Genre: Survival Horror
Platform: Playstation 2
ESRB Rating: Mature 17+ (Blood, Violence)
Developer: Project Zero
Release Date: 11/08/05
Official Website: Fatal Frame III on TecmoINC.com
The survival horror genre has been going strong for several years, with the Resident Evil and Silent Hill series selling very well with every release. But the Fatal Frame series has set itself apart by having a unique style of gameplay and being frightening on a different level than other games.
The first two games in the series were great because they had an engaging story and had a great mood to them, not to mention the fact that they were quite scary (much more so than any Resident Evil or Silent Hill game I’ve played). But when you get down to it, the style was the same, except that Fatal Frame was set inside a mansion, and Fatal Frame II took place in a village.
Which brings us to the third in the series. Has Tecmo made another clone of the first game, or have they changed up the style of the game any to make it unique? That will be one of the foci of this review, since I personally don’t like it when sequel after sequel is made without changing much (or anything). There’s something to be said for sticking to what works, but if you’re afraid to try something new, it ends up getting stale.
So get ready. Turn out the lights. And read what may well be the most terrifying game review you’ve ever read.
Ever since the unfortunate car accident that killed her fiancÃƒÆ’Ã†’Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â© Yuu, Rei Kurosawa has been having problems. You could call it survivor’s guilt, or just plain grief, but Rei is having difficulties functioning properly. She can’t sleep well thanks to intense nightmares, and she never leaves her house except to work. Things certainly didn’t get any better when she is photographing a supposedly haunted house and she thinks she see Yuu. She follows him and ends up having a vision of a mansion.
She is shaken out of her trance by her assistant, Miku Hinasaki (the protagonist in the original Fatal Frame) and decides to return home. But that night, she has the first of many dreams in what is known as the Manor of Sleep. She sees Yuu, and follows him up some stairs, and finds a Camera Obscura, which has the powerful ability to photograph other planes of existence. Not long after, she is attacked by a woman covered with a tattoo, and she awakes from the dream. As soon as she awakes, a bruise forms on her shoulder where the tattooed lady touched her, and after intense pain for several seconds, the bruise and pain are gone.
That same day, she finds out that Yuu had been researching the Manor of Sleep with a colleague of his, Kei Amakura (uncle of Mio and Mayu from Fatal Frame 2). After searching Yuu’s room, Rei finds information on Urban Legends (which details some of the locations in Fatal Frame and Fatal Frame 2, not to mention the Manor of Sleep), as well as a Camera Obscura identical to the one in her dream, except much older and broken. And shockingly enough, this one has film of a picture she took in her dream! After she develops it, she has to discover who the photo is of and what connection Yuu has with the Manor of Dreams.
The stories in this series have always been very good, very deep, and VERY creepy, and this title is no different. Project Zero has become the masters of making a truly horrifying tale. And the way this title links all of the Fatal Frame games together is truly brilliant.
One of the things that make the stories so great is that they don’t only give you the overall story, but they also give you great BACK story. Every ghost in the game has a tale of their own, and it’s told to you over time by newspaper clippings and things of that nature. It truly makes the game an EXPERIENCE rather than a simple game. And that’s exactly why it’s so great.
Tecmo has cemented themselves a place up with Square Enix as graphics powerhouses. Just about every game they release is one of the best visually on their respective systems, and this game is no different.
If it were just cut-scenes that were great, it would be one thing, but all the graphics are simply excellent. The character models are all very well designed, and they look exactly like Japanese people. They went for full on realism, which is why us gaijin will probably say “Hey, I can’t tell these people apart! They all look the same!” That’s because they’re all Japanese. They probably feel the same way about us. And as usual, the outfits are all nice and well designed. But of course, the women get the better looking outfits. What can I say, Tecmo games bring out the metrosexual in me, and I can’t help but comment on the marvelous outfits!
