Fatal Frame (Series)

I know I haven’t posted in quite a while. With getting back to the US, then heading back to Maryland for the holidays, and trying to squeeze in some work on top of family stuff, I’ve been pretty beat. But since most folks will have a little time off this week, it seems like a good time to talk about vidyagames.

For research purposes (honestly), I’m re-playing a couple of the Fatal Frame games. I’ve talked about these games before, but let me reiterate: I freaking love them. They are perfect horror, representing the highest evolution of the J-horror formula and the most sophisticated use of old-school survival horror gameplay mechanics. They are super neat.

The series has a strange release history. The first three games came out on PS2, with the first and second eventually being re-released as director’s cuts on XBOX. The fourth game came out on Wii and, much to my disappointment, wasn’t released outside of Japan. They did a spinoff on 3DS called Spirit Camera, which I’ve never played but apparently wasn’t great. Finally, they remade FF2 for the Wii and released it in Japan and Europe, but once again, not North America, because apparently Tecmo Koei hate their fans. So I’ve only played 1 through 3, but those three remain my favorite game trilogy and easily the scariest things I’ve ever experienced in any medium.

The premise of all three games is pretty much the same: your character, always a young lady, finds herself in a scary location, full of angry ghosts, with only a magic camera to defend herself. If this sounds less than thrilling, I assure you that shut the hell up it is awesome.

In each game the haunted place is haunted as the result of a failed Shinto ritual involving human sacrifice. In each case the sacrifice, intended to keep a local gate to hell sealed, is interrupted, releasing demonic entities that kill everybody and bind their angry spirits to this world. Because apparently Japan is the devil’s country, and every old mansion has its own portal straight to demontopia. This is just one reason why I need to invest in some real estate out East.

The environments are terrifying: feudal Japanese architecture, sacred ropes and paper charms and torii gates everywhere, and everything all crumbling and dirty and awful and gorgeous. There is very little overt violence, but tons implied (most of the ghosts died in grisly ways, but you don’t see it directly). The ghost pictured above, for instance, was forced to wear a mask with inward-facing spikes in place of eye holes as part of one of the awful rituals. So, you know, that’s cool.

You fight the ghosts with a magic camera called the Camera Obscura, a device which has the ability to exorcise evil spirits. Normally you see your character in a traditional survival horror third-person view, but when you raise the camera to fight it switches to a first-person perspective, showing you what the character sees through the viewfinder. It’s super terrifying. Behold (this guy is a terrible player, but you get the idea):

It’s difficult to find the first two games, but FF3 was recently released on PSN. If you have a PlayStation and have never played Fatal Frame, this is your chance. Seriously, best horror games ever made.

As this franchise is the origin of the whole ice cream thing, there’s only one score it can get.

icecream5

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11 thoughts on “Fatal Frame (Series)

  1. I really must get into computer games – I love horror and I am really beginning to think I am missing out on a whole world of interactive horror that everyone else has known about for donkeys years!

    • There’s lots of good stuff, it’s true. The genre has kind of moved away from old-school atmosphere and started to focus more on gore and jump-scares (just like with horror cinema), but there’s still a lot of good games to check out. Fatal Frame is my personal favorite, though. ; )

    • Hahaha. Well, it depends on which game you mean, but I guess… uh… hmm. There are two sticks you use, one to move your character and one to aim the camera. You raise the camera with one button, take pictures with another. So the basics, the parts that will keep you from dying, only take two buttons and two directional sticks, I guess. But then there are times when you’ll want to pause the game and open up the menu screen, so that adds another button, I guess.

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