Review #462

Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir
Developer: Tecmo Koei
Publisher: Nintendo
Genre: Horror/AR
Release Date: 04/13/2012

As an import gamer, I absolutely love this generation of consoles for breaking down the region coding barrier. I’ve imported many games for my DS, MY PSP and my PS3. From Europe I was able to get Tales of Eternia for my PSP and Captain Morgane for my PS3. From Japan, I imported X Edge, Hakuna Matata, Demons’ Souls, and several others. Then there’s Nintendo. Not only did they piss me off by region locking the 3DS, but Nintendo of America especially annoyed me by keeping big name titles for the WII out of North America? Why? It makes no sense, especially when there is a clamoring for them and Nintendo of Europe is releasing them anyway. Thanks to fan demand (and outright anger), Nintendo helping bring over Xenoblade Chronicles and XSeed is doing The Last Story. There’s still no word on Pandora’s Tower coming stateside though. Sure it’s great that these JRPGs are making it here but the original game that set off this annoyance with NoA still doesn’t have a North American release. I’m talking about Fatal Frame 4.

Look, I love Fatal Frame. I own the first two director cuts for my Xbox and the third game for my PS3. I imported Fatal Frame 4 for my Wii (which thanks to my relationship with Nintendo is able to play games from all region and legally so). I even downloaded the English translation patch top see how it fared. So I was more than a little annoyed that NoA decided to not localize Fatal Frame 4, especially after it paid Tecmo Koei all that money to making the series Nintendo exclusive. Why pay all that money if you’re not going actually use your one big M rated franchise that you have for the system? It’s insane. I became even more incensed, as I’m sure many of you did as well, when we learned Fatal Frame 2/Project Zero 2 was not only getting a Wii remake, but that said remake would be coming to Europe in English but would NOT be coming to North America. Again, this shows not only the stupidity of Nintendo for region locking their Wiis, but extra stupidity on the part of NoA as Reggie and pals obviously don’t want to learn from their mistakes.

The lack of both Fatal Frame 4 and Crimson Butterfly for North American Wiis gets even weirder when you consider that NoA not own happily brought over the franchise’s soin-off for the Nintendo 3DS< but has been marketing it rather heavily, complete wityh hands-on previews being held in supposed haunted houses. What's up with that? My only guess is that it's Nintendo realizing they pretty much HAVE to put out everything they can for the 3DS in light of the issues and drama that surrounded the system's first year of life coupled with the ever encroaching tablet/cell phone market as an alternative to their nigh monopoly on portable gaming. As I said though, I *LOVE* the Fatal Frame series, and the series seems tailor built for the 3DS, so I was quite hopeful hat if this fared well, maybe NoA would FINALLY change their mind on the Wii games in the Fatal Frame series? So does Spirit Camera mark the return of Fatal Frame to North American shores…or is it the final nail in the coffin?

Let’s Review

Story/Modes

There are a lot of different options in Spirit Camera, although none of them are very long. The game consists of three main modes, each of which has several different options within.

Fatal Frame: The Diary of Faces. This is what would be called “Story Mode.” Here you play a nameless silent protagonists who not only comes across the Camera Obscura (Which allows one to see, fight and capture spirits), but a mysterious purple book known as the “Diary of Faces.” The diary appears to be a relic from a long time ago, and once receiving it, the protagonist has visions of a ruined house haunted by a mysterious Woman in Black who appears to steal the faces from her victim, turning them into mindless murdering specters. Through possession of both the diary and Camera Obscura, you manage to free the ghost of a young amnesiac girl named Maya. Together, the two of you go through thirteen chapters together, trying to solve the riddles of the purple diary and stop the curse of the Woman in Black.

The story is well done, although most should see the “twist” coming a mile away. It’s an atmospheric ghost story, but with less gore and/or terror-filled moments than the previous Fatal Frame games. Think of it more akin to a Victorian era ghost story that kids and adults can both enjoy, although it’s more slightly creepy and wistful than spooky or scary. I still enjoyed it a lot and it was the kind of slow burn low key horror game I haven’t seen for a long time. Once you beat the game, you unlock Extra Mode, which is an enhanced version of the story with more plot, cut scenes, a new leather fetish outfit for Maya and a much harder difficulty setting.

After beating The Diary of Faces, two other things unlock in Story Mode. You have the ability to replay any scene from the story and the ability to engage in “Photo Ops & Battles.” Here you can view each of the six bosses in AR mode and, if you choose to fight them in a very hard battle, you can unlock new difficulty levels and outfits for Maya.

