System: Playstation 2 (also on Xbox)
Genre: Survival Horror
Release Date: March 4, 2002
When the scariest video games of all time are discussed, it never takes long for Tecmo’s Fatal Frame series to get brought up. This is a series that thrives on its haunting atmosphere, with mostly helpless protagonists faced against an endless onslaught of ghosts and general creepiness.
The original Fatal Frame takes place in an abandoned Japanese mansion. You play as Miku Hinasaki, a young woman who ventures to the mansion to look for her older brother, Mafuyu, who has been missing for two weeks. When she arrives, she realizes that the place is actually haunted, as old folklore stated, and she starts to uncover startling secrets about the family who once inhabited the home. Tales of gruesome murder and torture are unearthed, and now the mansion is crawling with ghosts. Seriously, they are EVERYWHERE, often appearing in places you would not expect.
The only way that Miku can combat the ghosts is by using the Camera Obscura, an antique camera that possesses the ability to damage and capture spirits. When an attacking ghost appears, Miku must keep it within the camera’s shot while waiting as long as possible before taking the picture, as this will maximize the damage. Of course, this is easier said than done since this means Miku will be face to face with disturbing ghosts that are moaning and trying violently to grab her and cause harm. It’s pretty damn crazy.
The camera can be upgraded over time, but the enemies grow stronger as well. Throughout the entire campaign, there is a vast feeling of uneasiness. Fatal Frame excels at keeping you on edge, as you never know what to expect. Ghosts randomly spawn all throughout the mansion, even as you backtrack through previously explored areas. Sometimes they will pop out when you open a door, other times they will just randomly appear behind you. The tension can be almost unbearable at times.
Unfortunately, as the ghosts grow stronger and become more plentiful, the game’s difficulty spikes drastically. By the time I reached the last chapter, I was ill-suited to deal with the powerful spirits that just so happened to be in damn near every room and hallway. Perhaps I had been using medical herbs and high-powered film too liberally in the first half of the game, but I had a hell of a time making my way through the last chapter. Exploring the house in each chapter usually reaps dividends in the form of bonus items, but it’s hard to actually get to these when there are hellacious ghosts around every corner. I felt the game could have been more balanced overall, as this was a major inconvenience for me.
The game’s controls also take some getting used to. They are in the vein of Resident Evil’s old school survival horror, and the game uses fixed camera angles set up in each area. This can cause moments of disorientation when the camera abruptly switches to a different angle. Once I got the hang of it, this didn’t bother me, but I can see how it would be an issue for some.
Problems aside, Fatal Frame is still a damn good horror game that is more than worthy of its “scariest game ever” label. This is a game that deserves to be played in the dark with the sound turned way up. Try not to wet yourself when the music slowly builds up while you hear ghosts moaning in the walls. You know there’s a ghost (or two, or three) lingering around, but you have no idea where. This is the essence of Fatal Frame.