Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly

By David Rasmussen, 26th Nov 05
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Halloween has just come, and gone, and we were not bathed in the blood of many horror related games… well, at least not games that really leap out and grab you. There are a few worthy of looking at though which is good for dark tidings though not for “survival horror“ play, make no mistake. And then there’s games not worth even mentioning in a review like this, so I won’t.
For the PC there’s “Still Life”, the haunting serial murder pursuit game that takes place in the past and present at the same time (very trippy and very interesting).
For the PS2 there’s the weird original concept game “Indigo Prophecy”. This game, not so much a Survival Horror game as it is a Choose Your Own Adventure Adult Murder Mystery with a possible occult twist, has you do not so much play through the game as you choose your way through, making choose your own adventure choices to control your actions throughout the game… are we really ready for a choose your own adventure game? I wonder. Anyway you end up playing both the one who is “guilty” of murder, and two cops who are after him, which is kind of awkward since at times you have to outwit your greatest opponent ever -- yourself! Now don‘t forget your coverstory ‘cause you can‘t have yourself busting you for a crime that you are trying to solve while you‘re trying to arrest yourself for said crime (or crimes) you did or didn‘t commit… does that make sense to you?
So in this light (and ‘cause I don‘t feel like having a stress headache mulling over Indigo Prophecy), with a lack of major selections to review at this time, I take a look at a past Survival Horror game of note, Fatal Frame II : Crimson Butterfly.

As the game starts you are one of twin sisters, Mio. You and your sister, Mayu, are running willy nilly through the dark woods and end up at the outskirts of a dead lost village in Japan named All God’s Town.
By the way, as you might have guessed, Boy’s Town this is not. The village seems to exist down the dark hellish rabbit hole of a rift between the human world and the darkness of the abyss, and it’s present “status” seems to be tied to a “hellhole” the village nurtured for years with the sacrifices of out-of-towers and twin sisters (well, only one has to die since the other has to stay on the living side which usually drove her insane… go figure). Obviously the town had sold it’s soul a long time ago, and now it’s paying the price… and sad you, you and your sister happen to be the reborn spirits of the last sacrificial twins whose desire to run away from Twin Slaughter Ville seems to have triggered this “repentance” that has damned this village of the dead. Oh no, you couldn’t be the reborn spirits of a married couple and end up having a incest sexual relationship, no, you have to be reborn twins meant for human sacrifice at the “gates” of a dark gaping “hellhole“ deep in the darkness of the Earth itself! Damn!
But not all in this village is evil, lest you‘d be screwed here. There is a young man locked away in a warehouse who is on your side, as well as strange crimson butterflies which seem to show the way and have some connection to the whole twin sacrifice thing of the village -- and that’s about it. Otherwise the rest of the village is out to get you… so I guess you are screwed after all.

Of course since this is a Survival Horror game that means you’ll be geared up with something to “kill” the unkillable. So, to this end, you find at the start of the game your “gear”. Now most games would gear Mio with a gun, while other games would arm her with a bigger gun… or a magic sceptre… or a journal… oh, wait, that’s Myst… or something I can’t mention since then this wouldn’t be a Survival Horror game but something else from Japan for the PC that we don’t review here very much. This game, however,

arms you with the most original weapon against the undead to date… a camera! That’s right, a camera!
Say hello to your new little friend, the Camera Obscura. This camera (of which this is a prototype version of the Camera Obscura that appeared in the original Fatal Frame), which apparently has the symbols of an exorcism circle carved into it’s inner lens, has the power (along with a set of special custom made lenses to increase that power) to banish the spirits of the dead, of which this village is chock full of.
Once you get ahold of the Obscura you are set upon by the first spirit, the spirit of a modern woman who came into this village looking for her retarded Fox Mulder wannabe boyfriend who wanted to believe… and died for his beliefs, then he killed his girlfriend (nice guy)… which in turn confronts you with the combat system of Fatal Frame.

