Kikuchi: The Fatal Frame series is a Japanese horror adventure set in abandoned Japanese houses, and there's a camera -- there's a camera in the games called the Camera Obscura ※1, and you use it to seal away the ghosts that appear in the building as you unravel the story's mysteries. They're set in the 1980s, so it's a time before the spread of mobile phones. We originally started work on the Fatal Frame games when the series' director, Shibata, wrote a proposal for it.
※1. Camera Obscura: A special camera that can photograph spirits. It can be used to seal away the souls of ghosts that attack you.
Shibata: As for myself, I wanted to make the absolute scariest horror game. But even if we did try to, say, have it set overseas, as a Japanese person myself it would seem like we had borrowed the worldview and it would be quite a difficult task to express its true scariness. It's not monsters or zombies that cause fear to seep into your body, but ghosts. I wanted to make something that Japanese people would find to be physiologically the scariest thing.
In my initial proposal, I included two elements that could broadly be called the prototype for Fatal Frame. One of these was that I wanted to have it set in a Japanese house. Traditional Japanese houses have this world on the other side that you normally never see, like behind sliding screens and underneath the floor, and I wanted to make a game that would utilise this "darkness" to make a horror that would make you afraid just to be there; a horror that would make you mentally feel fear. The other was a system where you could seal the spirits away. You want to do anything you can to avoid looking directly at scary things like ghosts, right? But I wanted to have a system where they're scary, but you have no choice but to look at them in order to defeat them, and that's where the idea to seal them away with a camera came from.
Kikuchi: When I first heard the idea for the camera, I was opposed to it. If it's a Japanese horror then you can actively fight back, for example hitting them with a hamaya or writing charms on ofuda talismans, but I thought of cameras as a passive device and couldn't see how it would mesh with the worldview. As we worked out the details of the proposal, however, I began to see the camera as something that was indispensible to Fatal Frame. Photographs cut out time and space, and I thought that maybe the tension during the moment of a shutter chance might match up with the game system. Not only this, but having to wait for this ghost to draw near and defeat it, even though you don't want to be anywhere near it, seemed like the most suitable system for stirring up fear.
The reason for making the Japanese title "Zero" was because it's something that should be there but isn't, or something that shouldn't be there but is, and it's nothing and yet something - "zero" is a word that doubtlessly represents ghosts, and it can also be read "rei" (ghost), so I thought it seemed like a perfect fit for a title that deals with spirits.
Shibata: This game is set on a fictional island south of Japan called Rougetsu Island. There's a building on the island called Rougetsu Hall that's like an old hotel that blends western and eastern styles, and the facility was used as a sanatorium ※2. That's the main setting. A ritual called the Rougetsu Kagura was performed on the island once every decade, but for a certain reason it was stopped. There was also an incident in which five girls were spirited away simultaneously and discovered several days later. They were found by a detective and safely taken into custody, and despite having lost all of their memories the case was, for the time being, over. A few years later, two of the five girls who were involved in the incident die, and the remaining three head to the island, which is where the story begins. The story is shown from a variety of the perspectives of each of the three characters as they try to unravel the mysteries of the incident and their lost memories.
※2. Sanatorium - A facility for those who require a long treatment period in order to cure their illnesses. These are often located in remote places with clean air, such as plateaus and coasts.
※3. Kagura - A ritual that involves music and dancing before the gods in order to revere them.
Kikuchi: The story this time around is that the protagonists who have lost their memories go to the island to recover them, so the characters have a bit of an introverted image. They're 17 years old - at their most emotional time, when they're neither adults nor children.
The "Mask of the Lunar Eclipse" in the subtitle is the name of an item that was indispensible to the kagura ritual that was performed on Rougetsu Island; aside from this "mask", the game has other important keywords such as "the waxing and waning of people's memories", "the waxing and waning of the moon", and the "melody" that awakens them. In other words, this means that the "Mask of the Lunar Eclipse" from the subtitle plays an important role in the story.
Kikuchi: The rules of the game are basically the same as they've always been, but since this game is on the Wii the controls have changed quite a lot. Character movement is performed using the control stick of the nunchuk, and the familiar torch is controlled using the Wii remote. The torch, which illuminates dark rooms, is indispensible in further increasing the scary feeling. From the moment I first saw the Wii remote, I felt that it would be a very good fit. As a result of much trial and error, we decided to use the motion sensor ※4 instead of pointing ※5, tilting the Wii remote up and down, and I think we succeeded in realising a control system that makes you feel like you're holding a real torch. Furthermore, the feeling of holding the Wii remote and nunchuk in one hand each has more of a sense of presence than existing controllers that you grip in both hands as you play, and can further increase the fear.
※4. Pointing - A method of control that feels like you're aiming at a specific point on the TV screen.
※5. Motion sensor - A method of control that uses the Wi remote's internal sensor to detect tilting and changes in movement up and down, left and right, and depth.
Shibata: The other big change is the viewpoint. Up until now we've used a fixed overhead camera, where it feels like you're moving around a character on the screen. This time, though, we changed the viewpoint to behind the back of the character that you're controlling, evolving the controls so when you're playing it feels like you're there yourself. You can move around your viewpoint at the same time as the torch using the Wii remote, so you can quite naturally look up or around you at anything that catches your interest as you walk around and illuminate it so that you can get a good look. When you're walking through a scary place you pay attention to your surroundings as you continue on inside, right? So there are times when you turn the corner of a hallway ans think, "Ah, I saw something..." (laughs). In that sense, I think you can get inside the world of Fatal Frame and enjoy exploring more than you ever could in the past.
