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After the 5 Star high of the Fourth Drop, I’m super excited to get into Fatal Frame 5: Fifth Drop Gameplay!

Who are all these people?

  • Ren Hojo – This drop’s POV character. Ren is an author who lives with his assistant, Rui, at the base of Mt. Hikami. He’s become obsessed with his dream in which he believes he kills a young, white-haired girl, and postmortem photographs of shrine maidens from Mt. Hikami. Could there be a connection?
    Rui Kagamiya – the organized assistant to Ren Hojo. She lives him with and accompanies him on his increasingly dangerous forays onto Mt. Hikami.
  • Kazuya Sakaki – Ren’s friend since high school, who works in the city. He was helping Ren collect postmortem photographs when he suddenly cut contact. Recently called Ren to tell him he was getting married. But to who?
  • Keiji Watarai – a folklorist obsessed with the rituals conducted on Mt. Hikami. He moved there to learn more but he, and the house he lived in on the mountain, have vanished into the mists.
  • Yuri Kozukata – An orphan rescued from suicide by Hisoka, who can see “spirit traces”, like Hisoka. She’s in possession of the Camera Obscura, the camera that can combat ghosts. She can see shadow traces of people and items.
  • Hisoka Kurosawa – Yuri’s mentor who runs an antique shop. She also reads fortunes and finds missing items and people by following their traces… but went missing on Mt. Hikami while looking for Haruka.
  • Haruka Momose – Rescued from Mt. Hikami, but still drawn there by the allure of some suicidal siren song.

There’s more and more characters each time. I think this might be the widest cast in any Fatal Frame game yet.

To catch you up

Last drop we rescued, however briefly, Haruka. But Ren is still obsessed with the postmortem photo album recovered from the inn. This album, compiled by Keiji Watarai, a folklorist who settled on Mt. Hikami, seems to bring trouble wherever it goes.

First Keiji vanished. Then the inn keeper’s father. Then the inn keeper himself. Will Ren follow suit?

Ren’s home

Back at home, Rui has secured a video tape that might shed some light on the whereabouts of Keiji Watarai. Ren settles in to watch it, and the images are immediately familiar.

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This is Shrine of Dolls, and the underground tunnel of Womb Cave. But the image flickers, and now a cabin fills the screen.

Fatal Frame 5: Fifth Drop Gameplay, Keiji Watarai's house
The house that vanished into the mists.

“I don’t remember seeing this house before.”

The person recording the video enters, cautious. “Doesn’t look like anyone’s lived here in awhile.”

Dirt and grime cover everything. And yet, there are items on the table. It looks as if someone vanished, rather than moved. An old rotary phone sits on the corner, and as they pass it chimes once, briefly. The explorer jerks away, not wanting to pick it up. I can’t blame him.

He passes a living room, and at its center is a massive black box.

The same type of box that Yuri found Haruka in.

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But he doesn’t investigate it. He goes towards the stairs, moving fast and jerky. His panic is obvious without him saying a word. He climbs the stairs, panning the camera across a room with a hole in its floor. A man stands in the closet, his face dark with decay. But he doesn’t react. Does he even see him?

A little further in he finds a room filled with books. This is undoubtedly Keiji’s study. In the storage room off its side is a ladder, leading up into an attic. And against his better judgement the cameraman mounts the stairs.

His breath trembles as he lifts the camera up. Only to see a man crawling across the floor towards him, blood streaking his face. The cameraman screams and the screams and the footage sizzles and cuts out.

Ren grabs the report Rui’s written about the video. It reads:

“This folklorist, Keiji Watarai, went to the mountain due to his obsession with the mysteries of the sect living there. He then went missing, as mentioned in the diary, and rumors about what happened to him abound.

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They say that he didn’t just die or go missing, but rather he stumbled on something the mountain wanted kept hidden, and so his entire house as swallowed up by the mist.

This is the origin of Mt. Hikami’s more recent stories of a haunted house.

While the veracity of this is unclear, I looked into a video tape, left behind by someone who stumbled across the house. The video is apparently famous in occult circles.

I contacted the publisher, and received the following response:

Dear Rui Kagamiya,

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Thank you for contacting us.

The tape was found near a river on Mt. Hikami. It’s unknown who filmed it. There were many sections too damaged by water to be usable, and so we took what was left and edited it together.

The master copy of the video was confiscated by the police. They conducted a search of the mountain, but were unable to find who shot the film, or even the house’s location.

We advise you not to look into this on your own.”

Ha. As if they’re going to listen to you, film publisher.

