874th played so far

Genre: Survival Horror
Platform: Wii
Year of Release: 2008
Developer: Tecmo
Publisher: Nintendo

It’s always a bit weird when both parts of a known horror franchise are on the list when I hadn’t heard of it before the list’s existence. We covered the Fatal Frame series, a survival horror game that focuses on using cameras, with Fatal Frame II, and I’ve struggled with the fourth game as it was only released in Japan. Survival horrors do in part rely on their story to convey the horror and not knowing what’s going on would lessen some of the impact of the young girls being led around.

Thankfully, a fan patch has been released and with some work we managed to set it up and play it that way. Time to dive into another mystery…

Our Thoughts

As always, a survival horror game’s effectiveness doesn’t come from its big monsters, but from the suspense it creates before you encounter it. The opening to Fatal Frame IV capitalizes on that, showing the horrors at a distance, never giving you a chance to react. You’re safe, sure, but it feels like the danger is still there. Then when you find the spirit camera the game revolves around, there’s a danger that a ghost is anywhere. You can’t see them without the camera and that tension is enough to try to find them and photograph them. Various features and happening invite you to keep checking the camera, with that danger always lurking. At the same time, the moment you can use the camera, it becomes an odd shoot ’em up where you have limited resources as you try to capture the ghost in photographs and the camera, which feels like an effective metaphor of gaining control over it by having it always be visible.

It’s a simple adventure beyond that – go places, find items and keys while also hunting for upgrades and film for your camera. It’s not too complex, with the upgrades that require you to get extra stuff having some more puzzles sometimes and having some side scares. Still, nothing more complex than a Silent Hill or Resident Evil, but with the danger not coming from what’s around the corner, but what’s hiding next to you.

Adding to that is the atmosphere. Where the second game took place in a village, this game kicks off in a hotel that you, at least initially, explore taking different routes through the same building with different characters until it slowly opens up further. It works well, setting up progress through a familiar space that shifts and opens up to new things.

With that, the game integrates the Wii controls quite well, and pointing feels like an extension of aiming a camera. It’s a nice supplement to the game that expands the franchise well enough – it makes the wonder where the sequels would take it.

Final Thoughts

Fatal Frame IV has an idea, sticks with it and keeps working with it. It’s a tense game, looking just right enough to pull off its effects but also a bit grainy. It feels like the game expanded well on its camera ideas and the world is one I’m not sure I want to explore further, but there’s something compelling in its tension.