Through the True Lens of Terror – Playstation 2 – Fatal Frame – 2001

TitleFatal Frame
Playstation 2
Tecmo
Genre: Survival Horror
2001

In general, horror is a tricky genre to be successful in, despite there being quite a bit of leeway as to what “horror” can actually pertain to. Sometimes, horror can be encapsulated by the visuals of a game, making for some gruesome scenes or grisly environments that can offset a player’s senses. Action-horror can give a player weapons and defenses aplenty at their disposal only to let them whittle away as the game continues. Then there are games that don’t even give you weapons, offering either environment or a host of hiding spaces to avoid assailants as you attempt to escape the encroaching danger.

Whatever the specifics are, horror games usually have the primary goal of trying to scare the player. Jump scares can be cheap but effective and atmosphere and digital disorientation can leave a lasting impression but takes a thorough followthrough to pack a punch. There is a delicate balance involving tension, foreboding, art, and programming that has to go into these games for them to achieve their goal.

One game that made this attempt was Fatal Frame, the origin point of a series that never quite reached the popularity of some of its brethren but has a well-sized and devoted following. Touting a rare “based on a true story” label on its cover, the game left quite the impression on me growing up but I never finished the original title, opting instead to play through the second entry with a friend in high school over the course of a night one summer. I’ve had fond memories of the pieces of the series I’ve played in the past, so I decided it was time to buckle in and push through the game that started the series on its quiet course into cult reverence.  Continue reading

Weaving a Beautiful and Complex Harmony – Playstation 2 – Romancing SaGa: Minstrel Song – 2005

TitlesRomancing SaGa: Minstrel Song
Playstation 2
Square Enix
Genre: Role-Playing
2005

The SaGa series is a lot like the Final Fantasy series in a number of ways. This should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the golden era of Squaresoft and its catalog given the series’ roots being marketed at first as Final Fantasy Legend on the Game Boy. When game designer Akitoshi Kawazu joined Square and helped in the development in the first two Final Fantasy titles, he may not have specifically known that he was going to end up in charge of directing another one of the company’s longest running series when he was made the director of the Legend series.

Romancing SaGa hit the Super Famicom back in 1992, creating a niche in the role-playing genre that was off-beat enough to stall the series from reaching US shores under this name and with its current mechanics until five years later with SaGa Frontier. After the relative success of that game and its sequel, the company got to work on bridging into the next generation of gaming on the Playstation 2 with two more SaGa titles under the banner- Unlimited SaGa and a title simply known as Romancing SaGa.

Being familiar with the infamous reputation of Unlimited SaGa, I recently decided to turn my attention to Romancing SaGa (with the silent subtitle of Minstrel Song, I assume to discern just a bit further between the PS2 version and the original) as it’s been sitting in my collection for some time. The first time I attempted the game, I was lost. I hadn’t gotten the first idea of how to proceed even having been a fan of SaGa Frontier at the time. I’ve grown a bit since then and have had a lot of exposure to the series; I can’t even begin to describe how excited I am for the release of Romancing SaGa 3 coming to us soon. In my excitement and with new information under my belt regarding how to proceed with the series, I decided to give Romancing SaGa: Minstrel Song another whirl. Continue reading

Atelier Series Overview – Part 3 – The Mana Duology

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Nearly the entire
Atelier series is broken down into trilogies of games taking place in the same world with recurring characters and events. Only two of the series’ groupings were duologies: the Japan-only Gramnad Saga and the Mana Khemia games. Both of these pairs featured on the now-obsolete Playstation 2. Where the Gramnad Saga followed the naming conventions from previous titles with Atelier Judie and Atelier Violette, Mana Khemia took a step away from the usual trappings, at least externally.

Featuring the ninth and tenth games in the Atelier series, both games still exercise the mechanics of the series. Synthesis is still vital to progress throughout the games though there is a bit more emphasis on strategic combat through abilities rather than item-slinging. There are a couple of other adjustments that find their way into the formula of the series and stick, creating a foundation for the next generation of Atelier offerings to build off of and improve upon as the series grows.
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A Loss of Control and Perspective – Playstation 2 – Disaster Report – 2003

disaster report titleDisaster Report
Playstation 2
Agetec / Irem
Genre: Survival Action
2003

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been exposed to a number of ‘disaster’ movies. The first that I remember seeing was when I was introduced to The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno during some double feature on cable by my mother. It’s not a genre that I usually gravitate towards, but those films have always managed to catch my interest.  There’s a certain allure- especially to this diehard horror fan- to the adversary in a piece being the environment and the set pieces rather than a tangible force or person; the unpredictability and sheer carnage of the situation can make for an entertaining experience, even if it’s rarely poignant or soul-stirring.

Disaster Report, the first of the Zettai Zetsume Toshi titles revolving around natural calamities, is a game I distinctly remember my thought process while purchasing. Looking at the back of the game, the promise of battling against your environment and trying to survive as catastrophe upon catastrophe strikes around you was a novel concept to me at the time. It still looked like an early PS2 title, though, so I was wary as I grabbed it on sale and brought it home to try my best at it.

It’s taken a few tries. Like a lot of the games in my backlog, I could remember making it a decent way through the game and then stopping for some reason but couldn’t drag out the reason. Was it an infuriating sequence in the game mechanics? Was it just because my attention had been drawn to another game I had been meaning to play? Recently, I sat down with a determination to get through Disaster Report and relive the experience to figure it out and knock another piece of my backlog Jenga stack off of the tower.
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Turn Away from The Darkness – Playstation Portable – ObsCure: The Aftermath – 2009

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ObsCure: The Aftermath
Playstation Portable
Hydravision Entertainment/Ignition Entertainment
2009
Genre: Survival Horror

There are certain things that a horror movie needs to be effective, especially in the slasher genre.  First, there needs to be a discernible villain or danger; something that will strike fear into the viewer when it appears or is referenced by the characters.  Having a group of characters who are, for the most part, relatable and likable helps you want to root for the ‘heroes’ to survive and triumph over their circumstances.  Atmosphere is another element that cannot be underestimated, whether it is terrifying because of a lack of familiarity or because it is a familiar setting that has been invaded.

Cobbling together a survival horror game is the same way.  In 2005, Hydravision Entertainment released a game by the name of ObsCure, which was heavily influenced by 1990s horror films like The Faculty.  It introduced co-op horror in an effective way and made for a fun experience (which you can read my review of here, if you like).  Like any decent horror movie, it left the door open for the potential sequel, even if just a crack.  In 2008, ObsCure: The Aftermath hit the shelves for the Playstation 2, Wii, and Windows.  The next year, it hit the Playstation Portable, and in just the past few years, it arrived on Steam.

While ObsCure was a delightful horror romp with a few flaws here and there, did ObsCure: The Aftermath manage to capture the same magic that it’s progenitor created?  Let me save you the trouble:

No.  No it did not.

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