And before you ask how I reviewed it before it came out, Tecmo gave me a preview copy about two weeks ago.http://www.talkxbox.com/review110.htmlIntroduction:
I’ve heard Fatal Frame called many things, most of them being “scariest game ever”, and yet despite all the praise it received, I never really paid too much attention to the series. Having never played the first Fatal Frame game, mainly because I’m not much of a fan of the genre as a whole, I honestly wasn’t too anxious to jump into this one. Tecmo first released this game for PS2 around ten months ago, and just in time for Halloween, Xbox fans are treated to a nice Director’s Cut version of the game. Honestly, when I first played this game, I didn’t see too much intriguing about it, but as I played on, I realized how wrong my first impression was.
Taking place around 30 years before the first Fatal Frame, the game opens up with two twin sisters, Mio and Mayu Amakura in a forest. Mayu becomes entranced with a crimson butterfly and begins to follow it, which leads the both of you into a dilapidated town called “All God’s Village”, which is of course where you find out you’re not alone. After some early exploring, you come across a camera, called the Camera Obscura, which turns out to be your most valuable tool in this village. Gameplay:
If you’ve played the first game or read anything about this one, you’ll know that the combat is done with a camera, which sets it apart from all other survival horror games by that one thing alone. You receive the Camera Obscura early on in the game, and that is your only weapon against the ghosts that haunt the village. Casper the Friendly Ghost these are not, everything in this village is keen on taking their pain out on you, which is where you come in, using your camera to free their restless spirits and save your ass. Just playing as Mio also sets this game apart from the rest in the genre, as instead of some strong, gruff Marine, you’re a petite little girl, which will require you to stay on your toes. However, being a petite girl has its downfalls, as in the ability to run worth a damn, because Mio is probably the slowest moving character I’ve ever seen. I’ve seen grass grow faster than she can walk, and by holding X, you can “run”, but it’s actually more of a slow, pathetic jog. Since the game’s pace is quite slow, it’s not much of a problem very often, but it does get annoying sometimes. The game’s slow pace does indeed emphasize the scare factor that Fatal Frame holds. For being such a slow paced game, you’d think it’d be a dreary, dull adventure, but you’d be very wrong.
Two common stereotypes among survival horror games is that they all have annoying fixed cameras and stupid puzzles, which is probably perpetuated by the unchanging Resident Evil series. Unfortunately, Fatal Frame II contains both of those annoying elements, with the puzzles being less annoying than what is found in Resident Evil. Thankfully, there are no puzzles which require you to do some absurd task like combining two items, rotating them at a 45 degree angle and putting them in some hidden slot at the other side of the map. The puzzles in FFII, consist of some fetch quests along with some time and word puzzles, none of which are annoying enough to cause you to pull your hair out. The camera however is the evil twin of the equally evil Resident Evil camera, and while I must admit that having a fixed camera does make the game feel more cinematic, I’d rather have a more functional camera view. Often times, I would that walking down a straight pathway would turn into an arduous task, because I had to fight with the camera nearly every step of the way. The sudden changing of the camera requires you to move the joystick in response, which makes you end up bumping into walls and walking in the wrong direction. However, exclusive to this Director’s Cut version, there is a first person view (which cannot be changed on the fly) which eliminates the camera problem, and as a result of being first person, greatly increases the immersion and scare factor of the game as well, making it the more pleasurable gaming experience.
