Fatal Frame - PS2 - Review
You know … I often reminisce about a time where I sat around chugging through “Haunted House” on Atari 2600 and thinking how neat it would be if they really made games which would scare the heck out of people. Lo and behold, many years later … we were graced with some really scary titles such as 7th Guest, Resident Evil, Silent Hill, and Godai : Elemental Force (That last one is scary in a different kind of way. Okay, bad joke … bad game .. sorry). Tecmo has now entered the survival horror arena with Fatal Frame. I am happy to report that after many hours of lost sleep, hearing things that weren’t really there, and near fatal heart attacks it definitely is not only the most terrifying game experience I have ever had, but one of the more solid ones I have had as well.
Fatal Frame revolves around Mafuyu and Miku, a brother and sister who have relied on each other since losing their parents. You start the game as Mafuyu, who learns of the disappearance of his literary idol. Finding it strange that this great novelist could simply vanish from the face of the earth, he decides to go looking for him armed only with a flashlight, and his mother’s camera that has the ability to capture photos of things that the normal eye can’t see. His investigation leads him to the desolate and dilapidated Himuro mansion secluded in the wooded countryside, and Mafuyu finds notes and scraps of paper from the novelist and his associates which make him realize that the disappearance was not an accident, nor was it anything “of this world”. Mafuyu soon learns who or what may have been responsible for the disappearance, and turns up missing as well. You then take over as Miku, who goes looking for her brother after he’s been missing for 9 days. Upon entering the mansion, Miku finds the camera and scraps from Mafuyu’s diary which make her realize that she is not alone …
You control both Mafuyu and Miku using the same setup. In a survival horror title, control has to be a major player in determining how enjoyable the gaming experience can be, and Tecmo did a great job overall covering the bases. The left analog stick controls movement, and the right one aims the flashlight so you can peek into corners or look for the flash of an item. When you enter “shutter mode”, the left stick aims the camera while the right stick allows you to move forwards, backwards, and strafe. As a simple but well – needed touch, you can control the shutter click by using either the X button or the R1 button. This definitely is a plus, since it leaves both thumbs free to maneuver your character while snapping away at a spirit. The camera angles in which you view Miku are stationary and will change while you walk down hallways or walk through different parts of a room. Because of this, it dosen’t allow you to peek around corners or see if something is above you. While this may seem like a bad thing, it’s important to understand that Tecmo did this on purpose to add to the suspense and fear of not knowing what might be ready to happen. It also causes you to rely on your camera to check out all of your surroundings, and can prove to be very useful if something pops out unexpectedly.
As you can see, your camera plays a very important role in your success getting through this game. It’s your only weapon, and is the only means used to dispel restless spirits as they try to grab you and make you one of them. Instead of bullets, you will find rolls of film scattered throughout the mansion which serve as “ammunition”. As ghosts flit into a solid form, you snap a picture and it deals damage to the ghost until it’s spirit meter has been depleted and it goes away, and the camera absorbs the points that the spirit loses. You don’t actually kill it, it just leaves you alone … for the time being. As an added bonus, Tecmo also gives you the ability to save your pictures to an album so you can take some of your more frightening photos to a friend’s house to have them share in the scares as well. During the game, you will be able to upgrade your camera by using “Spirit Stones” and spirit points that are collected to make your camera load film faster or have a wider range,. It can also give you options to help you dispel ghosts easier by making them stay in solid form, or slowing down their movement. The camera also plays an important role in solving puzzles. While many survival horror games have puzzles like “Put the amulet in the hole under the left foot of the statue to make a gem fall out of the right eye … etc.”, Fatal Frame has two characters that have a sixth sense. Puzzles can consist of objects or items once belonging to the deceased giving off spiritual energy, and pictures taken of the item will reveal areas, objects, or other items which need to be photographed or found in order to open doors or get more information. Tecmo has added a nifty little meter at the bottom right hand corner of the screen which will glow as you approach these objects so you will know when they are nearby.
So, other than the camera and the sixth sense thing, what else makes this a unique and terrifying game? Let’s talk about the graphics, sound, and atmosphere for a moment. Graphically, this is one of the cleanest looking games I have seen in a long time next to titles like Metal Gear, and the objects in the environments are done in 3-D and are separate from the background. Lighting effects from the flashlight cast realistic shadows around the walls and ceilings and tend to make you jump thinking that something is there. Detail tends to be a bit bland and repetitive from time to time within the halls and rooms, but the mansion definitely has a deserted look to it, which is what Tecmo was going for. The ghosts are VERY realistic looking and detail down to the looks of pain and agony on their faces can be seen clearly … adding to the shock and fear value. The sound effects are fantastic. Everything from Miku’s empty footsteps, the “music” (Some places sound more like the noise that they use in horror movies to heighten the suspense), and wails and cries of suffering that the ghosts make was done in a very realistic and scary fashion. Both sight and sound put together definitely add up to a terrifying and enjoyable experience, and set the tone well. One very interesting thing that Tecmo did was give you a “I’m never in a safe place” feeling. Once you have been through an area, don’t think you can just go waltzing back through it and nothing will happen. I got caught more than once letting my guard down … and the result was damage to Miku along with me leaping about 4 inches off my chair.
