The Fatal Frame series is one of the creepiest survival-horror game series out there and certainly my personal favorite of the genre. But as with all series, some games are better than others. So let's rank them, shall we?
A few notes before we start. These are not Kotaku's picks for the pecking order of the Fatal Frame series, they're my own. I doubt everyone on the staff would agree with me—and I wouldn't be surprised if they were quite vocal with their disagreement in the comments. Secondly, I have only included the five main series games—and thus have left off the cell phone and 3DS games—to keep it simple.
So without further ado, let's rank the Fatal Frame series from best to worst.
To me Fatal Frame II is the scariest in the franchise. Taking place in an abandoned village, it follows a pair of twins, Mio and Mayu. The village itself is haunting and the rituals disturbing. But what makes this game so great is Mayu—even as you control Mio.
Mayu, because of a childhood injury, is permanently crippled. Thus, her limited movement speed means you cannot simply run away; you have to stand your ground and protect her. But more than that, as the game progresses, she becomes increasingly affected by the village's malevolent spirits, making her all the more creepy in her own right. Thus, you are faced with a growing fear of her even as you are feeling compelled to protect her.
The first game in the series follows Miku, a young woman hunting for her missing brother Mafuyu. When his trail leads to an abandoned mansion, Miku enters, only to be confronted by malevolent spirits. Luckily, she finds signs of her brother in the mansion in the form of their mother's old Camera Obscura—which turns out to be the one weapon effective against ghosts. But as she continues her search, she begins to notice rope marks on her wrists, ankles and neck and knows that if she doesn't figure out what is going on soon, she won't be making it out of the mansion alive.
Fatal Frame sets up the framework in both gameplay and story for all the other games in the series. And as the first game in the series, it stands to reason that it might primarily be focused on laying the groundwork. Yet it still stands strong with great characters, an excellent mystery, and the perfect location for a modern ghost story.
Fatal Frame IV is largely removed from the rest of the Fatal Frame series in terms of plot and characters. It takes place mainly in a traditional Japanese mental institution and the connecting hospital. Years ago, five girls were kidnapped and forced to perform a mysterious ritual before being rescued by a young police detective. Now, years later and following the mysterious deaths of two of the girls, the other three return to the island to uncover what exactly they were a part of—with the detective following on his own.
While having a great new original story—and a new gameplay mechanic with the detective's Spirit Flashlight—the game suffers greatly because of its horrible motion controls. With aiming the camera up and down regulated by tilting the Wiimote and dodging and quickturning activated by waggling the nunchuck, the game is more than a little hard to control. It often feels more like you are fighting the controls than the ghosts.
The newest in the series, Fatal Frame V takes place on a haunted mountainside and follows three characters: Yuuri, a young psychic girl who has the power to save those “spirited away”; Rei, a professor of folklore accompanied by his assistant; and Miu, daughter of Fatal Frame's Miku who is searching for her lost mother.
Big additions in this installment include the wetness system—the wetter you are the more powerful both the ghost's and your attacks are—and the forest location where you spend much of your time. You are also able to touch the ghosts and see how they died.
The game also uses the Wii U GamePad (with its built-in gyros) to act as if you are holding the Camera Obscura in your own hands. But while it works for the most part, it can be a bit of a hassle swinging and twisting the GamePad to get the best shot—so soon you'll be playing it with the thumbsticks just like the other games in the series (sans Fatal Frame IV).
Fatal Frame III follows three characters: Rei, a young woman who has somehow captured a picture of her dead fiance; Kei, the uncle of Fatal Frame II's Mayu and Mio; and Miku, the main character of the first Fatal Frame. The three are pulled into the Manor of Sleep when they sleep—a place largely made up of locations from the first two games' mansion and village, respectively.
While Fatal Frame II stands out as the best game in the franchise, the original, IV, and V, are enjoyable games in their own right. Fatal Frame III, on the other hand, seems that it's going through the motions at best—and a lazy retread at worst. You visit many of the same locations, taking away the fun of exploring a totally new haunted location.
However, there is one excellent addition to the Fatal Frame formula in Fatal Frame III: Rei's house. In between chapters when Rei is awake, you are able to explore her house. At first, it's just a normal house, but slowly, little by little, creepy things begin to happen. Was that a face in the mirror? Are those feet standing next to the boots in the closet? The modern Japanese house is easily the scariest place in the game.
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