Thursday, January 26, 2006

Fatal Frame 2

Fatal Frame 2: Crimson Butterfly
Survival Horror - Xbox
Backup memory - 8 save slots
1 player

Coming off the awesomeness that was the first game, I had high expectations of the second. And they were met. Sort of.

Going through the game, I can see they improved a lot. The only real complaint I had about the first is specific to the English versions - voice acting. Thankfully the acting in Crimson Butterfly is much better than the awful performances in the first. However, the male characters could still use more emotion. Their monotone lines sound like they were just read off a paper. Nevertheless, it's a marked improvement. It matters because it makes the whole environment more authentically spooky.

Speaking of spooky, the production values of Crimson Butterfly are much higher than the first. I love the Japanese directing style of flashing disturbing imagery in between footage and you can definitely tell Tecmo went all the way, making it just short of a full-fledged horror film. Creepy scratchy audio in full 5.1 Dolby Digital surround further accentuates it.

FF2 begins with two sisters, Mio and Mayu, visiting a spot in the wilderness where they used to play. Mayu gets distracted by something and wanders off. Mio follows and they find themselves at a forsaken village, which had vanished in one evening. Why did all the townspeople disappear and why is Mayu always going off on her own?

The game pretty much follows the same conventions as the first game. You unravel the mysteries in typical survival horror fashion by retrieving items, backtracking, finding documents that give more backstory, and by solving puzzles. What's new with this outing is that you can also find stones that you can listen to, for some audio backstory. And what's survival horror without things to scare you?

The ghosts are back and this time, they are more likely to travel in groups. But Tecmo has tweaked the camera-weapon to be much more complex and engaging to handle the situations. Whereas in Fatal Frame, spirit stones were one-time use items to use special shots, FF2 incorporates special shots into the core gameplay. This is done by adding a meter which charges up whenever you snap pictures. It's a great change because now I actually use Slow, Stun, etc. FF2 adds a few new abilities that weren't present in the first as well.

Finally, perhaps the most dramatic change is the addition of the Fatal Frame. When fighting ghosts, there is the most vulnerable moment for them. And if you shoot them at this time, you will get a Fatal Frame. Not only do Fatal Frames do more damage, but it automatically gives you a chance to shoot again. Time it right and you can do 2 or 3 shot combos. This gives Crimson Butterfly far more involvement in the combat than the previous game.

But there are downsides to it too. Because FF2 is about waiting for Fatal Frame chances, fights are slowed down dramatically compared to the first. It involves patience and sometimes requires an enemy to appear and disappear multiple times before it gives you an opportunity for a Fatal Frame. Enemies also travel in packs more often too, which slows it down even further. But for all it's worth, the changes to the camera system are fun.

I come away with FF2 less impressed than I was with the first. Even though it has nicer visuals, more convincing audio, and better directing, I felt kind of immune to the scares because I had already played the first game and knew what to expect. The gameplay changes definitely make Fatal Frame 2 enjoyable. However, I don't necessarily think they make FF2 better. Just different. FF1 had more of an action-y feel to the whole game, and as such, has more intense and more difficult battles. FF2 has a more strategic approach, and its slower pace suits it very well. Both are great for what they try to accomplish.

Fatal Frame 2 ends up being a worthy sequel.