#6 Fatal Frame (Project Zero in Europe)
Publisher: Tecmo (USA and Japan) Wanadoo (Europe)
Systems Released On: Sony Playstation 2, Microsoft Xbox
Release Date: 03/04/2002 (PS2), 11/22/2002 (Xbox Director’s Cut)
Fatal Frame was a game I was salivating over since it was first announced. It was highly original and sounded freaky as hell. However, I saw no point in getting it for the PS2 as they made such a big deal about the Xbox version have tons of new content. Overall the wait was worth it. The extras added are a few ghosts, a new ending, some unlockable outfits, and “Fatal Mode,” but these changes do make the PS2 version obsolete unless you just don’t own an Xbox.
When the game finally was shipped to my house, I had my friend Chris over and we both sat down to play the game. I was simply blown away from the second I hit the power button. The opening prologue section featuring Hinasaki Mafuyu was incredible. Usually I loathe anything in black and white, as it feels like an unnecessary layer of pretentiousness tacked on (I know, right? ME not liking something pretentious?), but the prologue was one of the few times where B&W was not only done right, but it was done in such a way I can only surmise that colour would have ruined the overall effect.
Although I don’t find Fatal Frame scary, I can definitely vouch for other adjectives to be attached to it. Eerie for one. Suspenseful is another apt choice. The game is wonderfully written and contains a story that is haunting and deep, the latter of which is quite rare for most spooky games.
The story starts off quite simply. A famous novelist disappears when investigating a haunted mansion. His young Protégée then goes searching for signs of what happened to him in the same house. He disappears too. This brings in the the Protégée’s younger sister, Miku, who decides to enter the domicile as well and guess what happens to her?
Surprise! She DOESN’T disappear. She’s actually the protagonist. You’ll be playing as her throughout the game (except for that aforementioned prologue) and together you will discover the secrets of the Himuro mansion such as the strange rituals performed within its walls. Miku enters with no way to fend off the angry and insane ghosts that dwell within Himuro, but very early on she finds the Camera Obscura that belonged to her brother Mafuyu and their mother before him. This camera allows Miku to defend herself against the ghosts that would otherwise rend her limb from limb. I’m sure some people probably rolled their eyes regarding the ability of a camera to interact with the netherworld, but one must remember that since the invention of the camera, there have been countless stories of spectral photographs and even a belief by some Native America tribes that a photograph steals your very soul. Sadly, the average gamer has come to believe a rocket launcher is far more capable of dealing with things which Man was not meant to know instead of the traditional folkloric methods. Writers like Lovecraft or Le Fanu are rolling in their graves at the very though.
The graphics of Fatal Frame are quite good regardless of which platform you choose. The Xbox version is a touch better with some obvious repolishing and some new and disturbing specters floating about the mansion, but no matter which you choose, you’re in for a visual treat. I think what I enjoy most is how different the ghosts look compared to the (few) humans you encounter in the game. They’re still obviously humanoid in shape and design, yet at the same time they feel quite alien and twisted. The offset colouring of the dead simply enhance their twisted form and emphasize that you’re dealing with the undead. A lot of games leave their revenants and ghouls with the same shading and clarity that the living protagonists (and even other non revived antagonists) are done with. To me, this offsets the terror and/or horror you should feel when something not of this world is moving towards you with unkind intentions. Not so with Fatal Frame. Even the benevolent “White Lady” possesses an otherworldliness the mortal characters lack. It’s nice to see that the game focused on various things the developers could do with this generation of consoles, instead of just trying to make things as pretty as possible.
Controls of the game are very tight, with me again preferring the Xbox layout. I really found the triggers on the controller a very fluid and comfortable way to play the camera. Plus there’s just something satisfying to have an actual click occur when Miku clicks her camera as well. The layout also allows you to use the A button as well for snapshot taking, so it’s nice to see Tecmo gives you two options for ghostbusting. The PS2 version is similar with the shoulder buttons acting as your camera and bonus functions buttons. There’s also eight different controls layouts so those that prefer their Sony systems will easily find the control scheme that works best for them.
One of the big things about Fatal Frame is the claim that it was “based on a true story.” Of course with films like The Amityville Horror, we know that that phrase means nothing more than “As long as someone said some even remotely similar to this happened, it’s a true story.” Indeed, the tagline is actually erroneous and was only included on the versions of the game outside of Japan. When questioned, the producer of the Fatal Frame series, Makoto Shibata, stated that the games are only loosely based on some old Japanese ghost stories. There’s no “true story” in the game at all. Sorry to disappoint the more hardcore fans of the game. However, to appease you, let me give you the exact quote from Makoto so you have an idea of the underpinnings that inspired the eventual game.
