Fatal Frame, Project Zero, or just Zero, whatever you call the survival horror series by Tecmo probably depends on where you’re from. Regardless of the name you choose, the series remains to be a pinnacle of excellence in the survival horror genre.
In each game, there are no traditional weapons. No guns, no knives, just a camera and limited supply of film. In Fatal Frame, players assume the roles of unfortunate souls who have stumbled into the homes of some truly terrifying ghosts.
In Europe and North America, there were only four Fatal Frame games released — or six, if you really must count the Director’s Cuts of the first and second.
The main trilogy on the PlayStation 2 and Xbox were well received in the west, but apparently failed to gain enough of a following to warrant the localization of the fourth game or any announcements for plans of translating the fifth.
That’s what brings us to the subject at hand, those games that never made it west.
2008 marks the year all of the bad news began for Fatal Frame fans outside of Japan. By December’s end, it had sold a little over 70 thousand units, and western fans were met with upsetting news about the game’s localization as Tecmo confirmed our fears to IGN in an interview.
Nintendo holds the publishing rights to ‘Fatal Frame Wii,’ which was developed by Tecmo LTD. and Grasshopper Manufacture and released in Japan on July 31, 2008. Nintendo of America has since then decided not to publish the title in North America – consequently, the title will not be released in this territory. As the owner of the IP, Tecmo feels very unfortunate that the fans of the series in North America will not have a chance to play the game, but respects the final decision made by Nintendo of America.
Europe never saw the game either, leaving fans outside of Japan with little hope.
At this point it would almost be nice to hear the game wasn’t that good anyway, that it’s fine the fourth installment to the series never saw a western release, but that’s just not the case. By western media outlets that reviewed it, Zero IV was a damn good game aside from a few glitches.
Tsukihami no Kamen, or Mask of the Lunar Eclipse, was a brand new story, after the previous three had come full circle in the third game. And while the game was released during a time when most other survival horror titles were departing from their roots, this game embraced them.
Fatal Frame IV follows the tale of five kidnapping victims, while switching between three of the girls for different perspective on the narrative. While this is something we have seen before in Fatal Frame, such a modern setting is not.
Older Japanese style mansions, shrines, etc are no longer the focus as the story now moves onto a hospital, giving the game a sort of eerie Silent Hill feeling. Perhaps it is an overdone environment, but something is always that much more chilling when a place you go to get better is actually full of terror.
An unfortunate similarity between the new and older titles is that the camera is still frustrating. However, it just doesn’t impact the experience enough to write off Fatal Frame IV, it’s the best survival horror title you’ll play on the Wii.
It’s a little disheartening to hear such a fantastic game never saw an official launch. Though, while Zero: Tsukihami no Kamen would never see an official English translation, this did not stop a group of devoted Zero fans from playing and helping others experience the tale as well.
Not long after the announcement by Nintendo, Tsukihami no Kamen received a fan translation patch that dubbed it Fatal Frame IV: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse.
The patch can be downloaded from the team’s website, while a copy of of the fourth Fatal Frame will cost you more used than most current generation new games, averaging around seventy dollars USD. For series fans with some extra cash, it’s well worth the price.
Years later and we’re in 2012, a year that brought good news for Project Zero fans in Europe, but nothing for the North American base. A remake for the second game of the series was announced. Project Zero 2’s remake would be released that June overseas, and yet again game critics continued to sings songs of praise over Tecmo’s horror franchise.
The original Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly holds up remarkably well, even to this day. The environment, art direction and haunting sounds featured in the game still manage to frighten me in 2014. The remake only improves upon this.
Deep Crimson Butterfly was the title given to the second game’s remake. It’s everything the original was and more. Visuals are much clearer, some confusing dark corridors now easier to navigate and once murky textures now have some definition. In the original version, there were times when clunky design made for more frustration than fear, occasionally ruining moments of terror. Deep Crimson Butterfly suffers from none of this. The Wii installment even offered a new game mode and features previously only on the Xbox version of Crimson Butterfly.
Though the game failed to do much in the way of innovation with the Wii Remote, it still improved upon previous complaints with the series’ other Wii installment. Yet again, this was another excellent addition to the series that never saw a release in all of the territories the original trilogy released in.
There’s little hope these two titles will release elsewhere by now, as the Wii’s run as Nintendo’s main console has long been over. Perhaps one day Nintendo of America will pity North American fans and give us some sort of eShop release for Deep Crimson Butterfly in the future (Yeah, right), but that’s the only reasonable request we can make now.
And as depressing as this is for Fatal Frame fans, there are at least ways to play them in a language other than Japanese thanks to a PAL release of one and a dedicated group of fans for the other.
But for a third time now, it seems western fans of Zero find themselves in the same predicament. There is now a fifth game in production, and no plans have been announced to bring it west. Fatal Frame: Oracle of the Sodden Raven is out next week, September 27th, in Japan.
Perhaps we do this relentless cycle of disappointment to ourselves, but not entertaining the idea of Fatal Frame V in the west just seems unacceptable. It’s releasing on a console with limited survival horror titles, but the Wii U’s gamepad seems like it was practically made for a horrifying Fatal Frame experience. Just think of what we can do with the Camera Obscura.
However unlikely given the series history, it doesn’t hurt to try. We’ve seen similar calls to Nintendo work out well (Operation Rainfall) while other video games are experiencing similar fan movements (Xenosaga).
In response to Nintendo’s silence, a Twitter account by the name of @0perationZer0 has been created, helping push the movement along with the hashtag #WeWantFatalFrame.
The best thing fans of the series can do at this point is to align themselves with these voices and contact Nintendo of Europe and Nintendo of America, letting them know just how much the series means to them. Lest the fifth installment go the way of the last two.
Until then, we’ll hold out with a slight bit of hope that maybe somehow they’ll find their way over. If not by way of Nintendo, then maybe another group of dedicated fans can help fill the void once more.