Haunted Visions. This is a cute set of mini games. The first is “Spirit Photography” which lets you take regular pictures and occasionally it will superimpose a ghost of creepy boogedy onto the photo. “Spirit Check” lets you take a picture of someone and it reveals the ghost currently haunting them. For example I got the ghost of “The Woman Who is Never Satisfied With Her Hair” and the story behind her while my rabbit got a hideously deranged carpenter. Finally there is “Spirit Challenge.” This is the neatest of the mini-games. You take a picture of a friend or yourself and the picture becomes the face of a ghost. The stats and thus the powers of the ghost are randomized so it’s a fun little challenge and a nice way to lengthen the life of the cart.

Cursed Pages. This is a set of four more mini-games, all of which require the AR Book, all of which have five difficulty settings. “Four Strange Masks” has you watching a set of masks and solving puzzles based on them. “The Haunted Doll” has you searching for the correct doll in a set of free-floating possessed dolls. “The Boy in the Book” has you searching for a ghost in the AR book based on a riddle that you are asked. The riddles are TERRIBLE and this is easiest the worst bit on the cart. Finally there is “Spirit House” which is similar to an on-rails shooter where you have to zap a certain number of ghosts in a creepy old Japanese house before time runs out. This one is a lot of fun and the best of “Cursed Pages” games.

All in all, there’s a lot of content here if you like to play mini games. Story Mode took me about 2.5 hours to beat the first time through and the second time about 3.5-4 hours as battles were longer and harder and there was more content. I probably got a few hours out of the mini-games before I got bored with them, so all in all, it wasn’t too bad, especially compared to games like Super Monkey Ball 3D that are about an hour long. Yeesh.

Story/Modes Rating: 7/10

2. Graphics

As this is an AR game, Spirit Camera blends real world visuals with video game graphics. The contrast can be a bit jarring at times, but it also is the best use of AR I’ve seen for the 3DS yet. The game really makes it feel like there are ghosts in your home and this is one of the few times I’ve used the system where the 3D actually enhances the game instead of hindering it or giving you eyestrain.

Character models are exceptionally well done. There’s a lot of detail and the ghosts look better than ever. I’d even go so far as to day it looks as good as Fatal Frame 4. When there are graphical backgrounds instead of AR ones, they are exceptionally well done and deceptively creepy. The rail shooter bits are the closest the game actually comes to “scary” and a large part of it is because of the environment.

It’s also really neat to see how the AR book is affected by the graphics. There are some subtle and not-so-subtle changes you’ll see unfold on your screen and these bits are definitely the best mix of reality and graphics. I really loved the way the game looked and after Kid Icarus: Uprising, this is definitely my favorite game on the 3DS in terms of graphics and it has me hoping for a full Fatal Frame game on the 3DS…that we’ll probably never get stateside.

Graphics Rating: 8/10

3. Sound
Both the voice acting and musical score to Spirit Camera are pretty good. I was expecting some cheesy voice acting for the game, as that still seems to be fairly common for the horror genre even in 2012. Imagine my surprise when I found that I liked what was here. The only voice that didn’t jibe with me was that of the little ghost child, but that’s probably because it didn’t seem to fit the part for me.

The music really helps to set the mood of the game as every track is somber and eerie. Where the story is a little light on scares, the music helps keep things creepy. Between this and the voice acting, Tecmo Koei did a fine job keeping the feel of the Fatal Frame series in Spirit Camera.

Sound Rating: 7/10

4. Control and Gameplay

Playing Spirit Camera is a bit odd. You have to use the AR book for nearly all aspects of the game. The book needs a decent amount of light. During the day I could play the game without any artificial lighting until about 5pm. Then I needed to turn a light on or it wouldn’t read. You’ll probably want to fold the pages back too for your own sake, although the game will still read the book just fine if it’s dangling in the air.

The real problem with the book is that without it, you can’t play the game. Think of it like a primitive DRM ala the old SSI D&D decoder wheel or even something like Swordquest. It’s neat that the book adds a new dimension to gameplay and it’s fun to interact with because it really shows what AR games can do, but at the same time…what if you lose it? Or a pet eats it? Or it gets wet? There’s no real way to get a replacement book. Sure someone will probably scan the book in and we can download it online but..it won’t be the same. I have a problem with this in the same way I have a problem with the old board games that needed a VHS tape to play. At some point, you’re going to get screwed. My rabbit DID get a hold of the AR book and took a small chunk out of a page, but it still could be read by the game with no problem. Ah the things I do for readers…

The actual gameplay battles are a cross between Fatal Frame and Face Raiders. You’ll be moving in a panoramic fashion, so this really isn’t a portable game as you can’t play it on a bus, plane or taxi. You’ll need to be standing up and have some space to play Spirit Camera. When the Camera Obscura is on an enemy ghost, the camera will charge with the zero lens and when you hit the shutter (R trigger), damage will be done based on how much of a charge you had. You can also take pictures to counter enemy attacks by taking a picture at the right time. Most of what you’ll be doing in rotating in circles and clicking the trigger, so the gameplay is pretty shallow and repetitive. Now the sasme could be said for something like turn based RPGs, but at least those have other options.