※6. Overhead viewpoint - A viewpoint from which you objectively view the player character from a distance.
Kikuchi: Another of the changes for this game is that the design of the buildings where the game is set has changed a little due to the change in viewpoint. Up until now the series has been set in old Japanese houses, but in Japanese-style buildings you live on tatami mats, which means that things are often put below eyeline. The viewpoint is behind the back in this game, so we thought that using buildings fuse eastern and western styles, with things put in slightly higher up places, would be a better fit for the system. The game is set in a building that's like an inn that was built in the Meiji period under the influences of western construction, or like an old hotel, but we do of course have Japanese houses like we have in the past, so this game has the most settings in the series.
Shibata: But as we had changed the viewpoint to behind the back, there were also people who wondered whether the character's walking speed might be too slow. The Fatal Frame series has always had a slow movement speed when you're exploring. Rather than happily moving around smoothly like in an action game, slowly looking at what's in the darkness as you move around makes the air seem haevier, and things like the humidity let you experience the fear more. Even though the movement speed is the fastest in the series so far, from the game's behind the back perspective it makes the screen seem to change more slowly, and so you also feel like you're moving more slowly. We took this into careful consideration, adjusting things like not only the character's movement speed but also minute details like the time it takes to switch screens, which we kept thoroughly reconsidering right up until the very end of development.
Kikuchi: To sum up the development theme of this game in a sentence, it would be "the fear that you experience". Being able to control the game intuitively, like going where you want to go and examining things, was at the forefront of our minds. For example, the feeling of reaching out into a dark space, or the feeling of timidly looking around you with the torch. Each of these improvements allows you to feel a greater sense of presence, and I think it allows players to feel the fear even more than previous entries in the series.
Shibata: We also paid careful attention to the sound in order to express the fear that you experience. Throughout the series, we've made it so that when you play using headphones, the sound makes your fear arrive at a climax. However, with this game we decided to undertake a new challenge and think of the Wii remote's speaker as a speaker, putting in lots of effects. Of course, as well as hearing sound from your hand we've also incorporated a variety of ideas, such as the vibration function, so this time around I hope people put their headphones to one side and play with their TV's volume up high.
Shibata: This game was our first attempt to have three companies (Nintendo, Grasshopper ※7 and Tecmo) work together to make one thing. In that sense, too, it was a good opportunity to reasses the game system we've used so far, almost like making a totally new game. The three of us cooperating to thoroughly look at how we could take things that had been a given until now and use this to make a better game was also a big thing. I don't think we would have been able to do this if we were working with the same hardware. I also don't think that we would have been able to raise the quality even higher without the cooperation of Nintendo and Grasshopper, so I think that having all three companies make the game together helped to raise the game's standards.
※7. Grasshopper Manufacture - A development company that has developed software such as No More Heroes (Wii), Killer7 (GB) and Contact (DS). The company representative, Goichi Suda, served alongside Mr. Shibata of Tecmo as director.
Kikuchi: Although each of the different companies involved is quite individualistic, so trying to agree on something was really difficult (strained laugh), I do think it went really well. Even with things in the series until now that have been unclear or looked down on, Nintendo's development staff gave us careful pointers and I think this raised the quality of the game. Grasshopper is also a company that has great technological strength with regards to the characters' actions and expressions, so I think that it made the game feel more lively. And of course, I think that we at Tecmo were able to tackle traditional horror games with our hard work on the fear.
Shibata: First of all, I want the fans who have enjoyed the series so far to play the game. There may be people who are concerned that the scares and depictions might be mild in comparison, but this isn't the case. What we want to portray with this series is a psychological fear. It's the kind of fear where you feel like something unknown is there, staring at you. This has never been the extreme kind of game where there's blood flying everywhere and monsters appear, so there's no need to worry about the presentation. In fact, Nintendo's producers actually told us to make it scarier (laughs). Like the rest of the series, the game has its own standalone story, but there are some places in the background and behind the setting that I think will make people who have played the rest of the series grin. The atmosphere has been created so that you can simply enjoy wandering aimlessly around the in-game buildings, and even though it's scary at first you'll eventually start to feel comfortable there, so I hope people keep playing for a long time.
Kikuchi: I want the existing fans to enjoy it, of course, but I also want people who have never interacted with games before to get to enjoy a horror game. The series has never had numbers in its titles. Each game is complete in its own right, so even if you start playing here you can fully enjoy it. The controls have also been reborn to be more intuitive, so I'll be satisfied if even people who have never played a horror game before will think, "It's scary, but horror games are really fun." This game is also full of bonus elements. These are still a secret, so unfortunately I can't say anything, but we have a lot of bonus things that I desperately want to talk about. We also had the game's theme song done by Tsukiko Amano ※8, who is a regular in the series. It's yet another amazing song, so please make sure that you reach the end and listen to the song. We put in a lot of scares, volume and enjoyable elements without compromise, so it's the ultimate in the series. I hope everyone uses horror to cool themselves down this summer.
※8. Tsukiko Amano - A singer songwriter who made her indies debut in 2001 with the single Hakoniwa. Aside from doing live shows, she's also a multimedia artist.