Fatal Frame III: The Tormented review
Sleep, Priestess, Lie in Peace...


Having just finished my marathon session of completing all the Project Zero (Fatal Frame) games, I thought I might share my opinion.

Put simply, these games rock.

Project Zero III tells the story of Rei Kurasawa (no relation to Yae and Sae of Project Zero II), a twenty-three-year-old journalist. She is wracked by guilt at the death of her fiance Yuu Asou in a car crash during which she was at the wheel.

One day, on an assignment, Rei is taking pictures of a supposedly haunted house. Suddenly she sees Yuu's spirit and follows him, running into a new mansion that bears no resemblance to the one she was photographing.

This is the start of Rei's nightmares. She begins dreaming of the house, night after night, desperately trying to make her way through and find Yuu, fighting against the other ghosts in the mansion, especially the mysterious tattooed priestess; ever since being touched by her, Rei's body has been covered in a mysterious, slowly growing tattoo...

Rei's assistant and roommate, Miku Hinasaki (the heroine of the first Project Zero game) is also drawn into the nightmare as a playable character, following the spirit of her brother, Mafuya; like Rei, she feels guilty over being alive while he is dead. Yet another playable character, Kei Asakawa soon appears, following his niece Mio as she follows her twin sister Mayu further into the house (Mio and Mayu being the twin heroine's of Project Zero II).

As you can see, Project Zero III links all the games of the series. Mio and Miku have not strayed from their characters, which is always a risk when reviving original heroines as secondary characters. Rei and Kei are also just as likable and easy to relate to as the previous heroines.

As always, your only weapon against the forces of darkness is the Camera Obscura, an original prototype of Dr Asou's, a scientist who lived in the latter half of the nineteenth century. This camera has the ability to harm, and even capture the many ghosts you may meet (so it's kinda like ghostbusters only more nervewracking). I have read that the original concept behind using a camera as a weapon was that, unlike other survival horror games, where the idea is to run away, using a camera to attack and capture ghosts makes you get up close and personal. I have to admit, taking a photo of a ghost from a distance, then almost dropping the controller when the ghost in question appears in your viewfinder close enough for you to count the blood vessels in her eyes in downright terrifying. Luckily, that only happens once, although, once again, these ghosties have even more tricks up their transparent sleeves than they did in the previous two games. Try defeating a crawling ghost (who can crawl on the ceiling, for gods sake) while stuck in first person view in a cramped space under the floorboards (the game only plays in first person throughout those short sequences, thank god). Never mind taking on some freaky little Sadako wannabe trying to hammer a stake through your foot as you walk along a narrow beam across the ceiling of a room containing a sacrificial alter (from which you can still hear screaming). And how about the scary little lullaby these freaky little girls like to sing while you're minding your own business wandering through the mansion? However, I appear to be becoming hardened to the series. Project Zero III seemed neither as intense as Project Zero I nor as downright scary as Project Zero II. As Rei only explores the mansion while sleeping, her waking hours are spent making sense of the things she's discovered in the mansion while out in the real world. Unlike in the other games, Rei manages to find a safe refuge in her and Miku's shared apartment. Of course, the day you see a woman covered in blood, with needles for fingernails, trying to crawl through your bathroom mirror, in the one place you thought was safe, you'll probably scream the place down.

The game does go someway to explaining the events of the other two games, outside of their own self contained plotlines, although, like in the other games, you may well end up having to visit the official website or various fan-sites to put together the subtle clues to the complex storyline that you may have missed. Speaking of the storyline, it's just as good as any Project Zero game. The mystery solving element of the game makes continued playing almost compulsory - you may have to force yourself to switch it off for the night. And trust me, you will want to switch it off at night.

To my mind, all the Project Zero's are fairly short games. This one clocked in at just over eleven hours, although, do bear in my mind that I considered forty hours of Shadow Hearts 'short'. Those eleven hours, spread over three or four days, is all you'll need. Again, this kind of intense gameplay, even when forcing myself not to play it at night, gave me nightmares. Still, I couldn't stop myself.

As in the previous games, except while in Rei's apartment, the game generally takes place in darkness. The only colour which shows clearly is blue, (much like the crimson in Project Zero II: Crimson Butterfly) which lends the game a slightly sombre feel. The manor is even more lush and gorgeous than either Himuro Mansion or All Gods Village. Speaking of which, parts of both of those locations also appear in this game. Simply seeing them looking better than ever before pretty much makes the cover price worth it.

I find that the battles in this game, especially the end battle, are far more challenging. This is the only Project Zero game I actually recall seeing the game over screen of. Your supply of eight or nine herbal medicines is replenished every night, as is your supply of ninety-nine Type-7 and sixty Type-14 films (the two lowest in the game). However, you'll find that Type-60, -90 and -0 films are in incredibly short supply, many of them only appearing when playing as Miku or Kei. This is quite annoying as only Rei fights in the final battle. As I mentioned, although you may find yourself using more film and medicine each night, the daytime reprieve in Rei's apartment makes the game much easier. Unlike in the previous games, there is no way you can get through this without getting hit. Well, alright, maybe with a lot of practice. The final battle is the toughest in any of the three games - I actually had to sleep on it, and try again the next night before I finally managed - and the lack of strong film makes it even trickier, although at least this final boss can actually be harmed by low level film, even if it is only during Fatal Frame and/or Shutter Moment. Yes, Fatal Frame and Shutter Moments are back - both of them allowing you to do extra damage to a ghost. The cost? Allowing the ghost to get close enough for you to smell their breath (if they had any) and attempt to start swinging at you before you take a shot.

The ending is not disappointing, although it does not come near to topping the drama, tragedy and shock factor of Project Zero II. The theme song, 'Voice (Koe)', again performed by Tsukiko Amano is also easily bested by 'Butterfly (Chou)', the theme to Project Zero II.

As for the lighthearted bits, the extras unlockable upon finishing the game are even more expanded than in Project Zero II, Miku looks hot in an even shorter skirt and stockings, and there is nudity! Three shower scenes! Woo! Alright, one of them involves the aforementioned ghost covered in blood with needles for fingernails, but it's so worth it.

All in all, as a the final part of the trilogy, the game is amazing. It shouldn't really be played as a standalone, although I guess it is possible - still the game wasn't really designed that way, and is nowhere near as good without prior knowledge of the series allowing you to say "Oh! That's what happened!" every so often. Definitely worth playing.

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