Review by AvidWriter3
Fear is best experienced when you have no idea what's about to happen in the near future. Fatal Frame is a Japanese horror game that fully lives up to that statement, creating a consistent feeling of psychological terror throughout your endeavors in the Himuro Mansion. The game revolves around the tale of an aspiring novelist named Junsei Takamine, who wishes to return to the writing world with a brand new novel. He decides to research a ritual done at the Himuro Mansion, which now rests in a gray and desolate state at the bottom of a mountain. Junsei begins his thorough search of the mansion, for various scraps and notes that will provide for him as his storyline for the upcoming book. However, he mysteriously disappears as nobody has heard from him in several days..
Worried by his mentor's disappearance, Mafuyu Hinasaki is a journalist who begins his search for Junsei, and eventually leads him to the dark Himuro Mansion. Along with him, he brings an enchanted and cursed item named the Camera Obscura passed down to him by his mother. Mafuyu has a sixth sense, to see things normal people cannot through the lens of the camera. Upon scanning the rooms, he seems to capture Junsei's spirit on the above balcony. Walking up the steps, he is ambushed by frightening ghost of a tormented man, and also gets caught in the mansion's curse.
Now, Miku Hinasaki is traveling the same ghostly path as her brother with her sixth sense as well, trying to find the one who accepted her most.
Fatal Frame is a horror game that is actually scary, most of the time downright disturbing. It deals with tortured and raptured ghosts, that haunt the mansion wishing to make the living suffer. Some are trapped images of their former selves, a few are friendly, but most of them are deadly and will attack you. You play as Miku, who has a sixth sense and eventually picks up the Camera Obscura that Mafuyu left behind. The primary goal of the game is to not only find your brother, but unravel Himuro Mansion's troubled past.
The Camera Obscura is used to capture ghosts, reveal plotline clues and see things you wouldn't normally see. You have the option of choosing from 8 controller configurations to fit your individual style. To fight ghosts and discover clues, you must go into View Finder mode which lets you see directly in the lens. You can walk while fighting ghosts, but that usually doesn't help against the faster spirits. In fact, running is not suggested since ghosts can follow you into other rooms, disappear and reappear in your face and outrun you.
Most of your time will be centered on looking for files, scraps and tapes that detail what happened in the Himuro Mansion's past. This replaces the dead routine of finding keys and opening locked doors of other games in this genre. Instead, you'll come across many invisible clues that must be snapshot to reveal a different location in the mansion. In fact, most of the doors and rooms are already open, you just have to fight certain ghosts to investigate them.
That brings the attention to the core of the game itself, battling spirits. These creepy and sometimes outright scary ghosts, are fought by exorcism of one by taking a picture with the camera. The camera is powered by a limited supply of rolls of film that have their different strengths. The most common and weak type of film is the old Type-14 film, which is found everywhere in the mansion and can be reloaded at save points. You also have Type-37 film that is your standard film, but is harder to find. There are other films as well that get increasingly difficult to come across. Miku also finds herbal medicines, sacred waters and mirrors that replenish her health.
When fighting ghosts, you have the current number of film left, Miku's strength, spirit charge level, filament, bonus and special features runes on screen. Spirit charge is a feature that builds up power of the shot, based on how long you keep the capture circle centered on the ghost. The more charge you have, the more potent the shot will be. The filament is a light at the bottom of the screen that will turn blue if a clue is near, and orange if a spirit is near. The controller vibrates (signifying Miku's heartbeat) harder as you get closer to either. Lastly, you have your bonus and special feature runes. They are displayed on the screen as which ability you have assigned to the camera, and how many times you can use the feature. Spirit Stones (found in the playing field) are used to use these abilities.
One of Fatal Frame's most enjoyable aspects is the ability to upgrade the Camera Obscura. In the game you are awarded spirit points, based on how fatal the shot was, how close the ghosts was in your face and such. In the menu, you use your accumulated points to upgrade how big the capture circle is, how fast the spirit charge meter builds up and the maximum amount of spirit charge. Eventually, you'll be able to add special features that make the game even more enjoyable. Boss battles can be heated, as you may have used all your stronger film on weak ghosts. They are however, spaced evenly and offer a good scare.
The reason why I give Fatal Frame's story such a solid score, is because at times I was more impressed by it than the gameplay itself. I mean, the story behind Fatal Frame is so disturbing that I found myself wishing I'd never read the various files, or seen the diversified cutscenes. While searching Himuro Mansion, Miku has visions of various rituals happening in the past, noticeably the Strangling and Demon Tag rituals. In the vision of the Strangling Ritual, she witnesses a girl named Kirie being tied by her ankles, wrists and neck. She is then put on a large platform, with the ropes tied to rotating poles that are pushed by the offenders. It's a gruesome and honestly depressing death, which turns Kirie's spirit into the hateful, main protagonist of Fatal Frame.
As you progress the game, you'll see and read things that are twisted. Things range from limbless bodies being discovered, to children being snatched up by ghosts, to the family master going mad from the mansion's curse and decapitating everyone in sight. You'll see how certain characters in the game's plot where killed such as, suicidal hangings, being blinded by a mask with stakes in the eyes, even to Miku envisioning what appears to be her own death as she tries to break the curse. I would detail the depth of the grimy plotline, but there is too much to tell as I might spoil the experience.
Graphically, Fatal Frame is hauntingly gritty. The game's mansion is covered in a chaotic, fuzzy film that looks almost as if you're staring through water or something. In view finder, you'll see the textures such as the stone walls, railings and flooring wish-wash back and forth ever so slightly, as if an invisible force were moving them. The environments themselves vary from the mansion, to an atrium and abyss, to kimono rooms and torture rooms, to a backyard, wells, various shrines and a serious gate to hell. The scenery has some very washed out colors, but are done to give that effect that this is not a happy place.
Sound wise, this game is like listening to a full fledged audio CD. The music itself is really ambient noise, and you'll swear you could hear disembodied voices screaming in the background. The sound is best utilized if you turn it up loud, as it's probably the clearest and most atmospheric thing you'll hear in a game like this. Some of the different pieces of sounds are so unnerving, that I almost wish it wasn't too good. Things like running footsteps creaking on the weak floorboards, the sound of ropes tightening around someone's neck, and ritual chanting of demonic voices. It's all pretty nasty, but in a very good way.
Fatal Frame is a really good value for a game of it's genre. For one, it is fairly lengthy. It is split into four nights, in which will take anywhere between 10-15hrs to complete. Usually survival horror games flop in this department, because the same experiences keep occurring. It's kinda the same deal here, but only gives you various reasons to keep playing. You can unlock the Nightmare mode, which makes ghosts much harder to beat. Upon completing the game, you'll get a Battle mode in which you have to do certain tasks to unlock things.
You can get different costumes, and most importantly, get new upgrades for the Camera Obscura. By playing Nightmare and Battle mode, you can unlock some very useful special features that make the ghost hunting even more fun than it was to begin with. Fatal Frame is also a rare game, so you'll want to keep it for the simple fact that it's very hard to find.
If you can find Fatal Frame, buy it at your own will. I won't recommend it if you are easily scared or disturbed, as this game gave me at least just one nightmare. I do urge you to go get it anyway, as it is just too creepy and well-done of an experience to pass up. You might regret seeing some images in the game, but you certainly won't regret owning the game.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 11/14/07
Game Release: Fatal Frame (US, 03/04/02)
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