In an area outside Tokyo, there lies a mansion in which it’s said seven people were murdered in a grisly manner. On the same property, there lie three detached residences that surround the mansion, all of which are rumored to have ties to the mansion’s troubled past. It’s said there is an underground network of tunnels that lay beneath the premises, but nobody knows who made these tunnels or what purpose they served. Many inexplicable phenomenon have been reported occurring on the property. Bloody handprints have been found splattered all over the walls. Spirits have been spotted on the premises… even in broad daylight. A narrow stairway leads to an attic where a spirit-sealed talisman is rumored to be locked away. Men have sought this talisman, only to be found later with their bodies broken and rope marks around their wrists. There’s a crumbling old statue of a woman in a kimono, but its head is missing. If you take a photo of a certain window, a young girl can be seen in the developed picture. These incidents have provoked fear in the people of Tokyo, and many believe that those who live near this area will become cursed. The deaths of those seven people are unexplained to this day.” (Credit: www.cameraslens.com)
Fatal Frame is one of those games that has nothing wrong with it. It’s great in every aspect. The story is one of the best in this genre, the graphics are top of the line, the music and sound effect fit the game perfectly, and the controls are very sharp. There’s a few areas where it could be better, such as the occasional backtracking, but the game scored so high with me simply because I couldn’t think of a fault in it. Plus, the game features a folklorist as a major character. Methinks Tecmo saw this countdown coming in advance and was kissing up to me. Let’s just hope I don’t end up like the one in the game, okay?
#5. Clock Tower: The First Fear
Publisher: Human Entertainment
Developer: Human Entertainment
Systems Released On: Super Nintendo, Sony Playstation, Bandai Wonderswan
Release Date: 09/14/1995 (SNES), 07/17/1997 (PSX), 12/09/1999 (Wonderswan)
Heh. Here appears the first game on the countdown never to make it into the English language. It’s also the first of two games never to make it to US shores. The Americans are gonna love that, eh?
Ah Human. My beloved long dead Human. Creators of truly great video games franchises like Fire Pro Wrestling and umm…well, okay, so they don’t have a lot of other classic easily remembered franchises, but god damn it, FPW and Clock Tower is enough!
I need to point out that Clock Tower: The First Fear is not the actual name of the game, nor does it appear on any of the games. This name came about by fans of the series because in America, we started getting the series with Clock Tower 2, which ASCII called simply “Clock Tower.” So CT3 is known as CT2 in America, and the horrible game that every member of Capcom’s development staff that took part is designed CT3 is actually CT4 in Japan. Simple huh? There’s only one thing you have to remember: Capcom is a bunch of dirty bastards for ruining this series, which hardcore CT fans believe Capcom purchased the rights to just to kill it. I’d like to think that conspiracy theory isn’t true, but every time I think of that game, I can see why people came up with that belief in the first place.
Clock Tower quite simply holds the greatest villain of all time within the prison-esque confines of its cartridge (or CD for you PSX fans). His name is Scissorsman. I have yet to encounter anyone who has played the Clock Tower games (Okay, well at least the first two. The other two we’ll all have to pretend don’t exist.) who doesn’t share this opinion of mine. Say the name. Just the name. The true survival horror/terror enthusiast will make some cryptic of profanity laced comment. Hum or play the Scissorsman theme and those in the know will react accordingly. When you play the game, just a hint of that song with causes the adrenaline to rush, your teeth to grit, and your paranoia to rise. For you will know that Scissorsman is nigh.
This may sound silly and melodramatic, but I’m dead serious. I’ve only played two other games that have more of an “OHHHHHHHH SHIT, I’M GONNA DIE!” factor that CT:TFF. And no, I’m not going to tell you what they are. I’m simply going to say they are #1 and #2 on the countdown. Although Clock Tower is little more than a point and click game from the 16 bit era, it is one of the most intense and nerve wracking video games ever made. Human achieved this through an amazing and highly original story that brings new meaning to the phrase “f*cked up,” an excellent soundtrack that to this day rivals most modern gaming scores, and superb play control that is only matched by the second smartest AI in all of video gaming; only surpassed by CT’s direct sequel.
I can’t impress upon you how ahead of its time Clock Tower was. Name another SNES game with NINE different endings. Yes. Nine. Hell, try and name a 32 bit game with that many endings. The only one I can think of is Star Ocean 2. It’s also one of the few games to get close to any actual concepts of horror/terror in gaming. I hate to break it to you, but blowing up a few hundred zombies isn’t scary. If anything it desensitizes you to what you SHOULD be feeling. A true horror/terror game needs to be able to make you empathize with the character. And that means being able to do little more than run the f*ck away and hope to whatever deity you worship that you can outsmart the psychotic monster with an unstoppable bloodlust that has decided eviscerating you would be a lovely way to spend its evening. Clock Tower, thank God, gets it.
The plot of the game is simple. You play as Jennifer. A sweet little orphaned girl, Jennifer and her friends are adopted by a wealthy middle aged woman named Mary Barrows. Mary has tons of money to go around and she and her husband, Mr. Barrows, decide to give back to the less fortunate children of their community.
