Fatal Frame 1 Review (Xbox/PS2)
I don’t really enjoy western horror films. I seldom find such movies entertaining as they’re usually predictable and downright boring. Most of them achieve their scares with shock value alone. While the “boo” factor works to an extent, the most effective means of delivering fright are psychological – what you can see can be scary, sure, but the best scares come from that which you can’t see. This is the basis for Tecmo’s Fatal Frame series.
Out of the dozens of choices for survival horror video games, Fatal Frame stands out from the rest with a unique outlook on what’s scary while avoiding many of the common trappings of the genre. Still, Fatal Frame still fetches a pretty penny. Is it worth the cash and more importantly, your time? Let’s find out.
It is September 24, 1986. Sixteen year old Miku Hinasaki travels to the supposedly haunted Himuro Mansion on the outskirts of Tokyo to search for her older brother Mafuyu, who had been missing for a week after visiting his novelist mentor, Junsei Takamine at the Himuro Mansion.
Junsei Takamine as Miku discovered, had also gone missing in the mansion, together with his assistant and editor, whilst conducting research for a new novel.
With so many people missing in one old, decrypted manner and its smaller surrounding buildings, Miku is sure the task of finding her brother will be easy. Soon after she arrives though, she quickly realizes all is not right with the Himuro Mansion. After finding a mysterious camera able to banish evil spirits, young Miku ventures into the darkness, where both her fate and the true secret horrors that the mansion hides await her.
Fatal Frame is a genuinely creepy looking game. The visuals haven’t aged quite as well as other survival horror games of its day such as the Resident Evil remake, but Fatal Frame does still catch they eye more so than other examples like Silent Hill 2 or The Thing.
Character models are well animated and rather realistic looking rather than cartoonish or stylized. One could argue that Miku looks out of place in her school uniform, but hey, at least she isn’t wearing a Sailor Fuku. Actually, from a technical standpoint, her white uniform greatly helps the player locate her position on screen under even the worst lighting conditions.
As one would expect, the game looks significantly better on the Xbox. The PS2 build looks a lot blurrier, muddier, and there are fewer ghost verities and unlockable costumes for Miku. For these reasons, I strongly recommend the Xbox version over the PS2 build. The Xbox version also supports 480p and is fully backwards compatible with the Xbox 360 with no known issues.
The Himuro Mansion and surrounding property is huge, but you are often restricted to narrow paths and only be able to access some areas per chapter. This is likely due to the limitations of the PS2 rather than the Xbox.
When you leave the game running for a little while, a built-in screensaver appears smearing bloody hand prints all over the screen. It’s both creepy and cool.
Fatal Frame is light on musical compositions and instead focuses on guttural, moody, and atmospheric pieces that greatly amplify the horror theme factor. You’ll usually find that the music is nothing that is memorable, but is loud and present enough that it can’t be ignored either. It’s a delicate balance to build a soundtrack that’s sole purpose is to enhance mood, and Fatal Frame does this very well.
The game’s voice acting is in English with no option to switch to the Japanese. This is a shame, as the English voice acting is all pretty poor. The voice actress for Miku does an acceptable job in most cases, but Mafuyu and a few others have such horrible delivery that it breaks the fourth wall. Of course, no matter had it gets, nobody ever points out that the dangerous situations Miku finds herself in almost resulted in a Miku sandwich.
Here’s an example of the voice acting from the game’s opening sequence.
As the name suggests, Fatal Frame is a survival horror game that revolves around photography. As you progress, Miku will be constantly attacked by malevolent ghosts and lost souls, all earthbound due to the horrific ways they died on the Himuro property.
To battle these spirits, Miku is armed with the Camera Obscura, an antique camera and family heirloom passed down from her mother. This camera has the unique ability to damage and capture spirits. However, the camera also relies on “ammunition” – film. There are different types of films scattered throughout the mansion, and each type of film possesses a different strength. The camera also contains several special abilities, which must be unlocked using spirit points, which can be gained by capturing ghosts. More spirit points are rewarded for photographs that capture ghosts at close range, often just prior to them attacking.
Special abilities range from wider lenses to abilities such as paralyzing and vision to see ghosts through soild objects, making it easier to deal with the tougher ghosts Miku encounters throughout the game.
As mentioned, the game is broken up into several chapters called “nights”, even though the game takes place over the course of just one single night. The chapters progress as Miku reaches particular locations, usually after completing a puzzle or fighting a boss ghost.
As seems to be the general rule for survival horror, Fatal Frame has its share of logic puzzles that must be completed to progress though the game. I personally found the puzzles to be either mind numbingly easy or frustratingly difficult and just no fun. Your mileage will vary depending on where you fall on puzzles in your non-puzzle gaming.
Occationally, one of the porblems with the game is the camera. Fatal Frame is a third person survival horror game that doesn’t rely on fixed camera angles like Resident Evil does, but it nevertheless does not allow for manual camera control. The Right stick instead of moving the camera, only slightly adjusts Miku’s flashlight, allowing her to scan the area. The degree of movement is less than 15 degrees and it’s a wonder why Tecmo even bothered to include this ability at all.
