Fatal Frame 3: The Tormented Import Hands-On

Tecmo's unique horror series reaches out to snag us one more time. Bust out the Polaroid of doom!

Fatal Frame 3 has just hit the streets in Japan, and we got our hands on this third entry in Tecmo's winning horror series. The series has steadily carved out its own impressive niche in the horror genre, relying more on pants-wetting psychological terror than gore to spook players, which is a far cry from traditional survival horror games like Resident Evil. The latest entry serves up a new twist on the game's formula by offering up a story that weaves threads from all the previous games into one rich yet freaky narrative.

The game's story follows a 23-year-old female photographer named Rei Kurosawa. It seems Rei's been having some rough times recently, what with her seeing her dead fiancé in a photo that she took during one of her jobs at a supposedly haunted mansion. As if that weren't enough of a bummer, Rei soon discovers that a snake tattoo is beginning to spread across her body. What's going on with her fiancé? What's up with the tattoo? You'll have to find out as you guide Rei on a creepy journey to haunted locales in search of answers.

But it's times like these when you find out who your friends are. Each of the other playable characters in the game has ties to the previous games in the series. Rei's assistant is none other than Miku Hinasaki, the perky lass who was last seen in the original Fatal Frame as she went off to search for her brother. The third player in this creepy drama is Kei Amakura, a relative of the slightly loony twins Mio and Mayu, last seen in Fatal Frame 2. Each of the three characters will have unique uses and will become playable as the story unfolds. Miku, being a vet of ghost busting through photography, will pack the biggest punch of the three. Kei, on the other hand, will lack some of the spiritual power of the ladies and will rely on special lenses that will enhance his camera.

Poor Rei Kurosawa's got a dead fiancé and some other ghastly things to contend with in Fatal Frame 3. (This cute kitty isn't one of them.)

While this basic setup sounds pretty standard and follows the usual outline for a Fatal Frame game, Fatal Frame 3 adds a unique twist to the formula: Your time in the game will be divided up between the real world and a nightmare world that sends you exploring an M.C. Escher-esque Japanese mansion. The nightmare setting allows for some fun references to the previous entries in the series. For example, one of Miku's levels is taken straight from the first Fatal Frame.

The core gameplay hasn't changed too much this time out. You'll still explore your surroundings and fight ghosts using the mighty camera obscura. The addition of new playable characters alters the dynamic some, as you'll have to take into account their strengths and weaknesses when going about your business. In some cases this will require you to completely change your approach to playing through the game. For example, Kei's levels will lean more toward stealth gameplay, since you'll be able to avoid incoming ghosts by hiding. The combat with the camera continues to be refined; in this year's game you'll be able to switch out film on the fly depending on your needs in a fight.

The presentation in the game continues to be refined, resulting in one of the richest entries in the series yet. The visuals have a much richer look to them courtesy of some nicely done camera angles and smart use of color and lighting. The camera work in the game has matured, resulting in the most cinematic entry in the series yet. The audio in the game, long one of the highlights of the series, is a chilling mix of ambient tunes and a wickedly effective use of silence that's designed to freak you out.

A number of other playable characters will round out the gameplay in this latest survival horror sequel.

So far, Fatal Frame 3's pace is very deliberate, and the stage is set for madness. We're enjoying the variety of different characters and are curious to see how the game will tie the elements from the previous games together. If you're looking to import the game, you should know that it's heavy on Japanese, which can make it difficult to solve the many puzzles that require you to pick up and make sense of clues spread throughout the area. While it's not impossible to get through, you may as well wait it out and savor the game in English when it hits the States. Look for more on Fatal Frame 3 this fall when it ships for the PlayStation 2.

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