A mystical camera with the power to trap vengeful spirits, forbidden rituals, and a strange dimension where fear becomes reality. Enter the world of Fatal Frame 3.
In 2002, a new kind of horror game quietly appeared on the Playstation 2. Players took on the role of Miku Hinasaki to wander around the haunted Himuro Mansion, trying to unlock its secrets with only a mystical camera, the Shaeiki or Camera Obscura to protect Miku from hoards of angry spirits.
Taking inspiration from the best examples of Japanese horror, Fatal Frame was set in a crumbling Japanese mansion reputed to be haunted by ghosts and the victims of terrible rituals. When the game was released in the US using the tagline 'based on a true story,' many gamers were led to believe that Himuro Mansion and its heinous rites were based on reality. In actuality, Himuro Mansion is a composite of Japanese myths and folklore, and the rituals are purely fictional.
That was not the only thing to be lost in translation. Miku, the much-loved heroine, was originally a dark-haired, fifteen year old schoolgirl, complete with her Japanese sailor suit. During the translation process, however, it was decided that Miku was too young and too much like an anime character for Western tastes, so she was aged and her appearance was altered. Miku became taller and her hair was dyed auburn, while the sailor fuku was consigned to the recycling bin.
Then came a name change. In Japanese, the kanji used for the original title Zero can also be pronounced as Rei, which means 'Spirit.’ This was deemed a little too abstract for Western audiences, thus the American title of the game became Fatal Frame, after one of the special shots in the game. In Europe, it became Project Zero, after the team that developed the game.
The unique method of fighting spirits made the original Fatal Frame an underground hit. Miku already possessed a sixth sense, allowing her to sense things that normal people were oblivious to. The mystical powers of the camera enabled her to imprint the souls of spirits onto various grades of film, and as the game progressed and spirit orbs were collected, it became possible to power up the camera, using the points gained in previous battles.
As Miku headed deeper into the mansion, a complex story was slowly uncovered. Shrine maidens were locked in solitary confinement to divorce them from the world in order to keep Malice at bay by sealing an ancient gate, located deep below the mansion. One such shrine maiden was Kirie, but she fell in love with a visitor -- who bears a strong resemblance to Miku's brother, Mafuyuu -- and she rediscovered her will to live, with disastrous results.
Miku's adventure also caused her to learn about her own family history, and the blood ties that connect her to the mansion's past occupants, in particular to Yae and Ryozo Munakata, and their daughter, Mikoto.
One of the reasons for the game's success was its use of Japanese culture and mythology. From its Shinto shrines, mystical mirrors and vengeful female ghosts (onryou), the game was one of the first to feature an authentic Japanese setting, right down to the tatami rooms and sliding doors.
But there was also a darker side.
Fatal Frame included a chilling version of a popular Japanese children's game known as kagome. This game is much like the English 'Ring o' Roses,' where children stand in a circle singing a song. Kagome, however, is said to have been invented as a way to induce trances, focusing on finding a demon or oni in the children's midst.
In 2003, a sequel was announced for an almost simultaneous Japanese and American release. Set in 1988, two years after the original game, Fatal Frame 2: Crimson Butterfly focused on entirely new characters in an entirely different setting, while simultaneously retaining a link to the original game.
Twin sisters Mio and Mayu Amakura are visiting Minakami Forest when a mysterious crimson butterfly catches Mayu's eye. After her sister disappears, Mio follows her, only to find the lost village of Minakami. However, this is no ordinary village, for it is trapped in a never-ending cycle centering on a sacred ritual, the Crimson Sacrifice, where one twin kills the other in order to prevent a disaster known as The Repentance. The dead twin becomes a crimson butterfly; their body is thrown into a pit called The Hellish Abyss, all to prevent evil from surging into the world. The living twin is known as The Remaining, and they exist as a reminder of the purpose of the rite.
Crimson Butterfly continued the Japanese setting, but instead of a mansion, players were given an entire village to roam. However, the village is filled with desolate spirits and the souls of those who, like the Amakura twins, had accidentally crossed the boundaries separating Minakami Village from the real world. The twins discover a second Shaeiki, and Mio is able to use the camera and a mystical spirit radio to unravel the mystery of Minakami's bloody history.