One of the many ways Fatal Frame is comparable to Capcom’s Resident Evil are the “tank” controls. While They aren’t as awfully slow as in RE, you’ll still find yourself getting into situations where you can’t see well due to fixed the camera angles and ridged controls. The controls themselves are as follows:
Left Stick: Movement, scroll through menus, adjust camera aim
D-pad: Scroll through menus, adjust camera aim
Right Stick: slightly move flashlight Movement in camera mode
LT: Enchant film
A: Confirm menu choices, open doors, interact with objects, Shoot
B: Cancel menu choices, Change to first person camera view
X: Run in direction you are facing
Y: Third person view: Options/First Person View: 180 degree turn
White: Zoom In (higher difficulties only)
Black: Zoom Out (higher difficulties only)
Back: View Map
Considering they were designed with that awful controller F Xbox pad in mind, the controls do function rather well. The PS2 controls are nearly identical, in case you are wondering.
Fatal Frame isn’t a particularity difficult game, but it can be frustrating because the game never tells you where to go or what to do next, which more often than not can be rather unclear. Some of the game’s puzzles are rather involved mind games that are just no fun for me personally. You can look up solutions on gamefaqs but the mathematical puzzles just have no place in a horror game in my opinion. There are also occasional issues with the the way the fixed camera and the controls respond when under attack by ghosts. Truly, this is the most horrific aspect of the whole game!
Availability & Price
Fatal Frame was released in 2001 for the Playstation 2 and a year later for the Xbox. Both versions were produced in limited numbers, resulting in much higher prices than most other games of their generation. For either version, except to pay $30 for a used copy. The price varies a little, with the PS2 version usually selling for a few dollars less due solely to its inferiority to the Xbox build.
Fatal Frame was released in Japan under the title 零 (Zero) and in Europe as Project Zero. Much of the game’s creepfest impact was due to the cover of the North American Fatal Frame which claims it is based on a true story. As it turns it out, the game is instead based on a Japanese urban legend.
According to the urban legend, just beyond the city of Tokyo is one of the most haunted locations in all of Japan. The rocky region is said to be location of where the Himuro Mansion (or Himikyru Mansion as it is sometimes known) once stood.
The Himuro Mansion was the scene of some of the most gruesome murders in modern Japanese history. Local lore has it that for generations, the Himuro family had participated in a strange, twisted Shinto ritual known as “The Strangling Ritual” in order to seal off bad karma from within the Earth, every half century or so.
The most popular version of the tale states that bad karma would emerge each December (other versions simply say “toward the end of the year”) from a portal on the Mansions grounds. In order to prevent this, a maiden was chosen at birth by the master of the household and isolated from the outside world in order to prevent her from developing any ties to the outside world, which would in turn, jeopardize the effect of the ritual.
On the day of the Strangling Ritual, the maiden was bound by ropes on her ankles, wrists, and neck. The ropes were attached to teams of oxen or horses to rip her limbs from her body, quartering her. The ropes used to bind her appendages would then be soaked in her blood and laid over the gateway of the portal. They believed that this would seal off the portal for another half century until the ritual had to be repeated.
During the last recorded Strangling Ritual it is said that the maiden had fallen in love with a man who tried to save her from the ritual. This “tie” to Earth tainted her blood and spirit and ruined the ritual altogether. Upon learning of the maidens love, the master took up his sword and brutally murdered all of his family members, before finally, in fear of what would soon happen, fell upon his own blade.
This is the basis of the “haunting” of the Himuro Mansion. Local legend has it that these souls of the murdered family wander the mansion attempting to repeat the failed ritual using whomever enters the abandoned building. Blood splashes on the walls are reportedly seen, as if they were flicked from the blade of a sword that had recently sliced through flesh. Many had reported seeing spirits and apparitions dressed completely in white, rinsing cloths and preparing the grounds for the ritual.
When asked about the basis of Zero, Chief Producer Makoto Shibata had the following to say:
As usual, I couldn’t find an English trailer, but here’s the original Japanese version to scare the pantsu off you. 恐いです !!
Also, proof that j-pop can be applied to anything and still work:
- Great Graphics
- Cute main character
- Some genuinely scary moments
- Japanese to a fault
- Occasionally, your goal can be unclear
- Lots of backtracking
- Controls take a bit of getting used to
- Expensive to buy even just second hand
Fatal Frame is an unusual survival horror game that few have had the chance to experience. It goes for a pretty penny on both the PS2 and Xbox, but it’s well worth a look if you’ve got slightly deep pockets and are looking for an experience that is every bit as enjoyable as other survival horror games you’ve probably already played like Resident Evil or Silent Hill. If you can, pick the game up for Xbox rather than the PS2 for the benefit of having better controls, cleaner graphics, fewer bugs, shorter loading times, more ghosts. and unlockable costumes to put Miku in a veriety of kimonos.
Platform: Sony Playstation 2 & Microsoft Xbox (works with backwards compatible PS3s and Xbox 360s)
Genre: Survival Horror
Release Date: November 22, 2002
Also from the developer: Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly, Dead or Alive, Ninja Gaiden Black, etc.
Game Length: ~10-12 hours