Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly
Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly pulls out all the stops to create a terrifying experience. The haunting grounds are a Japanese village shrouded in mystery and darkness. It’s not that far off from the similarly possessed town of Silent Hill except that everything here looks hundreds of years old. Time has forgotten All God’s Village, but the residents certainly have not. Ghosts suddenly appear and give ominous warnings to Mio, the main character. Other spirits are far more hostile. The presence of life-like dolls and creepy pre-teen twins that look straight out of The Shining adds to the unsettling atmosphere.
Mio finds herself in this haunted village after losing her own twin, Mayu, during a hike in the woods. These cute Japanese twins are in over their head from the start, and the fact that Mayu regularly finds herself losing control of her actions doesn’t help matters. With all escape routes blocked, the only thing for Mio to do is to get to the bottom of what is happening in this village and rescue her sister. Random ghosts and scattered notes speak of a ritual involving another set of twins a long time ago. The current generation of twins constantly meets up and then loses each other throughout the game. At times it becomes so forced that it feels like “the Princess is in another castle.” The twins are always so close and yet so far. This isn’t as bad as it sounds because unlike similar games, the story is entirely coherent here.“It moved around like some sort of horrifying spider.”Other survival horror games have been influenced by the likes of Night of the Living Dead, but Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly has much more in common with Asian ghost stories such as The Eye and The Ring. This means there’s no gore and a lack of conventional action. Zombies are typically killed with guns and Pyramid Heads are best avoided entirely. Dealing with the spirits in Fatal Frame II is a little different. The only way to take them down is to take lots of pictures of them with a special camera.
A certain phobia of technology is a common theme in Asian horror movies. Here, technology is the only weapon. Combat doesn’t play a huge role since by the end of the game on the normal difficulty I only encountered 70 hostile spirits, but most of the fights are memorable since the ghosts are so twisted. The best was a spirit shown falling a few stories to her “death.” This poor spirit then attacked Mio despite all the broken bones in its body. It moved around like some sort of horrifying spider. Most of the camera duels are one-on-one, but the most intense are the ones where Mio is outnumbered in a confined area.The EyeSince we’re on the topic of Asian horror, I thought I’d take a moment to speak about The Eye. This Chinese/Thai horror film is one of my favorite horror films from any country. I can’t vouch for the quality of Jessica Alba remake, but I think it’s safe to say that the original is probably better. Call it a hunch. When Mio uses the Camera Obscura, the view shifts to first-person. She has the ability to move, but compared to actual shooters she is painfully slow. Despite its appearance, Fatal Frame II can’t be played like a shooter. Carelessly aiming at a spirit does a pitiful amount of damage. Instead, if the picture is taken at the exact moment, such as before or after their attack, then the damage is substantially higher. The points garnered are particularly bountiful. There are other qualifications for gaining huge points, which range in difficulty. Safely eliminating a spirit takes the backseat to shooting at exactly the right moment. It’s like some sort of warped fashion shoot. With the accumulated points, the camera’s stats can be increased and special moves can be leveled up. It doesn’t really fit the mood of the surroundings, but this is the only survival horror game I can think of where there are legitimate incentives for fighting over fleeing. Film, which is essentially ammo, is plentiful enough to never run out.
Since the hostile spirits aren’t abundant, Mio spends most of her time wandering around the village. The atmosphere works extremely well, which is essential for a survival horror game. The ghosts that pop up in the darkness can cause some jolts, along with the creepy noises. Fatal Frame II was released five years ago and still holds up visually due to its impressive style. As spooky as things are, getting around is a pain. Like other games in the genre, the controls are somewhat spotty. Jarring camera angle changes are a bit of a problem, but her slow speed makes that kid always picked last in gym class look like a track star. I guess this helps increase the tension because, after all, the genre was built on everyday protagonists and lackluster controls.
While Fatal Frame II doesn’t show its age visually, it certainly does so with its antiquated adventure elements. 2003 was the year when survival horror games consisted of countless backtracking and obscure goals. Keys need to be found, switches need to be activated and journals need to be read. None of this is particularly fun despite the startling atmosphere. At least the harmless ghosts that pop up are a unique way of getting clues of where to go next. Still, things are often obscure to the point of tedium. Coupled with Mio’s sluggish pace, sometimes the game feels like more of a chore than a worthwhile experience. Even the final chapters are plagued with an absurd amount of backtracking.
The game only takes about eight hours to complete, but it feels much longer due to the repetitive backtracking. There is plenty of replay value since the game needs to be completed once more on a higher difficulty setting to unlock the “true” ending. There are also new functions for the camera, outfits and other similarly neat things unlocked once the game is finished. Whether or not Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly is worth the time depends on your patience for backtracking and routine item hunting. If these things can be overlooked, then there’s no doubt that a terrifying trip to All God’s Village is in order. Just don’t forget your camera.