Since we are talking about the spirits of the dead there is no chance of you using melee attacks to defend yourself. Heck, touching them is a major bad idea since you can’t exactly get a “grip” on them, while they have no problem harming you once they come into “physical“ contact! To this end you’ll need to use the Camera Obscura, which means all those camera lessons you had over the years are going to come into their own and prove to be useful for something other than snapping provocative pictures of your significant other doing things only seen in XXX magazines.
Line up your target, and snap away… what? Nothing? Well check the camera! As the spirit draws near you’ll see a meter rising upwards on the screen (center of the capture “sphere” that you need to line your “target” up in), this equals the damage you deal out. The higher the meter, the more damage, and when the meter flashes full (and red) that means you can deal out a quick “Fatal Frame” attack (hence the name of the game), though this is only a brief opportunity shot so you have to pounce once you see it come up.
You can also modify your camera by upgrading it, locking spheres into it (earned after defeating certain spirits) and upgrading it with points earned from “kills” done with the camera (or with pictures taken of spirits that pop up quickly at random moments). That means, by the way, you should always be ready to snap a picture since one of these opportunity shots could happen at any time. One good indication of it is when you see the little meter (lower right) begin to glow blueish, since that means an opportunity to take a photo that’ll earn you upgrade points is probably about to come up.

Upgrades are found throughout the game, and take the form of either lenses (which adds powerups or new abilities to the camera which need to be selected for useage) or abilities that can be attached to the camera (which don’t need to be selected and are in constant use once it’s added on) that does things like allows you to monitor the “health” of your enemies, or their locations (for fast moving or “teleporting“ ghosts).
How to find these upgrades? Blue spheres. Everything from health boosts, camera upgrades, film of various grades (the higher the number the more powerful the film, with “zero” film being the strongest) and items you need to complete this game all found in this way. That and check your little meter. Besides marking opportunity shots it’ll also mark the location of useful items. When the little meter reads white (or blueish) it’s either an opportunity shot or your near an item you need to pick up, while when the meter glows red it means you are about to be attacked, so you need to be on the lookout for an enemy spirit.

As for the spirits? They are the creepiest things in the game. For the most part you are not attacked by the run of the mill undead, though there are cannon fodder undead that come at you at times. There are special undead who creep you out, and though they do make repeat performances (come back again and again) their disturbing

presence is not diluted by this. How so? These spirits ike to groan and cry about things that probably have to do with their deaths… like a young woman who lost her arm keeps on about her arm… or a little girl who was one of those twins (the one who survived), who begs you to kill her between her tormented cries and pleadings that she doesn‘t want to kill, and why must she kill.
Man, these things even attack you in the strangest ways! Most come at you normally as in through the walls and floors, though a few have cunning attacks and one even seems to have taken the teachings of Wille E. Coyote as her mode of attack. No, really, Wille E. Coyote seems to be her personal inspiration. Apparently at one point of the game you’ll meet a woman who fell to her death, and her attack is to come falling from the sky to land on top of you… or through you… and then crawl up freakily like an awkward spider thing to grab you… damn, that’s freaky! Oh, and if she misses you or you snap a shot and drain her she’ll fly skyward again only to come falling at you once again… again, Wille E. Coyote style! scary!

And besides the camera there’s another device you’ll find which will add to the creepiness of the game, which is the Spirit Radio. This thing, which uses crystals placed into it to “receive” signals, taps into the last thoughts of the spirits holding said crystal and gives you a “dying testament” to what they were thinking as they were dying, which is as creepy as it sounds. This, however, is also how you can track your twin sister’s movements since she has the habit of occasionally vanishing and getting into trouble, so you‘ll need her little ornament in order to figure out where to go next to find her or get through a Chapter.
That and seven movie reels which can be used with the village theater rooms (yes, there are two movie projector rooms in the village) add to the disturbing mood of the whole set-up, since it seems somebody documented the horrors of the village for all to see… though I didn’t think they had movie cameras to film stuff back in the day the original horror happened.

