Posted by: coolerbecky | June 10, 2009

Fear the Fatal Frame

Today’s review of Project Zero (aka Fatal Frame) is ESRB rated T for Teen and is brought to you once again by Mr Larsen, who assisted both by loaning me the game and also by generally hanging around while I played it. This is actually my second time playing Fatal Frame, I had actually sold my original copy of the entire series after getting terribly frightened of it following a late-night play session.

Fatal Frame is a survival horror game for the Playstation 2. It’s actually quite a good vintage for a game as well… 2001.. That’s the same year that Final Fantasy X and Silent Hill 2 were released.

Despite the claims on the box, Fatal Frame is not, in fact, based on a true story, but on a very clever and interesting fabrication.

The game is set in the mysterious Himuro Mansion, a beautiful but derelict mansion that has been the centre of many mysterious deaths and disappearances that all share the same pattern – when the bodies are found, their head and limbs have all been torn off. You play as Miku Hinasaki, a teenage girl who has gone to the mansion to find her brother, Mafuyu. She is armed with the camera obscura, a strange device with the power to exorcise ghosts.

Like most Japanese and Asian horror titles, Fatal Frame’s foundations are on feelings of isolation and helplessness. It’s terribly atmospheric.

For the most part, the game is silent, with very few sound effects, making the game even creepier as what little sound is used is used to great effect. You can be walking down a completely silent corridor and suddenly hear someone whispering to you from behind… or walking in the garden and hearing soft wind chimes. It’s small touches like these that really draws a player into a game and the makers of Fatal Frame have made extremely good use of them.

Another thing that draws out the tension is the fact that Miku behaves exactly like a regular teenage girl of her age – she cannot run very fast and startles easily. She also seems to be the only person in the entire mansion throughout the game and occasionally encounters ghostly visions of her brother, making it difficult to tell if he’s still alive. She doesn’t get to communicate to anyone, but finds notes written by the mansion’s victims scattered throughout the mansion. The flashlight she carries also gives you an extremely limited view of the screen and the dark shapes and mysterious stains that you see throughout the mansion as a result often gives a sense of foreboding.

The use of the controller’s vibrator function is also a thing of genius. The controller vibrates to Miku’s heartrate when she’s frightened. The faster it “beats”, the closer the ghosts are to your location. It’s actually quite disconcerting because after some time, you’ll notice your own heartbeat matching Miku’s. Fatal Frame is NOT a game that you can play by yourself at night. Despite the lack of actual action in the game, there’s something about the design of this game that really makes you quake in your boots. Seriously, get someone to hang out with you when playing this game.

The only downside I see to this game is its severe lack of balance. You start off being able to find film and health drinks everywhere – the ghosts are slow and easy to capture with the camera… the game continues like this for about two levels, then the difficulty rises sharply. Suddenly, there are no health things to be found anywhere, the ghosts are practically invisible and can use magic, you’ve run out of film and you’re pretty much unable to complete the game. It’s actually a bit of a headache. I had to play the game through twice in order to be able to actually complete the game – I’d run out of health potions by the third stage and couldn’t get any further as a result.

Still, if you can actually get your hands on a copy of Fatal Frame, I highly recommend it. It’s a survival horror game that’s definitely a cut above the rest. Play it during the daytime with your window open and get a friend to hang around.

You can find out more about Fatal Frame series at the fansite Beyond the Camera’s Lens at http://www.cameraslens.com/. I’ll be reviewing all the available games in the series, so stay tuned for those.

Also, don’t forget to give Mr Larsen and his friends some support by listening to their podcast at http://forwardslashawesome.com/.

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