All the environments are wonderful as well. When you are in the Manor of Sleep, you FEEL like you’re there. You cringe because you can FEEL the dust all around you. You walk slowly because you’re afraid of what may be around the corner. And you sure as hell wish you had a bigger flashlight, because the Manor of Sleep isn’t lighted very well, but it has about 1500% more light than any level in Doom 3.
On the flip side, when you are exploring Rei’s house, you feel a lot safer. It’s much brighter, a lot cleaner, and much cozier. It feels like your typical Japanese-style house. But you still are wary of what may be around the corner considering what game you’re playing, but you least you aren’t inches away from a heart attack.
Oh, and I’d be negligent if I didn’t mention the ghosts. As with all Fatal Frame games, the enemies are ghosts, and as such, you spend a lot of time staring them in the face. And their faces have never been better. Or worse. Depending on how you look at it. There’s more agony, more fear, more anger in every face. And those pained emotions make it that much more difficult to wait for the right moment to take a powerful picture.
So overall, the graphics really can’t get any better. I couldn’t find any real graphical flaws, but I don’t feel right saying that they did a perfect job on the graphics. They did include some nice touches, like making your character’s head follow the flashlight when you move it, or even making them look down at their feet when walking down stairs. Oh, and the ever present slightly grainy filter on your viewpoint when you’re in the Manor of Sleep makes it even more creepy. Little stuff like that really adds to the overall experience.
In a survival horror title, this may well be THE most important aspect to scare the bejeebus out of you. Seeing something typically doesn’t evoke real fear, but hearing noises can. And boy are there a lot of noises in this game. It’s truly hard to differentiate between the noises and the ambient music, so I lump them all together. Either way, the sound effects in this game are simply fantastic and really add to the mood and make you feel totally creeped out all the time. Even when Rei is awake, and you’re in your house, hearing the rain or the cat’s meow can be creepy. You never really know what to expect.
As for the voice acting, it’s good, but not great. The characters play their roles well, and don’t sound out of place at all. The only problem is that sometimes there is a weird echo to the voices, as if they were being recorded in a big fishbowl or something (I think they had this same problem with Baten Kaitos). I don’t know why it’s like this, but it’s not a big issue, but just kind of annoying. Other than that, and an occasional point where a voice is too quiet, the sounds in this game are simply marvelous.
Gameplay and Control
The controls are the same as in previous Fatal Frame titles, but I’ll detail it for newer players. There are two primary modes of play: 3rd Person and 1st Person. When you are walking around in 3rd Person view, you can examine objects and open doors (X button), run (Square button), or bring up your camera to switch to 1st Person mode (Triangle). 1st Person mode is your combat mode. You use your Camera Obscura to attack and defeat hostile ghosts. You can take pictures by hitting R1 or the X button. You can also take pictures of other ghosts too, ones that don’t attack you, but some move quickly so you’ll find your thumb hovering over the triangle button for most of the game.
Your camera is truly your best friend in the game. It’s your only defense against hostile ghosts and the only way to take pictures of non-hostile ghosts. And taking pictures of these ghosts nets you points which allow you to upgrade your camera, which allows you to have more damage potential when fighting. Snapping pictures of these ghosts is no picnic though. Sure there are some that are easy to catch, like ones that don’t move. But most of the ghosts you see will move fairly quickly and disappear, so to take a picture, you have to have a fairly itchy trigger finger, which just so happens to drive up the tension by a lot. Oh, and you’ll know there’s a ghost nearby if your filament (which is right next to your life meter) glows. It glows blue for stationary ghosts and red for mobile.
When running around, the game works like a standard survival/adventure game. You can examine just about any item you can see, you can explore rooms, hunt for keys and so on. One of the neatest things is that you’ll pick up newspaper clippings, photos, notebooks, and other items which will tell you back-story on one of the ghosts you’re encountering or some other aspect of the game. That’s what makes the game so very memorable.
While everything above is fundamentally the same as the previous two Fatal Frame games, there are some significant differences. First off, this game has multiple playable characters. In addition to playing as Rei, you can also play as Miku and Kei at times. Each character has different strengths and weaknesses. For example, Miku has the strongest camera, but is physically weaker, whereas Kei’s camera is the weakest, but he’s more buff than the girls. Rei is the middle of the road though.
