Fatal Frame 4: the most Asian horror installment yet

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For reasons no one knows (that could only be idiotic reasons), Nintendo refused to release Fatal Frame 4: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse in the U.S. So in order to play it, I had to import the game from Japan and then rip out my hair installing this awesome English patch some brilliant guys made for everyone. I seriously had to download all these different files then create a tree of folders on an SD card (put this file here, unzip this file and move it here, then take the file from there and put it in here). That’s as long as you don’t have X version of the Wii software. In which case, the headache continues (you’ll have to download this program to install on your Wii before you can run this other program you need to download and install that will then let you run the patch). It was a NIGHTMARE. But it was so worth it, because Fatal Frame 4 is a nightmare…in a good way.

First of all, I must admit, because the patch only translates the subtitles and not the audio, it truly feels like you’re watching an Asian horror film. More importantly than that, this is the ONLY sequel to a hugely popular survival horror franchise released in recent years that leaves the classic survival horror formula intact. YOU get to choose when to save—no autosaves here, so you can run back to a save if you’re a scaredy cat like me and save whenever you want. You have to conserve health and “ammo” (sort of) and build your camera just as you did in past games. You learn the story through picking up files and notebooks and letters. And the game looks and feels just like its predecessors; in a word, terrifying.

There are some changes, beginning with the Wii controls. This will take some serious getting used to, and as is always the case, your hand gets wicked tired of holding the Wiimote pointed at the screen at all times. I really wish they had offered the old school controller option so you could play with the Gamecube controller.

The camera also has a “lock-on” function. Once a ghost is in your sight, press a button on the Nunchuck and the ghost is locked in. Awesome. This may make the game sound really easy, but as it progresses and you are attacked by multiple ghosts at once, it becomes less of an advantage. What IS an advantage is the shop where you can use the points you get from defeating ghosts and taking photos of wandering ghosts to buy all the health and more powerful film you need at a save point. Awesome. There is also the introduction of the Hozuki dolls; they are hidden in little corners along the way, and you have the extra fun of trying to find them and photographing all of them to complete the list. Oh yeah. There’s also this thing called “blooming” a ghost while battling them that I simply never understood or figured out how to do.

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Another annoying change is that you have to flash your camera over an object before it glows blue for you to pick it up. This means that if you’re not using a walkthrough or painting every corner of each room with your flashlight, you could miss stuff. At one point I was walking in circles because my filament was glowing, the walkthrough I was using SAID there was an object there, but it never became a blue glow for me to grab. And one last thing about picking up objects: the annoying cheap scare. Every time you pick something up, there’s an animation of you reaching for the object (you have to hold down the button until the item is taken or it resets). But sometimes, instead of an object, a ghost hand reaches out and grabs you, forcing you to shake your Wiimote to get away. The dude who wrote the walkthrough I was using opted not to call out the cheap scares so that you’d have to experience every dang one of them; he’d be like, “go to the left corner for some crystals.” Jerk.

In Fatal Frame 4, you play as multiple characters. Each chapter, you’re a different character. In the end, all their stories come together, but as you’re playing and switching from one story branch to the other, you feel really confused. Not to mention, you don’t use the same camera or share inventory. ARGH! The male character—and this part I really don’t get—doesn’t even use a camera to fight ghosts. He uses a fricking magic flashlight that functions much differently than the cameras, which means you have to relearn the controller scheme every time you come back to playing this guy. So fricking annoying!!! And when you play as him and need to take non-combat photos, you need to SWITCH lenses (a lens on a flashlight?) to a non-combat lens. Obviously, you want to stay on that lens until you’re in a ghost battle, but ghost battles happen so unexpectedly sometimes that you start to panic as you button mash to switch lenses to a combat lens.

The ghosts start off really easy to defeat, but as the game progresses, even though you’ve built your camera, they suddenly become WICKED HARD. There was one infuriating section that had me in 3 ghost battles in a row—before I was thrust into a huge boss battle because I unknowingly picked up a shining item on an altar before hunting down a save point. Needless to say, I had to refight all those ghosts.

Oh. And then there’s this one undefeatable be-otch. Happen upon her and the screen goes buggy and you have to run for your life until she’s gone and the screen returns to normal. One touch from her and you’re dead. This is like a Clock Tower nightmare all over again. On the bright side, at least in easy (told you, I’m a scaredy cat), you don’t get attacked by ghosts if you stay in one room too long as in past installments of the game.

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My whining about this game I love wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the fricking piano playing puzzles. These require you to use the pointer and play back a melody with the exact same timing. It’s hard enough to match the game’s idea of exact timing, but the pointer isn’t dead-on accurate as you try to point at the right piano key that’s on the screen WHILE keeping the correct time.

And then we have the usual infuriating final moments of the game that developers seem to relish as a fuck you to gaming geeks. You have a save…then you have miles and miles of winding staircases you have to climb. Oh. And as you hit various levels of this winding staircase, you have to fight this one boss ghost over and over again. Why doesn’t he stay dead…especially considering he’s a GHOST? By the time you get to the top of these winding staircases, your best bet is to go ALL THE WAY BACK DOWN and save again before you enter the room with the final boss. And while you’re at it, you should max out your health and most powerful film in the shop.

See, what happens with this final boss is, naturally, she’s challenging. But it gets worse. Once you defeat her, you have to play another piano melody. And get this. You have 3 shots to get it right, otherwise, you have to fight the final boss again. This goes on repeatedly until you get the piano playing right. I am not kidding. And the only reason I’m finishing this blog is because I was lucky enough to only have to fight her twice before succeeding in my piano playing. I probably would have given it 30 tries before I would have called it quits and opted never to finish the game.

Fatal Frame 4: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse: great classic survival horror game with a couple of moments that will have you warning your television, “Screen, you better duck. There’s a controller headed your way.”

About Daniel

I am the author of the horror anthologies CLOSET MONSTERS: ZOMBIED OUT AND TALES OF GOTHROTICA and HORNY DEVILS, and the horror novels COMBUSTION and NO PLACE FOR LITTLE ONES. I am also the founder of BOYS, BEARS & SCARES, a facebook page for gay male horror fans! Check it out and like it at www.facebook.com/BoysBearsandScares.
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