Last year, I wrote up my thoughts and opinions on a Survival Horror game that gave life to a series that, largely, still remains in out of the limelight within the genre. That game is called Project ZERO (Fatal Frame in the States) and you can read that review here. But as I just mentioned, there is an entire series of Fatal Frame games, so it is now time to take a look at the sequel, Fatal Frame 2: Crimson Butterly.
The Fatal Frame series focuses on getting under your skin, rather than through random jump scares. This makes them more in line with the likes of Silent Hill, rather than Resident Evil or ObScure. As a teenager, Fatal Frame 2 was easily my favourite Survival Horror game ever made. But as with most of my reviews, it has been a long time since I played it and I wanted to see whether it still holds that throne.
Fatal Frame 2: Crimson Butterfly follows the story of Mio and Mayu Amakura, a pair of twins who stumble upon a lost and abandoned village named Minakami Village. Years ago, a mysterious tragedy occurred within the village that caused the entire village to simply disappear. This, in turn, created the legend of “the Lost Village”. Mio and Mayu happen upon it after following a butterfly (that is, appropriately, crimson) through a dark forest.
Once there, things start to go wrong when Mayu begins to act strangely before eventually disappearing entirely. At this point, you take control of Mio as she navigates the maze-like village in search of her sister. Along the way, you get to learn about the history of the village and its people, as well as their dark and rather deadly secret.
The overall story is steeped in Japanese Horror themes, handled in a way that feels both unique and familiar at the same time. But what really makes Fatal Frame 2 stand tall is the amount of depth and background that each of the supporting characters and ghostly foes have. The writers and developers obviously put a huge amount of effort into building the world behind the story, which adds to the immersion and sense of realism of Minakami Village.
The subject matter, however, is very dark. Considering the fact that the enemies within the game are all ghosts, that naturally means that they had to have died at some point. Throughout the game, you are able to learn about their lives, what lead up to their deaths and how their deaths actually transpired. This includes murder, suicide and sacrifice, amongst other things. Therefore, I should say that Fatal Frame 2: Crimson Butterfly may be triggering for some people.
Despite this, for a Survival Horror game, the storyline and side-stories are exquisitely crafted and definitely add a huge amount of fear, unrest and tension to the game.
Being that Fatal Frame 2 is a Survival Horror game, you would be forgiven if you go in expecting knives, lead pipes, shotguns or hunting rifles to be scattered around for you to defend yourself with. You would also be wrong. One of the biggest things about Fatal Frame as a series is that you don’t get any real weapons. Instead, you have to defend yourself with a special, occult camera known as the Camera Obscura.
Even though this does injure the ghosts in the game, effectively acting as a gun, the lack of any real weaponry to help you makes everything far tenser. You constantly worry about where the next ghost is going to come from, and whether you’ll be able to aim the camera at them fast enough to damage them. This is especially true as some ghosts will travel through the walls.
You also still need to worry about ammo, in a sense. This is because you need to collect film for the Camera Obscura in order to actually use it. There are also different types of film that work better on certain ghosts, adding a sense of strategic thinking to the game.
In terms of the actual horror aspect of the game, tension is the focus. This is built through ominous sound effects, a general lack of music, creepy lighting and the fact that you run at the speed of a toddler just learning to walk. On top of this, some of the events that happen in the game can really get under your skin. Here’s a simple, early example that shouldn’t be creepy but really is when you’re playing the game;
Mio stops in front of a house with Mayu standing behind her. The camera focuses on Mio from the side as we see Mayu place her hand on Mio’s shoulder. Loving, Mio holds Mayu’s hand on her shoulder, as Mayu walks past and away from Mio, with the hand still on Mio’s shoulder. She gasps, turns around and nothing is there.
When you write the scene out, it really doesn’t do it justice. In-game, however, it really is unnerving. Fatal Frame 2 was designed to be creepy, not jumpy, and it certainly manages to do that!
When you look at the graphics of Fatal Frame 2: Crimson Butterly, it is actually really hard to believe that it came out in 2003. The character models are really well designed, feeling very realistic and not looking out of proportion or pixelated, even by today’s standards. Movement is smooth and the animations flow extremely well. Nothing feels jarring or staggered.
The set pieces of Minakami Village are beautiful, capturing the traditional Japanese village style brilliantly. The entire village feels incredibly sinister and threatening, yet also manages to let you imagine how welcoming the village could have once been. Even in the first-person view mode when aiming with the Camera Obscura, everything looks incredibly detailed with great textures, especially for an early PS2 game.
When exploring, the user interface is insanely clean. In fact, you only have a single bar showing on the bottom right. Apart from that, the screen is completely uncluttered. This means that you are able to see everything in the game, without anything being blocked by health bars, ammo counters or anything else. Then, when you switch to aiming with the camera, Fatal Frame 2 switches to the aforementioned first-person view and the UI swaps to that of looking through the camera’s viewport.
In this mode, you get a light at the top that helps you aim, a circular reticle that also changes as you aim (in order to help you take a photograph at the opportune moment to get most damage) and a counter for how much film you have left. On top of this, Fatal Frame 2 really does make it feel like you are looking through a camera by restricting the screen space to that of just the viewport of the camera. This may seem like a really small detail, but it adds so much to the game.
And That’s All Folks
In the end, I still adore Fatal Frame 2: Crimson Butterfly. As a Survival Horror, it is still the creepiest and most unsettling game I have ever played, even compared to the latest offerings to the genre on modern consoles and PCs. The storyline is so dark that it will leave your hairs standing on end, and the gameplay will give you goosebumps whilst your spin shivers. Because of that, it definitely still holds its place on the throne of Survival Horror games.
Have you played any Fatal Frame games? Let me know in the comments below!