You may be asking “Okay, so what’s not good about this game”? Unfortunately, there are a couple of minor things which keep it from hitting perfection. First of all, the camera can tend to feel a bit slow while swinging it around trying to avoid getting hit by a ghost. Since ghosts are ghosts, they can be in front of you one second and right next to you another. If you are like me, this causes you to hit a “panic button” and start snapping off pictures like the Paparazzi while wildly flailing around and getting grabbed by the undead. This not only wastes film and tends to get frustrating, but causes you to take damage. In addition, you will leave “shutter mode” when you are grabbed and then have to ready the camera again. Many times you will find yourself pointing at the ground or ceiling, then getting grabbed again while trying to get your bearings straight. Secondly, the ghost’s wailing and pleading will send a chill up your spine at first, but then they will keep repeating themselves over and over again. During a 30 second battle, I reached over and hit the mute button because I was sick of hearing “My EYES!” from one particularly annoying spectre over and over again. Lastly, some of the outdoor environments look kind of generic and rough around the edges, which dosen’t fall into the same quality that is found on the indoor environments.
Okay, so what’s really good about Fatal Frame you ask? A lot. While this is survival horror, which has been done before, Tecmo really did a lot of unique things which make it feel like a different experience. Using a camera instead of a gun is a weird idea, but works a lot better than any pistol or shotgun would have for the subject matter. Tecmo also used three different types of ghosts … Lost souls which need you to perform an action to help them rest. Repeaters, which aren’t necessarily ghosts, but are a spiritual imprint of a tragedy which gets played out before the viewer, and “Poltergeists” which are jealous and hateful beings that want to lash out at the living. That’s not in the instruction manual, but is a tidbit of knowledge passed from me to you ( I am also a card carrying member of the American Ghosthunter’s Society). Running across any of these will scare the heck out of you, and you have to make a split second decision whether or not to snap a picture and risk wasting film. Each ghost that you encounter will be part of a story, and while some may seem out of place or don’t seem to fit in to what the others look like, everything in this game has a reason why it’s there. Everything, including who and why each ghost is in the mansion will be tied together and explained at the end of the game. Finally, as stated before, using the camera to solve many puzzles found throughout the game is a really interesting and different way of accomplishing tasks. The push buttons or use items ones are still there, but evenly spaced out.
Overall, I definitely applaud Tecmo for their entry into the survival horror arena. With 14 – 16 terror filled hours of smooth and solid gameplay (Depending on how good you are at solving puzzles here and there), constant suspense, and some of the most frightening moments I have ever experienced in any game … this one is a definite addition to anyone’s PS2 library. As a quick note to parents, since I am one as well, this game got a “TEEN” rating from the ESRB. Now, it’s true that most teen ratings are usually achieved due to mild language or bathroom humor. While there aren’t any guns, buckets of gore, or extreme violence … this game has some subject matter which deals with demonic rituals, and contains some of the most disturbing, shocking, and intense scenes I have ever seen in a game. If you plan to pick this up for a younger gamer, I recommend that you give it a quick once – over to make sure that you think they will be OK with it.
Smooth and solid controls overall mixed with an excellent and intense plot which gets more and more disturbing with each new piece uncovered. Seeing a ghost can be scary, but fighting one can get frustrating due to a sluggish camera movement. This is not the norm, and only happens every now and then if (and when) you get caught off guard.
Overall clean and tidy. Some areas within the mansion can get a little bland here and there, and some outdoor areas look kind of rough, but nothing which takes away from the overall feeling or will be focused on anyway. Detailed and extremely scary images of the undead, and Tecmo also did a nice transition between clear and full color gameplay scenes mixed with grainy black and white FMV. Really adds to the effect.
Creaks in other parts of the mansion, tormented wails of ghosts, and intense music and sound effects will set your hair on end and really put you into one of the most terrifying games I have seen. Although the ghosts can get repetitive in what they are wailing about from time to time, this game is definitely a cut above the average.
Tecmo really covered all of it’s bases making sure that they give players an easy to learn and play control factor, which makes the game that much more enjoyable and easier to get into. The hardest thing about this game is the puzzles, which probably won’t be too challenging to any veteran S.T.A.R.S. member or anyone who has gone into Silent Hill looking for a loved one.
While Fatal Frame has many similar aspects of any survival horror title, it really stands out that Tecmo put a lot of time and attention to give us a game which has a lot of unique aspects that are not found in other survival horror titles. Just because you’ve played R.E. dosen’t mean you’ve played this one.
This game is definitely one of the reasons I purchased a PS2. Fantastic graphics and sound mixed with fantastic story. I’m also a big fan of scary movies, and this is worse than any movie I’ve seen so far. I’ve sat through “The Others” and many Lucio Fulci titles, but nothing fully prepared me for this one. You won’t be disappointed with this purchase … but good luck getting any sleep for a long, long time.