- Fatal Frame creator Makoto Shibata tells us about his experiences with ghosts, and how they inspired his games.
- The re-release of Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse includes references to Shibata’s belief in real-life hauntings.
- Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is out today for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S.
My name is Makoto Shibata and I’ve been working on the Fatal Frame series since its inception, trying to create the scariest games possible in a way that’s unique to other horror titles. What people might not realize when they play my games is that some of what you see in the series – and some of what you’ll play in Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse – was actually inspired by spirits that I’ve seen (and even touched!) in real life. To me, zombies and monsters aren’t scary because they’re not real, but spirits have been a frightening presence in my life since I was young. I wanted to bring some of my scariest sightings to the games I created, helping capture some of the moments that have kept me up at night, hoping to do the same to gamers around the world.
Phenomena and Purification
In the Japanese game industry, it is customary to visit a shrine and perform a purification ceremony when starting work on a horror title. The purpose of the ceremony is to prevent any spiritual phenomena or disturbances during the game’s development, but for Fatal Frame, we thought it would be better to let the spirits emerge, so we usually don’t do the purification ceremony for games in this series. Because of this, some spirit phenomena occurred during development that was directly reflected in the game – like the time we were recording sound and a mysterious voice was actually recorded in the background. We tried to remove it from the recording, but eventually gave up because no matter what we did, the voice kept coming back onto the recording , so we actually left it in the game!
But the haunting voice isn’t the only spirit we’ve encountered throughout the process of creating the Fatal Frame franchise. With Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse launching today, I figured it was a good time to breakdown the spiritual phenomena related to this title.
Man in the Moonlight
The actual source of inspiration for Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is from an experience I had that still gives me goosebumps. In the game, one of the places you’ll visit is Rogetsu Hall. This is actually based on an old, Japanese-style hot spring hotel owned by one of my relatives. We used to gather there as a family, and on this one particular night, my family were the only guests in the hotel, so there was nobody else around. I woke up in the middle of the night, and because the inside of the hotel was only dimly lit by the moonlight shining through the window, the fantasy-like atmosphere lured me to wander around a bit. That is, until I saw a man I didn’t recognize standing on the other side of the hallway, looking out the window under the moonlight.
There should’ve only been relatives around, but this man was definitely a stranger. As I slowly approached to see who he was, the man looked at me, then quickly disappeared. More curious than scared, I went to the spot where the man was standing. I looked out the window and gazed at the large moon. I stood there looking at the moon for a while until I realized that I was now in the exact same pose as the man I had just seen. I started to wonder, was the man a spirit? Was he a vision of someone’s past? Or did I just see a vision of my future? I knew I wanted to capture a moment like this in the game.
Until that moment, I always thought a certain amount of humidity was necessary for spirits to appear, but this was such a low-humidity, dusty environment — so I tried to not only recreate this moment, but recreate this exact atmosphere inside the hotel for Mask of the Lunar Eclipse.
A Ghost Grabbed My Hand
Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse also features a unique system where the player is sometimes grabbed by a ghostly hand when reaching for an item. This was actually based on a spiritual experience I had during the production of a previous game, Fatal Frame III: The Tormented. Late one night, I was home asleep when I felt someone grab my hand. At first, I thought it was an illusion since I was still in a sleep-like haze, but the cold hand kept hold, slowly increasing strength. “It hurts! It hurts!”, I screamed, and I finally felt the cold hand pull away before I saw it disappear into a wall. Since I was sleeping against the wall, there was no way anyone could’ve been there. There was a spirit behind the wall!
And it’s not the first time I encountered spirits inside this wall. It’s the same wall that I’ve heard spirits whisper from in the middle of the night. I remember when working on Fatal Frame III: The Tormented, I heard a woman’s voice say: “Let’s go swimming.” It shocked me, because that was going to be the ending scene of the game. How did she know!?
I wanted to include this experience in The Tormented, where the main character, Rei, wakes up and has her hand grabbed by a spirit, but it was just so difficult to visualize the sensation of having one’s hand held by a ghost, so we waited and introduced it as part of new system in the next game, Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse.
While working on the series, there has been a recurring spiritual phenomenon in every title. Whenever I stayed over at the office, the spirit of a child would run around at night. It seemed like a boy, judging by his footsteps and voice. He would play tricks throughout the night, knocking over books and papers on my desk if I didn’t pay attention to him. When I would say, “Urusai!”, which means, “you’re being noisy”, the boy would quickly disappear.
For Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse, the original version of the game wasn’t made at Koei Tecmo’s studio, but at Grasshopper Manufacture’s studio, so we never saw the spirit of the boy, but they had this ping pong table that I used to sleep on when we were working on the game late into the evening, and every once in a while, I would see the spirit of a girl who would circle around the table, running slowly and quietly. If I didn’t respond when seeing her, she would walk over to the window and sing a song. “Four, four, six…” Apparently, she was singing numbers in the form of verses. I could never hear the end clearly, but I thought this was a message that they wanted me to include in the game, so I decided to include an event where a girl says numbers as if she was singing them.
This is not a story about spiritual phenomena, but about my dreams. I think we all have scary dreams from time to time, but we usually forget them by the time we wake up. I remember dreams that leave an impression on me, especially scary ones, and I try to take notes when I wake up in order to use them in my games. In fact, there are several map structures in this series that I have repurposed from bad dreams, while some of the spirits are inspired by my nightmares.
The spirit named Kageri Sendo in Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is based on “Miyamoto-san,” a figure who sometimes appeared in my dreams. Miyamoto-san is a slender man who walks around with a person who looks just like him, only in a wheelchair. He is always polite, and bows back at me when I bow, but the person in the wheelchair is what strikes me, as he’s obviously dead and crawling with insects!
Sometimes Miyamoto-san is not present and only the wheelchair and the person sitting in it are left unattended. When I try to touch them to see if they are dead, Miyamoto-san angrily runs to me and says, “Don’t touch it!” And then the supposed corpse would start to move toward me.
In Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse, there is a sanatorium and each floor is inhabited by a unique person. So, of course, when we had a meeting to decide which spirits would appear in the game, it was Miyamoto-san who instantly came to mind.
At that time, instead of recreating Miyamoto-san as he was in my dreams, we changed his character to a woman inspired by gothic horror to make her a spirit that users would want to photograph. Some of the staff members suggested that the character’s name should stay as Miyamoto, however, I did not know his first name, and he seemed too weak to be a boss spirit, so we went back to the studio and came up with a name that would be more appropriate for an enemy of the Fatal Frame series, Kageri Sendo.
It’s funny, though, as Miyamoto-san has not appeared in my dreams since he appeared in the game. Having gained form, maybe he was satisfied to some extent?
Because of this, when asked to name the most memorable spirit in Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse, I always answer Kageri Sendo.
Check out Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse today on Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S and make Shibata-san’s hauntings your reality as three women return to the spooky Rogetsu Isle ten years after disappearing during a moonlight festival to solve the mystery of their lost memories while battling the spirits haunting the remote island.
FATAL FRAME: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse
KOEI TECMO AMERICA