Now the downsides. The game seems to have a taste of Resident Evil, but unfortunately that also seems to go into the camera work of the game. And by that I mean how the game tracks your movements as opposed to the camera in your character’s hands. Apparently the game has a static camera angle which smacks of the camerawork of old Resident Evil games, not to mention a whole host of Point & Click games, which is kind of sad really since I thought we were long past the use of static camera angles in games. That and the motionless camera angles might actually get you klled sometimes in this game.
Because the camera is stationary it only changes perspectives as you move, problem is sometimes you move in one direction and suddenly you are assaulted by a rapidly shift of camera angles that throws off your sense of direction. Next thing you know your becoming confused and end up going about in circles, even wandering back the way you came which is not a good thing, especially if you are being chased by a creature whose touch kills which happens a few times in this game.

Another thing that is wrong with the camera is that sometimes it seems to be allergic to you. At times the camera pulls WAY WAY WAY back so you can see a wide shot, or it doesn’t follow you as you walk off into the distance of the background. This would be nice if the game was set during the daytime (or the lighting in All God’s Town didn’t suck) but since this game is dark (and I mean DARK) you’ll often be playing a nocturnal version of “Where’s Waldo” with your character, trying to figure out where the hell you are on the screen, let alone where you need to go which is a pain.

Which brings me to the map. Unlike the mapping system of Champions or X-Men Legends where the map is set off to one side in a rather convenient manner, this game demans you go into the menu screen to pull up the map to recheck your position and direction your travelling again and again and again (just in case you run into one of these “Use the Force” moments and can’t figure out where to go). It’s almost as if you’re using submarine map and sonar methods to navigate this game, so you and the game‘s map are going to become the best of friends during gameplay since you‘ll need to rely on it often. Now gimme a ping, Sam Neil, one ping only please.

The only other thing of note (if the above wasn’t giving you pause already) is the story itself.
While the story is great, and the game does throw some nice curveballs and lead you down the garden path sometimes towards a conclusion only to pull the rug out from under you, you’ll also run into moments you’ll see whatever is coming before it gets to you. Sometimes the game feels like it’s ahead of you, sometimes it feels like your ahead of it. The story is sufficently creepy and carries the mood nicely, relying more on the story than buckets of blood and gore to convey the horror of the game, though there is blood present as well make no mistake about it. Ok, nuff said’, breakdown time.

Fatal Frame the Breakdown #2
What’s Hot?

For a series that seems to follow an endless pattern of same old same old, it’s nice to see a Survival Horror game that does something different, and presents a somewhat original slant to the genre from time to time.
The use of the Camera Obscura in this game provides an original slant, and an original angle to Survival Horror gaming that hasn’t been seen in awhile. Instead of sticking the heroine of this game with a gun, or a bigger gun, or a sword or something the game provides a most interesting way to knock off spirits that is also very upgradable (which provides for more depth of gameplay which is also quite nicely done).
And it also helps that the village is genuinely creepy, with truly disturbing and frightening entities living within it’s domain that’ll really get a start out of you.
It’s not the latest, but it is worth checking out. And the twins are cute when the other sister isn’t always getting into trouble or defying your orders to not get into trouble or something. Damn. Stay put!

What’s Not?
However the useage of static camera angles is just over and done with. I thought we got over that from the Resident Evil era, but I guess not. This is only made worse when your walking and suddenly the camera shifts and shifts quickly which confuses you and has you walking in circles or backwards or something.
Hopefully Fatal Frame III sports an over the shoulder rear cam ala Resident Evil 4 or at least the somewhat workable camera angles of Silent Hill 4 : The Room, which would be far better than the old static cameras which just don’t work anymore.

Moments to Remember?
Oh don’t you worry! This village and this game will provide moments, you can bet on it! Some of the things that go on in this village of eternal darkness just won’t be easily forgettable. Really.

What to Ignore?
Just ignore the feeling as if your playing an old Resident Evil game with the camera angle thing.

It’s an innovative piece of gaming that could have stood for a more innovative camera set-up. While the game is abit of the original, and sports and original concept in the use of a camera (the Camera Obscura) to combat the undead, the Resident Evil era static camera shots suck.
It’s a good game, and if you can get ahold of it go and get it. Yeah, it’s not going to last forever and there are the flaws I mention above but otherwise it’s still a solid and abit original romp into survival horror that I think is solid, and something you might consider to round out your dark side gaming.

By David Rasmussen, 26th Nov 05

Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly

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