Review by Solids2k

"Fatal Frame: Tecmo's Survival Horror Debut"

The first time the name Fatal Frame ever sprung into my mind, was in an issue of EGM. They described the game as a Survival Horror game with an arsenal of weaponry including... a camera? and they even used an analogy comparing it to Pokemon Snap. To be honest, at first I was skeptical about the whole concept, but me favoring the Survival Horror genre over any other, was looking for a good scare and willing to try anything to accomplish just that. And this game does not disappoint in the scare department.

You assume the role of a girl name Miku, whose brother has mysteriously disappeared while searching for his mentor and well known novelist, Junsei Takamine, who ironically enough, he and his team consisting of his editor and assistant vanish while visiting the Himuro mansion.

Using the camera her brother seems to have left behind, you must ward off ghosts using the flash that emits when you photograph them. The battling concept may be hard to grasp at first, but you center the view on a ghost, and the longer that you have a specter in your sites, the cameras power charges and deals more damage. Depending on the distance from the ghost and how centered in the viewfinder your photos are, the greater the score for each picture. Using these points, you can upgrade your camera in a variety of different areas, including size of the viewfinder, charge speed, special skills you may use, and other things. Only problems I’ve experienced using the camera are when you enter camera mode (via the (Circle) button), and a ghost is nearby, the camera looks down at the floor on occasion, totally screwing up your coordination and sense of direction. Another thing is that the character walks too slow while in first person camera mode. Nevertheless, these faults are tolerable. So this game is already taking the survival horror genre a step further than horror games in the past.

If you’re like me, you play survival horror games for one main reason; to be scared. Watching a scary movie or reading a horror novel is like an addiction, the fascination with being put into an intense scenario never fails to enlighten me, but a good horror story/movie/game needs a good story. Without an in-depth plot there is nothing to be frightened of, and Fatal Frame has got one of the best in the genre. Keeping in mind the situation of the protagonist, Miku, the shocks are classic, and common, yet not so common you become jaded to them and lose their excitement. Most of the fear this game generates is due to the constant suspicion of what’s around the corner, or if that ghost that popped out of here last time is going to do it once again. The ghosts don’t always appear at the same spots they did last time, and commonly tricks you into thinking there is going to be something, yet nothing happens. There are many times I actually feel relieved that a ghost didn’t just lunge out at me, and yet at the same time reluctant. The fear that this game generates is unique for games of it’s kind, the fear you’d expect from a classic horror movie. And while it is unfair to compare this game to a game like Resident Evil, the shocks here mean much more. Resident Evil was often times well lit, always you knew that other non-hostile human beings were close by, the only shocks in Resident Evil were the occasional dog through the window or tyrant around the corner, but in Fatal Frame, you are the only ‘living’ person in the entire mansion, the fear of a ghost confrontation is constantly subsiding whether you realize it or not, feeling the pulse of the controller as an ethereal atrocity is nearby constantly builds up inside you as you enter a new room. There are times the controller slowly vibrates while I’m present in a room, thinking something is there, then when I exit, my heart is beating rapidly due to the suspense of only that silly little rumbling; this game generates best kind of horror, the fear of not knowing what’s around the next turn, the fear of not knowing when or what is going to jump at you.

Graphics

The graphics can be described in one word; excellent. As we’ve come to expect from Tecmo, the character renders are superb (also obvious in Tecmo’s Dead or Alive games), the lighting effects are ace (save for Miku’s shadow, which often time looks totally out of whack). Miku’s flashlight is controllable via the (Right Analog Stick) and allows you to lighten dark surfaces like the ceiling or walls. Lip synching in the game is rather horrible though, and Miku’s brother in the opening cinema looks more like a woman than Miku does herself. All of these small peeves that can easily be over looked.

One of the neatest things that this game has brought the survival horror genre, are the monochrome cutscenes when Miku is either reminiscing on events foretold or of other peoples past occurrences with the old Japanese Himuro Mansion. In fact, the game begins in monochrome early in the game. Too bad playing as Miku doesn’t do the same, or at least allow us to toggle this. Although when a ghost attacks you, the colors do get trippy and become inverted. When looking through the camera, the view is somewhat static-y producing a Blair Witch-esque effect.

The graphics in Fatal Frame are crisp, detailed and Miku’s emotions are clearly displayed when something is going down. The excellent cinematics and cut scenes make a scary game, even more enjoyable, and thoroughly help progress the games plot.

Sound

What is a horror game without the proper ambient noises and dramatic noises to ensue terror into the player? With Fatal Frame we’ll never know because this game delivers, and delivers it well.

Music is constantly changing to help alert you of clues, and of ghosts. While just casually exploring the Mansion, the music is a slow and subtle ballad, that is comforting yet keeps you on edge, that’s peaceful yet something that will not set you to sleep. As a clue or ghost approaches, the tempo increases dramatically and you can actually hear the heartbeat of Miku, Tecmo does an excellent job of making you feel apart of the game, as if you are there alongside Miku trying to find her missing brother. When combating a ghost, the music is fast paced and is something you’d expect when seeing a similar scenario in any good horror flick.

Commonly in the game, there is no music at all, just the whizzing of the wind or of water being thrashed around by a water mill. And to add to the spooky factor, occasionally you can hear random whispering, moaning, knocking on walls, and other ambient noises that really also help set the mood for the game.

The sound of Fatal Frame is what you would commonly expect from your horror title. Ambient noises, dramatic music, ghostly howls, moaning, ghosts with their eyes stapled shut screaming “MY EYES!”, and other haunting chants. Only thing missing is a Jack Nicholson busting his head through a door and screaming “All work, no play, make Jackie dull boy.”

Gameplay

The gameplay is not unlike others of the genre, although there are eight (8) different controller configurations, ranging from Devil May Cry-ish control setups to the classic Resident Evil, Up = Forward, Left = Turn Left, etc.

What makes Fatal Frame so unique and a stand above all other Survival Horror games is the use of a camera as a weapon and the fact that this game is actually scary! How the camera is incorporated into the game was told earlier in this review, but in short the goal of the game is to find your brother. While doing so you must solve puzzles, find clues, and unravel the mystery surrounding the haunted Himuro Mansion. The game is excellent, the pace of the game is good and flowing. You won’t commonly find yourself wondering what you’re supposed to be doing next.

Main difficulty I experienced playing Fatal Frame was the collision detection. It is sometimes to hard to carefully navigate narrow hallways or doorways. Tolerable though.

Survival Horror + Camera + Ghosts – Zombies and Guns + FEAR = Fatal Frame.

Replay Value

An extra ending, alternate costumes, extra difficulties, extra game play modes, and an adventure that should last you around 7-10+ hours first time through. You’ll be here awhile.

Final Score
9/10, and that’s the highest score I will ever give a game for a long while. The way I see it, a 10/10 is One Hundred percent of greatness out of a game. 100% is perfection. And until gaming technology reaches its pinnacle (if it ever does), every year a similar game done better will be released. Currently, there is always room for improvement in a video game, and a game will never be ‘Perfect’.

This game is scary. The scariest game I have ever played, and it amazes me that killing people, spewing blood, and prostitution is considered to be more disturbing than a game that could send a kid into nightmares (and into several pairs of Froot of the Looms) for a week. Yes, this game is Teen, and I don’t see how the ESRB let this games rating receive anything less than a mature rating.

I commend Tecmo on a job well done.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 03/09/02, Updated 03/09/02


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