Review by LordShibas
A very freaky survival horror game with horrid gameplay
Survival horror is another genre of games that I like to play. Ive been through many in the past. Some notable survival horror games Ive played are: Resident Evil 1,2 and 3, Resident Evil Code Veronica, Silent Hill 1,2,3, and 4, and a few others as well. However, none of these games, and I mean none of them could have prepared me for the scares and chills that I was in for while playing Fatal Frame.
Fatal Frame breaks the mold of the standard survival horror game and does away with minimalist threats such as zombies, hell hounds, and demons. Instead, the game is populated with spirits, which can have an exalting effect on the senses. Fatal Frame made me jump more than any other game I have ever played, and instilled a sense of fear in me that I have never experienced while playing a survival horror game.
So whats so scary about spirits in a game you might wonder? A few things. First off, standard weapons are useless against them. Leave your shotguns, pistols, and chainsaws at home boys, that stuff wont work here. Next, in order for a spirit to harm you, it must simply touch you. So if a spirit comes in the vicinity of you, you will be punished. Next, running into a spirit and retreating through the nearest door will not help you. Spirits can pass right through them and will continue to pursue you. Finally, spirits disappear and reappear with ease, so seeing a spirit vanish on the other end of the screen means that he may very well reappear right in your face, and scare the living crap out of you.
One final note about the spirits, they are extremely fast, and can often come back after being defeated a first time (this will really catch you off guard).
So, how do you survive with the deck so stacked against you? Simple, you are given a camera ..yes, a camera. However, it is no ordinary camera. The Camera Obscura is an ancient camera which can trap spirits inside of it via picture taking. So when you run into a spirit, you will switch to your view finder mode and begin snapping photos of the spirits. Some spirits are there just for you to photograph and you will need to be very quick on the draw to capture these non-threatening spirits. Hostile spirits will attack you directly and you will need to take these spirits out with multiple shots and stay away from them or they will harm you. The interesting twist to the camera is that it must first charge before you can take a picture, and secondly, the closer the enemy is to the camera, the more damage it will do. In view finder mode, this creates some really tense scenes and will have you panicking like a lunatic on nearly every enemy encounter.
The story has you playing as a few different characters, but your main character will be a young Japanese girl named Miku, who is looking for her brother who has gone missing. His last whereabouts where at an old abandoned mansion called Himuro Mansion, which has had many rumored deaths and several people have gone missing there as well.
With this, the groundwork is laid for one freaky game. With presentation values so enthralling, one would think that Fatal Frame would walk away the new king of survival horror games and leave games like Resident Evil and Silent Hill quaking in its wake. However, failure for Fatal Frame to provide cohesive gameplay elements really kills the experience and ends up turning it into a bout of frustration and tedium. So lets look at a categorical breakdown of the game and see where things went wrong.
Fatal Frame has a decent graphical presentation, but seems to be lacking in any real detail. The character models seem fairly plain, and are devoid of anything personalized. It seems like there is one character models for the males and one character model for the females. The spirits are plain as well and while they are freaky, they lack any specific detail and aside from their little quirks, have the same basic build.
The mansion you will be exploring seems rather drab and boring. It barely looks like it was ever inhabited, and the rooms are littered with random stuff that doesnt make much sense. There are also many rooms that are lacking anything at all, which quells any thoughts of prior inhabitance.
The in game cut scenes look pretty good, but again are lacking in any real detail or personality. The characters just seem too plain and boring graphically.
While Fatal Frame does enact a creepy and disturbing environment, the lack of details really make it hard to fully get into and makes you wonder just how scary this game could have possibly been, with the proper graphical presentation.
Music and Sounds 5/10
Not bad here either, but nothing out of the ordinary, especially in the music area. The ambient music holds the mood well, but you will soon forget about it and be more focused on capturing spirits and running for your life.
The sound effects are better than the music, but still nothing special. Spirits will chant things, and say creepy stuff as they appear and chase after you. Aside from this, the only real sound effects are generated by your character, which will be walking up stairs or opening doors. Not very exciting.
I decided to deduct another point in this are for the terrible voice acting. All of the characters sound as if they are reading from a script and its obvious that English is not their first language. Some of the worst voice acting I have ever heard.
The story is actually not that bad. There is plenty of groundwork laid for an interesting story, but you will need to put up with the other annoyances of the game to see the story fleshed out in its entirety.
Along the way, there will be cut scenes that do a great job of explaining what happened in any given area. Its usually about the death of a certain person. You will find out more and more about a given person and the manor in which they were killed, and sure enough, you will indeed run into their spirit in a short while. The spirits that have some build up story-wise are usually the hostile spirits that you will run into. So when you are going toe to toe with a hostile spirit, there is usually a good reason for the spirit being there and for them being hostile. Its pretty interesting, but becomes very predictable and boring after a while.
The story tended to hold my interest, but I cared less and less the further I progressed, which is not a good thing. So initially the story is not bad, and remains one of the highlights of the game, but does get repetitive and predictable.
This is where Fatal Frame really fails. The game is implemented so poorly that it will take quite a diligent person to play the game to the end.
The first thing you will notice about Fatal Frame is the incredibly slow speed at which your character moves around. Quite possibly the slowest running speed for a character I have ever seen in a game. This makes it incredibly hard to circumvent the hostile spirits which you will run into. Since your camera starts out fairly weak, the spirits will require a few shots to take down, and you will need to re-position yourself quite frequently to get a clear shot. Its really frustrating when you run to the other side of the room and go into view finder mode to take a picture and the spirit is already in your face, stealing your life. Retreating to another room will help sometimes, but often the spirit will chase you right through the door and the battle will continue, giving you little breathing room or chance to re-group and go back at it. The only way to achieve respite is to backtrack quite a bit through the environment to where the spirit will not follow you, which gets old very fast.
Your camera also takes some time to charge in order to take pictures, so this also leaves you wide open for an attack. When you do snap a photo and damage the spirit, the camera needs to recharge again and allows the spirit to get even closer than before. This results in most battles being bouts of running for your life and finding a good spot to distance yourself from the spirits. However, capturing the spirits is very rewarding, and you really feel like you accomplished something when you do. As said in another review: you will feel lucky after every hostile encounter is over, and feel like you just barely got by.
To make matters worse, the game has few health restore items. Things just never seem to be in your favor in Fatal Frame. This can be good to create a suspenseful atmosphere, but it just gets annoying and this coupled with the other gameplay faults will really frustrate you.
When you snap photos of spirits, you gain points that you can use to augment your camera, but I found the upgrades to be only somewhat useful. Missing spirits to photograph will cost you big time and will not allow you to get the upgrades that you need. Its best to have an extra save file in case you need to reload a save to catch a spirit that you missed. Its really worth your while to do this in the long run.
So the game is marred by many maladjusted gameplay elements that ruin the otherwise interesting experience. I can honestly say that I had high hopes for this game, but it all fell to pieces once I actually got a chance to play the game.
Longevity and Re-playability 5/10
Once the game is completed, you will unlock a few bonus items which may interest you or not, but by the time you finish this game, Im sure you wont want to replay it again. Its a decent length for a survival horror game, but most of it will be spent backtracking and running from spirits.
I really would like to recommend this game to people since it does have some interesting things about it, and its super freaky, but the horrid gameplay just makes this game more of a pain than anything. There are much better survival horror games out there, go grab one of them.
My review score 5/10
Product Release: Fatal Frame: Special Edition (US, 11/22/02)
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