Afterpatch Review: Fatal Frame 5
By: Fernando Da Costa
Developer: Koei Tecmo
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Available On: Wii U, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PC
Review Console: Nintendo Switch OLED
THESE FRAMES ARE FATAL! - Introduction
In 2001, a little franchise known as Fatal Frame was unleashed. Over the next few years, newer entries kept releasing, but they all missed my radar. Don’t worry; it was merely because I was a JRPG snob and not a commentary on game quality. By all accounts, critics praise both the lore building and the creepiness. It was during my mid-twenties that I stumbled upon a playthrough of the second game. From the very first episode, I was smitten with it. So much so, in fact, I went so far as to lie to my girlfriend so I could watch subsequent episodes instead of sleeping over. Sadly, it was 2015, and the fourth entry had been out in the wild for seven years - rarity set in, gorging the price. Well, my opportunity to finally experience Fatal Frame has arrived - is it better as a watch-along, though?
THAT’S SOME STURDY LORE! - Writing
Be forewarned that this game frequently delves into sensitive topics, predominately suicide. It never shies from young adults killing themselves by slitting their throats or touching on murder. With that said, the plot itself had its hooks in me from the very beginning. Something about it was fascinating, resonating with my storytelling prowess. Another aspect that stood out is just how correct critics were about the lore. I gobbled it all up, but it wasn’t fed to me outright. You see, by exploring, there are letters, books, and notes that need locating and investigating. Usually, the information within corresponds with the mission, filling holes and fleshing out the overarching mystery. It enriched my intrigue in the narrative, giving it substance, and I quickly invested. It compelled me to continue pushing forward to see the next step for our heroine Yuri - a playable character.
LET ME TAKE YOUR PICTURE! - Gameplay
Simply put, this is Pokémon Snap for thrill-seekers. The core idea is like this; run around, equipped with something known as the Camera Obscura. With it, you then capture photos of varying types of ghosts, inflicting damage with every shutter. If you position the shot just right, though, then that output increases in potency, becoming a strong attack - it’s all about the angles, after all. As the game progresses, there are also a couple of upgrades to better attacks.
Moreover, there are lenses with different beneficial abilities, all with their own upgrade system. I had fun with this mechanic but do note it invites grinding. Still, it’s a fresh take on combat, and I do adore how it considers strength. Since there’s no levelling, film that’s either found or bought determines it. I appreciate the nod to a bygone era, but taking photographs comes with an annoyance.
Several of the locales are populated with unsettling decorations lacing the room. Because of this, when a ghost spawns, I am zipping about, struggling to find my target. You see, the in-game camera focuses on Yuri. If a wall is nearby, it zooms in on her, cutting peripheral of the surrounding area, thus becoming frustrating to line up a shot. That’s most prevalent within tight spaces. I’d fumble with the perspective, opening myself to assault. The issue is exacerbated further due to the disappearing acts of the phantoms. Gyro controls exist, too, and while in handheld, by rotating the console, it sways the viewfinder. Even when lying down, the movement felt intuitive. My arms weren’t contorting in uncomfortable ways. I wasn’t flipping my Nintendo Switch upside down. Once I found my groove, motion controls became second nature to me, but the camera remains a bit problematic.
I CAN SEE INTO YOUR PAST! - Gameplay
Something super interesting to me is that, after defeating an enemy, it’s possible to take a gander into their past; I saw the final moments of life. That tiny detail helps bridge the gap between them just being code to once-living souls. It attempts to populate the world, building on the lore and giving context to the bone-chilling atmosphere. The only qualm I have is the allotted time for a telepathic revelation is short. There were a handful of instances that my reaction time was lagging, although I’m no spring chicken either. Regardless, this feature makes replaying the levels and gunning for a better rank much easier to stomach. I love the inclusion of waypoints, as well, but I’m baffled by their inconsistency. Sometimes, completing an objective gives rise to aimless wandering. Thankfully, dialogue indicates when you’re on the correct path to the goal.
STOP WHAT YOU’RE DOING! - Gameplay
You know what hurts immersion - incessant pausing. Every damn few minutes, I’d have to cease exploring to do so. The exclusion of a mini-map is the epitome of puzzling decisions. I understand it’s to mimic the helplessness Yuri must feel, but in practice, it hampers the title. Fortunately, this only applies to a handful of stages because most contain what Fatal Frame 5 has deemed as ‘traces’; it’s a compass of sorts, easing the traversal and reaching the goal. In turn, this lets you commit yourself to the lore events transpiring. These were the moments when I was fully focused and getting worked up. It’s these moments that things get exciting, and I start diving into all the mechanics. Again, expect snippets of walking without any idea of an end destination, but note that it lasts mere minutes before getting back on track.