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As Ren puts down the report the phone rings.

Ren answers and is surprised to hear it’s his friend, Kazuya Sakaki. He hasn’t been able to get a hold of his friend in awhile, but Kazuya scarcely seems to hear him.

The point of view shifts, and we see Kazuya standing in an old house. His face and voice distant.

“I’m getting married,” Kazuya announces.

“What, you are?” Ren says, shocked. He stammers a congratulations. He asks if he knows the bride and Kazuya continues, as if in a trance.

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“Ever since I saw her picture…”

Fatal Frame 5: Fifth Drop Gameplay, Kazuya informing Ren about his new fiancee.
She secrets black water and men still love her. What’s her secret?

Black water creeps towards his shoes. The windows behind him are boarded up. This… doesn’t look good.

The voice of a woman floods the phone.

“Will you die with me?” she asks.

Beside Kazuya a grey faced, black-lipped woman stands, staring at him. The line cuts.

Shaken, Ren hangs up, staring down at the phone as he tries to comprehend what Kazuya has told him. The ghastly, feminine voice on the phone.

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But he doesn’t deviate from his plan. He has to find Keiji’s house. The cameraman seemed to follow the same path Yuri took when she found Haruka. He’ll have to go to the Shrine of the Dolls, through the wooden grate, and descend into Womb Cave. From there, perhaps he’ll be able to find it.

Before he takes a step outside the door, he finds Rui’s journal. Moral quibbles aside, he peeks inside, to try and get insight into what Rui’s been afraid to say aloud.

“Mr. Hojo often cries out in his sleep.”

“Mr. Hojo often cries out in his sleep. He won’t tell me much, but it seems like he has a recurring dream, about a ceremony from his childhood.

As a young boy, Mr. Hojo said he spent a summer with relatives at the base of Mt. Kagiroi. He’s mentioned playing in an old house and in a shrine on the mountain, and some kind of festival he went to.

Is he dreaming of that ceremony? I went to festivals as a child, but all I remember is having a good time.

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He often cries “don’t look at me!” in his sleep.

He’s always had a hard time with people staring at him. He especially dislikes it when women look at him for too long.”

Huh. Sounds pretty familiar to someone else. A tattooed face murderer, perhaps. Did the white-haired girl have the same ability as the shrine maidens, or is Ren just overcome with guilt at having her look at him before he kills her?

Shrine of Dolls on Mt. Hikami

Ren and Rui set out to the Shrine of Dolls, arriving unscathed. But they linger outside the shrine.

Fatal Frame 5: Fifth Drop Gameplay, the Shrine of Dolls
Why are we here again. Why would we ever go back.

Ren follows the path Yuri takes through the side door. He opens it, and the dolls that were standing guard when Yuri was here last are gone. So are the dolls that filled the hall.

Their absence is almost more disorienting than their presence. They’ve moved. I don’t like that they’ve moved.

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Rui, lagging behind Ren, hears the wordless sounds of something almost indistinguishable. Is it a child? Beckoning her to play? She turns, following the noise, into a doll display room. There on the floor is the white-haired girl, laying beside an effigy.

Fatal Frame 5: Fifth Drop Gameplay, white-haired girl "pretends" to be dead.
What a delightfully morbid little brat.

“Don’t talk to me. I’m not supposed to talk to the living.”

“Don’t talk to me. I’m not supposed to talk to the living,” the white-haired girl warns.

She’s so petulant and bratty. It’s hard not to like her.

She opens her eyes, sighing. “A man at last. You are a man, are you not?”

“I’m a girl,” Ren states, shocked but indignant.

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“Liar.”

“I am!”

“I see. In that case… Let us play.” The girl holds up the faceless doll, nearly identical to the one she had for Yuri.

“This is an effigy. Of you. … No. I’ll make you into an effigy.” She creeps closer to Rui, her scarlet eyes full of malicious intention.

Down the hall Ren, realizing that Rui isn’t behind him, turns back and enters the doll room that Rui was in moments before. But now Rui’s nowhere to be seen. It’s just the ghost children, who surround him.

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“It’s playtime! You’re the groom, now find your bride!”

They run off, vanishing through the walls.

Ren stares after them, perplexed. He has no idea what’s going on but he needs to find Rui. Opening the nearest door, he descends into the waterlogged storage room. Dolls still fill the shelves but there’s a new book amongst them, too.

A soiled notebook, belonging to a priest who once lived here.

It reads:

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“The children are playing. Sometimes I wake up at night, feeling their presence. The following morning, dolls that I know I’ve put away have moved someplace else.

