Every year I try to play horror or otherwise theme-related games starting in about September and through October, sometimes going through what I have remaining of a series. Last year, I did all of Fatal Frame, not really having previously been all that familiar with it. So I thought it might be interesting to note my n00b impressions from hammering through it all that quickly.
I always played in the dark, usually in this case by waking up very early every morning. My cat was my companion through about half of this. Up until she died. ;_; ...not the game's fault, really.
To avoid getting rambly and just recapping a bunch of stuff you all already know, I'm going to keep each one relatively brief.
I played the Xbox version, which is actually what got me to notice the title to begin with - when I started collecting original Xbox games, they were cheaper than water, and the retro game stores/used bookstores near me couldn't seem to get rid of them fast enough. Fatal Frame I and II, meanwhile, went for an ASTONISHING 25 whole dollars! You knew that meant something!!
Believe it or not, the thing that was most striking to me here was that it let you aim independently at all - people often forget these days, but Japanese games very typically did not trust the player to aim and had (typically stupid, annoying) lock-on systems more often than not. Anyway, letting the circle fill up and then nailing those ghosts at the right moment is a pretty satisfying mechanic. It does start to get a bit old towards the end, but the game isn't long enough for that to become too much of a problem.
The overall setting definitely draws you in, being pretty new for its time (if reminiscent of Japanese horror movie trends). It is very typical-PS2-for-the-time in some respects, like how they stretch the length out just a little bit with the way the chapter breaks work - sometimes a little annoying since you can end up backtracking to a place you don't need to for little reward, but at least they do lock doors with those "mysterious powers" to prevent you from doing anything too dumb.
Fatal Frame II
One of the strongest contenders for best in the series if you ask me, and does a good job of bringing it forward in a number of respects. The atmosphere is even stronger and shakes some of the more artificial feeling graphical aspects - I really enjoyed the ominous camera buzz (although I guess not everyone did, since they tone this down in later games).
It does become more obvious afterwards that II is more or less "just" a better version of I, in that it tells a very similar story but perhaps a bit better. But, it wasn't a problem at this point, and I was pretty surprised and impressed by the ending (what I got was the canon one). The lack of chapter break teleports helps keep up the atmosphere too, I thought.
The new mechanics are nice, although I didn't know it was changed to proximity based in this one until I saw the poll here a few months ago. I thought something else seemed different! The combo system is also maybe kind of an obvious thing to add, but eh, it works.
Fatal Frame III
There is a lot I like about this game - namely the main character, the way the old protagonist is weaved into it, a lot of the general setting, and the ending - but ultimately I really hated it, and it nearly killed the whole run for me.
Having different characters with different mechanics was sort of cool (although they're still very similar), and the idea of waking up in the house every day is something I can imagine was novel for the time, but it becomes obvious about a third of the way through that you've seen most of the game's content, and now they're stretching it out for as long as possible. With fetch quests!! Auugh!! It also hyper-magnifies aspects of the series into its biggest problems: The map design is at its worst here, with the repetitive Japanese mansion look making it that much more annoying to memorize. There is more reading, but it yet again mostly amounts to more of the same stuff about rituals, sacrifices, etc. Being too long means fighting the same ghosts over and over gets old, and you're more likely to slip up from boredom - and you really can't, because this is harder than the last two.
So, yeah, I really liked Rei, but this darn near did me in. My worst enemy is that one stupid door that would've been a great shortcut for like 99 percent of the game, which they only allow to be opened right towards the end. Was that some kind of taunt??
Fatal Frame IV
This one is probably my favorite installment overall. I was quite curious about how it’d turn out for a number of reasons – the development time gap, Nintendo SPD and Grasshopper Manufacture being involved, genre standards in general changing, Wii-ness – and I was ultimately pretty happy with what we got.
The setting change was very welcome, since the Japanese mansions really wore out their welcome in the last one, even if it overlaps your typical mental ward stuff just a bit. And the story was refreshing too, as there was more to it this time around (…I mean it still had old ritual sacrifice stuff, but other stuff was happening!!) The various new mechanics, like the usage of the flashlight for object hunting, gave it a stronger atmosphere, beyond just being Fatal Frame But Resident Evil 4 Now.
I also feel the character switching worked better this time around as well, with the spirit flashlight doing a good job of breaking things up and keeping the normal camera gameplay from getting annoying. I was a little surprised they gave the camera a lock on feature this time around, but I feel like it was fair enough, so you weren't feeling like you had to overextend yourself with the Wiimote or anything.
It does start to get a little tiresome right towards the end, but hey, then it ends, so it works out. Pretty happy with this one. Also will always remind me of getting a wisdom tooth removed.
Fatal Frame V
To begin with, I like how the game generally looks, particularly the orange hues in parts. Character designs are pretty good. It was nice to have a much larger cast this time around, which makes the world feel that much bigger. The stuff with spirit-thingies breaking off was an interesting way to try to keep the gameplay fresh, giving you more to do than “wait for Fatal Frames”.
Although I think I’d say it’s better paced than III overall, the reuse of content and repetitive ghost battles get pretty stale towards the end once again. While I liked parts of the story, they didn’t quite give everything enough room to breathe, in particular the main character doesn’t get enough focus (it had a pretty good ending for her story that feels like it could’ve been a lot better).
This is the one that ups the horniness factor quite a bit (you’re immediately assailed by Booby Ghosts, taking pictures of your boss that suggest focusing on certain areas, etc). That seems to be the norm these days for third party Japanese games, since I guess they don't think they'll sell otherwise. But it doesn’t do the general story any favors, with its more serious focus on subjects like suicide, and really undermines any themes it was getting at. Add the uhhh especially fetishistic, bizarre, retroactive character destroying story they put together for a certain character, and it all hurt much worse than I would’ve expected. I’m not anti-fanservice by any stretch of the imagination (it’s too bad content was altered, just for the sake of it), but this really did manage to do just about everything wrong in that respect.
Sooo, I hate to leave things on a bit of a bummer, but this left such a bad taste in my mouth I felt kinda done with the series afterwards. If they do more, I feel like they’re really gonna have to be more daring, and I suppose I have my doubts that Koei Tecmo is willing to do that at this point.
I didn't do Spirit Camera because I forgot about it, sorry. Maybe later this year. Perhaps I should give the Wii port of Fatal Frame II a go as well.