Fatal Frame II : Crimson Butterfly can be summed up in three simple words : keep lights on. Fatal Frame is a horror dynasty, with games stretching across a decade. This survival horror was one of the highest rated games during the PlayStation 2 days, and is only surpassed in terror by the Silent Hill series. I refuse to play this game in the dark solely due to the sound effects and creepy music.
Take place almost 20 years before the first game, it isn’t really a sequel but rather turns into a back-story game that revolves around the mystical “camera obscura”. The game takes place in an abandoned village deep in the Japanese forest which gives players the opportunity for a more vast experience. While this game is not only larger in terms of playability and scope, it is also far more terrifying than the first when it comes to the darkness of the storyline.
The game begins with twins Mio and Mayu bonding next to a running stream. Between flashbacks and images it’s revealed that Mayu was injured when the twins were younger, leaving her with a scarred leg and a limp. As they reminisce, Mayu becomes fascinated with a crimson butterfly. As she sets her eyes and follows, Mio follows. As they stumble upon this abandoned village day turns to night and (no spoilers), you know the twins are in for a scary night out.
One of the most terrifying aspects of this game is that there is no conflict. You don’t get headshots or beat down monsters and zombies. You can’t really run away from the enemies that need to be exorcised. Instead, you have to face your fear of the unknown, look through your camera lens and take a picture. It’s simple, but takes a solid pair of cajones to not want to run away. The original camera system became a lot more intuitive in this game, rewarding players for clearer pictures. One of my biggest complaints with the first installment was that it was too easy, and this one changes that. There are intuitive questions that you have to ask and little puzzles that must be solved to make the big picture make sense.
Shadows that dance across the landscape, flickering transparencies in the ghosts, and really solid use of flashlight beams make this game beautiful. The combination of real-time background and camera angles work extremely well. One of my largest complaints about silent Hill was the choppy camera angles and how it pixelated/distorted some of the scenes. The cut scenes are horrid in a great way, and given in really short cinematics that provide all of the substance we need to start putting the pieces together.
Does anyone remember the original House on Haunted Hill or Dracula? The sounds in those movies and the idea that there was something unknown made them terrifying. The game designers used sound to lure, bait, switch, and move you as a player out of your comfort zone. This technique came in as a major storytelling component that helps drive players forward.
Booting this up as a ROM this week was totally worth it. Fatal Frame has some seriously disturbing imagery, terrifying jump scares and game mechanics that will put FPS players back on the battlefield. There are very few games that can trump this one in terms of story telling and terror. I highly recommend it.