Fatal Frame 2: Crimson Butterfly Feature Preview

We check out the next entry in Tecmo's unique horror franchise.

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Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly
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Fatal Frame 2: Crimson Butterfly is the latest entry in Tecmo's unique horror franchise. The series began with last year's Fatal Frame for the PlayStation 2 and eventually came to the Xbox with some enhancements. For the PlayStation 2-exclusive follow-up, Tecmo is tweaking several elements of the game to offer up a new experience that builds on the promising original game. Fatal Frame 2 features improved graphics, refined gameplay, and a whole lot of disturbing imagery. We tried out the impressively creepy game to find out in which disturbing direction the franchise is headed.

Fatal Frame 2 is set roughly 30 years before its predecessor. For those unfamiliar with Tecmo's fledgling horror franchise, the games revolve around people with psychic abilities who are caught in supernatural circumstances. While the premise may sound like that of a typical survival horror game, the original game and its upcoming predecessor distinguish themselves with their unique brand of horror and gameplay mechanics. The Fatal Frame games have always been more about psychological fear than gore. In addition, your foes are ghosts that you can attack only by using a camera. While it may sound goofy, the unique implementation of the camera actually makes for some of the freshest gameplay to hit the horror genre in quite some time.

Tecmo's camera-based horror game is back and is even creepier.
Tecmo's camera-based horror game is back and is even creepier.

Fatal Frame 2 will follow the adventures of twin sisters Mio and Mayu. The trouble begins when the girls visit a village from their childhood. During their visit to the area, the sisters chase a mysterious crimson butterfly into a nearby forest. While searching for it, they discover an abandoned village that, unbeknownst to them, was the site of a disturbing ritual that involved the death of twin girls. You'll play as the younger twin, Mio, who vows to save her older sister. It seems that Mayu's psychic powers have left her vulnerable to the evil spirits in the area. Mayu's possession sets a chain of events in motion that threaten to bring about the bloody ritual, in which the older sister kills the younger one. While it won't have any direct links to the first game, Fatal Frame 2's story will shed some light on the origins of the camera obscura, the mysterious ghost-busting camera seen in the previous game, and will also feature some little details that fans of the original game will appreciate.

The gameplay in Fatal Frame 2 will have you using a camera to fight off evil spirits by taking their picture. At the start of the game, your twin will be following close behind you as you both explore the mysterious village, which serves as a tutorial for the game. Your twin's psychic powers will actually alert you to odd goings-on in the first location, which is quite handy. Unfortunately, shortly after you discover the camera obscura, your sister becomes possessed, and the real action kicks in.

Don't you hate it when your psychic powers make you vulnerable to possession?
Don't you hate it when your psychic powers make you vulnerable to possession?

The basic flow of the game is similar to that of the original title. The game will be broken up into chapters, and you'll methodically explore rooms, solve puzzles, and defeat ghosts. However, your surroundings will be quite a bit more expansive, thanks to the fact that you have an entire village to eventually roam through. The puzzles we've encountered so far have been varied, ranging from time-sensitive events to puzzles requiring you to use the camera to reveal clues or hidden areas. Intrepid players who poke around enough will be able to access extra chapters outside of the main game, which will provide more background on the game's story. The combat is still roughly the same--you'll simply switch to a first-person viewfinder mode, center your target in the reticle, and take a picture. The reticle will change color when your target is centered. If you wait for it to turn red before you take the picture, you'll do considerably more damage. As before, when you switch to viewfinder mode during combat, the atmosphere becomes unsettling and claustrophobic because of your significantly reduced field of vision.

The graphics have been improved quite a bit since the original game from both a technical and an artistic standpoint. On the technical side, the graphics are cleaner and more detailed, and the twins' character models feature little touches such as moving hair and bits of clothing. The environments have greater detail and improved lighting, which adds quite a bit to the creepy atmosphere. From an artistic perspective, the game is looking quite sharp, thanks to a much more cinematic approach to both the cinemas and the triggered events you'll encounter. The use of various graphical effects, such as filters and black-and-white coloring for the ghosts and psychic visions, is quite impressive.

The improved graphics have given the ghosts a nicely unsettling face-lift.
The improved graphics have given the ghosts a nicely unsettling face-lift.

The audio, one of the highlights of the previous title, offers a rich assortment of suitably spooky sound effects, music, ambient noise, and voice. The sound effects you'll hear as you roam through the village are underscored by a very effective use of silence, which builds some genuine tension. The taught atmosphere ensures that when a door creaks or you hear a random sound, you'll jump. Music is used sparingly in the game, mostly to underscore events. The most prominent soundtrack is the rich ambient noise you'll hear. While it's not a proper music track, per se, the dense collection of distorted noises varies in intensity as you go about your business, and it adds to the bizarre atmosphere. Finally, the voice in the game, while a bit spotty in some places due to uneven voice acting, will have you jumping.

Based on what we've played so far, Fatal Frame 2: Crimson Butterfly is shaping up to be a worthy installment in Tecmo's growing franchise. The game looks good, sounds great, and, thanks to the refined gameplay, appears to offer a pretty fresh experience. Fatal Frame 2: Crimson Butterfly is slated to ship for the PlayStation 2 later this month.

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