On very rare occasionally, you’ll use one of the other unlockable lens, but those are only for specific story bits and in a single battle towards the end of the game. So basically you have a game that is unplayable without the AR book and gameplay that is quite contrary to the whole point of having a portable console. Add in the fact there that the game doesn’t recognize your picture taking on occasions -usually during counter attempts if you took a picture right before (up to 2-3 seconds), and you have a recipe that only really big Fatal Frame fans will enjoy. I like the game’s attempt at mixing reality with a video game through the purple diary and AR book, but gameplay is just way too shallow and if anything happens to your AR book, the game becomes unplayable. Yuck.

Control and Gameplay Rating: 5/10

5. Replayability

When you beat The Diary of Faces, there’s no real reason to go back to it. Extra (The harder, more fleshed out version) just gives you added information about the end boss and costumes for Maya that don’t fit the story or feel of the game at all. The mini games are interesting, but grow old quickly. The two I monkeyed with most was the ability to superimpose ghostly images onto photos taken with the 3DS, which gave me such random and awesome results as my wife’s cat Shelley being petted by three disembodied arms. Neat! The other was the fun of seeing what ghost is haunting you, which is a neat thing to show your friends once or twice, but then it kind of wears off.

It’s nice that there are all these mini games and even added content to Story Mode, but it’s not enough to keep someone interested in Spirit Camera It’s definitely a “one and done” sort of game as we like to say around here as the story is too short and shallow to make you want to replay it. It’s atmospheric in a Fatal Frame “lite” sort of way, but the series thrives of as much substances and style and this has a decent amount of the latter but not nearly enough of the former.

Replayability Rating: 5/10

6. Balance

The Diary of Faces is pretty easy to get through. The hardest bit that I had was with the little ghost boy’s quiz questions as they were about as accurate as the “hints” you got in Simon’s Quest One was “Twinkle Twinkle Little STAR. How I wonder WHERE you are.” Well, this doesn’t actually correspond to any page in the AR Book. After guess and check I found the right page and the boy saiud, “I guess you figured it out by the moon.” THERE IS NO MOON ON THAT PAGE. Wow.

The ghost battles are all pretty easy. The only time I died was on the very last three stage battle and that was because I mistimed counter one of the attacks the first time I played through it. It’s pretty easy to figure out the patterns and when to use the Camera Obscura though. You shouldn’t have any trouble whizzing through this game. Even the “Extra” Story Mode battles aren’t any harder. It’s just the CPU does more damage and takes far less. They’re longer, not harder. Outside of the main story when you choose “Photo Ops & Battles” the difficulty goes through the roof – especially if you choose Nightmare difficulty. The ghosts get new attacks and patterns while doing insane levels of damage and taking virtually none from your camera. It’s a bit weird to see the difficulty get ramped up THAT much, especially after how easy the main story was both times.

All in all, a thumbs in the middle here. The main game could have been a bit longer and harder, making the play time go up, while also preparing people for the post game battles to boot.

Balance Rating: 5/10

7. Originality

Spirit Camera plays a lot like a much deeper version of Face Raiders. You get a story, various bosses, multiple difficulty levels, unlockables and more. It’s a SPOOKY Face Raiders basically. As Face Raiders comes for free on the 3DS, many of us have basically played Spirit Camera save for the ambience, killer graphics and story. As well, this isn’t the first AR based Ghost Hunting game for the 3DS> That would be the god awful and runner-up for our “Worst Game of the Year” award - The Hidden. Spirit Camera may have a slightly similar concept, but it’s practically a GOTY contender in comparison to that crap dump.

I can’t really give Spirit Camera too high of a score for originality as this is technically the fifth Fatal Frame game, it’s not the first “spooky AR game” for the system and Tecmo Koei really didn’t try to do anything gameplay wise. At the same time, it’s a really nice change of place from playing Fatal Frame with a controller and the 3DS as the Camera Obscura is a wonderful idea and the interactivity between the system, the game and the book is really nifty, even if you’re not a horror game fan. In the end all the bells and whistles really make Spirit Camera stand out as a memorable experience.

Originality Rating: 7/10

8. Addictiveness

I really enjoyed my time with Spirit Camera. Looking at my 3DS records, it’s one of my most played games and ranked #2 for “Average Amount of Time Played” coming in a one hour and twenty minutes a pop. I thought the story was quite fun my first time through, although subsequent replays left me a bit bored. The mini games were cute to play with a few times, but there just wasn’t any substance to them. Out of everything on the cart, I’d probably use the Spirit Photography thing the most, if only because my wife finds it creepy and I am amused by having weird ghostly images around and/or coming out of our pets. I can honestly say though that this isn’t a keeper. Much like James Noir’s Hollywood Crimes I had fun with Spirit Camera while playing it, but once I was done I knew I’d never pick it up again.

