Fatal Frame, as a series, doesn’t so much shock or horrify as much as it gives you the creeps as it chills you to the bone. There are some moments of sheer terror but gentlemen should always keep in mind that the majority of lead characters are girls, so screaming or crapping your pants would be bad form.
Fatal Frame III: The Tormented explores more of the Japanese style of horror in the vein of The Ring. There is something more emotional in the Japanese horror genre that gets into one’s psyche like a virus. It’s more personal and psychological with an underlying occult element that makes just about anything seem plausible.
The Fatal Frame series has been consistent so far, although Crimson Butterfly was a bit esoteric. The Tormented attempts to wrap things up for the series offering some opaque excuses that you may or may not buy. It also leaves things open enough for another sequel. And who can blame them? Milk that ghastly cash cow until it bleeds evaporated milk – and then serve it to the ghosts.
Rei Kurosawa, (who cares about the last name anyway?) is a photographer that had the supernatural misfortune of photographing her deceased boyfriend when on assignment to explore a haunted house. Rei is also disturbed by vivid nightmares of tormented souls encircling an ancient graveyard. It seems that her dreams are inextricably linked with reality. You will pass through two different dimensions, alternating between the two throughout the game. You can’t progress in one world unless you accomplish your missions in the other. No ice cream until you eat your carrots. How horrible.
Like most horror survival games there is a lot of exploring and puzzle solving. The puzzles are basic and are typically fetch-quests to find keys to open locked doors. There is a lot of backtracking that slows the overall pace down but nothing slows the game down more than controlling your character. There are three characters including Rei, Kei and the star of the last game, Mika. These characters couldn’t outrun a beheaded turtle. You will end up taking some unnecessary hits especially from off-screen ghosts simply because you can’t make quick, reflexive moves. Thankfully you have your camera – more on that later.
Not only are the characters sluggish but the game is very fussy about triggering events. You have to be standing in the perfect spot to do things such as open a door or pick up a key. Sometimes I left a room believing it was a dead end only to have to go back through the process of elimination. You have to get right in front of the area in question and face it at the exact perspective. It’s not forgiving. You’ll end up moving around and around like a dog winding his way down to the carpet to take a nap.
Each of the three characters will become playable in later parts of the game. Kei is a man, in case you can’t tell with such a strange Japanese unisex name. He’s the strongest and can be used to move boxes and tiles. Miku is the hot dame from the old game. I never tire at looking at her legs. She’s smaller and wiry which allows her to get into hard-to-reach areas. She also has spiritual powers which helps her to keep the ghosts at bay. The best defense against the aggressive spirits is the camera the Rei possesses. It captures their souls and renders them powerless. You have to be fast with this thing as you may only get a quick glimpse. This is where some of the fright comes in because if you fail to capture a spirit it will come back to haunt you. The camera can be upgraded so you will want to capture as many spirits as you can to earn the points to purchase upgrades.
The environments are perfect. They are dark and unusual. It looks like centuries since a living being has set foot in them yet they still reflect traces of lives. Tormented lives, but lives nonetheless. Graphically the game has been significantly upgraded. There is more detail to the characters especially in facial expressions which are guaranteed to chill you to the core. You can literally read the pain and suffering on the faces of the ghosts. The music works in tandem with the visuals to foreshadow events and make terrifying ones even more so. It also ebbs, yielding a sparse ambience that lets your imagination run wild in between scares.
I live in a house that is 100 years old. It’s big, old and kind of creepy. It has a basement that no normal person would ever want to spend half-an-hour in alone in the dark. The way I can tell if this is a good game or not would be to imagine playing it in my house, alone, after midnight – and not even in the basement. I can imagine it, but I won’t be doing it. In that case I guess that Fatal Frame III passes the test.