The more this happens, the more clearly I hear the sounds of playing, and the more often I have dreams where I’m there among the children, playing with them.

I think my late daughter is one of them.

Last night, I felt like I as being watched. I awoke to find a white-haired girl staring at me.

She said, “Don’t worry. Your daughter is playing with the doll you fixed.” After that, she disappeared.

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Those eyes… It’s like she could see everything. She even seemed to answer the very question that was on my mind.”

Ah, so the white-haired girl has the same ability as the Blackwater Maidens. Maybe that’s why Ren was so frightened to have her look at him when he killed her all those years ago.

Ren works his way through the shelves, finally reaching the stairs on the other side. On the other side of the shrine, he encounters a sheer, ghostly sphere, hiding in a small room. When he takes a picture of it, it transforms into one of the hiding children, who leaps at him before running away.

Fatal Frame 5: Fifth Drop Gameplay
Found you! You creepy little bastard.

I guess that’s one child down, two more to go.

Down another hall we hear a small voice and find another hidden girl. That’s the second.

As we search for the third, we find another one of the priest’s diaries.

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It reads:

“Today’s dream was stifling. It was night, and several men carrying burning flames spent a long time exploring the area underneath the main shrine.

They carried a huge reliquary underground, burying it where no one would ever find it.

The white-haired girl was sleeping inside the box.

She was waiting for someone, but it wasn’t me. I didn’t have what she wanted. I remember feeling so incredibly sad when I woke up.”

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Ahh. So, does Ren have what she wants? We’ll have to wait see.

The third ghost is close by, hiding in a hole.

Now where do we go? In the flooded sanctum here the three large dolls are enshrined Ren finds another notebook, which wasn’t there just a few minutes before. But this book, with its shiny leather, is familiar.

It’s Rui’s journal.

Quickly, Ren flips through it, hoping for a clue.

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“Mr. Hojo has started acting strangely. It’s like his mind is completely elsewhere. This all started when he saw that photo. He’s usually on the lazy side, but now he’s obsessed with tracking down these photos.

I have to go with him, if only make sure he doesn’t wander off willy-nilly.

Would he put this much effort into searching for me if I went missing, I wonder?”

Woof. Rui doesn’t have a very high opinion of him, does she? But it’s hard to blame her.

But Ren believes that if he uses her diary, he can see where Rui’s been taken. Does that mean, he, too, has a spiritual sense like Yuri and Hisoka?

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A vague white mist glimmers at a door, and we follow it into a narrow room. Where it’s concentrated Ren takes a photo. Rui materializes, the Camera Obscura materializing her back into the living realm.

Fatal Frame: Fifth Drop Gameplay, found Rui
Was she hidden in the realm between life and death, like the photo album in the inn?

“You… you really came for me.”

“You alright?”

“Yes.”

But she really doesn’t sound alright. She keeps getting picked on by all these ghosts. Still, Ren isn’t ready to give up and go home yet. Not when they’ve come all this way. He needs to find the Veiled House.

He and Rui head back towards the doll room here she was first spirited away. But a man with a reliquary on his back attacks them. As he collapses into ether, Ren reaches out to touch him.

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We see his last moments, as he contemplates the black waters, the box on his back forcing him to bow.

“My body. Lost to the depths… of the Black Water…”

He seems to have thrown himself into a lake of water. Perhaps he, like so many others, couldn’t resist the allure of that place. It’s hard to feel sorry for him.

Inside the doll room, the white-haired girl is sitting on the doll display.

Ren is taken aback. He remembers her immediately. And she clearly remembers him. She stares at him intensely, contemplating him for a moment.

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White-haired girl knows Ren and gave him a token before she died.
She’s so disappointed in him. But I would have tossed that token too.

“You didn’t keep it with you. My token… Did you lose it? But, our promise…”

She turns, disappointed, away from him before vanishing into the ether.

Ren says nothing. He just goes to the wooden grate beneath the doll display and enters Womb Cavern.

Womb Cavern

“Th-thanks… Y-you know, I… I’ve been waiting,” Rui stammers, sounding chilled.

“Hmm?” Ren asks, clearly confused. Not turning around to look at her as he works his way through the waterlogged tunnel.

“For… for someone to choose me. I’ve been waiting… so long… for you.”

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Uh-oh.

“What are you talking about?” Ren demands.

“I… It’s not important. I understand now…”

“… Well, I don’t understand it at all.”

“The girl… She’s been waiting too. For the person with her token.”