Addictiveness Rating: 5/10

9. Appeal Factor

See, here’s the problem. I love Fatal Frame and I had fun with Spirit Camera, but I can’t outright recommend this game, even to big time fans of the franchise like myself. $40 is way too much for what you get here. Story Mode is WHY you buy the game after all and that’s only 2.5 hours long. The mini-games are cute, but they are tacked on fluff.

I’d say rent the game, because it’s fun to play through Story Mode, but what if said rental place doesn’t send the AR book. What if some dip kept the book when they returned it? Because this is such an outside the box feature, the rental company might not think to look for it. I’d say “wait until the price drops” but this is a Nintendo published title and we all know how long that takes…

So who purchases this, aside from myself and other Fatal Frame fans who are jonesing for a bit of Project Zero goodness? That’s the thing. I honestly couldn’t tell you. I don’t think it’s worth forty bucks, but renting it would be a nightmare and waiting for a price drop is going to take roughly a year. Survival horror fans seems to be a small niche audience in North America these days (although point and click horror is still going strong). I’d say that Spirit Camera is a nice change of pace from all the ports and remakes that litter the 3DS. It’s a neat game and if you’re new to Fatal Frame this might actually be a great way to learn as you have unlimited film, the story isn’t scary (merely creepy), and it’s fun to play even though it’s shallow and short. This gets yet another thumbs in the middle from me. With a little more substance, this could have been awesome. Instead it feels a bit like a tech demo showcasing what Tecmo Koei can do wityh the Fatal Frame license on 3D. No tech demo should cost $40 though…

Appeal Factor: 5/10

10. Miscellaneous

Look I enjoyed the game, but I can’t recommend it. Spirit Camera is very short and most people aren’t going to bother with the mini-games – just the two and a half hour story and be done with the cart. The AR book is neat, but without it, you can’t play the game. Worst of all, Nintendo of America brings this over creating a lose-lose for not only anyone that likes the game, but Fatal Frame fans across the board and Tecmo Koei to boot.

See, if the game does well, NoA still has no intentions of bringing over either Fatal Frame 4 or Crimson Butterfly Wii Edition. So if you like the game…this is all you get from Nintendo unless you import or purchase one of the earlier games for the Xbox and/or PS2. If the game does poorly (as I’m guessing it will), Nintendo of America can point to this and say, “This is why you don’t get the Wii Fatal Frames” even though this is a very different game on a system with a much smaller installed user base. Sure Nintendo! Ignore the fact FF4 had the highest sales in the series and that North American critics and gamers adored Crimson Butterfly. Why bring over two games for your system that can make you more money, dispel the rumour that the Wii is only waggle games with E ratings, and actually get those disenfranchised with you to turn their systems back on and play something new? The Wii has ONE announced game left this year that isn’t a multi-console port and that’s The Last Story.Why keep shooting yourself in the foot like this? Arrgh!

So yeah, this isn’t the title Fatal Frame fans were hoping for and Spirit Camera is just going to increase the ire of Wii owners towards Nintendo as it is a reminder that two better games of the same ilk are being purposely held back from North American shores. Yet Nintendo is happy to promote a 2.5 hour horror game with very shallow gameplay, that needs a decent amount of daylight to play AND an AR book that can easily be damaged. Poor Tecmo Koei. I bet they’re regretting that exclusivity agreement for this franchise now…

Miscellaneous Rating: 1/10

The Scores:
Story/Modes: 7
Graphics: 8
Sound: 7
Control and Gameplay: 5
Replayability: 5
Balance: 5
Originality: 7
Addictiveness: 5
Appeal Factor: 5
Miscellaneous: 1
Total Score: 54
FINAL SCORE: 5.5 (Decent Game!)

Short Attention Span Summary
Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir is a fun game in spite of its shallow gameplay. Story Mode is about two and a half hours long, but with all the mini games, Extra Mode and the post-game boss battles, hardcore Fatal Frame or survival horror fans can probably wrangle ten hours out of the cart before they’ve done all there possibly is to do with it. It’s not a very scary game, but it is an atmospheric and creepy one that makes use of the 3DS’ AR capabilities and 3D visuals. I can’t recommend the game for $40 however, as it feels like a tech demo more than a full game. As well, the AR book, while a neat idea, is too easily damaged and without it, the game is literally unplayable. The end product is a neat one, albeit it a niche one. I’m thankful that SOME Fatal Frame game finally made it stateside since the Nintendo exclusivity agreement, but I’d still rather have had Fatal Frame 4 or the upcoming Crimson Butterfly Wii Edition brought to North America instead.

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