Fatal Frame II’s Chilling Design Shines in its Instant-Death Encounters
Fatal Frame II is frightening enough when you can fight back. A camera doesn’t exactly fill you with courage when fighting terrifying ghosts. Even so, it’s SOMETHING to use against the grisly specters that haunt All God’s Village. Besides, you can take a few hits from the ghosts without dying. It’s frightening, but you’ll likely live through it. Except for a handful of times where you’ll die on contact. These instant-death encounters with Sae and the Kusabi are the most frightening segments of the game, building on everything the title excels at to make some of the most heart-pounding moments in horror.
The game does a number of things to make its ghostly encounters unnerving. You walk slowly. Even your ‘run’ is, at best, a plodding speed walk. You’re not going to get away from any of the phantoms on foot. Next, the game uses a lot of specific camera angles in places. These result in some striking viewpoints, but also some moments where it’s hard to see where the ghosts are coming from. Bless the developers for letting you aim in first person when you use the camera. Also, ghosts can move in and out of the walls. Which means you’re in for some shocking surprises when one surges out of the wall right in front of you.
These elements wear the nerves down quite quickly as you play Fatal Frame II. But even if you have to stare at creepy things, at least you can fight back with your camera weapon most of the time. At least you can usually survive contact with the ghosts. However, there are a handful of moments throughout the game where you run into the Kusabi (Rope Man) or Sae and the pair can kill you on contact. Now, suddenly, all those elements that made the game ‘pretty scary’ make it outright terrifying.
When you first encounter Sae and the Kusabi, the world bleeds out its colors, shifting to black and white. That’s your indication that you’ll die if you don’t get moving. You’re treated to a vision of Sae laughing while surrounded by corpses. The dead tend to come back to menacing life in the game, so you already know you’re in a terrible situation. Then, a man covered in ropes materializes in front of her and begins to float toward you. The ropes seem to be the only thing holding bits of his mangled body together. if you don’t immediately turn and run at this point, you’re a tougher person than I.
Like I said, ‘running’ doesn’t move you that fast in Fatal Frame II. As you watch the room fill with mist, the shadowy Kusabi floating after you, it’s hard not to feel a sense of heavy dread, knowing it will be hard to escape. To get away from the ghost, you have to run down a side hallway and get out a door. It isn’t far, but the initial camera angle will show the Kusabi flying after you. In doing so, you’ll see that he moves just as fast, if not a bit quicker, than you do. It feels almost inevitable that it’ll catch you. And even if you don’t know that it’ll kill you instantly, seeing all those bodies and a cackling child covered in blood kind of makes you feel that you’re in danger. You can almost instinctually feel that you’ll die if you get caught.
After turning the corner, the camera angle shifts. You could see how close the Kusabi was in the last viewpoint, but for the next bit, you won’t be able to. All you’ll be able to do is think about how close it might be. How it seems to be that much quicker than you. And it’s probably gaining on you. While mulling that over, you’ll likely recall how ghosts can move through walls. You have to turn a few corners around some walls to get to a way out of this room. The Kusabi can cut a straight line right to you, though. But you have no idea how close it is due to the camera angle, so all you can do is run. I usually make it to the door in time to see the rippling shadow of the Kusabi creeping up my back.
You’ll endure this chase a few times if you need to keep passing through the room. At points, you might run into the Kusabi outside the room as well. Even so, most of these areas are fairly wide open. They offer a handful of routes to get through them. They’re still scary chases, but they’re manageable. Fatal Frame II gives you a few routes to dodge this deadly spirit. When you encounter Sae in Chapter Seven, she’ll leave you wishing you were dealing with the Kusabi.
Sae chases you in some tight rooms. She usually comes tearing out of some place you can barely see, so you have seconds to find the door and get away. The RIGHT door, as there are some locked ones you might run to by mistake. In these small spaces, there is almost no room to screw up. The slightest touch will kill you whether you have the reviving Stone Mirror or not. So, you’ll be jogging through a tiny space, then suddenly see Sae rushing toward where you need to go. You can’t run faster to get ahead of her, so many of these encounters involve hurrying and hoping. Maybe even just blindly running so that you have a slight chance to make it to the door before she gets you. Every single room is a close call in here.
Camera angles make it hard to see where to go. And even if you see your escape route, you’re not getting there quickly. Sae can run right through any clutter or walls that might get in your way, meaning she can reach you fast. You’re forced to scan the room, find the exit, and run out in seconds before Sae can find you and kill you in a single, jarring hit. And even if you felt brave enough to fight back, Fatal Frame II took your weapon away at this point in the game.
You’re defenseless. You’ll die at the slightest contact. The walls are tight, limiting your movements while giving Sae multiple places to come tearing out of. As the rooms are small, she can likely reach you before you even react, too. You’re not getting away fast even if you do notice her. That’s assuming the camera angle even shows you where she’s coming from before it’s too late. You’re probably going to die a quick, jarring death here. Probably several before you get through. Or you’ll have some close calls that feel like they’ll stop your heart.
Fatal Frame II is an exceptionally frightening game. Being chased by ghosts that are hard to locate is scary. Having them come rushing from the walls is even scarier. But having to deal with those things when the ghosts kill you on contact, and when you barely have any time react or move to dodge, makes for moments that leave my hands shaking any time I play through them. These instant-death encounters with the Kusabi and Sae are easily among the most chilling encounters I’ve had in horror games, and show just how good the game’s frightening design elements are.