It’s easy to name Resident Evil, Silent Hill, The Evil Within, Dead Space, and even The Last of Us when asked what some of the best survival horror games to ever be made are. However, Fatal Frame will probably not spring up in most minds simply because it’s less popular with a niche audience. Or, perhaps the gameplay involves fighting ghosts with a camera.
Still, Fatal Frame packs quite a lot of fun. It’s totally worth competing with the greats, thanks to a riveting story, randomized jump scares you hardly see coming, and pretty balanced gameplay and pacing. The series is pretty good; all mainline titles are worthwhile to play in their own right. But even so, some mainline titles remain simply better than others. So, come along as we explore the best Fatal Frame games of all time, ranked, will you?
5. Fatal Frame IV: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse (2008)
There are plenty of things I could say about Fatal Frame IV: Mask of the Lunar Eclispe. Let’s first get the Japanese-exclusive release out of the way. Yes, to this day, Nintendo has adamantly refused to localize the fourth mainline entry in the Fatal Frame series. Which is pretty funny, too, given all the other mainline entries before and after it made it to the States.
Nevertheless, a soon-to-release Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is underway and coming on March 8th, 2023. Since the first release in Japan in 2008, there sure are plenty of quality-of-life improvements we expect to see in the remaster. Fingers crossed, they all pan out.
Remasters aside, Fatal Frame IV: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse not only lacks a western release, but it was also released on the Nintendo Wii, which highly derailed the gameplay experience. Even the addition of the new Spirit Flashlight mechanic couldn’t deter the devastating motion controls.
At some point, you start to wonder whether the intention was to fight with the controls rather than with the ghosts. Additionally, relying too heavily on long corridors, narrow pathways, and slow movements sucked. The only saving grace is that the plot, beneath all the hurdles, isn’t at all bad.
4. Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water (2014)
The fifth instalment, Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water, feels like a revamp of its predecessor. It elevates the ideas and mechanics that were previously rusty and creates a much smoother experience on the Wii U with the Wii U gamepad. The motion controls go easier on you, and combat, in general, feels much more fun, rewarding, and in-depth through to the end.
The plot doesn’t slack either, with some unexpected twists and turns that keep the game feeling fresh. There is talk of Miu turning out to be the daughter of Miku and her brother, Mafuyu. Although the story isn’t all that scary, there are some pretty disturbing themes to go around, set within an overall, tense atmosphere.
3. Fatal Frame III: The Tormented (2005)
Fatal Frame III: The Tormented picks things up from its predecessors, connecting their storylines and occurring a few years after the first game and a few months after the second. While a plot continuation makes sense in a series of this kind, it’s quite disappointing that the settings remain largely the same. Well, except for Rei’s house, which is an entirely new place players would explore here for the first time.
Despite the somewhat “lazy” transference from previous games, the plot does hold up its end of the deal, with a tad few twists and turns along the way. It winds up with alternate endings, all culminating in a positive reception upon release.
2. Fatal Frame (2001)
The entry where it all began is a pretty memorable one. It’s where Fatal Frame solidified its niche and developed its unique taste in survival horror games. As is adopted throughout the series, the plot, characters, disturbing themes, and tense visuals, all inherited their unique signatures from Fatal Frame.
Even though some ghosts and visuals may look outdated now, they were incomparable to most games seen in 2001. Its setting is 1986, where Miku searches for her missing brother, Mafuyu, in an isolated mountainside mansion.
A series of unnerving events follow, including the occult and folklore narratives that became the series’ trademark. Once you reached the tragic multiple endings, it was no question whether a sequel would follow because the first was just that good.
1. Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly (2003)
If Fatal Frame made waves upon release, then Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly caused a tsunami. The developers had the blueprint laid out, all they had to do was adopt what works, and improve on it in every way possible. Thanks to Fatal Frame playing the role of lab rat, so to speak, Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly came out with the engines running on steam.
Each control felt like smooth sailing as you unraveled the spine-chilling story within. Because the story is so engaging, albeit terrifying as hell, you felt like you had no option but to put your big boy pants on. That wasn’t the case with the predecessor, as the story became too scary for most gamers to complete.
Briefly, twins Mio and Mayu venture out into the woods, coming across an abandoned village. Entranced by the crimson butterfly, player-controlled Mio starts to search for her sister Mayu. A series of disturbing events ensure, including a ritual gone wrong. Mayu, because of a childhood injury, is crippled, so you can’t exactly make a run for it.
Onward, the village’s haunted spirits start to affect Mayu, and your stand to protect her becomes even more of a blurred line between guilt and obligation. From start to finish, Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly has a clever way of poking at your emotions, all the while orchestrating creepy jump scares sure to last long after you’ve finished playing.