Numerous games attempt to follow the formula for a typical horror game, but this is much easier said than done. There are very few remarkable survival horror games that withstand the test of time because it takes more than a predetermined formula to engender genuine terror in the players.
However, Fatal Frame belongs to the latter group and has been a favorite among fans of horror games ever since the first game’s 2001 release. The Fatal Frame series of games does not rely as heavily on violence and gore as some other popular horror games.
Instead, they concentrate on producing a stressful environment that gives the gamer a terrible experience. Japanese horror films like The Eye and The Grudge series, which have profoundly inspired every game in the series, are a good sign for the horror genre. We gamers are not grumbling if inspiration works so well for the projects!
The player controls a young woman who is the protagonist as she navigates a labyrinth of ghostly sites and malevolent ghosts. She can only defend herself with a special camera, and in order to finish the assignments, she must search various locales for concealed information. The setting of the games—haunted Asian villages—is more of an homage to the extensive body of Japanese folklore.
In conclusion, the series has greatly impressed us, and because a new game will be released very soon, we thought that this could be the ideal opportunity to walk you through the franchise’s development. In this video, we examine the Fatal Frame series and the stunning games that have captivated us throughout the years.
Fatal Frame (2001)
This game was also known as Zero in Japan and people from Europe know this as Project Zero. The first game in the series was developed by Tecmo for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox. The narrative is premised in the year 1986, and we are introduced to two siblings Mafuyu and Miku who have the ability to see supernatural stuff. After the mysterious disappearance of Mafuyu in a supposedly haunted Himuro Mansion, Miku explores the mansion trying to find him. It doesn’t take too long before she figures out that the Himuro Mansion is genuinely haunted, and the murderous ghosts of the mansion have claimed several victims.
Mafuyu was out there looking for his mentor and his assistants, and Miku discovers signs that they all had got killed by the evil entities. She investigates the corners of the mansion and stumbles upon some dark secrets that is the root of all evil inside. Back in the days, a dark ritual was performed, where a chosen shrine maiden was ripped apart using ropes tied to her neck and limbs.
This was done to seal the portal to the Hell Gate in order to keep the dark forces locked up. Later, when the ritual was interrupted, the dark forces known as the Malice were set loose and they killed everyone in Himuro Mansion. Miku must make use of her special abilities to set the spirits of the mansion free, and one disgruntled spirit in particular who has captured her brother Mafuyu. The climactic moments vary depending on the difficulty level, but in both endings the trapped spirits are eventually freed and Miku loses her sixth sense.
A Phenomenal Entry in the Survival Horror Genre
We knew right from the moment when we first laid our hands on this game that it was going to be the start of something amazing. The intense narrative coupled with a supreme gameplay makes for a terrifying experience that will draw in the gamers immediately.
You will enjoy the joyous sense of dread in every step, and this game makes you feel in the moment. You are the character, and you are one putting yourself on the line in a haunted mansion, with every odd stacked against you. You play as Miku, the protagonist, and although she has a sixth sense just like her brother, her only weapon in the haunted mansion is a special camera. This camera is capable of capturing the souls of the dead, and while she explores every nook and corner of the mansion, she has to use it carefully in order to unravel the secrets. Miku is threatened by a horde of vengeful spirits, and surviving is quite a task!
This game was released back in 2001 and some might say that the graphics haven’t aged well, but we beg to differ. It was spectacular for its time, and the well-designed characters make for some pretty visuals. The Himuro Mansion has been designed perfectly, and the eerie, atmospheric building is enough to give you the chills. We loved the work that the developers put in for the spirits and the ghosts that you come across, and the effects deserve a special appreciation. We could never get over the feeling that something is sneaking up on us, and this feeling is the charm of the gameplay. With astonishing sound designs, and a heart-in-your-mouth narrative, things take care of themselves.
Fatal Frame, however, falters when it comes to the controls because it is not the easiest in the world. The difficulty level is quite high, and there were many who got stuck in spite of putting in hours of efforts. It has been over twenty years now and there are many who mark this as the scariest gaming experience of their lives. In a world of Silent Hill, and many other popular horror games, that is a feat in itself, and we can assure you that playing this game will be totally worth your time!
Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly (2003)
The second installment of the Fatal Frame franchise was developed and published by Tecmo for PlayStation 2. The story is not related to the first game, but the concepts are retained to bring you another terrifying experience. The game takes you to the fictional Minakami region of Japan, which is known as the Lost Village. Apparently, the village hosted the Crimson Sacrifice Ritual, and the settlement vanished following the event. Now, it is believed that those who get lost in the region will be trapped forever in the Lost Village.
Mio and Mayu are twin sisters and they are visiting one of their favorite childhood spots in Minakami before it is lost due to the construction of a new dam. The region is haunted by a vengeful spirit by the name Sae Kurosawa, who was the maiden sacrificed in the ritual. She longs to be reunited with her sister Yae, and as luck would have it, Mio has a striking resemblance to her sister. The spirit of Sae Kurosawa wants to complete the ritual using Mayu, and she mistakes Mio for her sister. Mayu becomes obsessed with a crimson butterfly and starts to follow it into the woods. Once the sisters are in the cursed village and one of them gets possessed and now,it is only a matter of survival. Luckily for the twins, there are some helpful spirits as well, and it depends on the player to guide the sisters to safety.
Survival Horror Redefined
After the grand success of the first Fatal Frame game, an addition to the franchise was inevitable. The first game was probably one of the best in the entire series, but it was too scary for a majority of the players. Many chickened out and couldn’t see through the first game, and Tecmo made the efforts this time to make things more interesting. This was supposed to be an incentive for the players to brave their fears and finish the game. However, the developers did not compromise on the horror aspect one bit, and that shows in the gameplay. There is a constant sense of dread and the game is complete with a creepy ambience, rich lore, and a threat that is far more superior to the player.
This game is longer and in some ways scarier than the first, and it is still regarded as one of the best games for PlayStation 2. We have already mentioned that the roots of the original have been retained, and the sisters have to exorcize multiple spirits using a special camera. The storytelling through a series of dream sequences and flashbacks is almost like a movie, and the complicated tale could well be made into one! One of the things we loved about the gameplay was the sheer unpredictability that keeps the players on their toes at all times. Taking a picture of the spirits is always the focus, but things are not as simple as they sound.
You must have quick reflexes and a good eye to capture perfect shots of the spirits. The gameplay is largely dependent on skill, and some of the control issues in the first game have been dealt with. The puzzles are logical and interesting, and the graphics department has made some positive changes to make things absolutely surreal. There are multiple endings possible, but none of them are remotely close to what you imagined! This game is not meant for everyone and it might be quite taxing on the mind. Do not go in expecting loads of action because it is not about slashing through zombie hoards. That being said, the true survival horror fans will find this to be a game that needs to be treasured for times to come!
Fatal Frame III: The Tormented (2005)
Fatal Frame was another PlayStation 2 release handled by Tecmo, and the narrative takes you into the world of a 23-year-old freelance photographer Rei Kurosawa. Does the name sound familiar? It is because this was the name of the spirit in Fatal Frame II, but the stories are completely unrelated. Rei is the protagonist in this game, and she is mourning the death of her fiancé in a car crash caused due to her reckless driving.
She is given the assignment to take photos of an abandoned mansion, but Rei is mentally disturbed and keeps having recurrent nightmares of an old Japanese manor house called the Manor of Sleep. She explores the mansion further, and she soon learns that the thin line between reality and dreams blur in her case.
It is the same for her photography assistant Miku and many others. Rei goes through diaries and finds other clues, and eventually realizes that a spirit named Reika Kuze haunts those who have a strong attachment to their dead loved ones. The victims start to grow tattoos on their bodies and the tattoos expand until there is nothing left of the victims. After the mysterious tattoos start appearing on her body, and they seem to be linked to her nightmares, Rei must find a way to exorcize the spirit before it is too late!
The Legacy Continues
It is not the easiest task to keep up with the quality of a franchise, especially when the first two games have been absolute showstoppers. Fatal Frame III: The Tormented keeps up with the challenge and delivers something as special as the previous two games in the series. 2005 was a memorable year for the horror fans, with some remarkable games like Outbreak and Resident Evil 4 making a strong impact.
