Great Mechanics And A Focusing On Fear Drive Fatal Frame To Set Itself Apart￼
With the announcement of the Fatal Frame: Mask Of The Lunar Eclipse remaster slated for early 2023, this is kind of a big moment for fans of the Fatal Frame series. Because after getting the western released of Fatal Frame 1-3, Mask of the Lunar Eclipse never had a western release and up until now has only been playable through importing not only the game itself but also a Wii from Japan, or of course, emulation. It’s been said that we are getting this remaster because of Fatal Frame Maiden Of Black Water’s success. Which is a good thing, except they should have kept the numbering system for people thinking they are getting the sequel to Maiden, only to be disappointed because not only is it not a sequel to the game that came out last year. It’s a prequel to the entire series.
But with that announcement, I decided to go back and play through and finally beat the original Fatal Frame, which was released way back in 2001 in Japan and in 2002 Worldwide. Overall I think the game is a great framing device for something that could be really special. There are a lot of new and interesting concepts for an early 2000s horror game that set it above a lot of other 2001/2002 horror games. Granted, it is a little rough going back and playing it now, but you can see some great stepping stones here. It might even come across better as a proof of concept game for what they would eventually give us in the follow-ups Fatal Frame 2: Crimson Butterfly and Fatal Frame 3: The Tormented. I haven’t personally beaten them, but I have played two, and that’s next on the docket for me to beat.
I will be spoiling the game just as a warning. This is your last chance to turn away if you don’t want the whole game to be spoiled.
Okay, the whole opening section of Fatal Frame hits differently. You play as the older brother Mafuyu, wandering through this old creepy ass house looking for a famous novelist who was said to be there. The game starts with this grainy black-and-white filter on, and it takes a minute or two to get used to it, but it looks good, almost trying to harken to the Kurosawa filmmaking style. This is until, after venturing through the house a bit, he is taken by the Rope Shrine Maiden, who ends up kind of being the big bad.
Snap back to the front of the Himuro mansion, and we start the game properly as Mafuyus’s little sister Miku. We enter the mansion, and everything is in color. Still a dampened, darkened color, but some color. We quickly find the Camera Obscura, this camera that takes pictures of ghosts with unique film and lets us exorcise them. When we pull up the camera, we are treated to a first-person view with an awesome HUD. Here we can see the camera’s power level, how many special ability spheres we have, and how much health the ghosts have.
You have to remember that in 2001/2002, everything was a more action-oriented third-person affair, even when it came to horror. From Dino Crisis, Clive Barkers Undying, The Thing. Hell, even Resident Evil and Silent Hill, two series that I think are great, well, one more than the other, but both tend to lean more towards the action side of things in the twilight hours of each entry. But there were a few mainstream horror games that set themselves apart and did something different. The two that really come to mind are Fatal Frame and Eternal Darkness, but Eternal Darkness is its own can of worms I’ll have to open up another day.
So here you have Fatal Frame, which ended up being the worst-selling game in the franchise, but still did different enough to make itself stand out, and people want a sequel. For starters, I mean, just the setting alone was fantastic and almost in a way a better homage to Sweet Home than Resident Evil is. In a supposedly haunted Japanese-style mansion, where ritualistic sacrifices took place, you have to exorcise the ghosts with a camera? Oh, and there is an incredible scoring system where depending on how long you charge your shot and how good you are at the timing, you can do more damage and rack up your score to put points into your camera to level it up! The leveling system, setting, and camera were all so unique at the time, making it stand out from the barrage of third-person action horror games. It also kept the staples of a good survival horror game, with resource management key, puzzle solving, and knowing when to run and fight. Not to mention that with ghosts seemingly wandering around and the horrific state, you find some spirits. It has to be one of the scariest horror games of its time. Speaking to the combat, it was so rare back then that each enemy would have you changing your strategies wildly. Fighting a Blind Maiden? Don’t move a muscle, and you’ll make it out without taking damage. That Shrine Maiden? She’s slow but, in an instant, can appear underneath you and take a considerable chunk out of that health bar.
The story itself is genuinely dark as well. Here we have our main protagonist dealing with having seen her mother hang herself. The mansion we explore deals with failed rituals having women with their eyes gouged out, haunting the premises, and coming to terms with sacrificing yourself for the greater good.
It’s hard to sit down and play Fatal Frame. Either get a PlayStation 3 or go through this process to be able to buy things on its online store. Or buy a copy of the game in Canada, which costs between $90 and $200, depending on the condition. Of course, there is always emulation, but I got lucky because I had a PS3, where the game was only $9.
I really hope these recent remasters of the later titles lead to us being able to play the original trilogy on modern consoles. With the success that Maiden of Black Water had, and hopefully if Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is just as successful, It has to be only a matter of time. Fatal Frame is an outstanding series that should and can stand with great horror series like Resident Evil and Silent Hill, and I hope that someday, we will get a new entry.