This review originally appeared on Reviewcenter.com in 2002.
For us, it all started with The 7th Guest for the PC. We were indescribably intrigued by this game at the time.‚ The ability to journey through a beautifully rendered haunted mansion (as good as you could pre-render n 1993) via a first person perspective was something that, at the time, was unprecedented.‚ Bill Gates himself commented on the game saying something to the effect that it was “the future of multimedia.”
After 7th Guest, it was Mansion of Hidden Souls for the Sega CD.‚ It also featured an explorable mansion, and to our recollection, it too was haunted — with souls trapped in butterflies. What a concept.
When I heard that a sequel was in the works for the Sega Saturn I was giddy with glee, unfortunately the game never saw the light of day in America.‚ Then came Trilobyte’s 11th Hour, the sequel to 7th Guest.‚ While 11th Hour was technically superior to its predecessor in terms of a technological standpoint, it just did not hold the same sense of wonder and awe that the original game did.
Enter Fatal Frame, the most impressive 3D haunted-mansion explorer simulator known to man.‚ Tecmo has taken all of my favorite aspects from the past super naturally charged Mansion haunts and combined them with technology that would put the 33mhz SX computer I originally played 7th Guest on to shame.
Fatal Frame puts you in the role of Miku, a teenage girl who is in search of Mafuya, her brother.‚ Mafuya went to the mansion in search of Takamine, a famous novelist who ended up missing after doing some research for his book at the Himuro mansion.‚ Both Miku and Mafuya are cursed with the sixth sense; they can see ghosts, scarrrry.‚ Takamine helped Mafuya to cope with his ghoulish affliction through various books that he wrote on the subject.‚ Mafuya too ends up missing after searching for Takamine at the mansion.‚ Two weeks pass and Miku resolves to go searching for her missing brother, this is where you will come in.‚ As Miku you will uncover the secret, disturbing past of the mansion through clues you will uncover over a 4-night one-person manhunt for your brother.
The graphics in Fatal Frame are just short of astounding, for a system that can only render 1-pass bump mapping the visuals are surprisingly rich and detailed.‚ Interactive backgrounds, freaky grain-film filters, impressive Luigi’s Mansion-quality dynamic lighting effects.‚ Every object casts a realistic shadow on the background resulting in an almost frightening level of immersion.
Pre-rendered cut scenes are done up in a black and white, tattered film-like package that allows for both a realistic depiction of past events and an underlying documentary-ish feel.‚ The lighting in the game allows for a believable atmosphere that gives you the sense that anything could happen at any time.‚ The various apparitions that you will meet will be depicted in a terrifying flickering presence, usually contorted in positions that are painful just to look at.‚ Perspective is primarily represented via a third-person view, the multitude of camera positions adequately follow you around to the point where POV is rarely an issue.‚ The non-ghoulish characters in the game are rendered very well, with detailed, diverse clothing and realistically animated facial gestures that serve their purpose flawlessly.
The sound in Fatal Frame is composed mainly of an organic-ambiance and strange ritualistic chanting music that would scare your little brother to death if you were to record the samples onto a mini-recorder and put the device under his bed and hit play at full volume while he is sleeping.‚ Ghosts will scream in agony as you film them and taunt you in the instances when they have the upper hand.‚ Super-natural objects will resonate with a spooky hum as you close in on them, faint voices can be heard through long corridors, footsteps sound suitably different depending on the composition of what your walking on. All this equates to an audibly impressive, realistic experience that reverberates with resounding effect.