Insert Disk collects Fatal Frame for the PlayStation 2 (PS2).
Today’s retro game review is Fatal Frame for the PlayStation 2 (PS2). This retro gaming classic is a survival horror game with a distinctly Japanese feel to it. Armed only with your camera obscura you’ll have to battle the mansion ghosts by executing that Fatal Frame. Ghosts aside the game is very creepy and has stood the test of time as a great game to play around Halloween. For UK collectors this game is also released under the title Project Zero.
Greetings collectors and welcome to today’s retro game review. Today things are going to get spooky as we revisit a classic horror game from 2001. Known here in the UK as Project Zero, you will no doubt know it by its original title, Fatal Frame. Fatal Frame is very much classic survival horror, all of the elements of haunted houses, collecting items, puzzles and fighting off the undead are in here. What set Fatal Frame apart from its contemporaries though was its reliance on a lack of standard weaponry. The only real offence you will have is your camera obscura. More on this later though.
Initially set in 1986 a student called Mafuyu sets about exploring the Himuro Mansion in search of his tutor Junsei Takamine. As part of the games early prologue Mafuyu also goes missing within the mansion. Right from the start Fatal Frame looks visually stunning, enhanced by its grainy film aesthetic but also in terms of story line. You’re straight in to the middle of a mystery. It’s at this point you’ll come in to the game as Miku (Mafuyus sister) in search of your lost brother. The game is initially a bit of a slow burner. You’ll start off only with your torch but soon discover the camera left by your brother. From there in the game really opens up and you’ll encounter your first set of ghosts.
In many ways the camera angles and storytelling reminds me very much of Japanese horror movies. Subtle movements in the background and at times more direct in your face confrontation from the ghosts. All things considered this is actually quite a creepy game which is no doubt part of its lasting appeal. When confronted by the ghosts you must raise your camera towards them. The longer you can hold without either looking away or clicking the more the power meter will build. Ideally you will want maximum power to achieve that fatal frame. It’s an interesting concept and the game does break things up a little with different methods of using the camera. For me the star of the game though is not the action but the story-telling and atmosphere. I won’t include any spoilers here as it’s a game that you’ll really benefit from playing rather than an in depth review. Needless to say though that the mansion is pretty messed up with a history of ritual sacrifice and other dark goings on. The further you progress the more is revealed and you’re given a window in to what really happened here.
I’ve heard a whole range of stories citing the exact inspiration for the game. There does seem to be some truth that the game was based at least partially on a Japanese tale of folklore. The international releases add the tagline “based on a true story” which was dropped from the UK release. So, is the game any good? Well you’ll be pleased to know that I’d actually rate Fatal Frame highly as a horror experience. It plays more towards the atmospheric than the gory in order to make its point. Which is always welcome in my book. The graphics are well detailed and the overall design of the mansion is well thought out, as are the puzzles. Fatal Frame just works really well, the setting is decaying and abandoned and really does give the player that important element of isolation.
As good as the game is there are perhaps a few minor issues. Firstly the game can seem a little repetitive at times. With other survival horror games such as Resident Evil there’s usually a range of weapons and variety in the action. Although there are variants of the camera there’s no getting away from the fact that you are confined to the single method of capture. It’s not a deal breaker and its also important for the story. No doubt most players will have had similar thoughts at times. Whilst repetitive at times the game isn’t vast in length so there is a balance here that doesn’t outstay its welcome. The second issue would be the overall pace of the game. Personally I enjoy a slow burner and you’ll have to treat this one as more of a story than an action game at times. If you are looking for all out action you will never really get it from Fatal Frame. However, if plenty of ghosts and puzzles are your thing then Fatal Frame is definitely a game for you.
The physical PS2 UK game is well presented. The box is suitably ghostly and atmospheric and nothing too much to complain about. If you are a horror collector in the UK then this is your lucky day. As you can see from the sticker I paid just £2.99 and got another PS2 game for free. Here in the UK Project Zero was mass produced and as such there was just never an issue with scarcity. You can still pick up Project Zero for ridiculously low prices but at some point the UK edition may raise a little over time. For a US NTSC edition as at the time of making this episode prices are typically around $20-$25.
Fatal Frame has received a number of sequels, spin-offs and remakes on various platforms. Some of the later games are more shocking than this original version. However, this original feels very authentic and almost handmade compared to the others. It goes without saying that this is the best place to start if you are new to the series. I’d happily forge all of the other editions if I could only choose one. I know that a lot of you will be wondering if the game is actually scary. I’d have to say that whilst I don’t typically find computer games scary Fatal Frame most definitely has it’s moments. It does include jumpscares but they don’t feel cheap. They add to the atmosphere rather than just being there for shock value. There’s a good balance of storytelling, puzzles and horror that make this original stand out as a horror game that really should be in every retro games collection.