For those who have never had the pleasure of crapping their pants and screaming like a little girl while playing a videogame, the Fatal Frame titles are some of the most chilling and frightening games ever created, and afford plenty of opportunities to fulfill that experience. When it was announced that there was going to be a Fatal Frame 3DS title, the thoughts of what could be accomplished on the system were spine-tingling. Imagine playing in the dark, having to look up through the 3DS to see a ghost screaming towards you; or perhaps playing, while snug in your bed, with eerie moans and chants coming from the tormented souls that would pop up in 3D in the palm of your hands. That would be an amazing game.
It’s a shame that Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir turned out to be absolutely nothing like that.
Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir is actually three “games” in one, and when saying “games”, I am trying to make air quotes with my fingers as emphatically as possible. The main draw is the story mode which is called Fatal Frame: The Diary of Faces. Along with that, there are two other modes; one that is just the mini-games that you find during the story mode and another that allows you to take pictures around the real world and have cheesy ghost images appear in them. It’s basically the same as those free apps you can get on smartphones, except the cameras on those devices actually work pretty well.
When you first start the story mode, you are forced to walk down a creepy wooden hallway where you hear breaking glass. You then turn your body to locate the source of the sound, only to find that a glass has smashed on the ground. When you turn back around to continue down the hall, you then hear moaning coming from a door. This part of the game was fantastic. It was tense, eerie, and felt like an actual Fatal Frame game.
It’s a shame that this is the only time during the entire playthrough that this gameplay technique was used. For the next 2 hours—-as the game is only that long—-you will spend your time talking to a girl named Maya, trying to use the diary that comes with the game as an AR card, and fighting ghosts in the typical Fatal Frame style of battles, which in this game are few and far between and unfortunately are laughably easy duels when they do finally happen.
Fatal Frame: Diary of Faces has many problems with it. First and foremost, it is not frightening in the slightest. The story revolves around a ghost called “The Woman in Black” who steals people’s faces, and while that seems creepy enough, the way the game is played, it does everything it can to not be. The crux of the gameplay is that you need to interact with The Diary of Faces—-which is basically a book of AR cards–to find “hidden” items within the pages. Using the diary is a frustrating experience as it requires you to physically be in a brightly lit room, and you use it for 90% of the game. Having to play in a brightly lit room is counter-intuitive to everything that a Fatal Frame game should be. Even trying to use the AR feature in a room lit up by overhead lights AND multiple lamps was problematic and I found myself having to actually go outside for it to work properly.
This brings up another issue with the game. To play the game, you use the 3DS as if it were the Camera Obscura– the weapon that is used to fight the spirits by taking their picture– and you have to move the 3DS to find things that are around you. Not just turning slightly to the left or right, but doing full 360 degree spins with your body. During the ghost fights is where this occurs most and each time you will find yourself spinning around A LOT. Other times you’ll just have to look 90 degrees to the left or right to find the girl to speak to—which I eventually just moved my 3DS without even looking since it had to be done so many times. I couldn’t help but feel that the game was playing a cruel joke on me as I sat outside in the sunlight, trying to turn in my chair, to the left and then the right, and when that didn’t work, having to stand up and spin in circles like a fucking lunatic.
I wish there were some good things to say about this game, being as huge a fan of the Fatal Frame series that I am, but there isn’t anything here to praise. Fatal Frame on the 3DS was a startling experience, just not the way it was expected to be. It turned out to be nothing more than a blemish on the series with horrid gameplay and even worse control mechanics that it forces you to employ. With a ridiculously short campaign that is nothing more than trying to look at AR pages and spinning around in circles to the point of getting dizzy, there is nothing fun, scary, or even interesting about the game– other than the first five minutes. Once those five minutes are over, it’s an immediate plummet into vapid gameplay and wasted money.
Title: Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir
Developer: Tecmo Koei
Release Date: April 13th 2012
Platforms Available: Nintendo 3DS
Platform Reviewed: Nintendo 3DS
Retail game provided for review