Category: video games

Games as Art: Fatal Frame III

A long time ago in entries past, I rambled about the inspiring designs of games like Folklore and the beautiful grotesqueries of Fatal Frame. I wanted to come back to those discussions in what I hope to be an ongoing series on this journal (yes another one) featuring games I feel move beyond mere entertainment into the realm of being a work of art.

I love games, the art that goes into them, the music, and the increasing quality of storytelling we’re seeing as the industry progresses.  With my current career choices leading me down a possibly game-related path, it seemed only natural to start exploring this passion of mine and connecting the dots of inspiration, artistry, and industry.

So let me introduce you to Fatal Frame III: The Tormented, a little known horror game that came out in 2005 exclusively to the PS2.  The story revolves around a young photographer named Rei Kurosawa. Barely a year before the start of the story, Rei lost her boyfriend, Yuu, in a car accident, which she blames herself for.  Rei begins to unravel mentally when she experiences a hallucination of her boyfriend beckoning to her during a photo shoot at an abandoned house.
She begins to dream of a sprawling mansion,Yuu beckoning her deeper into its depths.  Ghostly priests and priestesses bow at her presence and she soon finds herself staring up into their faces as four young priestesses line up silver stakes with her hands and feet, chanting a lullaby while they nail her into the ground.
A scene from Rei’s initial dream. Surrounded by four singing
priestesses.
The Manor of Sleep.
The game untangles the mystery of this ‘Manor of Sleep’ and the urban legend that those who visit it will either be reunited with their departed loved ones, or disappear from the real world with nothing left of them but ashes after 7 days.  One need not have played the past games to enjoy this one, though those who played the previous games will recognize familiar faces and recurring locales.
The game features three playable characters who all have varying abilities which allow them access to different parts of the Manor of Sleep with the main combat mechanic involving the use of an old fashioned camera to exorcise violent spirits who attack you. 
This is where the game really starts to play tricks on the mind.  Unlike many other horror games where you have to run or are able to combat your monstrous enemies with brute force, Fatal Frame (true of the entire series) forces you to stare at them as long as possible so you can get the best ‘shot’ of them with your camera, and therefore the most points.  We must face our fears and look them dead in the eye.
Facing our fears up close and personal.
Rei and Miku’s huge apartment must
cost them a fortune in rent in Japan!
If that weren’t nerve-wracking enough, the game’s story unfolds in day and night chapters, the day sections taking place in Rei and her assistant, Miku’s, apartment, while the night chapters start with Rei falling asleep and dreaming of the same ghostly mansion each time.  She starts in the same location almost every night, giving us a feel of deja vu each time she awakens to the same terrible situation.  Each night she must venture deeper and deeper into the Manor’s depths and uncover its terrible secrets, cementing the sense of impending doom in the Player every time she awakens.
Sure enough, as the game unfolds, the horror of the dream world begins to invade the safe realm of the apartment, pushing the tension of the story and the desperation of the characters to a breaking point by the end.  
Eventually Miku becomes embroiled in the mansion as well and we see her view of the Manor of Sleep where she, too, is searching for a loved one, and a ghost that has plagued her own family.  Those who played the first game will feel that tightening sense of dread when they see the hints of the Rope Ritual from the first game in the familiar dreamscapes that invade the Manor’s geography and cast us deeper into the unfamiliar.
Those of us who played the first game will know to fear this hallway.

Ritual sacrifice plays a large roll in making Fatal Frame as immersive and terrifying as it is.  Each game forces us to unravel the mystery at the heart of each central ritual and what has caused so many tormented spirits to remain on earth. These mysteries usually involve the troubled lives of the main characters, and therefore the Player, who empathizes with the trials of the characters as we descend deeper and deeper into madness with them.  This tie to Japanese Shinto ritual also provides one of the strongest visual motifs for the series, which is permeated with eerily beautiful images of corrupted priestesses and picturesque temples destroyed by past cataclysms.  We, the Player, peel back layers of mythos through documents, love letters, old photographs, decrepit film reels, and snippets of flashbacks presented via cg scenes overlaid with dated film texture, all utilizing a subtle design sensibility that submerges us in a world of old, forgotten things now coming to light.
Fatal Frame III takes the Player beyond a mere product digested for entertainment and into another realm of emotion, utilizing all the tricks of charged atmosphere, clever audio-visual queues, involved storytelling, and subdued design to create a wholly unique experience in gaming. A pity such a game will probably never see widespread acclaim, being as niche as it is, but it’s my hope this entry will have at least shed some new light on an old gem some of you might appreciate!
For now, I leave you with more shots to haunt you into the Halloween weekend:
Rei stands amid lanterns sent out for the dead.
A great example of the creepy beauty in this horror game.

