Fatal Frame, also known as Zero in Japan and Project Zero in Europe, is a survival horror series developed by Koei Tecmo (formerly Tecmo) that encompasses five main games, one spin-off, one remake, and one remaster.
The franchise is best defined by its core mechanic in which players explore various haunted locations while battling ghosts using a supernaturally-charged camera called the Camera Obscura.
In this list, we’ll go through the franchise’s history and explore every Fatal Frame game in order of release, starting with the original up to the most recent installment, Maiden of Black Water.
By the end, we hope to provide you with a better understanding of Fatal Frame’s legacy and overall impact on survival horror games that came after.
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Release Date: December 13, 2001
Platforms: PS2, Xbox
Fatal Frame kicks off in the early 2000s with the release of the first entry for the PlayStation 2 and original Xbox.
The story was supposedly based on a true story, although loosely, and sees players controlling Miku Hinasaki as she enters Himuro Mansion looking for her missing brother Mafuyu.
While Miku doesn’t find her brother, she stumbles upon her mother’s old camera Mafuyu brought with him before disappearing two weeks ago.
Armed with the Camera Obscura, Miku begins capturing and exorcising spirits that can’t be seen by the naked eye while continuing her search for her brother and uncovering the mansion’s mysteries.
Following its release, Fatal Frame performed rather poorly in its home country of Japan, selling just 22,000 units in its debut week, but fared much better in Europe and North America.
Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly
Release Date: November 27, 2003
Platforms: PS2, Xbox
The second installment was released two years later for the PlayStation 2 and original Xbox and features a new story along with side content and bonuses for each version.
In Crimson Butterfly, players follow twin sisters Mio and Mayu Amakura as they visit one of their favorite childhood play spots when Mayu spots a mysterious red butterfly and follows it into the forest.
Mio gives chase and the pair end up at a lost village where, upon entering an old house, they discover the Camera Obscura and learn of a strange ritual that results in Mayu becoming possessed by an evil spirit.
From there, it’s up to Mio to uncover the mysteries of the Crimson Sacrifice Ritual to save her sister and the village from falling into darkness before it’s too late.
Upon release, Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly received positive reviews from critics who were overall impressed with the sequel’s ability to capitalize on the original’s cult status.
Fatal Frame III: The Tormented
Release Date: July 28, 2005
The next Fatal Frame game was released two years later exclusively for the PlayStation 2 and introduced a new protagonist, 23-year-old freelance photographer Rei Kurosawa.
Fatal Frame III: The Tormented’s story follows Rei as she descends into a dream-turned-nightmare in which she follows her fiancé into a strange mansion haunted by violent spirits.
After completing several chapters, referred to as “Hours” in the game, players can unlock Miku Hinasaki and Kei Amakura (Mio and Mayu’s uncle) as playable characters along with their distinct battle styles.
Along with being the first entry to feature multiple protagonists, The Tormented is the first game to include sequences set outside of the haunted mansion, with Rei able to explore her house while awake.
Much like its predecessor, Fatal Frame III was met with generally positive reviews celebrating its new story elements and gameplay features.
Fatal Frame IV: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse
Release Date: July 31, 2008
Released in the late 2000s exclusively for the Wii in Japan, Mask of the Lunar Eclipse (also known as Zero: Tsukihami no Kamen) is the fourth installment of the Fatal Frame franchise.
The story takes place on Rougetsu Island and centers on Ruka Minazuki, an amnesic girl who was held captive on the island under mysterious circumstances and returns years later looking for answers.
Ruka is joined by two other survivors as the trio sets out to retrieve a ritual mask key and reveal the island’s darkest secrets.
The gameplay is similar to previous installments and sees players warding off aggressive ghosts using the Camera Obscura with some modifications based on the Wii hardware.
While Mask of the Lunar Eclipse’s Wii and Japan exclusivity ultimately resulted in weaker sales compared to other entries, the game managed to sell 75,000 units by the end of December 2008.
Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir
Release Date: January 12, 2012
Platforms: Nintendo 3DS
Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir is a Fatal Frame spin-off that was co-developed by Koei Tecmo and Nintendo for the Nintendo 3DS handheld.
The game utilizes the 3DS’ gyro sensors and 3D cameras to simulate using the Camera Obscura along with an AR notebook presented as a cursed diary.
To progress through the story, players must use the cursed Diary of Faces to navigate between their world and an old haunted house while searching for hints and battling spirits.
Of the spirits encountered by the player are Maya, an amnesic girl who follows you, Kaito, a man trapped by the Diary, Koji, a masked boy who challenges you to a game of hide-and-seek, and the Woman in Black, who serves as the main villain.
Upon release, Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir received mixed reviews from gaming outlets, with several reviewers suggesting the game lacked content.
Project Zero 2: Wii Edition
Release Date: June 28, 2012
Project Zero 2: Wii Edition is a remake of Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly with a host of new content and gameplay features.
These include a dynamic over-the-shoulder POV first introduced by Mask of the Lunar Eclipse, along with an updated map and layout to better serve the new perspective.
The game also features several graphical enhancements such as improved character models with new costumes and an expanded number of locations for players to visit.
Lastly, many of the game’s ghosts were assigned new attacks and special abilities based on later installments of the series.
Despite being a remake, Project Zero 2 is considered to be one of the better outings for the franchise and arguably the best horror game in the Wii library.
Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
Release Date: September 27, 2014
Platforms: Wii U (Original), Windows, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Switch (Remaster)
Serving as the fifth main installment in the series, Fatal: Frame: Maiden of Black Water was originally released for the Wii U in 2014 and later remastered for console and PC in October 2021.
The story focuses on three protagonists who are drawn to the mysterious Hikami Mountain where an ancient ritual to seal away a malevolent force called the Black Water is about to occur.
Taking control of the main character Yuri Kozukata, players must traverse the mountain’s surrounding forest and search for clues while battling ghosts using the Camera Obscura.
The remastered version includes updated graphics, additional character costumes, and a new photo mode for capturing spooky gameplay moments.
While the original Maiden of Black Water received fairly mixed to positive reviews, the remaster fared a lot better, with critics celebrating the graphical refinements and new content.