Genre: Survival Horror
Reviewer: Corinne Green
Overall: 8.5 = Excellent
(Originally published on April 12, 2006)
By this point, you probably already know if you like the idea of Fatal Frame 3: The Tormented. There have been two previous games in the series, both pretty well-received. In both, you play attractive young Japanese girls who get drawn into semi-abandoned mansions and towns and have to weasel their ways out of spooky situations and mysteries you’d rather not think about with pretty much only a fancy anti-ghost camera. Can you guess what you do in the third game? That’s correct!
The gameplay hasn’t changed; only a few details have. For one, the nerve-rending scratching sound that escalates as you keep your camera’s focus on enemies is out; this is nice for your sanity and good for your nerves, and whether or not you appreciate “good for your nerves” in a horror game is entirely up to you. Me, I’m glad to be rid of it. Also new in this iteration are multiple characters and “the real world.” Don’t believe the back of the box, though—you never have the chance to choose a character. Instead, you’ll control either Rei, Miku or Kei as the game hands them to you. Sort of like in Silent Hill 4: The Room, our new heroine and her assistant (the protagonist of Fatal Frame 1) wander around their house in between dreams that become more and more invasive and frightening as a sinister tattoo spreads across Rei’s (the main character’s) body. The dreams are the actual Fatal Frame we’re used to—luckily Rei’s house isn’t as familiarly dilapidated as all of our old favorites. The new device of a safe place becoming less safe isn’t taken nearly as far as it is in The Room, but it’s still quite effective and keeps you alert and aware and a little bit apprehensive even in an environment that’s a field of blooming daisies compared to the rest of the game.
The Camera Obscura in The Tormented has more upgrade possibilities than ever, and which lenses you grow to favor can provide for some reasonably different experiences. Points are earned for good photography, so a quick trigger finger and a solid feel for Fatal Frames (essentially critical hits) aren’t just their own reward. Every character dips into the same account, when it comes to upgrading, so be careful not to, for example, blow everything on Miku and then expect Kei to be able to hold his own. Of course, the nice thing about it is that if you want to favor the one character who holds a special place in your heart, you can absolutely do that and then enjoy the extra power.
While Rei is the Fatal Frame you know and love, Miku and Kei theoretically each have their own playing styles. Miku’s camera gets an attachment early on in her story arc that completely changes the way she fights: you have to hold down the shutter button to charge the camera, and release it to fire. She can charge it to twice its normal capacity, but you have to be mindful of her different scheme and plan accordingly. Miku also features, amusingly, her own bullet time—laugh as you will, you’ll be thankful you have it when you encounter a particular ghost or two (here’s looking at you, Carriageman).
Kei’s playing style, on the other (or same, depending) hand, is an absolute joke. Kei’s special ability is, and I’m not pulling your leg, a little something we in the business call “hiding.” Really. Look Kei up in the manual and you see ”Push the circle button to make Kei crouch down. Hide from ghosts by crouching behind screens and other pieces of furniture.” In an attempt to highlight his remarkable valor, Tecmo made Kei the weakest offensive character in the game by about seven miles, figuring that if it took you half an hour to defeat a ghost they could make you press circle to hide from it. In practice, this is even sillier than it sounds. The filament, which alerts you to a ghost’s presence, works differently for Kei to maximize the goofiness; instead of indicating the location of an enemy, the filament simply turns blue when a ghost has not found you, but is around somewhere, and red when a ghost has found you, and is also around somewhere: no information that would be useful in, you know, pointing towards or away from the ghost as necessary. Fatal Frame is not about hiding. It’s about photographing things that mind getting photographed and running like a sissy from things that don’t. Kei’s hiding pains me—if I’m going to waste time, I may as well waste time shooting something. And as weak as Kei is, you’ll waste plenty of time. Finally, and of course, since Kei is a man, when you control him you’ll need to push dressers and other obstacles out of the way to open up paths for the ladies’ next turns.
The bulk of the game takes place in one gigantic manse, but the house draws on rooms from the first two games. The sections are mostly distinct: on one side of the map you’ll find Fatal Frame land, on the other is a collection of wonderful rooms from Fatal Frame 2: Crimson Butterfly‘s All God’s Village, and brand-new portions are in between. I strongly recommend that you play the first two installations before tackling The Tormented, since the third game as a whole draws extensively on the experiences and memories you should already have. Actually, two-thirds of the story (Miku and Kei’s thirds) from the third game are extensions of the previous games’ stories, and the whole package, taken together, is something you shouldn’t be missing out on. But, in general, we’re concerning ourselves with why people keep getting drawn into this devil house, and why they disappear. Rei, in the game’s intro, is disappointed that a house she’s photographing turns out not to be haunted—but then she sees her dead boyfriend through her camera’s lens. The game catalogs Rei’s journey deeper and deeper into the Manor of Sleep, and as Rei and Miko research the mystery in the real world, more and more is revealed of what might be happening to our ensnared leading lady. It’s not good.
The game not only supports progressive scan, it supports it in style. Fatal Frame 3 is beautiful. If you have a crumbling Japanese architecture addiction, you’ll be in heaven. While it’s possible to argue that many of the hallways look the same, it’s also possible to argue that they look very good doing it. It’s a give-and-take, here—don’t expect grand changes in scenery. You’re stuck in a nightmare manor, after all. Rei is quite the charmer, and Miku is pleasant, as usual. Kei you feel sorry for, a little, but he’s attractive enough, even when he’s pressing circle to crouch. The rooms are chock full of detail, the characters’ feet behave properly on stairs, curtains sway to and fro and the PS2 handles it all admirably. But, this is Tecmo, and this is Fatal Frame, so we are used to this and we love it.
The audio is creepy and music accentuates all the right moments and none of the wrong ones. When you’re running for your life, you can hear why you’re running for your life. At some points in the game you have to follow some absolutely chilling lyrics and speech—and you will not want to, at all. You’ll try to foist the controller off on your roommates, who will have nothing whatsoever to do with such evil sounds. As a bonus, the voice acting is nicely acceptable; I’d place it higher than Crimson Butterfly‘s (and obviously far, far above the first game’s), which was solid itself.
Fatal Frame 3: The Tormented is a tremendously well-made horror game. It has two previous canon works to draw story and select enemies, settings and scares from, and so it almost feels like a remixed, director’s cut, best-of, special limited edition be-all and end-all Fatal Frame compendium with an exquisite third adventure. I clocked in 19 hours for my first playthrough, but I like to enjoy the atmosphere, so I expect it would take most of you less time than that – which is okay, because you could always recoup your losses with the challenging mission mode that becomes available upon completion of the story. In addition, there are several costumes and accessories to unlock for each character, as well as special lenses, powerups and art galleries. While the game doesn’t have a real second ending, it’s worth going through a second time, anyway; some ghosts change and a few previously inaccessible goodies are now within reach, and you do need those extra points to get Rei another outfit, don’t you?