Nintendo recently announced that Fatal Frame V: Oracle of the Sodden Raven, a game that was until now a Japan-only release, would finally make it’s way to a America and Europe later this year for the Wii U, so I thought it would be a good time to look back on this criminally ignored series.
Out of the original unholy trilogy of survival horror—Resident Evil, Silent Hill, and Fatal Frame—Frame Frame was by far the scariest of the three. It took the rich environments of Resident Evil and the relentless psychological warfare of Silent Hill, added in a ghosts and a ghost-killing camera, into a single soul-breaking whole. In fact the game is so distinctive, I can usually tell if a writer has played the game (The great Rin Chupeco lists Fatal Frame as an inspiration for Girl From the Well).
Now, you’d think a game where the camera forces you to look at ghosts would get less scary over time, after all horror runs on not showing the monster, right? Oh heavens, I wish that was true about Fatal Frame.
Fatal Frame I:
In the first one, you play as Miku as she enters a dark and haunted mansion to find her missing brother. From there, a story of strange rope rituals, dolls, eye-gouging, and the dead pouring forth from hell slowly unfolds piece-by-piece. To say anything else would spoil the story.
To kick off the franchise, the creative team basically took every creepy thing they could come up with and threw it at the player as hard as they could. The quiet moments come as such a shock, they physically hurt. Progressing through the house physically hurts. Fighting the ghosts in tight, claustrophobic areas as you wrestle with your camera physically hurts. It physically hurts. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. It. Hurts. It. Hurts.
*coughs* Sorry about that, don’t know what came over me.
Here the franchise made its mark with it’s distinctive, suffocating atmosphere. For all the murder, brutality, and eye-gouging, it made the ghosts feel sane, as if their actions were the rational ones, and leaves the player feeling like they’re the one going crazy. It’s wonderful.
Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly:
This one of those games where I pull out my soap box and start banging on about how games are art. One day, 15-year-old Mio and her twin sister, Mayu, are out in the woods when a crimson butterfly leads them to a big haunted town that seems lost in time, and bursting at the seems with ghosts. What follows is one of the most heart rending stories in all of horror, one about sisterhood, courage, love, sacrifice, and hope. Each of the endings leaves me choked-up.
This is the other game besides Bloodborne that broke me. Usually around the final hour, I throw up my hands and beg for the game to put me out of my misery. And Mio, oh ferocious little Mio, is one of my all time favorite characters. This slip of a girl takes on a whole town full of ghosts, and even in the not-quite-bad ending, makes them blink. It’s horror at its best.
And when you find out what the title means by ‘crimson butterfly’. It. Is. Devastating. This is, by far, the masterpiece of the series, one of the treasures of the genre as a whole, and is considered by many to be the scariest game ever made.
Fatal Frame III: The Tormented:
Okay, this sequel was phoned in, which means instead of squirting blood, urine, and brain matter from every pore, there’ll just be blood. Which is good, my cleaning costs are getting ridiculous.
Rei is a photographer who starts dreaming of a place called the Manor of Sleep after her folklorist boyfriend disappears. From there, the game divides itself between the real world and the dream one, but as the game progresses, the manor slowly starts taking over Rei’s apartment, while a mutant tattoo takes over her body.
This one is alright, it’s 90% better than everything else out there, but after the glorious I and II, this one felt like a let down. It’s still off its bloody rocker though.
Fatal Frame IV: The Mask of The Lunar Eclipse
After the first three combined for a little under 300k copies in sales (from the numbers I can find), Nintendo bought Tecmo and the rights to the series, and decided to only release the games in Japan. Here, five girls were kidnapped as children and taken to an island for a ritual, but were rescued at the last moment by a police detective. Years later, the girls don’t have any memory of what happened, but after two of them comment suicide, the remaining three go back to the island to discover the truth.
This game was never released outside of Japan, so I’ve never played it. What little I’ve heard from the FF fans who bought Japanese wiis and then wrote a translation patch for it (horror fans always astound me with their level of love) has been really good, a concrete step up from III.
V: Fatal Frame returns.
Now with V on the horizon, I hope this is the chance the franchise has needed for a breakout. Silent Hill is dead after the cancelation of P.T., Resident Evil is having an identity crisis after 6 and Resident Evil One: Remaster sold close to a million copies. Fatal Frame is the only one of the original monsters left standing.
Plus the Wii U’s gamepad doubles as the camera. That’s just badass.
Welcome back, Fatal Frame, I’ve missed you and your creepy-ass bells.