So, today being Halloween and all, I thought that I should talk about something Halloween related. I’ve already talked about how Fatal Frame does a female protagonist well, so I thought this would be a good time to talk about how, in my opinion, it does the horror right, as it’s one of the creepiest games I’ve ever played.
The big key for Fatal Frame is its sound. As you walk around the mansion, and move from room to room, you get variations in sound, from things that are almost musical and like chimes to almost silence except for your footsteps. This leaves you with an underlying sense of creepiness and unease; you don’t really know why you feel bothered, but you do.
In addition to that, default Miku’s walking speed is not quick. The mansion is small enough that you don’t need to run everywhere, and walking slowly will be good enough to get you from place-to-place without being bored to death, but this speed allows you to take everything in and really experience the creepiness of the sound.
Another factor is that while enemies can appear at any time, they aren’t frequent. Since you might get things suddenly appearing and jumping out at you, you want to move slowly to make sure that you don’t run into something. But you usually don’t. This ramps the tension up a bit, and far more than having a constant supply of enemies to fight would.
Back to the sound, the enemies also talk and act in ways that highlight how they died. The blind ghost, for example, keeps creepily talking about not being able to see anyone. The broken neck ghost screams and falls. In general, the ghosts act in creepy ways but in ways that you should be familiar with because …
… the game delights in giving you the backstory of each of the ghosts, just to make them not only seem scary, and not only seem recognizable, but also seem tragic and human. While you know that they can kill you — and are trying to do that — you also have to feel somewhat sorry for them, because a lot of the time it isn’t their fault.
And finally, the combat system really works to add to the tension and fear. You don’t have a massive set of weapons or some kind of particle beam/trap combination to bust these ghosts, but instead have a camera. A camera with a number of special features, but still a camera. And this also means that in order to actually fight the ghosts, you have to drop into a very tunnel-visioned, FPS view: the view through the viewfinder. Which means that you have to drop into that view and try to find and shoot the ghost … and hit “panic” mode when it disappears and you have no idea where it is. This really does add to the tension, not in a “I’m going to die” but in a “Where is it? Where is it? Where is it? Put the camera down!” kind of thing.
Fatal Frame is one of my favourite survival horror games, and is pretty much the only one that I’ve ever finished. And it isn’t a game to play in the dark.