constant backtracking in this
game. Considering how slowly Miku walks, it's a fairly big nit.
Progressing though the game, rooms will unlock or lock depending
on what you've done so far. The problem is that rooms you think
you've finished will lock, then you'll find a clue where it's
necessary to not only go back to the room but you'll need to find
the trigger in another room in order to go back. I'm pretty sure
that mansion isn't that bigit was having to go into those
rooms time and again that made is seem so.
As with most console games, saving is done at save points. There
aren't a lot of them, so my advice is to make note of the rooms
they're in and get thee to a save point! Luckily, the in-game
mapping, which shows the save points, is very good and easy to
Visually, Fatal Frame is how I used to watch scary moviesthrough
the spaces between my fingers so that I couldn't see all the detail.
The majority of the game is presented slightly out of focus and
in dark, drab colors ... after all, you are searching the
house in the dead of night with only a flashlight. Textures throughout
the mansion and grounds have a realistic dilapidated and forlorn
look. Cloth has decayed and hangs in shreds, and the floorboards
have decayed enough that there are gaping holes throughout.
Looking through the camera's viewfinder will bring objects into
clearer focus if you really want to see more detail. When Miku
triggers a flashback of some poor soul being tortured, you'll
see it in grainy black and white, much like watching an old home
movie complete with stutters and pops ... albeit a twisted home
Fatal Frame's prologue is also done in wonderfully grainy
black and white. Complete with truly deep shadows, it serves as
a tutorial for the game. Playing as Mafuyu, you'll get an in-game
lesson in how to use the antique camera to full advantagehints
as to where to go next and how best to capture a spirit soul.
Camera controls for Fatal Frame are nonexistent. The in-game
camera is fixed and cannot be moved in any way by the player;
however, the trade-offs are some exquisitely "filmed"
views of the game. As Miku travels down a screened hallway, the
camera will pull back and up to deliver a view of the scene that
you're absolutely sure has been snatched from a movie and dropped
into this game. (Since the camera is fixed, you may wish to change
the default controller setup; otherwise, you'll find that Miku
makes an immediate about-face as she walks through a door or gets
boxed into corners turning 'round in circles when battling spirits.)
Ambient sound in Fatal Frame is the kind you'd hear on
dark nights with all the lights out ... creaking boards, doors
in other rooms closing, strange rustling sounds. After some ghostly
encounters, you'll be treated to ghostly voices either giving
hints about events that the house has witnessed or its denizens'
final agonized screams.
Voice work in Fatal Frame was ... fatal. Actors for this
game called in their roles from bed the morning after a funeral.
I would expect the ghost's voices to have a dreamy quality to
them (they did for the most part), but the woman who voiced Miku
seemed to have fallen asleep, and no amount of stimulant of any
kind was going to wake her up. The only voice I noticed with any
pep was a dead woman who'd left behind some voice recordings.
I honestly found Fatal Frame creepy enough that I couldn't
bring myself to play it in the dark. Whether the combination of
strange sounds (the floorboards in my house creak and pop as the
temperature falls), disturbing images (the tree out front casts
some really odd shadows), my own overactive imagination, or all
of the above was the cause, it definitely got the adrenaline flowing.
If you can get past the horrible voice acting and the tedious
backtracking, you're in for a good scare. If you dare.
Release Date: March 2002
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