You won't be sharing these photos on family slideshow night.
If you've read any of my previous blogs on the topic, you'll know I love horror games quite a bit. If there's a spooky castle, a haunted house, a decrepit, abandoned city, or a foggy graveyard, I'm in my element.
There's something about Japanese horror that sets it apart from Western ghost stories. It's less about levitating furniture, unexpected dismemberment, and things popping out at you to tear your flesh from your bones, and more about the atmosphere. Creepy, derelict buildings with echoing footsteps and ambient background noise. There's also some kind of fascination with rooms filled with eerie china dolls. The ghosts themselves are usually pale-skinned apparitions with various unsettling attributes, such as a woman with her head dangling limply from a broken neck, a little kid who screeches like a stray cat, or a surgeon who has stitched various parts of his face together after the horrific trauma of losing his patient.
I wouldn't mind being attacked by a hot ghost-chick...
There's a distinct, quirky flavour of supernatural shenanigans prevalent in Fatal Frame, which is why it's undoubtedly my favourite survival horror series. This series puts a kind of Japanese cultural spin on the classic idea of the haunted house scenario, and each game features one, or several, young girls who are summoned into the depths of some abandoned location most people would never dare to tread on the best of days. Usually in pursuit of their missing friend/sibling/lover, the unfortunate lasses find themselves surrounded by the ex-denizens of the household(s), many of whom are are sorely bitter about their own demise and wish to take out their frustration on anyone alive enough and stupid enough to wander into their domain.
Fortunately, the girls are aided by the power of science. As it turns out, each of these villages have previously been visited by one Dr. Asou, a curious explorer and inventor in the 1800s who developed a type of camera that can not only see things on another dimensional plane, but can also steal the spiritual essence of any vengeful apparition it snaps a photo of. Dr. Asou was kind enough to leave a bunch of these cameras lying around all over the place throughout his travels, and the heroines of the series are quick to discover their ghostbusting capabilities.
Herein lies Fatal Frame's gameplay. As you explore the game you are confronted by all manner of ghosts. Some of these spirits are helpful and peaceful, and will show you the way to a secret room or point to an object of importance; others get all up in your face and try to strangle you with their icy hands. Each time one appears, you must bring our your camera and snap their photo, usually before they disappear. Any ghost captured on film will actually be added to a checklist, giving you their name and details about their life before their passing. Ghostémon, gotta snap 'em all! If you miss even one opportunity, that particular ghost is gone for the rest of the game, and you'll have to wait until the next playthrough to get another shot at it.
Don't you hate it when people read over your shoulder?
Arguably the scariest moment in the series is towards the end of Fatal Frame 2, recently made all the more horrific with the Wii's graphical overhaul. The main character of this game, Mio, has dropped her camera and thus rendered herself defenseless against the increasingly violent spooks of the village she's trapped in. It is at this exact moment that the game's antagonist, an unbeatable and deadly ghost by the name of Sae, decides to appear and chase her throughout the halls of a previously unexplored house.
With no idea of where the exits are and a cackling apparition of pure malice on her heels, she must blindly dash through the house, hoping she doesn't run into a dead end—literally. Things get all the more hectic when the ghostly girl corners you in a dressing room closet, requiring you to brave your fears and madly dash between hiding places. As if to taunt poor Mio out of hiding, Sae begins to speak in the voice of her missing sister Mayu. "I heard something! Mio, is that you?"
The scariest location in the entire series? That's easy!
Just look at this place!
In Zero: Tsukihami no Kamen (Fatal Frame 4: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse, were it localized to America), Riku and her friend Madoka are trapped in an abandoned hotel-turned-treatment center for the mentally ill. At several points throughout the story, they have to enter room 207—the living quarters of a patient named Ayako. This girl was hospitalized at the young age of 12, and quickly gained a reputation amongst patients and staff alike for her hobby - killing or wounding any living thing to get within arm's reach of her.
Any person or animal that caught her eye was immediately claimed as one of her "toys," which she delighted in "breaking." Hospital staff were terrified to tend to her, both due to the frequent stabbings they suffered, and because her room was a living nightmare.
Ayako had decorated her room with severed limbs, torsos and other body parts of store mannequins and dolls, strung up from the ceiling. An old-fashioned rotating lamp illuminated the gory display, casting eerie shadows that slowly circle the walls. From somewhere within the room, a record played an endless loop of a sinister laugh. Ayako has long since passed away by the time the girls intrude into her domain, but the spooky lights and sounds continue to play on. As her ghost silently watches and waits for the time to pounce on them, she sometimes rattles her ghastly display of body parts, causing the arms on the ceiling to shake and contort in the heroine's direction. Spooky.