Earlier, Yae (from Fatal Frame) and Sae Kurosawa were supposed to have completed the ritual, but Yae's refusal to kill her sister led to the pair to run away. Yae escaped, while her sister was dragged back to the village, hung and thrown into The Abyss, which caused the ritual to fail and Sae's twisted spirit to return to murder every soul that dwelt within Minakami.
The game presented players with three (four in the Xbox edition) endings, but the central question in the game was clear: could you kill someone you loved? Many fans have debated as to whether Mio and Mayu were the reincarnations of Yae and Sae Kurosawa, particularly with the release of the happier Xbox exclusive ending, entitled 'Promise.'
Crimson Butterfly brought the Fatal Frame series into the mainstream, and it led to the production of a three-dimensional attraction known as Zero 4D, created from promotional footage that never actually made it into the final game.
As well as being parodied in the manga Excel Saga, Crimson Butterfly inspired an entertaining pornographic movie entitled 'Lusty Brown Butterfly,' but by far the most interesting legacy is the cell phone game Real: Another Edition. The game, which will be soon available in the US, according to a report from this year's E3, utilizes the inbuilt cameras which are now a standard part of most cell phones, making the player a part of the Fatal Frame experience. Using the camera, players capture over seventy ghosts from both games, which will randomly appear when you take a picture with your cell phone in a fashion similar to that of the Ghost List featured in the games themselves.
This month marks the release of the second sequel, Fatal Frame 3: The Tormented. Originally, The Tormented was thought to be the final game in the series, but it has been recently reported that a fourth game has been announced for the next generation consoles.
The Tormented takes place in 1988, shortly after the previous game. It marks the return of Miku Hinasaki, as well as introducing two new characters, both of whom have ties to the world of Fatal Frame.
Rei Kurosawa is a freelance photographer who was involved in a car accident that killed her boyfriend, Yuu Aso, a descendent of the creator of the Shaeiki. She is still grieving for her lost love, when during an assignment to photograph a reputedly haunted mansion, she takes a picture of Yuu's ghost, and she is sucked into a dimension known as the House of Sleep.
The House of Sleep is a protean dimension which has mutated to include a mish-mash of locations featured in the previous games. The central section is based on the mansion that Rei was photographing. The left wing includes rooms from Minakami, while the west wing features some of the scarier parts of Himuro Mansion.
As well as Miku and Rei, there is a third playable character and the first male protagonist in the series: Kei Amakura, the uncle of Mio and Mayu Amakura. During the course of the game, players have the opportunity to play as all three characters. The Tormented is the first game in the series to feature two separate worlds, a la Silent Hill: The Room, with the House of Sleep and reality in the form of Rei's house.
Cursed by the tormented spirit of the blue-skinned, bare-breasted and tattooed priestess Reika, each night the three protagonists are drawn deeper into the House of Sleep, and each morning, the blue tattoo snakes further over Rei's skin. All is not lost, however; the Shaeiki makes a welcome reappearance. Each character possesses a version of it, while a corporeal version that once belonged to Yuu sits on Rei's desk to serve as a save point in the real world.
One big difference in this game is that each ghost appears to re-spawn almost indefinitely, and much of the latter part of the game involves a side story of collecting Tattoo Candles that prevent Reika from sensing your presence. Should the candle burn out, the screen turns to an eerie monochrome, and she will soon track you down. The use of monochrome gameplay adds an eerie definition that has not been used since the original Fatal Frame game, and it adds a sense of urgency, which only serves to heighten the fear.
The Tormented has a complex storyline that develops on the mythology of the series, and which sees the return of some much-loved characters and scary ghosts from the original two games. Yet at its heart, it is a tale of forbidden love, sorrow and a ritual gone wrong, all common themes in the Fatal Frame universe and central tenets in previous outings.
Despite the fact that Fatal Frame 3: The Tormented compounds on the mythology of the series, its stand-alone aspect means that this latest title is ideal for both fans of the series, as well as new gamers looking for something different this Halloween.