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“Huh?”

It seems that more than just a murder happened during Ren’s childhood. But that, too, seems to be blacked out of his memory. But more pressing, is Rui possessed?

They reach the main cave, and the pool is still filled with black boxes. In the center, the women who attacked Haruka and Yuri attacks. Her arms swing wildly and blind towards Ren, but soon she vanishes. In her wake is an Iris key.

It occurs to Ren now that there is a woman in each of the boxes that fill this cavern. But he has the key to the metal door that leads out of this place. And he doesn’t linger, quickly unlocking it so they can leave.

And outside the cave, they find it. The Veiled House. The vanishing home of Keiji Watarai.

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The Veiled House

“Is… is someone there?” Rui asks, as they approach it, cautious.

It looks decrepit and long abandoned. Just like in the video they’d seen. But the moment they step inside it’s undeniable – this is surely the house that Kazuya called from. I recognize that boarded up window. And that phone, that started the explorer in the video. That must have been the phone that he used to call Ren.

So, he’s here in this house, somewhere.

“It’s just like that video..” Rui murmurs, her head swinging back and forth, nervous.

“Yeah.”

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Ren heads up the stairs, and catches a glimpse of Keiji staggering through the halls, towards his study.

“This box… is there something inside of it? What lies within… and what is its purpose?” Keiji’s voice drifts out of his study. “Have others been submered elsewhere on this mountain too?”

There are countless books here, but they are all unreadable because of water damage.

We see another trace of Keiji in the hall, murmuring to himself. He seems entranced.

Keiji Watarai mumbling to himself about a maiden

The TV in the sitting room is on, its monitor full of white static. A tray with two teacups and tobacco sit on a dusty table. It feels as if someone’s been here recently.

Ren approaches the phone, and it rings.

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“Ren. You’re… too late… I… I’m already…”

“Kazuya?”

“Really? Was that him?” Rui asks, shocked.

Rui spots an old photograph on the floor by the phone and picks it up, giving it to Ren.

“This is just like the picture you were looking at.”

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Ren stares dumbfounded at the photo. It’s the precise same postmortem photo he had in his photo album. The photo of a beautiful shrine maiden.

Did Kazuya come here because of it?

Keiji’s spirit appears in the hall behind them, stumbling away. He mumbles something almost too quiet to hear:

“The living and the dead… Bound by ceremonies of Ghost Marriage.”

“The living and the dead… Bound by ceremonies of Ghost Marriage.”

So, he married a dead girl. But why are all these men obsessed with her? These photos seem to have a siren effect, similar to the call to the suicidal Mt. Hikami has. But why? Why are they luring men here?

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Near the phone there’s a hole in the floor. Beneath it is dark, murky water. But there are traces of water on the floor, as if something had been dragged into it.

We follow Keiji’s trace and hear him murmuring. “The photo… she’s smiling at me. The photo’s smiling at me.”

His ghost vanishes into the next room, and Ren follows him. Here the room is filled with shelves of books. And still Keiji talks to himself.

“The picture… From the moment I let her draw me in, the union was already complete. I must go. I can’t just keep waiting until it’s too late. Even if I risk ruin…”

Until what’s too late, Keiji? He’s giving us more questions than answers. But amongst the shelves we find one of his books, filled with notes on Mt. Hikami. It reads:

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“Here on the mountain, water is considered the source of the soul. A person’s soul is then said to return to water upon death, rather than moving on to an afterlife.

Those ready for death would gather at the mountain and return their lives to the water.

Water connects everything.

I’m glad I came here. The people on this mountain have a yearning for death. That is to say, they have a yearning for water, and a yearning for nature.

Life and death are both connected to water.”

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There’s a cassette tape with the notepad, but the label has been left blank.

Fortunately, we can listen to it now. Ren plays it, and Keiji’s voice fills the room.

“The shrine maidens use the water as a conduit between the living and the dead. Those who come to the mountain are transfixed by death. To die is to return to the water. The water is connected to everything. The shrine maidens glance into the souls of the dying, taking on their final memories. Then the shrine maidens become the Pillars, and those memories are submerged into the water.

If water really is connected to everything, then this mountain, overflowing with water, must also be overflowing with death.”

Well, he isn’t wrong. There’s a lot of water and a lot ghosts.

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At Keiji’s desk, Ren sees the trace of the missing folklorist standing, looking down. He takes a photo and Keiji vanishes, leaving in his stead two notebooks.

