When someone asks me what the best horror game of all time is, I’ll swiftly point them in the well deserved direction of Resident Evil 2 or Resident Evil: Code Veronica X. For me, at least, both of these games offered an excellent pace, memorable characters and a range of interesting gameplay elements. Though, throwing all of that on its head, if someone asks me what the scariest horror game of all time is, it’s Fatal Frame and Fatal Frame II all the way, no exceptions. Note: Fatal Frame (titled in Japan) is known as Project Zero in Europe.
Developed by Koei Tecmo (originally Tecmo) and currently owned by both Koei Tecmo and Nintendo, this series first made waves back in 2001 with its first entry on the PlayStation 2. There’s a total of five main entries in the series so far; Fatal Frame, Fatal Frame 2: Crimson Butterfly, Fatal Frame III: The Tormented, Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse and Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water. These titles collectively released on altering platforms, spanning the PlayStation 2, right up the most recent release on the underappreciated Wii U.
The premise for each title remains consistent throughout the series, being that the setting for each title takes place in a confined environment. Several variations of creepy ghosts and evil spirits patrols each location, all of which come with their own backstories and behavior patterns. The Camera Obscura, the one and only weapon (if you like) is used to hurt or stall the ghosts, capturing them on film and pacifying them momentarily as a result. The game plays out in third person, but switches to first person when a player in using the camera.
It’s a very basic yet massively effective tool. Damage output depends on how long the player can focus on a ghost, with the ghosts rapidly moving – often towards the player – and fading in and out of existence, making for some truly tense and terrifying encounters. The maximum damage output is known in-game as “Fatal Frame” which is achieved when the player targets a ghost’s weak spot, which is more often than not found in a ghost’s backstory or lore, ultimately granting the player a pool of points in return for spirit energy.
These points can then be spent on upgrading the camera to obtain more powerful film. Throwing in some random elements, the game’s also house what’s known as “passive ghosts”. These need to be captured on film at once, or else they fade away and stay absent for the rest of the experience. If anything, these encounters add a lot of backstory to each scene, which was always a welcoming addition. Now, what’s especially appealing about Fatal Frame is that each game in the series is based in the 1980’s, and for good reason too.
What’s the reason? I hear you ask. Lack of modern technology, that’s the reason. Taking place in the 1980’s rids the game of devices such as mobile phones and accessibility. This helps to maintain the isolation that so many horror games continue to overlook in modern day gaming, after all, a horror game is much scarier when you’re made to feel truly alone. This is something Fatal Frame managed to effortlessly and magnificently relay upon each and every new release. This, if you ask me, is one of the many reasons we need a comeback.
Not only is this series so unique and so well embedded, but even today, nearly twenty years since the first release, there’s nothing quite like it and certainly nothing that matches it. It’s been four years since release of the series’ latest addition and there’s been no signs whatsoever that another game is on the way. With so many games getting a remaster or a reboot this gen so far, it’d be nice to see Fatal Frame getting the same treatment. I would even settle for compilation HD release, akin to that of the recently announced Shenmue HD.
If you’ve never played Fatal Frame before, allow me to give you one basic encounter from Fatal Frame II to give you an idea as to what to expect. Within the Osaka House, a ghost known as Miyako wanders around the environment uttering the question “Why?” repeatedly. You see, her boyfriend Masumi was killed by villages and in-turn, his angry spirit took the life of Miyako. Thus, Miyako now patrols that area of the game looking for meaning and vengeance. The camera will calm her momentarily, until eventually, she becomes angry.
It’s dynamic moments like this that make the Fatal Frame series so compelling. There’s so much potential for this series to come back too. Ghosts with unique backstories, the spooky setting and time frame, the unique and interesting gameplay mechanics and elements. Need I continue? Amidst the likes of the Resident Evil 2 Remake, the cancelled Silent Hills and the smaller horror games that release on a semi-frequent basis, a new Fatal Frame, a remaster or a reboot would be a perfect fit. Do you agree? Do you disagree? Sound off in the comments below.