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Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly
Score: 92%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Tecmo
Developer: Tecmo
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1
Genre: Survival Horror

Graphics & Sound:
When it was released, Fatal Frame wasn't able to garner as much attention as those other two 500 pound purple gorillas in the survival horror genre, Resident Evil and Slient Hill. As it usually goes in these situations, this is a shame, since it is arguably the scariest game of the three. Unlike the other two, which thrive more on what I like to call the 'slasher-shock' variety of horror, Fatal Frame delved into the more psychological side of horror found in movies like The Ring and the original 1963 version The Haunting. Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly manages to not only provide a better follow-up to the original, but delivers what is probably the scariest gaming experience ever.

One of the more striking aspects of Fatal Frame II, and part of what helps to make it such a remarkable experience, is its unique graphical style. Instead of going for the gritty reality found in other games, Fatal Frame II occupies its own unique realm which plays more with light and shadow. There is really no way to adequately describe just how great the game looks other than to say, 'you just have to see it'. Nearly everything in the game casts a shadow which, when combined with multiple light sources and your own flashlight, create some very ominous environments. Throw in the various ghosts found in the game, and you're in for an experience that is sure to give you a good case of paranoia. Is that moving shadow just a blowing curtain or moving branch, or is it someone coming for you? This feeling is only increased by the game's phenomenal sound.

Sound lends just as much of a creep factor to the experience as sight. The game's soundtrack is a nice blend of musical tones, ethereal voices and other ambient sounds. The musical tones are particularly effective because of the way they are used. Early on, emphasis is put on associating certain ghosts with a particular musical tone. Once you're accustomed to what ghosts sound like, the game will begin to throw false chimes at you. Just when you expect a certain ghost to pop out, it is gone (or something worse is waiting for you). It should go without saying that this adds a scare factor to the game that goes beyond the radio static found in Silent Hill 2. The effect probably wouldn't be as effective if it were not for other noises going on around you -- such as footsteps, laughter and random creaks. When combined with the already paranoia-inducing shadows, there will be plenty of times where you'll quickly turn to snap a picture of something that isn't there.

Like Fatal Frame before it, Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly lends a different twist to the survival-horror genre. There are no guns, nor evil corporations testing super weapons -- it was just two girls, a camera and a total mind job of a story. Did I say mind job? I meant to say the game plays an outright screw job with your mind from beginning to end. Just when you think you have everything figured out, everything you thought turns out to be wrong. I could find a much better way of expressing this, but this is a family site.

This time around, the game doesn't involve Miku or the mansion, but instead focuses (no pun intended) on the 'Camera Obscura', a camera with the ability to not only see what cannot be seen by human eyes, but also has the ability to exorcise souls. Set thirty years before the original, players take on the role of Mio Amakura, a young girl with a gift of a sixth sense, which grants her visions. Mio's journey takes her to a town where she and her twin sister, Mayu, spent many of their childhood years. While wandering around the town, Mayu notices a faintly glowing crimson butterfly. Feeling compelled to follow the butterfly, Mayu chases it into a dark forest. After seeing her sister's strange behavior, Mio decides to follow as well. This journey soon leads the duo to a deserted village, setting the mood for the rest of their adventure. >From here the game takes place through a series of visions, flashbacks and present-time events which run through nearly every human emotion possible, from the pain of loss, fear and anything that has ever kept you up at night. Fears are only magnified by the grainy, black and white, Ring-like fashion in which cutscenes are presented.

I won't go into too many details, but expect everything and nothing at all.

Navigating most of the puzzles in Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly is easy and should be the least of your troubles. Aside from serving as your primary weapon, the Camera Obscura also plays a part in many of the game's puzzles. For example, there are parts in the game where you may not see what is keeping you from going through a door or where to go next until you take a peek through the viewfinder. All of the game's puzzles don't play out as easily as this and include a number riddles, word games and even some timed actions (which I hated). The riddles are easy to solve once you get your mind in the frame of the game's setting and pay attention to what's going on. Even the most obscure of details may become important clues later on in the game.

Combat with ghosts, if you want to call it that, ramps up rather nicely and never becomes too complicated too fast. At the same time, it isn't as easy as it sounds either since ghosts can appear from nearly anywhere in a room. Some will even disappear only to reappear behind, next to or above you.

Though it may sound silly, and is sure to earn me at least one or two remarks from fellow staffers (you know who you are), there are parts in Fatal Frame 2 where the game is just hard to play. The game does such a wonderful job of creating a haunting atmosphere that it is easy to become rattled. This isn't like the pop out and shock you stuff found in Resident Evil. There are moments in the game where you feel like you're watching a horror film and can easily become wrapped up in what is going on. This, of course, is to the game's credit and shouldn't keep you away from the game.

Game Mechanics:
The layout of the game is similar to that of the original, so veterans will find it easy to jump right in and start playing. Newcomers, of whom I hope there are plenty, may find it difficult to get used to the game's unusual play mechanics, but shouldn't have a problem figuring out what to do.

Most of your time is spent solving puzzles and taking pictures of ghosts. Though it may sound like Poke'mon Snap with ghosts, Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly is just a tad more intense because, unlike Poke'mon, these ghosts are out to get you. The camera is your only weapon in the game, which means you'll have to rely on your eyes and wits if you want to survive. However, throw away all notions of pointing-and-clicking your way through Mio and Mayu's adventure. Every snapshot you take deals damage to ghosts, and the longer you wait for the camera to focus, the more damage it does (which is indicated by the changing colors on the camera's viewfinder). The sharper a picture you can get, the more damage you are able to do. If you are lucky enough to snap a perfect picture, you can get a Fatal Frame, which is akin to a combo that allows you to do double damage to your target. Standing around for a perfect Kodak moment isn't always as easy as it sounds, especially when groups of ghosts attack, but there are rewards for showing nerve and getting the good shots. Points earned from taking good pictures translate into a currency that can be spent on upgrading the camera. Upgrades include a better viewfinder, increased power or the ability to stun ghosts.

I had mixed feelings on Mayu's use in the game. You primarily control Mio throughout the game, but Mayu is always following you. Sometimes she's helpful and does a good job of tipping you off with clues as to what to do next. There are even parts where she will hang around in a room and begin to cry for you to come and check something out. This helps to reduce the amount of backtracking you have to do (which is already a little too much). Mayu does become a bit of a problem when she gets in the way. There were a few times where I would get stuck in a corner or couldn't get a clear shot at a ghost because she was in the way.

I also ran into a few areas where save points seemed to be in the wrong places, such as one encounter where one hit could kill Mio. When taken with the rest of the game, these problems are forgivable and easy to overlook. Horror fans, even if you despise the Resident Evil or Silent Hill games, should really do themselves a favor and check Fatal Frame II out. Play this one with the lights on.

Wait...on second thought, invest in a Clapper and play with the lights off.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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