After having recently watched Jordan Underneath’s Silent Hill 3 Video for Silent Hill Month, I was reminded of the older horror games that I enjoyed. By far, my favorite was Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly which was a Playstation 2 Horror Game. It had several elements about it that I feel still hold up strongly today and frequently ends up being the game I compare other Horror Games to.
About: Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly is a Japanese Surival Horror game for the Playstation 2 that came out in 2003, released by Tecmo. While it is a sequel, obviously, you do not have to know anything about the first game in order to enjoy the second. This is actually also true for the other installments to the series. A remake of the game with improved graphics was released in 2012 for the Wii, but only for Europe and Japan. You play this game as two twins, Mio and Mayu, however you mostly control Mio throughout the gameplay. Mio and her sister are visiting an area of the woods where Mayu once fell down and badly injured her leg (giving her a lifelong limp) when Mayu wonders off after a crimson butterfly. Following, Mio finds herself entering an abandoned village known simply as The Lost Village (Minakami Village/All God’s Village). Ghosts haunt the village and Mio must defend herself and protect her sister using only a camera, known as the Camera Obscura, as her weapon.
Warning! Potential Spoilers? Dude, it’s been out since 2003. Get with the times!
The Plot/Characters: As Mio explores The Lost Village, it becomes clear that there is far more to the plot than simply wandering into a haunted abandoned place. In fact, why are there so many dead people to begin with? The answer is simple, actually, The Lost Village is a place where they used to perform a ritual called the ‘Crimson Sacrifice Ritual’ to appease the Kusabi and keep hell from being unleashed from the Abyss located in the village. However, the ritual went wrong in the past when two twins, Yae and Sae and managed to escape. Sae was recaptured and brought back, becoming a sole sacrifice which did not work. The chain reaction killed everyone within the village and also caused the village to disappear. Now, the dead are attempting to complete the ritual regardless, using Mayu and Mio this time. Mio has to find her sister and escape the village somehow…
There are actually only two living characters in the game, Mayu and her sister Mio. Mio is the main character that you control, as she remains mostly unaffected by the strangeness of The Village. She seems to also be more strong willed and willing to fight for her sister, going to great lengths to find her despite all the obstacles in her way. She is also plagued by a lot of guilt over the injury that befell her sister all those years ago, as they were playing and Mayu fell as a result. Despite the spooky situations she finds herself in, Mio usually bites the bullet and attempts to keep going, making her quite brave. Mayu, in contrast, tends to shy away from ghosts, is more likely to be surprised and is more easily influenced as she is controlled and possessed by Sae on more than one occasion. To me, Mio is a very strong character and more fleshed out while Mayu sometimes borders on being useless or irritating.
That just leaves the ghosts… There was definitely a lot of thought and effort placed into each and every one of them. They each have a story that can slowly be unraveled by your fights with them, by listening to their speech or in notes and stones left behind that you can read or listen to via a strange radio. The most fleshed out ghosts are the twins that appear, however. Sae and Yae are straight foils to our main protagonists and it is pretty clear that Mayu and Mio are probably reincarnations to them as they are mistaken for them by ghosts throughout the village. In your journey, you will only encounter one ghost that is benign. In fact, he’s there to help you! Itsuki is also a twin who participated in the Twin Sacrifice and had to kill his own brother. He mistakes Mio as Yae and proceeds to give her instructions on how to escape the village.
Gameplay: Personally, I am a huge fan of over the shoulder or third person camera angles, the latter of which this game has. It also allows for a scarier experience, in my opinion, when you can’t exactly see around a corner your character is coming to, or is obscured by the surrounding elements and camera angle. Fatal Frame uses this to the fullest potential, as ghosts can literally pass through walls and sneak up behind you or to the side. The game also changes this up at several points, however, switching you to first person when taking photos using your camera or crawling through a crawl space under a house. I can already feel the shivers going down my spine thinking about fighting ghosts in a cramped, dark corridor while they come at you from the wall.
The main element of this game that makes it stand out in my memory as being one of the best horror games, however, is the weapon. The Camera Obscura is a camera that can deal damage to a ghost, eventually defeating them temporarily (I say temporarily, as the same ghost can reemerge later on even after being “defeated”). You can deal greater damage to ghosts if you time your photos correctly and indicators will tell you when the ghost is in the best position. Typically, the best camera shot that deals the most damage is when the ghost is just about to attack, earning it a “Fatal Frame” shot which can be followed up with subsequent shots. The indicator will also help you see the ghosts, as they can often go completely invisible. YIKES. It often results in jumpscares that aren’t just jumpscares as well, resulting in lots of screaming from yours truly.
However, your blue health bar will go down and result in death if it is depleted if you miss a shot and a ghost grabs you. Shaking them off will help somewhat. At least… That’s most ghosts. Others such as Sae and the Kusabi touching you result in Insta-Death. All ghosts also attack differently, and make you have to think on your feet. For instance, Falling Woman will fall from a large height and attempt to hit you before crawling over the floor. Speaking of thinking, most progress in the game not only involves you using your brain to solve how to defeat different ghosts, but you will also have to solve many puzzles, get different keys and explore the village in order to progress. There are also different endings as well, depending on how you play.
Despite all the puzzles and having to use your brain, however, Fatal Frame at no point becomes too frustrating to play. In fact, it gives you many clues on how to advance. Subtle clues, sometimes, that you can solve by exploration. While it might not explicitly say “go upstairs” it might provide you with a photo of a place you’ve seen before you will have to backtrack to.
Graphics: Fatal Frame had absolutely gorgeous graphics for the time period it was released and had cut scenes where the graphics were even better. Everything is pretty fairly well detailed and the characters made to look like real people (though they definitely look stylistic or anime-like compared to today’s standards). The details in texture and lighting make the world you play the game in very atmospheric as well. Lighting plays a huge role as well and will cut to black and white in certain scenes to also increase the fear levels.
Of course, the 2013 HD remaster and the 2012 Wii release have spruced up the graphics and are a noticeable improvement from the original. However, again, for the time period these graphics were by far better than most games.
The Score/Atmosphere: Besides the gameplay, which made this game utterly terrifying for me since the ghosts were so difficult, unique and the camera required skill to use, the sounds really made this game horrifying to play in the dark. Laughter, ghostly wails, chanting white-noise and creaking aside, the OST was a vital part in delivering the scares. Traditional Japanese instruments coupled with modern day instruments added to the mix, creating another layer to it. For me, there has never been or will be something that creeps me out more than the villagers chanting in the background while drums play or the chimes and creaking as the Box Woman slips slowly toward you. OH GOODNESS, I AM SLEEPING WITH THE LIGHTS ON TONIGHT.
Overall: I might be biased, as time has passed since I last played this game. However, I remember being absolutely too terrified at one point to turn the game back on and complete my playthrough of it. Fatal Frame scared me so badly on more than one occasion. It’s the game I will probably always have in the back of my mind when I think about Horror Games and Horror done right. Some people find it frustrating, as clues can sometimes be subtle on how to progress, however, exploration in the game often adds even more to the suspense in my opinion, and usually can be puzzles out fairly quickly. The plot was also compelling and trying to get to the bottom of what happened in The Lost Village brought me to finish the game, despite wanting to toss the controller across the room and run screaming.
Have you played Fatal Frame 2? If so, what did you think? What are other horror games that you played in the past that you feel still hold up strongly today?