In addition, you spend a lot of time NOT in the mansion, and can explore your house and talk to Miku and have her do research and develop pictures, things which have never before been seen in the series. While not world-shattering, it’s just nice to be able to use the “waking time” as a break from the dreams.
Unfortunately, the gameplay problems that were present with the first two games are still apparent in the third. Two things come to mind. First, the movement can be fairly screwy at times. Sometimes, when changing camera angles, you will have to stop moving the thumbstick, and then move the new direction you want to go. Usually it keeps you moving in the direction you were previously going, but not always, which can be a pain when being chased. And secondly, it can be a royal pain in the ass to take some pictures because it’s hard to point your character in the right direction before switching to the view finder. Sometimes it seems to work fine, and sometimes you’ll be looking in the wrong direction. This becomes easier once you find a certain camera upgrade, but before that it can be a bear trying to point yourself at the ghost you’re trying to defeat.
Despite these two problems, which don’t always happen, the gameplay is just as strong as it was in the previous titles. But unfortunately, it may be a good idea to change things up a little more by the next title because the gameplay is getting somewhat stale.
There is plenty of incentive to play this game over again. Granted, some people might not like to because it is essentially the same game. But, there are also features that you unlock by playing through the game multiple times. The game starts with Easy and Normal difficulties, and from those you can unlock Hard, and from that you can unlock the Nightmare difficulty. And even if you don’t think that’s enough, there’s more that you can unlock. Series regulars know about the different costumes, and this game is no different. You can unlock various costumes for each of the main characters, including glasses, headbands and full outfits. You can also unlock camera upgrades by completing certain criteria. It’s all nice stuff that gives you motivation to play the game again, although some people may not feel so inclined.
Before I begin, I have to say that there is NO in-game tutorial, so you are expected to know how to play from either the previous games or from the manual. That being said, the difficulty curve was laid out very well. The game starts out pretty light, with very few ghosts, and the ones you do fight are easy, but as the game progresses, the ghosts become more and more difficult. It requires you to be on your toes and get used to moving in 1st person mode, and you REALLY have to get used to snapping more powerful pictures. The longer you hold the ghost in your crosshairs, the more the power of your shot will build up, and the closer they get gives you more modifiers, so to get really good at defeating ghosts, you have to be good at getting them in your sights and snapping the picture when they are right up in your face and when you have a Fatal Frame opportunity. Not only does this do the most damage, it also gives you more points to upgrade your camera. In addition, you can shoot multiple Fatal Frames in quick succession which will give you bonus points for Combos. So getting good at taking these types of trick shots is essential to completing the game.
As I stated above, there are four difficulties: Easy, Normal, Hard, and Nightmare. Easy mode should only be considered a training mode, because you don’t really get anything for finishing the game that way, though you do get to experience the story. Normal mode is the real game and the other two are for people who want more difficulty, and are only suggested for Fatal Frame regulars, or if you just think Normal is TOO easy. But these multiple difficulties give you a better opportunity to play to the best of your ability. For people who are new to the games, Easy is a great choice because it’s a lot more forgiving, but the other difficulties aren’t so easy.
I can’t give a great score here simply because the game is fundamentally the same as the previous two Fatal Frame titles. Almost no change has been made to the control scheme or how taking pictures works. Yes, if it’s not broke then don’t fix it, but at the same time that which is “not broken” could be getting old and may be in need of some preventative maintenance so it doesn’t break in the future. That being said, the game does have a few important changes that I mentioned before. First off is the addition of multiple playable characters, which really adds a new element to the series, but in reality doesn’t change gameplay all that much. The biggest change is the “waking hours” where you are are in Rei’s house. You can move to every room in the house, develop film in the dark room, talk to Miku, and even play with Miku’s cat. These times are great because they help alleviate the stress that can build up from being in the very tense dreams. While you still won’t feel TOTALLY safe, you will feel much safer, which really adds to the overall experience.