Fatal Frame III was the cherry on the top, and it is probably the creepiest of the lot. The narrative picks up pace before you know it, and suddenly, the grieving protagonist is struggling to escape from the clutches of an evil spirit. The narrative is a lot more coherent, and there are multiple layers to the story that will appeal to different sections of the players. It does have a few jump-scare moments, but the game still relies largely on the overall atmosphere to do the trick.
The character of Miku Hinasaki, one of the favorites for the fans who aced the first two Fatal Frame games, makes a comeback, and she is one of the playable characters. Although the focus is largely on Rei, Miku is the most useful in combat. Meanwhile, Rei shuffles back and forth between her dream world and her house, and you have to manage your tasks accordingly.
No matter which character you pick, there are plenty of missions with some serious ghost hunting and puzzle solving to be done. The brain teasers are not particularly difficult, but the thirteen chapters in the game are still pretty captivating. It is also quite demanding for the players because compared to the previous two games this one requires the fastest reflexes. The graphics are a serious improvement, and the lighting effects are perfectly done.
We were impressed by the accurate facial expressions and the character models, and this is one department where this game scores over its predecessors. The controls have been one of the constant issues with the franchise, and this time it is no exception.
It is probably the only thing that you can complain about in an otherwise perfect setup. The pacing slows down at times, but it would be a stretching it a bit, to say that things become monotonous. It is always difficult to accommodate too many stories converging into one main theme, but Fatal Frame III does that without breaking a sweat. If you ever feel like you are getting too much sleep, just take a few turns of playing this game and your troubles will be taken care of!
Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse (2008)
The fourth installment of the Fatal Frame franchise was the first for a Nintendo console, and this game was developed by Tecmo and published by Nintendo for Wii. This game was not officially released outside Japan, but there have been fan translations in circulation.
The story begins ten years before the present day, when a serial killer, Haibara, had kidnapped five girls and held them captive in an island south of Honshu called Rougetsu. The detective pursuing Haibara caught up with him just in time, and saved the girls from the island. However, the trauma of the event had wiped out their memories. Two years after the rescue, a disaster struck the island and wiped out the inhabitants.
Now, it has been ten years since the kidnapping, and two of the rescued girls have died under mysterious circumstances. Misaki and Madoka are the two of the surviving girls, and they decide to head to the island to find the real truth about their past that they know so little about. Another survivor, Ruka, also goes to the island looking for the two, but before she arrives Madoka is killed by dangerous spirits of the island. It turns out that the serial killer was never captured, and the detective who rescued the girls also ends up on the island still in pursuit of the killer.
Misaki and Ruka are now the only surviving girls, and the latter discovers that they are suffering from a strange disease called the Hidden Moon Disease. This affects their memories, and it spreads by touch and vision. Eventually, we learn that it was Misaki who arranged for their journey to the island to cure their illness, and in a shocking reveal we get to know that the detective died ten years ago.
He is simply guiding the girls to deal with the vengeful spirits and heal themselves. The haunting past of Ruka’s father holds the key to their condition today, and the special mask used in a local ritual dance is the key to all that has transpired so far. Can the two girls deal with the dangerous situation that they find themselves in?
Marvelous Verdict: Expectations are met
We haven’t often come across a horror franchise that has as much consistency as the Fatal Frame series. Before the release of this game, there was a lot of speculation regarding the quality of the gameplay, but the release squashed all doubts with disdain. In most aspects, it has lived up to the high hopes of the fans, and it continues delivering some of the best scares across the survival horror genre.
Like the previous games, the unpredictability keeps the player nervous throughout the game. You can never be sure of what is lurking around the corner, and throwing caution to the winds, might just bring about your downfall. The presentation is bound to remind you of Silent Hill, but by now Silent Hill had become the hallmark of survival horror and it is only natural that the developers were inspired by the success. Things get started in quick time, and you start off with the protagonist exploring some of the most haunted corridors armed with a flashlight. The sense of isolation grips you hard, and claustrophobia only adds to the uneasy experience.
