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Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly
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Fatal Frame II is a game that leaps down your throat and seizes your heart in a cold, icy grip.  Such is the masterfully crafted nature of this game's sense of atmosphere, lighting, and sound.  Forget Resident Evil, the Fatal Frame games may very well be the most terrifying franchise of all time.  It's easy to make allusions to Ringu and Juon, two very adept and scary Japanese movies, as this game shares those two movies' very Japanese ideas of horror and supernatural lore.  Those who have played the original Fatal Frame know exactly what to expect, as this installment is more of the same terrifying goodness.  You play a character trapped in a house, or in the case of this game, a whole village, with nothing but restless spirits all around, some merely sad and tormented, but most very dangerous and vengeful.  All you have to protect yourself is your flashlight and an aging artifact called the Camera Obscura, a special camera that allows the supernatural to be seen and exorcised from the material realm.  However, combat is more than just point and click.  You have to wait until the camera has acquired enough spirit energy to do real damage.  Within the optimum time to shoot is an even briefer moment called a fatal frame where you can do maximum damage.  But just the simple fact that you're controlling seemingly normal school girls armed only with a camera gives the game a sense of vulnerability and raw primal fear that horror games have been struggling to achieve since Alone In the Dark.

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Thankfully, the Fatal Frame games are more than just jump scares, visuals, and sound or lack of it.  The games neatly tie up the fate of the house/village and the ghosts with the fate of the main characters and even manage to flesh out some of the ghosts with tragic backstories to make them seem more than just another enemy to fight.  In fact, Crimson Butterfly betters the original by having far more interesting main characters and ghosts and an overall story.  There are parts where you might become confused with its complexities, but to call this game morbid would be an understatement.  Crimson Butterfly also has what may very well be the single greatest supernatural villain ever created.

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There are pitfalls, not the least of which is the control.  There are two types, so you have to decide which is the lesser of two evils.  The first type of control is a normal, everyday third person control, which most people should feel confortable with.  Unfortunately, this type tends to cause irritating shifts in direction that you have to react to when the camera cinematically shifts to a different angle when changing scenes.  This isn't as big a deal as it seems, though, but this problem is addressed by the second type of control, the Resident Evil type "up is forward" control.  Well.  We all know how much I hate that awkward scheme.  Also, toward the middle the game sort of devolves into a series of deadly hide-and-seek games.  However, none of these problems really get in the way of the game.  It is one of the most terrifying and brilliantly polished games I've ever played in my life.

Grade: Excellent

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