Players: 1 Player Game | Release Date: 12/10/03 | Genre: Survival Horror
The survival/horror genre is one that is dominated by Resident Evils and Silent Hills, but among these great games, there are a few unique gems that, while often overlooked, are just as suspenseful and fun to play. One such game was Tecmo's original Fatal Frame. Fatal Frame put a twist on the genre by arming the player with only a soul-sucking camera to combat evil spirits rather than throwing the player a shotgun and sending out hordes of reanimated corpses to die yet again.
The game was unique enough, and scary enough to warrant a sequel, so now we have Fatal Frame 2: The Crimson Butterfly. Does this new title in the series stack up to the original in terms of gameplay and just plain spookiness? Well, the answer is a resounding, �YES!� Fatal Frame 2 not only stacks up to the original, but in many ways surpasses it. The visuals are likely the first thing you'll notice, and as expected, they are fantastic. The game features sharp CG scenes, and an incredibly detailed village through which you will traverse visiting rundown house after rundown house. The developers have used a variety of visual styles with this game; including switching to a grainy, older look for certain scenes that enhances the mood and adds immensely to the experience. The character animation is superb for the most part, Mio and Mayu look a tad goofy when they run, but in general, things are spot-on. A couple of things worth noting is the animation as you run down a flight of stairs and also the actions of Mayu when she is following you around. You'll notice that she will look around while walking behind you, and she may fall behind and call for you to wait up. These little additions really bring her to life as opposed to the static characters in other games that follow blindly without reacting to the environment.
The sound in the game is perhaps it's greatest asset. The first game was praised for it's excellent use of sound, and Fatal Frame 2 carries on that proud tradition. The sound effects, in conjunction with the environments, are really what make the game. You'll hear wooden doors creak, sliding doors slide; you'll hear the faint whispers of spirits, the maniacal laughter of a young girl gone mad, and infants crying amongst a plethora of other spooky sounds that'll have you wetting the bed for weeks on end. The game's background music plays second fiddle to the sound effects, although, the music does at times add a bit to the mood. The music will make itself more apparent when you are battling a spirit as it switches to a more frantic score. The one thing that could have been better are the character voices. Sometimes the overwhelming cheese factor pulls you out of the terrifying game world and simply makes you laugh, which is really a shame because it detracts somewhat from the whole horror thing the game has goin' for it.
So the sound and visuals are amazing, but that simply isn't enough to make the game good. Without solid gameplay, you'd still have a dud sitting inside a pretty outer shell. Fortunately, the gameplay does not deter much from the first game. The control scheme took some time to get the hang of, but there are several options for customization, including an RE style setup for genre vets. In the game, you take control of Mio (most of the time anyhow) and you must travel through an old Japanese village that has been cursed. While playing through the game, you'll slowly uncover the secrets of a ghastly ritual which the village performed in order to appease the underworld. Of course, Mio and Mayu stumble upon this village one day, and your goal is to try to uncover it's secrets and get the heck out before you and Mayu end up dead. Most of the time, you'll be wandering through scary old houses trying to solve puzzles and bring peace to troubled souls. However, some angry spirits will attack you, and luckily for you, Mio just happens to find the �Camera Obscura.� An old camera with the quirky, yet unbelievably handy ability to suck in the souls of ghosts. When confronting a spirit, you change into a first person view mode where you're looking through the camera's viewfinder. You must snap photos of ghosts in order to deal damage. However, skilled players will wait for the right moment to take the picture as there are certain times when the spirits are very vulnerable and the damage they take is greatly increased if you time your shot just right. Knowing when each type of spirit is vulnerable will save you a lot of film and a lot of frustration.
As you lay to rest spirit after spirit, you'll gain points which can be used to upgrade various functions of your camera such as range, damage dealt, and the total power it is able to accumulate. There are also a variety of special functions which can be found throughout the village and powered up with points. Some of these are quite useful such as �Stun� which leaves a ghost frozen for a certain period of time, and �See� which makes hard to find ghosts much easier to locate in the heat of battle. There are also several types of film which can be loaded to the camera. The most basic, Type 07, is incredibly weak, but you have an infinite supply. As you play, you'll find more powerful film, but only in limited quantities so it becomes vital to conserve film where you can and choosing the right type for different spirits will go a long way in ensuring your survival.
Fatal Frame 2 also packs in a good amount of extras for those who can endure the terror a few times over. There are multiple endings to the game, and completing the game will unlock new character outfits, new game modes, and in the special �gallery� menu option, you can view game art, promotional trailers and endings to the game as you complete various tasks.
For those looking for a good scare, this game comes highly recommended. Playing this game late at night, alone with the volume up is a truly chilling experience. Fatal Frame 2 stands as one of the scariest games to date, and with a solid combat system and unique puzzles, the game is sure to satisfy genre veterans and newcomers alike. Enjoy.