Sound great and sweet, right? Well, it is. Until one by one, the orphans are horribly butchered by an unstoppable killing machine wielding a very large pair of scissors. I think you can figure out which character that is…
The controls of the game are similar to most point and click games. However there are some action elements. There’s panic mode, where Jennifer is in mortal danger of well…dying in one of many horrific ways. Here you button mash like crazy in an attempt to escape. It’s not that exciting, but it adds another level of depth to a genre that was pretty solidified in gameplay, even back in 1995. As well, you have escape mode. It’s pretty obvious when the game turns to this setting, as your character will be able to run, and Scissorsman’s music will be pumping out of your television’s speakers. Be careful with running, as the game is programmed to on rare occasions to have Jennifer trip and fall. This can mean life or death quite easily in this game.
What really makes Clock Tower wonderful is the gameplay and the corresponding AI. After Capcom did its best to horribly ruin the Clock Tower series, they tried to take what people loved about the game and move it into another game known as Haunting Ground. Once again, Capcom proved it’s utter inability to understand how to make a terror game, as you spent most of that game wishing you could kick Hewie. Damn dog. Well that and the fact that instead of capitalizing on the Clock Tower like AI, Haunting Ground only allowed you to hide in certain locations a set number of times before the game “got wise.” It was a poor man’s Clock Tower and served more to infuriate fans of this series that make any real fans.
Hiding is pretty much your only real “attack” in Clock Tower. You can’t outrun Scissorsman. You can’t outfight him. All you can do is hope to outsmart him. You accomplish a stay of you execution by running and hiding. A LOT. There are numerous hiding spots in the game. However, Scissorsman may be a freaking monster of doom, but he’s not stupid. Depending on where you hide and how far behind you he is, he just might figure out your hiding spot. Like I said, the AI in incredible. Some tips on surviving: Be careful of drapes and curtains. Oh, and if you’re new to the CT series, don’t hide in the master bedroom before finding a way to deal with that f*cking parrot. Oh, how I hate that parrot. You know the dog from Duck Hunt. He and the parrot are best friends in the video game reality that Otakukin inhabit. Oh man, just thinking about that parrot makes me so peeved, I need to step away from my computer and look at Pikachu. Ah Pikachu, how he calms my soul. Sweet cuddly wonderful electric rodent. how I adore your wittle cheeks and jagged tail.
Back to the subject at hand. Hiding and figuring out the best places to do so are paramount to Jennifer making it through the game in one piece. Some of which are purposely stupid and set so that you can die if you choose them. Another hint: Watch what happens when you try to hide between the bookcases in the library. I’ve yet to see that spot work for anyone. EVER. Half the intensity of the game is wondering if Scissorsman is going to find you. Will he plunge his scissors through the bathroom stall wall, realizing you are inside? Does he leave the bathroom simply to lure you off guard and will be waiting outside to cut you in twain when you finally leave? The game is simply sublime in its ability to drive you mad with anticipation.
The graphics of CT:TFF are truly impressive. Even looking at the screenshots I have here from the SNES version, I just find myself amazed at the level of detail that was possible with a 16 bit system. Especially the backgrounds. They’re just beautiful. This game is easily head and shoulders with a good portion of Saturn or Playstation game. The cut scenes also will cause your jaw to drop with the level of beauty. By beauty I mean how far they were able to push the SNES. I certainly wouldn’t call what you encounter in the cut scenes to be pretty in any way shape or form. Unless you’re a vampire or a serial killer. Ew.
Although Clock Tower is amazing, the sequel surpasses it in every way. Better graphics, an even more bizarre story, improved music and gameplay, and most of all, an even more frightening Scissorsman. I’ll give you a small game spoiler here. the CT2 Scissorsman is not the one you have to deal with in CT1, but CT2’s Scissorsman does play a major role in CT1. It’s just that buy the time he and Jennifer return in the sequel, you won’t recognize. And as impossible as it may be, he’s even freakier and more dangerous than in the first game. I guess that’s a slight spoiler as to what it showing up in the top 4, eh?
Bottom line here people: If the US hadn’t been throwing a shit fit over games like Night Trap and Mortal Kombat at the time this game was impressing people left and right in Japan, we’d have had it brought over to the US of A. Unfortunately as our country is found and governed by puritanical religious zealots (or southern/Bostonian nymphomaniacs), we lost out on Clock Tower. All the more reason to vote for Ventura or Jon Stewart in 2008. Vote for the “Pro Clock Tower” platform, and vote against the “Allowing Capcom to Even Try to make Another Survival Terror” game platform. Let them stick to their “pretty but badly written” Resident Evil franchise and hopefully some other company with the ability to do Human proud will get the Clock Tower license away from them.
R.I.P. Human. May you have died with a giant pair of scissors embedded in your collective vital organs.
The fact that there are four better games that Clock Tower surprised me when I assembled the countdown. Two are better by the sheer quality of story, and two others are story + amazing levels of fear factor (not to be confused with Joe “Joe’s last name is Garrelli?” Rogan’s show). Part of CT only being #5 is probably due to, on a subconscious level, the game only being available legally in Japanese. There are a few English translated ROM’s on the internet, and I strongly suggest you find them, but in the end, there is a quartet of better games, and next week we’ll take a look at two of them: Here’s your hint: One is the best terror game released on this generation of consoles, and the other was designed…by Harlon Ellison? See you next week.