Forgotten Shinto rituals and shrines give this game an eerie atmosphere
saturated by folkore.
Just one of the many creepy ghosts with such fascinating
details that make you want to both run away and look harder.
While outright gore is rare, the game relies more on hints
of gruesome ceremonies to drive the tension.
Just a note – that’s not a massage table.
Finally, we have a video of the intro section of the game I described above:

Vicarious Roguism


With all the temptation to join in the current MMORPG’s and my recent acquisition of Dragon Age: Origins, I’ve been pondering much about something I always find myself doing. For so many years now, I’ve loaded up that stereotypical fantasy game with its promises of epic diversions and crafted an identity from the depths of my imagination confined by pixels and stats. I’ve named the blank sheet of a character some elegant, yet completely impractical name, defined my identity through them with the idealistic traits I find myself drawn to artistically (long hair, fair eyes, athletic build).

When it came down to what job this fantasy personality might be, I’ve almost always settled on the class Rogue (or various incarnations, including but not limited to: Thief, Gambler, Assassin, and Corsair). Sure, I’ve played other classes just to see what they’re like, but this is the one that always felt closest to home.

Why is that? Do I secretly want to sneak into places I’m not allowed to be in? Do I suppress the urge to steal purses when citizens walk by? Better yet, do I somehow want to be an outlaw? Do those of you who play Warriors or Paladins find that this reflects your own personality as far as being honest and straightforward? Mage-players, do you find that this reflects something about your proclivity for intellectual thought and logic? Stereotypically speaking, of course.

While I don’t profess to be an outlaw, I’ve always been intrigued by forbidden places. There’s a house on 18th street in Midtown Atlanta that’s been abandoned for a few years and I can’t resist the urge to peek inside when the door is open. It was once a bonsai studio and I can make out the tall studio windows, broken glass, and husks of hanging plants still inside. I’ve never gone in, however, and I’m ceaselessly intrigued whenever I walk by it.

If anything, it’s the Rogue’s tendency for moral adaptability that encourages me to enjoy them most. I’ve never been one to settle for a black and white view of the world. There’s always a different slant to any debate, a possibility to see between the lines. This also links to my love of characters, particularly villains, who can gain our sympathy because they have strangely logical and sympathetic reasons for doing what they’re doing. By going Rogue, I like the ability to keep people guessing and to play the Trickster. Tack on a healthy dose of cleverness and you have traits I admire and would go so far as to say reflect my own personality (if you subtract two parts air-headedness and one part inability to be stealthy).

Funnily enough, I more often than not play the gentleman thief in most RPG games. What this says about me, I don’t quite know. The fact that I also play Elves/half-Elves almost exclusively is an entirely different debate altogether (elegant, aloof, nature-loving, snobbish? Hmmm…future blog topic, methinks).

Maybe it’s no surprise my favorite superhero is Batman, the most Roguish of superheroes and the definitive figure for that shadowy part of ourselves that does what it takes, even if it takes breaking the rules, to bring justice to the world.

But I’ve gone from D&D to Batman all in one post so I think I’ll end this for now.

What class do you play? What do you think this says about you? What fascinates you about any particular fantasy role? I’m dying to know!

Image from Thief 3: Deadly Shadows

Beautiful Monstrosities


“Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.”
– Edgar Allan Poe, The Raven

I have once seen a vision of a woman stripped of her hopes and dreams, left with nothing but the purist of suffering and endless weeks of solitude. They marked her with the holly of hopelessness and tattooed her with the symbols of shame. When she was at that abyss’ edge between wishing for death and longing for peace, they took her from her wooden cage. Singing songs of prayer, they nailed her hands upon the floor. There, she dreams, dreams forever more.

But the dreaming has ended and the nightmares have begun, for the Sleeping Priestess will not lie in peace.

If you don’t know this scene, than you haven’t played Fatal Frame 3, one of my favorite video games of all time. You may not know this about me, but I am an avid fan of horror video games (not survival horror, but psychological horror). Silly, I know, considering I tend to draw such pristine and shiny things as angels. It’s around this time of year that I whip out my collection of Silent Hill and Fatal Frame games and let the shimmering worlds of nightmares, dripping walls, and deep, disturbing folklore soak into my bones.

I wonder sometimes why we are drawn to such images of the grotesque? Why on earth would I enjoy a game where the walls crawl with something that looks disturbingly like entrails or the ghost of a poor woman who was once sacrificed lurches inexorably towards me with an accursed touch? There is an inescapable artistry to it that disturbs and fascinates me. Enthralling are these games like Silent Hill that can tell the story of ones dreams and nightmares affecting the real world for one like myself who has had plenty of dreams and nightmares plaguing them in the wee hours.

