GameZone’s 31 Games of Halloween 2013: Fatal Frame

Obscure classics are absolute favorites among horror aficionados. As far as movies are concerned, lesser known vintage treasures like Prom Night, the original Friday the 13th (that's the one with Jason's mom as the killer), and Halloween 3: Season of the Witch (where masks kill kids) are considered underrated classics. With survival horror games, though, probably no series is more overlooked than Fatal Frame. Published and developed by Tecmo, the series lives on in the hearts of its small yet rabid fan base, individuals who stand by it and will swear by its horror themes.

It's only fitting that we pay tribute to the classics here on GameZone's 31 Games of Halloween, whether they're massively mainstream and well-known or not. Today, we're going to plunge headfirst into the ghost-polluted world of the first Fatal Frame, which launched in Japan in 2001 and North America in 2002. If you missed our last entry, which focused on Slender: The Eight Pages, be sure to check that out, too.

Fatal Frame - PS2 - 1

Why it stands out

In a genre saturated with a large number of Resident Evil and Silent Hill titles, it's nice to get a change of pace from the norm. Fatal Frame is very much a departure from the standard set forth by Capcom and Konami in their survival horror endeavors, though it does follow a lot of the same tropes as the games that came before it. You've got puzzles, backtracking, and fixed camera angles. Of course, Fatal Frame offers its own spin on these elements, most notably delivering more dynamic camera angles than you'd see in old school Resident Evil titles.

You explore Himuro Mansion as Miku Hinasaki, a young girl who's looking for her brother. Supernatural forces act as your antagonists in Fatal Frame, and your only way of defeating them is with your camera (because everyone knows you can't shoot ghosts with an actual gun). By using your camera, you can drain their health by locking onto them in a first-person mode, though you often have to run away when they're advancing on you ever so tenaciously. This “combat” makes for some tense situations, and it's actually a lot of fun thanks to its originality.

Fatal Frame - PS2 - 2

Is it scary?

There's something undeniably creepy about peering at ghosts through a camera. Seeing them as they make their way toward you is especially nerve-wracking, and it makes you want to get out of camera mode and run away (which you often have to do anyway so they won't kill you). Like a lot of other survival horror games, the basis for terror in Fatal Frame is largely about the suspense and tension you feel as you play, as well as its imagery, which is often disturbing.

Another major part of the game's take on horror is its sound design. The atmospheric sounds you hear as you run around Himuro Mansion, open doors, and climb stairs set the mood perfectly. It's the ghosts, however, that really add to the experience. Hearing the spirits of little children laughing and crying is absolutely terrifying. Likewise, listening as the ghost of a dead woman scream in agony as you defeat her is awfully chilling.

Possibly the eeriest thing about Fatal Frame is the rumor that it's inspired by actual events. While this is all left to speculation, it's kind of creepy to think that there was actually a Himuro Mansion where bloody sacrifices and strange rituals were performed. Then there's the whole mass killing thing, which is sure to leave behind a few deranged ghosts. Whether any of the lore behind the Himuro Mansion is true or not, it makes for an excellently unsettling back story for the game.

Fatal Frame - PS2 - 3

Why play it on Halloween?

Supernatural horror often makes for some pretty intense scares, and Fatal Frame is no exception. Even though it's a fairly old game, it's still quite unique and offers up something different for survival horror fans. Despite the fact that it's a wise choice for Resident Evil and Silent Hill lovers, this particular game didn't reach the high levels of popularity that those franchises did. It's a shame, because it's pretty good, and though it certainly shares similarities with those games, the camera gameplay is wonderfully novel.

Obviously, if you decide to shop for a physical copy online, you can end up spending a sizable chunk of cash on the game. Thankfully, Fatal Frame is available in all of its old school glory on the PlayStation Network for just $10. It's a solid experience if you want something both familiar and different, but still totally creepy on Halloween.

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