With part two of the Spring Season, Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko, Natsume Yuujin-chou, and several shows from Summer Season 2011, I have no shortage of anime series to write posts about, whether they be first impressions or final reviews. So with all that in mind, I decided to finally buckle down and review Fatal Frame II, which I just finished last night.
My history with the Fatal Frame series isn’t a long and complex one. I played through about half of the first game when I was twelve years old, I freaked the fuck out at some point and refused to play after that. Six years later, I caught wind of Fatal Frame II being sold at a nearby Gamestop.
From all the hushed rumors that I heard about it from friends, I knew that each disc was crafted lovingly on a sacrificial altar while being anointed with the blood of virgin sheep. The clerk recoiled in abject horror when I brought the game case to the register, and presented to me the oddly pristine used disc with trembling fingers. In a feeble whisper, she asked me for the money to complete the transaction. I did as she asked, then swiped the game up in my own quivering hands to bring it to my local exorcist. However, before I left, the otherworldly sound of children giggling echoed through the shop on an inexplicable breeze.
When I reached my house, I ran immediately to my Playstation 2, gingerly placed the game in the disc tray, and readied myself for a night of unrelenting terror… and instead ended up with a night of unrelenting headaches and eyestrain.
In order to play Fatal Frame 2, or indeed any of the FF games, you have to turn your television brightness up to almost washed out levels. What’s worse is the game’s brightness option is automatically set to nearly the highest setting.
Okay, so after twenty minutes of walking around in total darkness, wondering if that’s how it was supposed to be, I finally realized that I needed to adjust my television’s brightness setting to 80 instead of 50. But that’s fine, I can blame that more on my own incompetence and less on Fatal Frame II’s aversion to default light levels visible to anything that isn’t naturally nocturnal.
From here, I examined my surroundings closely and noticed that I had a dead weight, and my second complaint: My sister. Yes, in Fatal Frame II, you’re trapped in a cursed village with your twin sister for reasons that are made clear early on, and you spend almost the entire game either chasing after her or having her get in the way of your camera. She’s a burden both ways and it’s like she kind of wants to be sacrificed. But hey, nobody said that horror game protagonists were a smart bunch, so of course you have to try to save her.
Soon after entering the first area, I played a cat and mouse game with a rather passive aggressive ghost, before obtaining the camera that you need to fight her: The Camera Obscura. Soon after, I began a thrilling fight with her, in which she mostly ignored me and attacked my sister. Despite getting in the way of my shots and just being a general pain, she at least serves as a good decoy that the ghosts just love to pick on. So after snapping enough pictures of this ghost to form a neat collage of, my sister and I made for the front exit to never enter this house again… before she ran ahead and I was attacked by the angry spirits of two Buddhist monks.
It was at this point that the realization hit me, that Mio the protagonist is horribly slow at running. It can barely be called running in any sense of the word, it’s more like a slow relaxed jog, which is more than a little out of place during particularly hectic fights against more than one ghost.
After this hectic fight, I had to chase my sister around this desolate village where low visibility is just another fact of life for eleven hours until the end, when she was dragged away to be sacrificed. It was here that I was given the choice: Leave the village alone, or go on a suicide run to attempt to rescue her from supernatural forces from the pits of Hell. Can you guess which one I chose?
Apparently leaving her to her fate was the bad ending, but I didn’t fucking care until I didn’t have the option of New Game +. So I took a deep breath, reloaded a previous save, and ran to her rescue like Homura did Madoka. Except instead of the ability to travel through and freeze time, all I had was an old camera and a low supply of film. But the yuri subtext was still there, creepy enough.
An hour and a half later, I beat the game after repeating the final boss battle twice. Relieved, I turned the game off and passed out.
Fatal Frame II was, in the end, a pretty good game. It wasn’t anywhere near as scary as I heard it was, but it had better gameplay and story than most survival horror games. The atmosphere was still creepy, a few of the ghosts gave me chills (Especially one that writhed on the floor as it made to grab your ankles), and I really ended up caring about Mio in the end despite her multiple blunders and horrid running speed. I’d easily suggest anybody to play it if they ever get the chance, if they’re looking for a survival horror experience light on the scares and heavy on the atmosphere.
That isn’t to say that the game isn’t prone to bouts of deliciously frightening excess in places though. There are a few times, particularly when you lose your camera or it doesn’t have any effect on certain ghosts, that it’s hard not to feel panicked. The third to last chapter is a notable example, in which you lose your camera and are forced to run from the main antagonist or risk a one hit death. It’s a frantic, pulse pounding part of the game that’s one of the few instances of actual horror.
But holy hell do I have complaints. The fixed camera thing has never worked in games. All it’s done is give the right analog stick little reason to exist, and has made maneuvering around in tight spaces as unintuitive as it gets. And seeing as most of this game takes place in enclosed spaces, that’s really not a mark in its favor.
There’s also the issue with the lack of a visible difference between all the possible films that you can get. I got through most of the game using the second weakest (The jump from weakest to second weakest is extraordinary) film, of which there was plenty of. Fighting against the ghosts gets rather hectic at times, which is good, but a few just don’t give you a good chance to hit them. This wouldn’t be very much of a complaint if they also didn’t miss grabbing you half the time, which made them to be more of a nuisance than a credible threat.
These complaints are more than me being nitpicky, but they don’t always get in the way of an otherwise splendid entry in the Fatal Frame franchise. If you have your Playstation 2 still and a decent amount of money lying around unspent, I recommend looking into a used copy of Fatal Frame 2. It isn’t exactly rare, but you do have to know where to look for it.