When rituals go wrong
Today I am writing to you about Fatal Frame, in particular Fatal Frame 2.
The reason I’m talking to you about the second game in the series and not the first is simply because the games storylines are not related and the story in the second game is better than the first one. It was designed to be a more interesting story purposefully due to people not finishing the first game (it was too frightening to finish lol, so a more compelling story was crafted, or so the rumour goes).
Fatal frame is a survival horror game made by Tecmo and released on the PlayStation in 2003 and is widely considered to be among the scariest games ever made.
The game follows twin sisters Mio and Mayu as they explore an abandoned village and experience encounters with the paranormal.
During the game the player controls the protagonist Mio and must use a camera to defeat enemies and uncover the secrets of the village. There are two modes of gameplay, field mode and viewfinder mode. When in field mode, the player can examine items and search areas for clues. But when the camera is used, the game enters viewfinder mode, from where pictures of ghosts and scenery can be taken.
I was hoping to talk about this game without spoiling anything major but found that it was impossible to talk in depth without ruining the game story wise. So, this is your warning, here be spoilers.
Fatal Frame II is set in the fictional Minakami village, which is abandoned and due to be destroyed by the construction of a dam. Minakami was host to the “Crimson Sacrifice Ritual” which failed and caused the people in the village to vanish. Thus, the village has the nickname “The Lost Village”.
Mio and Mayu are visiting their favourite childhood play spot in Minakami before it is lost. During the visit Mayu follows a mysterious red butterfly deep into the village and is separated from her sister.
As Mio searches, she slowly learns of the Crimson Sacrifice Ritual, the failure of which caused the “Repentance”, aka the disaster which caused everyone to vanish. The sacrifice is to stop a deep hole the “Hellish Abyss”, that collects the souls of the dead from unleashing them on the world. The sacrifice, which takes place every ten years, involves a pair of twins born in the village. During the ritual the elder twin must strangle the younger twin. After this is done the soul of the younger twin guards the village in the form of a crimson butterfly.
The ritual went wrong last time as twins Yae and Sae tried to escape their fate. Sae was caught and brought back to the village. The villagers hung her in a desperate attempt to complete the ritual. But this did not work. Sae returned as a spirit looking for revenge and possesses Mayu.
The ghosts wandering the village refer to Mio as Yae and seem to expect her to perform the ritual with Mayu.
Mio learns that in Minakami, the twin born second is considered the elder, which means to complete the ritual she has to strangle her sister
When Mio and Mayu try to escape the village, the villagers’ spirits take Mayu back to the Hellish Abyss. It is here the player can choose to flee alone, ending the game there. Or they can choose to go back to the village. Once back at the village there is another choice, killing Mayu in the ritual turns her into a crimson butterfly but rescuing Mayu causes Mio to become blind as she looks into the Abyss.
There is another ending where Sae and Yae perform the ritual freeing the villagers and sparing Mio and Mayu
However, as the game series does continue, we know that the “Crimson Butterfly” ending is the canonical ending.
This game is a fantastic addition to the horror genre as it does what a lot of games fail to do. A lot of games that call themselves horror or survival horror make the protagonist a badass. A big part of horror is the feeling of threat and powerlessness, admittedly that threat doesn’t have to be physical, but in games, it often is so having a buff, fighty protagonist can detract from the horror element and make the game an action game with creepy enemies.
This game stays firmly rooted in the horror genre by having the protagonist be a young girl armed only with a camera. You’re at an instant disadvantage.
The story is compelling and well-written, with some fantastic and ultimately sympathetic characters and a gripping plot. The gameplay is immersive and, for want of a better word, realistic. Mio is capable but still vulnerable, she’s terrified but held in place by her love for her sister (which makes the ending super tragic).
The game uses the classic ghost ‘monster’, and they feel genuinely threatening but also deeply tragic. There is a classic horror element with a traditional location and spooky monsters but also a thriller element with the decisions Mio has to make.
Lastly, the game makes the stakes super clear from the moment the gameplay really gets going, the threats are physical, Mio and Mayu are both under threat. As the game continues the threat changes and the physical element focuses on Mayu while Mio has to make a terrible choice and suffers a severe emotional threat. There’s also a strong mystery element that is fun and compelling to unravel.
Overall, this is a game very much worth playing.