However, FFII wouldn’t be much of a horror game if it’s not a scary game, and this sequel continues the unofficial slogan of “scariest game ever.” I’ve never been genuinely scared by a game before until I played Fatal Frame II. This game doesn’t rely on cheap scares from having things jump out at you, either. I remember when I met the first ghost face to face, it actually scared me. I was scared by a ghost at 3:30pm on a bright, sunny day, my muscles tightened and my heart rate increased, and the controller’s vibration further exemplified the experience even more. That brings me into another thing, the controller’s vibration function does a spectacular job of creating an overwhelming ominous sense of foreboding. For the supreme scare and immersion factor, the new FPS mode is without a doubt the way to go, and is also negates the lackluster camera and controls, but it does make the game move at a slower pace. Graphics:
One of the most important factors in creating a successful horror game is how it looks. Fatal Frame II looks great, the environment has a dilapidated feel to it, helping the immense sense of foreboding that each environment offers. The environments are quite detailed and do a fine job of immersing you in the dilapidated and haunted town that has seemingly engulfed you. Like many other horror games, there are many details which help create an illusion of realism, as if this was a real town that you were in. The human characters, however sparse they are, look very realistic and are animated extremely well. You can sense what kinds of emotions are being portrayed just via the eyes and facial movements, which are shown especially well in cutscenes. The ghosts look terrifying, especially when up close with the Camera Obscura. You can see slash marks across their face, ragged clothes and expressions of pain and torment, all in the gaseous form that we associate as ghostlike of course. Then there is the moody graphical filter, similar to something from Silent Hill or Manhunt, which gives the game, save the cutscenes, a grainy feel to them, and that is something that fits a game like Fatal Frame II perfectly. Audio:
In addition to graphical quality, the audio portion of a game must be well above average, or it’s very hard to be scared, without another sense being stimulated. As any good horror game should, Fatal Frame II brings your ears on a wild ride that justifies buying that expensive surround sound system. The nervous, softspoken chatter of Mio and Mayu sounds hauntingly authentic, as do all the voices, whether they be human or ghost. The tormented ghosts sound like tortured souls, doomed to walk the earth, as they curse at the living beings, and their groan will keep your guard up, because a ghostly being can come from anywhere. Sliding doors sound bedraggled, reflecting their visual quality and you’ll learn to love the “whelp” of the camera that tells you that you can take another picture. The superb voice acting and sound effects make this already excellent sounding game, all that much more involving and engaging, drawing you further and further into the Fatal Frame universe. Controls:
Before the intro movie even finished, I was crossing my fingers, hoping not to have to deal with the infamous Resident Evil tank controls, and once I was given control of Mio, I was quickly pleased, and then quickly disappointed. It’s great that your character controls like a regular third person character, but the fixed camera is incredibly annoying, causing drastic changes in direction thanks to sudden bothersome camera changing. The controls are decent in third person, despite some minor annoyances, mainly due to the camera. In first person however, the controls are much better, especially since you don’t have to hold X (because it doesn’t do anything) which is a blessing for your thumb, but a curse for your patience, as the character is slower in FPS mode, because of an inability to run. FPS mode is not only the preferred mode of gameplay, but not having to fight a camera, in addition to relentless ghosts, makes it much easier.
Left thumbstick – Move (click for quick turn in FPS mode)
Right thumbstick - Look
Right trigger - Take picture
A button - Action
B button - Raise camera
X button - Jog (original mode only)
Y button - Inventory Replay:
As a director’s cut of the PS2 version, the Xbox port does contain some new features, but honestly, they won’t add much to the overall replay value, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. The new FPS mode is probably the biggest and most helpful change, and I personally recommend and prefer the FPS mode over the original for an improved gameplay experience. If you’re a "completionist" or just curious, you’ll probably want to play both modes, as they offer different types of gameplay and viewpoints of this game. The amount of terror that is derived from a survival horror title obviously diminishes with a second play through, which is why a survival mode has been added. The survival mode is something usually seen in action or fighting games, but it’s here and basically the same, you’re put up against many ghosts and you have to hold your ground and take down as many of them as you can. There are also some new costumes, which you can unlock, and it wouldn’t be a Tecmo game without an unlockable bikini, because somehow bikinis have been included. Overall, the new extra modes are nice, but some new missions or levels would’ve been greatly appreciated. Summary:
Without a doubt, Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly is one of, if not THE scariest game I’ve ever played. These ghosts will make you laugh at regular zombies from now on, and for all those who think ghosts don’t pack much of a scare, try playing it when the sun isn’t out. Being a young girl who’s using a camera to defeat ghosts is a fresh and unique take on a genre that is bordering on being a stagnant mess of mediocrity and unoriginal gameplay ideas. The game looks great and sounds even better, helping justify that HDTV and Dolby 5.1 surround sound system and put it to good use. As more of a traditional survival horror game, as opposed to an action oriented one, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this game, and I can’t wait to see how many more good things will come out of this series, considering its inordinate potential. For the best and most frightening experience; play at night, alone and with the volume cranked up, because you’re not afraid of some ghosts, right?Scores:
Gameplay - 8.6
Graphics - 9.3
Audio - 9.6
Controls - 7.2
Replay - 6.8Overall