NEVER SAY MOIST! - Gameplay
A sentiment echoed amongst many is the inclusion of wet clothing. It’s made worse by the cast being primarily female. Folks tend to wave it off as perversion, and I can’t argue. A case can certainly be made when Yuri wears white and parades out through the rain. What justifies it is this mechanic plays into an integral plot beat. Sure, there’s no denying that it’s a cheeky way to sneak in fan service, but even then, a bikini isn’t precisely indecent material. When you tear it down to the fundamentals, being soaked is a needed inclusion for story purposes. In a roundabout way, it also increases the difficulty, something that, by default, has a ceiling of normal. Don’t fret, though, because Fatal Frame 5 still handily kicked my ass. It’s never to the point of a game over, but it presents a challenge. In conclusion, keep Yuri damp.
I CRT WHAT YOU DID THERE! - Presentation
This game has done such a fantastic job nailing down the suspense. See, it frequently taps into your fears to bolster the scare factor. It takes advantage of you in a way to ascertain that your heart thumps. The models, particularly Yuri and her associates, are well crafted. My only gripe is facial expressions aren’t as emotive as they could be, perhaps a byproduct of releasing on the Wii U initially. In that same breath, plenty of the ghostly entities look dreadful, having a pixelated and grainy look. Alternatively, the ones paramount to the narrative receive more focus with refined details. Still, they maintain a smidge of roughness around the edges - it can’t shake off the DNA of the last generation. I do enjoy that Fatal Frame 5 sometimes uses a black and white filter to resemble a CRT, giving the segments a rustic look - it was nostalgic.
I HEAR VOICES IN MY HEAD! - Sound Design
I can’t understate the importance of wearing earbuds during this - it’s a prerequisite. Fatal Frame 5 strives to concoct a creepy atmosphere with its sound design, and as far as that goes, it’s bloody fantastic. That statement, however, holds true solely if played with silence and darkness. Only then will those little girl giggles and soft ghostly whispers prosper. They, among other frights, had me persistently on edge. The tension I felt was palpable and amplified by the creaks I’d hear. Hell, I was so entranced that, while escorting an NPC, I’d stop to survey the surrounding area with the Camera Obscura. I’d be slowly going around until suddenly, they’d creep into frame. That caused me to audibly swear on a few occasions and minor chills to roll down my spine. Suffice it to say, the ambiance is a homerun, unlike other aspects.
So, the English dub for Fatal Frame 5 is hot and cold. Whereas a couple of lines have a clear direction in their delivery, others are robotic. They lack the inflection a situation might demand. For instance, if anxiety or anger were appropriate responses, voices maintain a monotone pitch, with a conspicuous absence of urgency. It’s strange, too, because, on the other hand, there are decent performances. The commitment to relay the eeriness of what’s occurring should be commended. It’s tough not to understand that something is amiss based solely on the acting. One apt descriptor for my entire experience is that it felt like watching a B-tier horror movie unfold. That’s why it was so damn enthralling. Since the ratio between good and bad is equal or slightly in favour of positive, I barely noticed any faults until I paid proper attention and analyzed it.
AND THE SPOOKY VERDICT IS...
Fatal Frame 5 is a treat, combining thrilling elements with exciting story beats. In a way, I’d consider it psychological horror thanks to the way it plays with pre-existing fears that a gamer may have. Tension is the key ingredient to this frightening recipe, which is why I recommend playing in the dark. Doing so with sunlight diminishes the full effect that all the locales aim for. On that same note, earbuds should be worn as the ambiance is very well done. The voices that randomly echo out are also better heard in this way. For anyone that strives to S rank all levels but doesn’t want to sit through cutscenes, skipping is viable but hidden. Why it isn’t clear is a blunder. Fatal Frame also helps an old fright to re-emerge - mannequins. Their lifeless glares are creepy as hell and gave me chills - thanks, Koei, love you too.
Fatal Frame 5 is a superb romp worth a gander, and that’s despite lingering, albeit minor, hiccups. With everything considered, I, without question, highly recommend it, scoring it an 8. I must also note that Yuri is adorable.
Now to hunt down a PS4 physical copy somehow.
Special thanks to Koei Tecmo, who provided the code used for this coverage.