Fatal Frame (universe)
Fatal Frame (零, Zero) is a series of horror games, owned and developed by Koei Tecmo, that involve taking photographs of ghosts. The camera used for this purpose, Camera Obscura, has been blessed so that its flash is capable of weakening or even combating malevolent spirits and demons.
The series was primarily inspired by other horror games at the time like Silent Hill and Tecmo’s Deception series, as well as director Makoto Shibata’s recurring nightmares and self-proclaimed paranormal encounters. Codenamed Project Zero, the team spent a considerable amount of time on the atmosphere, with numerous tweaks to the lighting engine and art style to create the scariest setting possible. The game released in Japan as ‘’Zero’’ on December 13, 2001 for PlayStation 2, while releasing in 2002 in North America as Fatal Frame and in Europe as Project Zero.
This first game laid the foundation for the series formula. The player primarily controls a young girl named Miku Hinasaki an abandoned Japanese mansion to save her brother and stop a demonic ritual. Hostile spirits will occasionally attack her, and the game will end if too much health is lost. The only method of defense is Camera Obscura, an antique camera that can locate and capture these hostile ghosts. There is a scoring system for taking pictures, with better timing and shot composition rewarding more points.
The game was a financial success and received positive reviews upon releasing, with critics praising the atmosphere and innovative editions to the survival horror genre. An enhanced port for Xbox titled Fatal Frame Special Edition was released in 2003. This entry included new content including better graphics, more ghost battles, and the introduction of the “Fatal” difficulty mode. This port was received better than the original for these additions and is seen as the definitive version of the game.
A sequel was immediately put into production and released for PlayStation 2 on November 27, 2003 as Zero ~Crimson Butterfly~. The game later released in North America in 2004 as Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly and in Europe as Project Zero II: Crimson Butterfly. While gameplay is mostly similar to the first game, the story was received much more focused after complaints of players being too frightened to finish the first game. This sequel’s plot has minimal connections to its predecessor and revolves around twin sisters Mio and Mayu Akamura trying to escape and village of zealots demanding them complete a ritual of one killing the other to become a crimson butterfly. While there are multiple endings, the two going through with the ritual has been declared canon by future entries. The game was another final success and stellar reviews, with many claiming it to be the best in the series and among the scariest games ever made. An enhanced Xbox port titled Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly Director’s Cut released in 2004 and includes new content like a shop feature and a first-person mode. A full remake of the game titled Project Zero: Wii Edition was released for Wii in 2012, and adds multiplayer and overhauled gameplay mechanics, as well as unlocking gameplay elements that were previously tied to difficulty modes.
Another sequel released in Japan as Zero: Voice of the Tattoo for PlayStation 2 on July 28, 2005 and released in North America Fatal Frame III: The Tormented and in Europe as Project Zero 3: The Tormented. This game sees freelance photographer Rei Kurosawa investigates an abandoned manor and learns that it attracts people suffering from survivor’s guilt, which she has after surviving a car crash that killed her fiancé. The also makes minor references to the previous games in the series as a way to create a cohesive universe. While the game was received as a solid entry, reviews were noticeably worse than the previous games, with complaints of stale gameplay and the horror elements being weaker being prevalent.
Tecmo decided to address these concerns with the next entry. They contracted Grasshopper Manufacture and Nintendo to be co-developers on the title. Nintendo agreed on the condition that they publish the game as a Wii exclusive. The development of this game was particularly rocky, with all three teams having different visions for the game and frequently butting heads over decisions. This led to many drastic changes to the formula like a completely different setting, tweaks to the camera and character movement, and fully implementing the features of the Wii remote. The game released on July 31, 2008 in Japan as Zero: Tsukihami no Kamen. While reviews were positive, the dramatic changes proved controversial for fans, which led to weak sales. This led to no official international releases, surprisingly the first in the series to do so. Fans have unofficially given this game the subtitle “Mask of the Lunar Eclipse,” which is a translation of the Japanese subtitle.
A spinoff title was released for Nintendo 3DS on January 12, 2012 as Shinrei Camera ~Tsuiteru Techou~ and released internationally as Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir. The game is an augmented reality experience that uses the camera and gyro controls of the 3DS to simulate the player actually battling ghosts with the Camera Obscura in their hands. The game received a mixed reception, with critics saying it is a novel use of the 3DS hardware, but a bare bones experience with very little content and replayablity.
The latest entry in the series was released in Japan on September 27, 2014 as a Wii U exclusive titled Zero: Nuregarasu no Miko, and released in North America as Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water and in Europe as Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water. The game was inspired by the capabilities of the Wii U GamePad, which can simulate the use of Camera Obscura while having the rest of the game on the big screen to speed up gameplay. The game also introduced a “wetness” mechanic that makes the characters more vulnerable the more soaked they become. The game received a mixed reception with critics claiming that while the gameplay is still fun, the series had shifted too far from its initial vision and has become less scary than ever. The game was also mired in several controversies. While the game eventually released internationally, several of the more scantily clad alternate costumes were cut from this specific version, upsetting fans that believed this was done to appease the outrage of a group of fans that may or may not have ever existed. The game also released downloadable only in North America, despite the game being larger than the standard Wii U with 4 GB of internal storage can carry. The game has since been rereleased in 2021 on every modern gaming console.
Maya from the augmented reality-based spin-off Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir appears as a trophy in Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS. Mio and Mayu Amakura from Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly, of which Nintendo published a Wii remake, share a trophy in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U.
Mio & Mayu Amakura
The following characters from the series appear as spirits.
Games with elements appearing in the Super Smash Bros. series