I don’t think it’s too much of a leap to ask ourselves the same question about macabre art and literature. From the works of Tim Burton and Neil Gaiman to some of the more grotesque perversions of Dali and the Surrealists, how can we look at things which are not considered ‘beautiful’ and find them fascinating? It seems against common sense, but I could stare at Dali’s work for hours pondering what tormented dreams he must have had, or curl up with Edgar Allan Poe’s stories and delight in all the images of masks and swirling dancers falling to the floor that Masque of the Red Death conjures for me.

The macabre is not for everyone, but there is certainly an audience for it, including myself. I find I am particularly fascinated by those stories that speak of the human spirit’s endearing ability to affect the living, even after death, or that terrifying potential of the mind to create illogical nightmares that feel so real while we’re having them. Much of the artwork and writing I have done which is not so well known are those which depict lucid dreams and nightmares, which somehow easily bridge into horror more than anything else. It’s a fascination with dreams and the mood of dreaming that really attract me to certain types of horror. I’m also a sucker for a good mystery, which horror stories of the psychological nature generally center around.

That’s my theory, anyways. I’m curious to know what yours are? Do you have a penchant for the macabre? Or are you left wondering why on earth anyone would enjoy such a thing?

Share with me your dark little secrets and remember to have a safe and spooky Halloween!

Image by Tecmo Ltd.

Folklore – Beating the Shinies out of Faeries


After so many serious posts at this blog, I thought I’d offer a brief interlude for my mid-week post.

As it stands, I cannot hide that there is a bit of geek in me. I’ve always harbored a love for anime and video games and sometime last year I began a wholesome little epic on the PS3 entitled Folklore, a PS3 exclusive title that came out early on in the system’s lifespan. Why am I talking about it on my art journal? Because it is my belief that video games are a highly realized art form, despite popular belief in its low brow value as a form of entertainment, and it can be inspiring the same way music, movies, and books are for me.

Folklore is one of those games that just tickles my muse silly.

From concept to execution, form to music, Folklore has a story and a look that hooked me from the start and breathed a little life into my muse when I was feeling less than inspired some time ago.

The Story? A young woman named Ellen ventures to the nearly abandoned village of Doolin in Ireland to uncover the secrets of her past that have been buried there. With no memory of who she is, she quickly finds that Doolin is not all that it seems and the strange calling of the ancient Henge beckons her enter the dream world of the Fae to find out.

Enter Keats, the other main character, a self proclaimed skeptic who writes for a dwindling paranormal magazine and yet doesn’t believe a word he himself writes. A strange phone call from a scared woman claiming to be threatened by faeries draws him to Doolin where he is soon embroiled in the mystery of Ellen’s past.

Review: Faeries, tattooed men, colorful characters, a superb artistic style, mystery, murder, and action, to boot! I felt like this game was designed for me. Others complain about the repetitiveness of the gameplay, but I always found something new and exciting to try with the numerous faeries, or Folks, whom Keats and Ellen befriend in each realm, even though I found myself sticking to a trustworthy few who would get the job done. In order to ‘befriend’ a Folk, you have to beat it until it’s ‘Id’ pops out and then use the motion controls on the PS3 controller to literally yank it out! This was one of the most stress relieving effects of the gameplay and why I like to say that ‘beating the shinies out of Faeries’ is one of the most gratifying activities you can do in this game. I also love a good mystery and each level dropped enough clues to keep me wanting to know ‘whodunit’ in the end.

The strength of this game for me, however, was in its visual flair. Each dream realm the characters enter is created from a certain emotion which humans feel towards death, such as the Faerie realm, which was created from the belief of ancient and medieval man in a Elysian Field type of Heaven. The Faery realm is accordingly bright and colorful with a dreamlike haze while other realms, such as the Endless Corridor, conjure mankind’s idle thoughts on modernity producing a realm full of Dali-esque melting landscapes and the abandoned skeletal forms of clocks, thrones,and book shelves. Each level contains a boss, or a Folklore, created from the lost souls of each realm and suiting to its design. I found myself wanting to get through each realm just to see the terrifying or just plain weird creatures at the end of each one.

All in All: This is one of the few games I will probably do fanart for, which is rare for me. If you enjoy a bit of action, mystery, and well…Folklore, than this game is for you.

And now I shall leave you with a brief cut scene from the game which will explain why I list tattooed men as one of its virtues:

Next on my video game palette: Assassin’s Creed, because nothing says ‘badass’ like taking a leap of faith into a hay pile off of a 20 story building.