The first reads:

“I saw this silhouette of a shrine maiden from within the mist that envelops the mountain. Something about her seemed somehow… unnatural. I’ve been told there are no more shrine maidens on the mountain now.

Would that then imply they are trapped within the mist?”

The next notebook is far newer than the others. There’s no dust on it, as if someone had just written in it.

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“It’s said that human sacrifice was once practiced through this region. Rather than returning people to the water upon death, the ritual involved placing so called “Pillars” in special reliquaries and sending them to the water while still alive.

It’s the role of shrine maidens to become such Pillars. They would take on the memories of the dying, and thereafter return to the water themselves.

In doing so, the subject would continue living on as Pillars.

But what did these maidens who became Pillars fear, or hope to appease?

There are various teaching in Japan about where the afterlife, also known as the Netherworld, or the hereafter, is located.

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Some teaching say it is above the mountains or across the sea, where others claim it lies underground, within the very earth itself.

Here on the mountain its’ said to lie within the water, implying a close link between water and death.

The Pillars within the reliquaries would be in a place close to death, but would go on living.

Perhaps it was the special reliquaries that allowed them to evade death and continue living, frozen in time.

It’s thought that perpetuating these Pillars allowed those close to death to live longer lives.

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In a sense it was believe that proximity to death helped develop a resistance to it.”

Ah. So, they were submerging these shrine maidens alive. For what purpose, though? Why did they need to become pillars? Why would they need to carry the memories of the dead with them?

In the side room we hear a low murmuring. Ren opens it, and the head of a doll rolls off its shoulders, onto the floor. This is the room that leads to the attic. To the place where the explorer was attacked.

But on the shelf is another cassette tape, and Ren plays it, putting off the inevitable.

“The shrine maidens were sacrificed as Pillars… but to what purpose? Pillars from shrines of other mountains, too, were routinely brought up in this custom.

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But through sacrifice… what did the aim to appease?

Those who died but were revied were considered strong pillars. Being touched by death must create a strong pillar.”

Well, looks like Keiji has the same questions I do. But that gives me hope that they’ll eventually be answered.

With nothing left to distract him, Ren mounts the ladder, lifting his head up into the attic.

There’s something, no, someone here. The man from the videotape. He lunges towards Ren, crawling on his stomach, but just before his out reached hands can claw at Ren’s face he vanishes.

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Beneath him is another of Keiji notebooks.

The notebook reads:

“Mt. Hikami seems to have been both revered and feared as a “mountain of death,” where only those prepared to die may enter, and those who visited were never allowed to leave.

Visitors to the mountain had to pass through the shrine grove at the foot of the mountain, where shrine maidens kept strict watch in allowing only the qualified – that is, the dying – to enter.

Today, the shrine at this grove has been rebuilt as an inn, whose innkeeper kindly let me borrow records of the time period.

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The records from the shrine’s final year list one individual who was able to leave the mountain alive.

Kunihiko Aso.

After taking his Postmortem Photographs, it seems he was invited to the mountain to photograph the maidens.

I have heard his research into the hereafter allowed him to develop a special camera.

If I could see these photos of the shrine maidens taken with this special camera, I’m certain I could come closer to unraveling the mysteries of Mt. Hikami.

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When invited to the mountain, it is said he was allowed into a house visited only by a select few individuals.

If I were invited to the mountain, would I be able to reach this place, too?

I truly wish I would.”

Kunihiko Aso? The creator of the camera obscura?

But Ren doesn’t have time to contemplate it. The room begins to fill with mist. And the maidens seem to move through mist, like they’re able to move through water.

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Sensing that things are getting very dangerous, very quickly Ren quickly descends the stairs, headed back to the house’s entrance.

… It’s locked. Of course it’s locked.

Cautiously Ren turns back around, and opens the closed living room. Within is a black box. A reliquary. Its lid opens and a man comes sliding out of it.

Ren dispatches him, and sees the last moments of Keiji. Keiji… was he put into the reliquary? Is that where he’s been all this time?

The vision of Keiji’s moments are black and white static, slowly coming into focus.

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“I made it… at last. She’s waiting for me inside this house,” Keiji gasps. He clutches the postmortem photo of the shrine maiden.

A door slides open for him, and she sits there in the room waiting for him. For a brief moment she is beautiful, dresses in the white bridal kimono. And in the next she is ghastly, her face grey, her lips black.

“You came for me me… Will you end yourself with me? After all this time,” the maiden croons.

He’s dragged into the room, screaming.

