Fatal Frame 2: Crimson Butterfly

Year: 2003
Alternate Title: Project Zero 2 (Japan)
Platform: PlayStation 2
Publisher: Tecmo
Genre: Survival/horror
Review Date: 4/24/04
Rating: ****

Twin sisters Mio and Mayu get lost in the forest and find themselves trapped in a haunted village. Legend has it that the village mysteriously disappeared many years ago in a tragedy that left all of its inhabitants dead. Desperately seeking a way out of the village, the girls are forced to relive the horrific twin shrine maidens ritual, which used to be performed to appease the demons of the forest. Fortunately, Mio finds the Camera Obscura (from the original "Fatal Frame") which was left in the village by an earlier visitor. It's the girls' only defense against the spirits that would do them harm.

What an excellent game this is! It improves on the original in every way, and I haven't had a finer or purer gaming experience since "Ico" (2001). The graphics are stunning, the level design is superb, and the architecture is utterly gorgeous. The music is also appropriately chilling, which really rounds out the dark and creepy atmosphere. Presentation wise, the game is flawless, and it makes excellent use of force feedback. The controls are responsive and intuitive, and you have the option to use either character-perspective or camera-perspective navigation in the game. Much like the first game, the story is very deep and extremely compelling, and this time we're not forced to swallow the awkward "based on a true story" line. The Japanese setting allows for some very rich cultural content, which should please anyone who is a fan of Japanese horror. And surprisingly, the localization and English dubbing aren't that bad.

"Fatal Frame 2" also gets high marks for its gameplay. Realizing that the original "Fatal Frame" was WAY too difficult for the average player, "Fatal Frame 2" features an easy mode, which feels just about right for someone of my skill level. Completing the game unlocks new costumes and game modes for those who are looking for additional challenges. For me, playing through once was enough, as the game regularly caused me to throw the controller and scream like a little girl in fear. Like many survival horror games, the core gameplay mechanic is finding keys and unlocking doors. Fortunately, the objectives are so clear and the level design is so streamlined that you rarely, if ever, get lost or don't know what to do. The game also features a small number of puzzles, which are logically structured and appropriately challenging. Combat is essentially identical to the first game, although the ghosts are considerably easier to deal with. One major difference is that you get an unlimited supply of low-grade film, whereas in the first game you had to constantly worry about running out.

With this game, the developers have proved that the "Fatal Frame" series is a serious contender in the survival horror market, and I anxiously await their next terrifying offering. One more thing worth mentioning is that the trailer for the game is spectacular. While it doesn't actually feature any footage from the game, it does a great job of setting the tone and atmosphere. It still gives me chills when I watch it.