A Trip Down Horror Lane: say cheese!

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While Fatal Frame 3 is of course the third in the series, it’s not necessary to play them all. Here’s what you need to know from the previous games: a magic camera busts Japanese ghosts.

But this is no Ghostbusters game. In Fatal Frame 3, the protagonist Rei has been cursed. Her curse caused a tattoo to slowly spread across her body. Once it’s complete, she is damned forever. Each night she dreams about the haunted Manor of Sleep. The secret to breaking the curse is somewhere in the manor. To make matters worse, Freddy Krueger rules are in effect: dying in the manor means dying in real life.

After the jump, I am afraid of some ghosts

The atmosphere of the mansion was all about an overwhelming feeling of isolation and despair. There was no support once inside. It was just the mansion, you, and the ghosts. Because it was an old style mansion, there was no electricity. The only light source besides the moon was some dim lanterns. There were very few musical arrangements. Instead the ambient noises make up the majority of the sound you hear during play.

To make things creepier, many ambient noises were random. They played if you took too long in one area, or sometimes they just played out of the blue. If you live in an older house in real life, this leads to situations like this: I was in my den playing Fatal Frame 3 at around three in the morning. Everyone else was asleep and the lights were off everywhere else in the house. So I was playing the game staring at the screen, when I heard noises coming from the pitch black hallway 15 feet away from me. You could not pay me enough to go down the hallway that night.

By way of contrast, you explore Rei’s apartment during the day. These sections are established to be safe, since ghosts only exist in the manor. However, this eventually changes.

The ghosts of the Fatal Frame series aren’t your standard boogey-men or outlandish creatures you see in cartoons. Instead the ghosts look like humans who want to strangle you to death. Some of them look average, while others look like they did at the moments of their deaths. You might be chased by ghosts with limbs bent backwards or necks snapped.

Fatal Frame 3’s gameplay fits perfectly with the atmosphere. To battle the ghosts in the manor, Rei uses the “camera obscura”, a magic camera that exorcizes ghosts. You could equip different types of film which determined how much damage you did. In order to do the most damage, players had to take carefully framed close-up shots of the ghosts. So while you were waiting for the right moment, the ghost was moaning and getting ever closer and muttering and coming closer and closer to strangling you. You had to wait until the last second to get the perfect shot.

Fighting ghosts was different than fighting monsters, hobos, or zombies. Ghosts don’t make sounds. They don’t need to worry about the layout of the room. They can pop out of a wall or come up from the floor behind you. In one area, you’re exploring the mansion without the aid of the camera, forcing you into a tense game of hide-and seek.

The first time I played Fatal Frame 3 I was trying it out at Gamestop. Because I was in the store I had to play with the sound off. I was just standing there while people were walking by. When a ghost on the screen appeared out of the wall next to Rei and attacked, I literally jumped in the middle of the store. I quickly left before people could start asking questions.

Fatal Frame 3 is currently the last game to scare me and it really did knock the remaining fear out of me. If you can beat it while playing in a dark room alone, it’s hard to be scared by anything else.

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Josh Bycer has had nightmares that make less sense then the Silent Hill series. As he continues to search for his place in the industry, you can find him over at Gamasutra, on his blog, or posting in the forums as Jab.