I was all set to give Fatal Frame III the highest score of the series, something around an 8.5. I gave the second game an 8.3 for being well executed but sort of lacking in focus, and at first it seemed like Fatal Frame III was a distinct improvement. Sure, the third sequel in this ghosts-vs-girls-with-cameras series isn’t by any means revolutionary, but it seems to correct a lot of the problems with the previous games without trading away any of its freaky atmosphere or amazing production values. For most of my 15 hour play session, I was really digging the game’s oppressive, claustrophobic environments and reasonably well executed story line.
All that changed when I finally got to the end boss.
In my review for Fatal Frame 2, I lamented the design of the end boss: not only was the fight placed an extreme distance away from the last save point, but the boss can kill you in a single hit, even if you have a stone mirror (the series’ charm for avoiding death). I found the end boss extremely frustrating, and it ended up lowering my overall impression of the game.
With Fatal Frame III, Temco went and made a bad situation worse.
I guess that’s not really fair. To their credit, they placed the last save much closer to the end boss, and they made it so that stone mirrors can still save you from the boss’ mega attack. But they didn’t remove the one-hit-kill problem–they actually made it worse. The end boss in Fatal Frame 3 isn’t hard to fight, but at certain times the environment will change and the boss will go into one-hit-kill mode. During this time you must pick a direction to run and hope that the boss doesn’t appear right in front of you, as she is likely to do. There’s no skill involved in surviving this section; you can only make it back to the normal combat mode if you happen to pick a direction where the boss isn’t waiting. And since she appears out of thin air and tries to grab you, there’s about a 50/50 chance that the random direction you picked will lead you straight into her.
This is one of the worst boss fights I’ve ever played. It took me longer to kill this boss than it did for me to complete the entire rest of the game. This is the type of fight you can play for 15 minutes flawlessly, only to have the one-hit-kill mode take you out. Since the Fatal Frame series has no check points and no continues, dying means you have to go all the way back to the main menu, reload from a save, and then run over to the boss area again. Gah!
When I finally defeated the game, it was by luck as much as anything else. The one-hit-kill mode activates pretty much every time you hit her, and it took six or seven strong hits to win, so I won just by randomly picking the right direction to run in seven times. No other portion of the game approaches this level of difficulty (or randomness). In fact, the rest of the game is pretty much a breeze.
Anyhow, now that it is finally over, I’m glad I finished the game. I wrote a full full review for you to check out. Other than the infuriating final boss, the game is very well done, and gives Crimson Butterfly a run for its money for the best of the series.