The camera work, however, was quite a headache for the players, and the sudden movements did not make things any easier. The controls are wobbly at times, but nothing that a pro gamer cannot handle. The gameplay throws you some tough challenges, but these difficulties, also make things more entertaining. Is this the best game in the series? Certainly not, but it does manage to protect the legacy and that is an achievement in itself!
Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water (2014)
This is the game that breathed a new life into the franchise. Even after all these years, a re-mastered version still appealed to the fans last year, when it was released for eighth and ninth-generation consoles. Maiden of Black Water was developed by Tecmo, and this is considered to be the fifth main entry in the Fatal Frame series if you ignore the spin-offs. The events of the game take place on the fictional Hikami Mountain, which is infamously known for several suicides and spiritual events connected to the local water bodies.
It is believed that shrine maidens who had mind-reading abilities would guide people to their peaceful demise in the past, but over time they were overwhelmed with the emotional burden of the process. They were sacrificed in order to keep a dark force called the Black Water at bay, and this is where our story begins.
The narrative picks up on the journey of the three protagonists. One of them named Yuri Kozukata has the power of bringing people back from the shadow world into the real world because she hails from the shrine maidens of the past. Another character is of Ren Hojo, who is a friend of Yuri and he goes to the Hikami Mountains to research on his new book. The last character is Miu, the daughter of a recurring character in the Fatal Frame series, Miku.
They will encounter some hostile spirits and some cursed souls who must be freed. You can be sure of a water-tight backstory on each character, and without giving you any spoilers all we can say is that they link everything together beautifully. Step into the haunting mountains and find out what happens to the three protagonists!
Another Disturbing Work of Survival Horror
The elegance of the gameplay takes us back to the good old days when the first few Fatal Frame games made us enjoy a different take on the survival horror genre. The foggy mountainous woods make for an outstanding location, and the sudden appearances of the ghosts and spirits are unsettling, to say the least. The scary atmosphere has been retained carefully, and the gameplay is bound to give you the jitters.
We were completely bowled over by the creepy visuals, and the out-of-the-world sound design made it a wholesome experience. There were a few rooms that were so forbidden that we did not have the courage to enter them! Like the other games in the series, you must make good use of the special camera to deal with the spirits.
The narrative takes you back to the terrible events of the past, and the backstories are connected so beautifully that it is almost like a well-made horror flick. Through the various expeditions of the characters, you learn more and more about the terrible things that took place. The 12-hour investigation throws up some dark and disturbing facts, and the sinister narrative is the main selling point of the game.
While everything is wonderful about this game, it does suffer slightly from some technical shortcomings. Especially after coming to modern platforms, the updated version of the game should have done better to fix the issues that plagued the original version. The disappointing controls continue to be a problem, and things could have been even better with these issues addressed. Nevertheless, it is still a game to die for, and we are confident of further additions to the franchise simply because of the love that fans have shown for the re-mastered version.
Fatal Frame Spin-Offs
A game called Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir was released as a spin-off game in the franchise, and it was made for Nintendo 3DS. The game takes place inside an old house, where several spirits are trapped. The Diary of Faces acts as a gateway between this haunted world and the player’s reality. Much like the Fatal Frame games, you interact with several ghosts and spirits, while trying to complete your missions.
Another game called Project Zero 2: Wii Edition was released as a remake of Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly. These additions to the franchise filled the gap, until the Maiden of Black Water was released.
Marvelous Verdict – The Future Looks Promising
There was a lot of excitement for the re-release of Maiden of Black Water, which was slated for release last year. Taking note of the insane love that fans have showered on the game and the entire series over the years, the producer Keisuke Kikuchi revealed that a sequel was very much on the cards. He revealed that he would love to create a sequel if the fans want it, and they most certainly do!
The re-master for eighth and ninth generation consoles seems to have worked wonders. The game has been re-released for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Microsoft Windows, and the players have loved the comeback. The response has been overwhelming, and the reawakening of the beloved horror franchise has made the future prospects brighter. The stories are such that a connected narrative is not tough to imagine, and the creators can even look to develop something independent of the existent games. Irrespective of what they choose to do, it would be very surprising if the franchise does not proceed, given all the love it is getting right now! As horror game lovers, we are keeping our fingers crossed for this one – let the waiting game begin!