This year marks the 20th anniversary of Koei Tecmo’s chilling horror series Fatal Frame. To celebrate all things that go bump in the night, famed video game producer Keisuke Kikuchi, a game developer who has worked on beloved franchises from Tecmo Bowl to Ninja Gaiden, thought that it was finally time to remaster one of his favorite titles – Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water.
“It’s time to scare the next generation of players on the next generation of consoles,” Kikuchi says with a laugh. Kikuchi, who has worked as a producer on Fatal Frame since the franchise’s inception back in 2001, can’t wait to scare the bejeebers out of gamers as they encounter ghosts through the eyes of a character who not only sees dead people, but their haunting memories as well.
Here’s what the producer had to say about his upcoming game, capturing spirits, and why he doesn’t recommend firing this game up in the dark.
Koei Tecmo: What differentiates the Fatal Frame franchise from other horror games?
Keisuke Kikuchi: The Fatal Frame series has two major defining characteristics. The first would be “horror that appeals to your imagination.” For example, when it feels like a ghost will appear, but they don’t, we are conveying a sense of fear by preparing sections where “nothing happening becomes frightening.” Using sound, we restrict the amount of information the user has at their disposal by creating scenes where they cannot properly see the area around them or hear what is going on. By doing this, we are stimulating the user’s imagination, and we put a lot of emphasis on this as it is one of the aspects that defines Japanese horror.
The second point relates to your weapon, the Camera Obscura. This camera allows us to introduce a frightening dilemma for the player in which they are forced to approach frightening things at a very close distance and take photos of them in order to proceed.
Koei Tecmo: What’s the game’s storyline?
Keisuke Kikuchi: The setting for this title is Mt. Hikami, a place known to “welcome death.” The protagonist, Yuri Kozukata, has the ability to see the people who have died and people’s memories and thoughts. As a part of her work, she heads out to Mt. Hikami in order to help find a missing person. The writer Ren Hojo is working to research the custom of Postmortem Photography, and Miu Hanasaki hears about a clue that could help her find her missing mother, so they both also make their way to Mt. Hikami. These three characters will come into contact with ghost marriages, disappearances, and the rituals and mysteries that surround Mt. Hikami.
Koei Tecmo: How will players go about defeating these ghosts?
Keisuke Kikuchi: Utilizing a device that has the appearance of a camera, known as the Camera Obscura, you can take photographs of ghosts and cause damage to them. This saps them of their spiritual power and you are able to seal them away. In order to deal even more damage, you will need to take photos of the ghosts within a very close distance of them, and also take pictures of them at specific times which acts as a special kind of attack. Additionally, you can take snapshots that include their face or weak points in the frame in order to deal more damage as well.
Koei Tecmo: Maiden of Black Water introduces Photo Mode to the franchise? How does it work?
Keisuke Kikuchi: The addition of the photo mode is a first for the Fatal Frame series. The concept for this mode is to allow players to create their own ghost photography. By pressing a specific button while playing the game, you can enter the photo mode. You can place ghost and human characters, set their pose, adjust their position, and take pictures of them. You can also adjust the lens and frames for the photo, and use the photo capabilities of the platform’s hardware and save pictures of your screen. I really look forward to seeing all of the unique photos everyone takes once the game launches.
Koei Tecmo: What are some of the coolest pictures you’ve been able to create in Photo Mode?
Keisuke Kikuchi: New costumes are being included in this version of Maiden of Black Water, and I think they will be a great compliment to the photo mode. Yuri’s Triathlon Suit and the black and white Cutesy Goth Ensemble showcase the personalities of each of the characters, and you can have fun taking pictures of these costumes in frightening locations to make those places a little less scary. For example, players can put together an ordinary everyday scene with Yuri and Miu while they are having a friendly conversation, and then add in one ghost to the picture. They can also have fun recreating scenes from their favorite horror movies, or reverse the situation by making the ghosts frightened by surrounding them with the human characters.
Koei Tecmo: So when it comes down to it, do you prefer to setup spooky or goofy pictures in photo mode?
Keisuke Kikuchi: I personally prefer taking humorous pictures, whereas the director really enjoys taking frightening photos.
Koei Tecmo: How else has photography been important to Fatal Frame?
Keisuke Kikuchi: The Camera Obscura can be used to repel ghosts through its photography, but it can also allow the player to find clues by taking pictures of thoughts that are left behind. Wandering ghosts lurking around the map can also be recorded with the Camera Obscura, which can help you in your exploration.
Koei Tecmo: What is the scariest thing about Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water to you?
Keisuke Kikuchi: In Japan, we have many famous haunted places all over the country, with some in each prefecture. In Maiden of Black Water, we have condensed all of this to one location: Mt. Hikami. I hope everyone can experience this sense of realism in this location when they play the game. By playing the game yourself and controlling the character as they walk around this location, you can experience a sense of fear that is unique to video games.
Koei Tecmo: So what you’re telling everyone is they should definitely be playing with the lights on?
Keisuke Kikuchi: The director recommends playing the game with headphones in a dark room, but I personally find it scary. I feel like playing with the lights is the best way to play Maiden of Black Water. I think anyone who gets easily scared by horror games should play with a group of friends. I hope everyone can adjust this based on who they are playing with so they can have a lot of fun… and of course, have a good scare!