Fatal Frame 4 is pretty much like all the others.

“Hmm, maybe I should just leave? Nah.”

… which isn’t a bad thing. I’m of the opinion that if you don’t mind the slow pace and the unique combat system, the Fatal Frame series is probably the single most consistently frightening series out there. Fatal Frame 4: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse was the first game I purchased when I bought a Japanese Wii (making it my second Wii and fifth game machine connected to my TV–region locking can kiss my ass), but I haven’t been able to play it much because my wife refuses to be in the room when the game is on. Even when I play with headphones, the visuals are effective enough that she wonders if she’ll be able to sleep.

To tell you the truth, I was not expecting FF4 to be all that great. The chatter on the web about the game when it came out was that it was not sufficiently Wii-ified, that it was a poor port from the PS2 engine, and that it was generally a weak horror game. And the publisher decision not to export the game outside of Japan seemed to back up those concerns. I’ve played about two hours of the game now and some of the impressions I read on the net are sort of true: there are a few technical problems (loading of rooms seems to be way slower now than it used to be, there are noticeable drops in the frame rate when passing from one room to the next, etc) and using the Wiimote to aim is taking some getting used to. So maybe, I thought at first, the game isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

But the thing is, this is a classic Fatal Frame game through and through. The art style, the sounds, the ghosts, the menu UI, the particulars of the story–all of core components of this game are right in line with the rest of the series. And the game looks pretty great; other the occasional drop in frame rate there’s nothing to complain about here on the graphics front.

What is most interesting to me is the ways the game has changed from its predecessors. Some of the changes are very subtle, while others are a little more dramatic. The controls, for example, have been modified to match the Wiimote: the thumb stick on the Wii Nunchuck drives the character around and the wiimote is used to look up and down.

The camera is placed pretty low.

I haven’t quite gotten the hang of this yet–it’s hard for me to remember to tilt my hand down to aim downwards when fighting ghosts, for example–but I think that phase will pass. It’s also now necessary to hold the A button down for a while to pick up objects; the protagonist bends down and slowly reaches her hand out before grasping the item. I am sure by the time the game is done there will be at least one moment where a ghostly white hand shoots out and grabs her hand in mid reach, causing my heart to stop (D2 did something similar with trivial action cut scenes). There’s also a neat “item filament” bar that glows blue when items are near (and some of them do not appear until you get close enough to grab them), which makes ransacking areas for items a lot less tedious.

A much more subtle and (now that I think about it) major change is the way that the camera works. Previous FF games have been one of the last holdouts on character-centric “tank” controls (though the series made a few neat changes), probably because character-centric controls enabled the series to have some of the most interesting and complicated camera shots that I’ve seen. Fatal Frame 4, on the other hand, has opted for a behind-the-character camera view. The camera sits much lower than in most other 3rd person games–the protagonist takes up a large portion of the screen. If anything, it’s most similar to the camera system in Resident Evil 4, though pulled back from the character a bit. Like I said, the change is subtle; despite having played all of the other Fatal Frame games to completion, I didn’t notice this particular difference right away. I’m also not sure what the goal of this change is; it probably is an attempt to get away from tank controls, but I’m not sure if it was necessitated by the single-stick Wii controller or if it’s a nod to RE4 and its brethren.

Anyway, I’ve only just started to play and the game is sufficiently freaky that I will probably play in short bursts. But so far my impressions of the core game mechanics and the engine it is built on are very positive. All that remains to be seen is whether or not the game content will live up to its potential.

17 thoughts on “Fatal Frame 4 is pretty much like all the others.

  1. Hopefully I can play this sometime.
    Looks like it might be one of the better games for the Wii right now.

  2. I was deeply disappointed by the PAL release of this one being cancelled.
    At least we’re still getting Cursed Mountain and Ju-On.

  3. I seriously can’t believe nintendo doesn’t think this game is worth bringing over. The whole series has been great.

    It has nothing to do with the quality of the game, it’s just economics. If A + B are not > than C, there’s no reason to release the game here because it will not be profitable. So, I suspect that Nintendo’s calculation for A and B are too small, and that’s all.

  4. Maybe I phrased that wrong, I should’ve said ‘It’s a shame nintendo doesn’t think this game is worth bringing over’.

    I can understand that Fatal Frame is a very niche series so its just unfortunate.

  5. Agreed! If any of the other N Wii horror games do well this year maybe it will be reconsidered.

  6. http://deadpoolstrikesback.blogspot.com
    I really like this series a lot and I was gutted that part 4 isn’t coming to Europe. I have to say though that although I am a self appointed “chickenshit” with horror games, I simply do not find this series scary. I don’t know, everything scare wise seems always predictable. In the whole series I have jumped like once maybe and I am a guy that jumped 3-4 times in Resident Evil 4… LOL!!!

    I guess something doesn’t register with me horror wise with this series. There is this sense of dread in the proceedings and I love the feeling of isolation one experiences while playing it but scares seem too SLOW-MO to affect me I suppose.

    Oh well, I guess it is just me:).

  7. Thanks for the status report, Chris. Your observations are very interesting, particularly those concerning the camera differences. I look forward to your final review.

    Suda51 was just in Sweden in May, and he presented some of his/Grasshopper Manufacture’s titles without a word about FF4, which did not seem to be a very good sign. From what I have seen of the tantalizing walkthroughs available on YouTube, however, the game looks pretty great. (BTW–Thanks to Scott for the tip regarding the fan translation + patch–I am eager to get past YouTube walkthroughs!).

  8. What’s up Chris, just read your article and I’d love to play this game!! My question to you is: How do you manage to hook up and play a foreign console in the US? I’d love to buy a Japanese Wii somewhere and just plug and play it here in NY, but I know I will hit a wall along the way…any help is greatly appreciated, thanks Chris!

  9. > Brian

    I live in Japan, so buying a Japanese Wii was no problem. I am sure you can buy one in the US or import it from PlayAsia or some similar site.

  10. Brian, you can also get a modchip which allows you to play games of other regions. Be careful to choose the right modchip though, not all of them let you play japanese games.

    Also, it seems pretty obvious to me that the camera change was made so that the game could support controls using the wiimote all the time. What I wonder though is how this affects the scaryness of the game, camera angles have always been one of things that could increase scaryness in SH games and for several reasons (not being able to see monsters that you can hear, giving you the feeling of being stuck even in empty places like in the original Resident Evil, etc).

  11. I completely agree with your opinions of the game, the camera controls only bothered me when I was trying to quickly snap the vanishing ghosts. I like the use of more playable characters too 😀

  12. There is an option to play the game with the classic pad or you have to play it only with Wiimote?

  13. There is an option to play the game with the classic pad or you have to play it only with Wiimote?

    No clue. I don’t even own the classic pad. About once a year when I need to play something with a traditional controller (like an N64 game or something), I use the Gamecube controller.

  14. There is an option to play the game with the classic pad or you have to play it only with Wiimote?

    No clue. I don’t even own the classic pad. About once a year when I need to play something with a traditional controller (like an N64 game or something), I use the Gamecube controller.

    The classic pad is just a Gamecube controller with a different shape, isn’t it? The GC controller can be used with FF4?

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