Buy 'FATAL FRAME 2: Crimson Butterfly': Xbox
Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly creeps me out.
It's set in a haunted Japanese village that's only there intermittently, inhabited by the ghosts of suicides and the ritually sacrificed. It's been midnight here for fifty years, with no end in sight, and it seems to like to lure the curious and the unlucky into their inevitable deaths.
Mio Amakura stumbles into the village one afternoon while chasing her sister Mayu, and finds that for whatever reason, identical twins figure prominently into All Gods' Village's mythology. Unless they find their way out somehow, they're going to wind up as the village's latest victims. The only advantage Mio has is the Camera Obscura, an invention that can take pictures of ghosts.
Ostensibly, this is a survival horror game, with all that implies: slightly clunky controls, an endless hunt for oddly-shaped keys, a story told mostly through cutscenes and the obsessive journaling of everyone around you, and a series of bizarre puzzles that would seem out of place if you weren't in a haunted village. (It's amazing what logical trespasses you can forgive when they come between full-scale ghost attacks.)
However, Fatal Frame II's also a good survival horror game, which means in its best moments, it can transcend its genre's limitations and keep you on the edge of your seat. Like all the best horror games, this isn't just a really weak adventure game with a clumsy combat engine; this is a bunch of game designers using every tool in their arsenal to scare the hell out of you.
Like the previous game, Fatal Frame II revolves around the Camera Obscura, which is both a weapon and a exploratory tool. You can take pictures of ghosts to damage or destroy them, and of your environment to reveal clues or earn extra points. The more points you have, the more Spirit Orbs you can install in your camera, and the better the camera's abilities; it goes from a relatively simple instant camera in the early game to a ghost-destroying fist of God near the finale.
The camera's first-person perspective is also part of what makes Fatal Frame II so intense, as you spend a lot of time madly searching for the perfect shot. This often involves waiting until the last moment to take your picture, while running around a very small area with ghosts, who have a habit of teleporting, being only partially visible, passing through solid objects, or all three. The camera system is set up to work best if you time and frame your shots accurately, rather than just clicking the shutter like a madman, so there's a lot more thought involved here than you'd think.
Fatal Frame II isn't quite as scary as its predecessor, though. The presentation is still top-notch, with the same excellent graphics, great ambient sound, and a cast of voice actors who actually know what they're doing. There are a couple of neat new features, like the spirit radio, and Mayu Amakura provides an interesting method of changing the game's atmosphere. (Since Mayu has a bad habit of wandering off or disappearing, you'll frequently switch from being scared for yourself to being scared for her. If you're willing to buy into the game on its own terms and identify with the characters, it's a nice trick.)
However, Fatal Frame II's a lot easier than the original, which is part of why I say it's not as scary. Fatal Frame is notorious in certain circles that consist largely of me for being remarkably difficult; if you didn't manage your health and "ammunition" very carefully, you were going to have to start over eventually.
Fatal Frame II's a lot more forgiving, with extra health and film all over the place. It's also a lot more generous with points, so it's much easier to upgrade the Camera Obscura. (One ghost in FFII gives away more points than you could usually earn in an entire chapter of FF.) I find it a bit harder to maintain an atmosphere of terror when I have enough health items in reserve to heal from just about anything.
Of course, Fatal Frame II still has a couple of new tricks up its sleeve, like the brief intermissions where you play as Mayu (who is apparently seeing a very, very different village than Mio is) or a couple of sequences that I can't talk about without spoiling them. It may not be as scary as the original, but that doesn't mean it's not ungodly damned terrifying.
The Xbox version of the game is the "Director's Cut," which adds a few new features. The graphics have improved, of course, and you'll find a couple of new modes and costumes when you finish the game, many of which have to be unlocked. This includes Kasumi and Ayane costumes for Mio and Mayu, and a new Survival Mode which challenges you to get from the game's starting point to the site of the final battle without getting into a fight. (It's as difficult as it sounds.)
The two biggest changes are FPS Mode, which turns most of the game into a really slow first-person shooter, and the addition of a new ending for the Nightmare difficulty. Of the two, the only one that really demands any discussion is FPS Mode; you'll note that most of the screenshots that accompany this article were taken from it.
FPS Mode's interesting. If you played the game to death on the PS2, FPS Mode legitimately makes the game feel somewhat new. The controls are reconfigured to make the whole game feel a little more like a first-person shooter, complete with the ability to circle-strafe ghosts. Mio still moves a little too slowly for the gameplay to feel truly natural, the environments are usually a bit too constrictive for traditional FPS methods to be effective (well, other than the time-honored "back up and fire" tactic), and it's much easier for ghosts to get the drop on you. (The twin ghosts in the Kiryu House are particularly troublesome in this mode, as they're big fans of divide and conquer.)
You're basically trading the ability to get most of the hidden or sudden snapshots, since you can't usually see where they're at in time to take a photo, for a more combat-friendly control setup. I didn't like FPS Mode initially, but it's hard to go back to the original controls and perspective.
That's just one of the advantages that the Director's Cut has over the original version, as well as the graphics, new endings, and new unlockables. If you played the PS2 version of Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly, it may be worth renting FF2 on the Xbox so you can see some of the new features. You do have to beat the game to see most of them, but FPS Mode at least puts a new spin on the proceedings.
If you're an Xbox owner who's just now getting your hands on Fatal Frame II, then you're looking at one of the best horror games of this console generation. It'll take you six to eight hours to beat the main game on Normal Mode, but then you've got extra endings, costumes, and minigames to unlock. If you can get over the admittedly wonky premise, you'll find an intense, involving horror experience.
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