It’s hard for me to explain this, but I’ll give it my best shot. The addictiveness of this game is kind of like when you’re a kid and you’re watching a horror movie. You KNOW something bad is going to happen. You know that the killer will jump out and stab the guy. So you cover your face with your hands, but at the same time you open your fingers just a little bit to peek through. You WANT to see it happen, but you DON’T want to see it happen. That’s a lot like this game. The game is so deeply engrossing that you FEEL like it’s YOU there in the game, that it’s you exploring this house and snapping pictures of these vengeful spirits. And when I get into a game as much as I do this series, I have to force myself to take a break because I’ll die of a heart attack if I don’t. So I stop playing the game for a while, and I really want to go and start playing again, but at the same time, I’m almost afraid to. So to sum it up, the game is very addictive, and almost too addictive, so one has to pace themselves to avoid getting sucked in.
There hasn’t really been a better time to release this game. More so than any other survival horror series, Fatal Frame has had a very Japanese feel, and feels a lot like Japanese horror movies. And those movies have become very popular in America over the past few years. With a following big enough to merit them remaking Japanese movies like The Ring and The Grudge, Fatal Frame III can fit in that same niche. Besides those fans, it should be popular amongst any survival horror fan because it really is a good series, and I like it better than any other horror series. And the first game even has a movie adaptation in the works (and has since before the glut if Japanese horror flicks), so it has to have SOME appeal. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that it features pretty Japanese girls.
Fear. That is one of the main purposes of games of this nature. To invoke fear in the player. And the Fatal Frame series does that more effectively than any other survival series that I’ve played. Many movies and games invoke fear by employing scare tactics. Like when your character opens a door and there is a monster there. Doom 3 did this all the time, and people called it “scary”. I called it lame. But when something jumps out at you, it’s just startling. Once the initial shock is over, it’s not scary. True fear comes from what you can’t see, what you can’t interact with. Something that may or may not be there. It’s the uncertainty that makes it frightening. Sound plays an important part in that, because if you hear scratching, and you don’t know where it’s coming from or what’s causing it, it starts to build up fear. And the same is true when you DON’T hear sound. That can be equally as scary.
I try to think of myself as a fairly macho guy. So I like to believe I don’t get scared often. Doom 3, Resident Evil titles? Not scary in the least. I didn’t bat an eyelash at The Ring or The Ring 2. Nothing, and I mean nothing, gets my heart pounding with anxiety like the Fatal Frame series has. And Fatal Frame 3 is the worst (or best) of the bunch. You walk down the hallway slowly, because you are afraid of what may be around every corner. Any corner potentially holds a ghost. And the funny thing is that most of the ghosts you see, the greatest potential to cause fear, are not ghosts that can hurt you. They’re ones that appear for a second underneath the stairs you are going up. Things like that really give you goose bumps and make your hair stand on end, but it’s not knowing when something like that may occur that makes it even more terrifying. Now, I don’t get nightmares from external stimuli, but when I’m laying in bed trying to sleep, every little noise and rustle makes me afraid to look. That’s the type of effect this game can have on you.
Gameplay and Control: 8.0
Appeal Factor: 7.0
Final Score: 8.0 (Great)
Short Attention Span Summary
This game is easily one of the best survival horror games I’ve played. The story is fantastic, and connects all the Fatal Frame games together. It has everything you would want in a game designed to scare you. Now, you will probably think I’m insane, but I don’t recommend everybody get this game. Why? Well, if history tells us anything, in about 6 months to a year, Tecmo will release this same game for the Xbox, but with more features and extras. So, if you own an Xbox or plan on buying one soon, do not buy this game. Wait for the improved version to be released for the Xbox. If you only have a PS2, or if you just can’t wait, then by all means, get this version! It’s worth it. I just don’t like how they release a better version of a game so soon after. But yea, if you want to get the pants scared off you, this is the game to get.