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Developer:
Tecmo
Publisher: Tecmo
Platform: PS2
Release Date: November 08, 2005

by Kevin Jordan





Alfred Hitchcock once said, “There is no terror in a bang, only in the anticipation of it.” Nowhere is this proven true more than in Fatal Frame III: The Tormented, Tecmo’s latest entry into its camera-based survival horror series. When other games of its genre were aiming to impress with upgraded firepower and massive explosions, Fatal Frame preferred to play it subtle, relying on a flickering shadow or a discreet sound to create a truly frightening atmosphere. The effect was masterful; after all, who would be afraid of monsters if that person had a giant bazooka with which to blow them away? In the Fatal Frame series, your only weapon against all of the forces of evil released from hell is nothing but a single antique Camera Obscura.


Well, not quite just one camera anymore. Fatal Frame III attempts to reinvent the series by introducing multiple playable characters – three, to be exact. The protagonist, Rei Kurosawa, a professional photographer, is deeply saddened and guilt-ridden after her fiancé is killed in an automobile accident for which she is responsible. One day, on assignment to an abandoned old mansion, she sees the ghost of her lover and desperately pursues him. Afterwards, she begins having strange dreams – dreams of the mansion before it became ruined, with it haunted by disturbed spirits. Every one of the people drawn into this Manor of Sleep has one thing in common – they have lost someone very dear to them and would stop at nothing to be with them again. But legends say that when you follow the dead into the manor, you can never come back...


This is the main premise of the story, and all of the playable characters’ tales revolve around it in some way. In fact, fans of the series may recognize the names of the other two main characters. Miku Hinasaki, who followed her missing brother into a similar mansion, was the protagonist from the first Fatal Frame. Kei Amakura is the uncle of Mio and Mayu Amakura, who were featured in Fatal Frame II.


Despite what the back of the game case says, you cannot choose who you will play as for each mission or chapter of the story; it is all pre-set. As such, you are forced to divide your points, which you earn from photographing ghosts, among three different cameras in order to power them up, which can get sort of annoying, as there are not all that many points to be found in a normal game. Having three characters is worth it, though, since their stories intertwine in enough interesting ways to make this a very satisfying conclusion to the trilogy as it will appear on PS2. Hopefully, Fatal Frame on PS3 will be this good!


The other major difference between Fatal Frame III and its predecessors is the introduction of a relatively peaceful waking world outside of the mansion. Between chapters of the story, Rei will awaken back in her house, which gives her opportunities to develop certain pictures and research things discovered in the manor. At first, Rei’s house is a welcome respite from the constant sense of dread present in the manor. But as the game progresses, even this sanctum sanctorum will start to become creepy, making for an effective way to build the tension even as you grow accustomed to the manor’s ghosts.


Taking me about 25 hours to complete, this Fatal Frame is definitely the longest of the series. However, much of this has to do with an increased amount of backtracking, often due to confusion as to where to go next. This can become frustrating at times, with the clues often being so vague or misleading that you have no choice but to explore the entire manor all over again.


Visually, Fatal Frame III is up to par with what you would expect from one of the scariest games ever made. Spirits are, if anything, even creepier than before, and the little details, such as a candle flickering from the breeze created when you run by it, are what make this a truly memorable experience. The music and sound effects are also especially effective and reward those brave enough to play with headphones or the volume turned way up. In addition, those who make it to the end of the game are treated to a very beautiful theme song, just as they were in Fatal Frame II, which is something I don’t very often find in survival horror games.


Combat, as before, is necessarily first person, as you must look through your camera long enough to charge a shot of the ghost. This, quite naturally, makes for a much more edge-of-your-seat experience, as you must watch the spirit approach you. Of course, you are allowed to run away and dodge in the normal third person view. The actual battles appear to be a bit more difficult than Fatal Frame II, as there are many instances in which you will be attacked by multiple ghosts, making it pretty challenging to line up a good shot while avoiding attacks that could come from anywhere. However, most ghosts can easily be shot during their “fatal frame” – the time in which they are most vulnerable – if you have the patience, so it is not quite so challenging as the original of the series.


I found the tale of the Manor of Sleep to be less compelling than the twin-themed ritual around which Fatal Frame II revolves, but it is still quite good and manages to mix several different stories together, making many new connections to the preceding games. Several of the chapters involve discovering the pasts of specific ghosts you will find in the mansion, and they all have unique stories, which really serves to flesh out the game.


After it is over, there are tons of special things to unlock with all of your hard-earned points, not to mention the ability to continue upgrading each character’s camera. In addition to this, there are two more difficulty levels to master and the hardest “mission mode” of the entire trilogy. This, combined with the already above-average length of the game, ensures that completionists will certainly get more than their money’s worth.


Fatal Frame may not be as popular as Resident Evil, but it should not be missed by anyone who considers themselves a survival horror fan. A unique approach to the genre, the series proves that an endless supply of undead to fight isn’t always scarier than an empty hallway in a deserted mansion. And Fatal Frame III just may be the scariest game in the scariest series of all time.


Final Grade: 85%




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