Fatal Frame 2 Crimson Butterfly is the scariest game of 2003, easily beating out Silent Hill 3. Now I didn’t think this was possible, I mean Akira Yamaoka can make some twisted and messed up imagery, and it was a great game that actually made some sense in the story department where many people said the second game was lacking. Two separate games, two separate stories, there is bound to be some arguing among game aficionados over which of the two is a better game, and about which is a scarier game. Well this aficionado is going to go with Fatal Frame 2, and it seriously runs in contention with SSX 3 as my personal game of the year. You’ve got a great story, some amazing graphics, really creepy sound, and a twin sister who’s on the verge of a nervous psychological breakdown screaming bloody murder, all the proper elements for a great horror game.
The story of this game doesn’t follow that of Fatal Frame although there are many links going around on the net about how Fatal Frame and Crimson Butterfly are connected, but from playing through this game the only link there appears to be is the camera, used to seal away the souls of ghosts. Mio and Mayu Amakura are out in the woods one afternoon and while Mio does some reminiscing Mayu runs of in chase of what appears to be a crimson butterfly. Mio chases after her sister and both wind up in All God’s Village, a place where a sinister ceremony takes place that appears to have gone foul, for the entire village is empty, aside from some ghosts. So of course the most pressing issue is to get the hell out of the village and that’s just what you’ll be doing. Aside from my crappy synopsis I must tell you, don’t watch the opening video, it really gives away too much of the story and plot twists. So skip on it if you can. Another great part of the story is the interactions between Mio and Mayu, Mayu is more spiritually inclined than her sister so when she starts getting nervous about something then you know weird stuff is on the way. You can also see the attachment the two have to each other. The only let down to the story, I think they should have switched the endings around, the easy/normal ending and the hard/nightmare ending I think could have been better if they were the other way around.
Fatal Frame 1 was notorious for its interesting new form of combat through the use of a first person camera view with the Camera Obscura. Being a big pull in the first game it’s good to see that Tecmo went and refined the camera system and have made it better than I could have ever hoped. In the game you score points for the photos that you take of ghosts. Depending on the type of film, distance, and clarity of the shot you will do damage to the ghost and absorb some of its power, which in turn fuels the special abilities of the camera. This is a much better system than in the first game where you had to find special stones in order to use those special abilities and the number of those stones was so minimal it almost made it not worthwhile to use them.
In Crimson Butterfly however the stones are present but they are much more abundant and are used to power up the camera. So before you can spend the points to power up the camera you must first find the stones, and that really is not a problem. Another cool addition to the camera combat is being able to do combo attacks with it.
If you score a “Fatal Frame” attack, you can chain up to two more attacks, this is great if you’ve got some film to spare or need to move a ghost back to make room for other ghosts who are closing in. The ghost AI for the most part is rock solid, although the simple villagers who wield torches, sickles, and staves are dumber than mud. Thankfully there are also no more wacky teleporting every five second ghosts which plagued the first game, instead you’ve got a lot of ghosts who share a lot of the properties of Sadako/Sumara of Ringu/The Ring and are every bit as creepy. Granted there are really no terrifying moments like I was hoping, but you’ll spend most of the game sitting anxiously waiting for ghosts to appear.
Sound has to be the second most important aspect of this game behind the story. Without the atmospheric sound of this game there is very little that makes Crimson Butterfly scary, the ambience of the houses hearing all the little creaks or the trees swishing in the wind or even the moans and music that accompanies the ghosts are absolutely integral to this game. Playing this game with the proper audio set up will be money well spent and even if you can’t afford a big sound system you can use a pair of headphones and still hear the source of static coming from the ghosts. The only down side to the audio is the piercing sound that can be heard when fighting ghosts, although it really isn’t major, just don’t listen to this on too high a volume. Once you beat the game and watch the credits you are also treated to an awesome song courtesy of Tsukiko Amano, which seems to fit this game perfectly.
Of course this game looks absolutely fantastic. I’m not trying to downplay how this game looks in the slightest. In game graphics and FMV look absolutely stunning, and the ghosts and locales have an eerie realism to them that looks like it was recorded off a video camera. Color is also a factor in the game, for the most part it is very drab aside from the color of the save lanterns and the bows on each of the girls’ outfits.
In addition to having excellent gameplay there is also a ton of unlockable features, which, include some video content, art content, and a slew of hidden outfits. You also get a mission mode where there are 25 goals that must be completed; doing so will unlock more features. I managed to play through this game four times and have still not unlocked everything, but it certainly is worth the effort to do it. While the difficulty of these missions are at times high, overall the game is not that hard, this is thanks in part to being able to carry over items from previous playthroughs, but Nightmare mode can be quite difficult if you’re coming straight off a game on Hard mode. I wound up using every last bit of special film I had and had to resort to using lowly 14 Type film making the last boss battle a grueling match of endurance, and it didn’t help that the boss can kill you in a single hit and negate a stone mirror effect.
All in all, if you played the first Fatal Frame and enjoyed it then there is no reason to miss this game. And if you played the original game and didn’t like it then be sure to give this game a shot regardless. A lot of refinements have been made that make this game perfect for the survival horror fan. Be sure to get this game before it becomes a rarity like the first game.
This is a near perfect horror game and something you'll want in your game library even if you didn't play the first one.