But where the ghost of Keiji was is another book. It reads:

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“On the way to the summit, I found a photo on a small path lined with spider lilies. The path seemed to head into the forest, but it has become overgrown and is unpassable. Could it lead to that mansion, that only the invited can find?

It is different from the other Postmortem Photographs. I can only describe it as being beautiful. It had a beauty and a sadness unlike the others I’ve seen.

Was she alive?

As soon as I thought how beautiful she was, I was bound. I heard whispers of love from the photograph. They were the words of a curse.

Love after death.

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I must go to that place.”

There’s also another cassette tape accompanying the notebook.

“There is a ceremony to bind doomed men with the shrine maidens, to keep them secure once they have become Pillars.

…Ghost Marriage.

A man’s fate is sealed once he recognizes a shrine maiden’s beauty. Whispers of love come from the photographs. They are a curse. The words are a curse. And yet… my heart is drawn to one word they utter. Suicide.”

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Ren is desperate to leave this place. But before he can even try the door again, a wall is torn down, and the man with the tattooed face stampedes through it, attacking Ren. Why is he here? I don’t know.

Rui’s cluelessness is highlighted in this fight, as she stands there, looking vaguely uncomfortable. Occasionally the tattooed man swings through her, and she shouts.

But once the fight is over, she still doesn’t say anything.

And yet if we peek out of the massive hole in the wall that the tattooed man makes, we can see a tall woman that is surely meant to be Hachishaku-sama, the eight-foot tall woman.

urban legend easter egg!
Well, that’s a cool easter egg.

She wears the same hat and everything. (I’d post a link of her but it’s a lot of weird fanservice. Go look her up if you like giant women, I guess. Or listen to her cool urban legend!)

Ren, instead of walking through the giant hole in the wall and out of the house, goes back for the front door.

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But now there’s a new box, and it opens. A woman floats upwards, as if caught in the eddies of water. I’m so tired of fights.

She floats around, teleporting before before diving in, like a miserable little barracuda.  But finally she goes down, and Ren and Rui are able to escape. But the moment they step out the door the house vanishes into the mist, leaving nothing but an empty space where it had once been.

“Was that the folklorist?” Rui asks.

“I guess so.”

“What’s going on on this mountain?”

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“I’m not sure.”

“Is Mr. Sakaki here on the mountain, too? Just like the folklorist.”

“Enough.”

Great. Scintillating conversation. Wait to show you care about your friend, Ren.

But they run towards the forest station, where a  decrepit train waits for them.

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I don’t trust this train. But that’s the end of the fifth drop.

Final Verdict

Welp. The final verdict on Fatal Frame 5: Fifth Drop Gameplay… Ren’s drops are always a little… lackluster, I suppose’s the word. Maybe it’s because he’s the folklorist, his drops are always full of exposition. But the entire drop was paced very poorly.

The Shrine of Dolls and the game of hide and seek now feel very repetitive, even if this might be the most relevant time for it to happen. Keiji Watarai’s house felt like a huge exposition drop that wasn’t really “earned”. And a lot of what we read felt repetitive, much like the ghosts.

The end of the chapter was also too fight heavy. Why was the tattooed man here? His bursting through the wall like the Koolaid man just felt ridiculous.

I really enjoy lore, so I’ll give it a 3 out of 5… but that’s very generous. I think Yuri’s drop will be better. I just hope we don’t have to go back to the Shrine of Dolls.

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Heretic’s Fork Review: Punish Sinners Like it’s Your Job (It Is)

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Welcome to your new corporate job. It’s Hell. No, really. In Heretic’s Fork, Punish sinners, chat with your co-workers, and don’t forget to check your email before you clock out!  

Heretic’s Fork is a 2023 video game by 9FingerGames and published with Ravenage Games. 9FingerGames is a one-man studio run by Stevie Andrea that is also responsible for titles such as Zapling Bygone. While only out since September, Heretic’s Fork has already garnered several accolades. These include selection for Fear Fest 2023 and The Mini Indie Showcase as well as making Rock Paper Shotgun’s Bestest Bests list.

Watch the Heretic’s Fork Release Trailer here!

Heretic’s Fork is a deck-building, tower defense, bullet-hell (ha) game where you take on hordes of souls trying to escape Hell. To begin, you choose an employee to help you in your task. Each employee has a special ability (and variants) that do everything from nothing to stat buffs to adding whole new mechanics. For example the starting character, Intern Ruby, gives no bonuses. But, Gilbo Gibbins introduces a luck-based wheel that encourages you to gamble your cards away for potentially big rewards (and risks).

Screenshot from the character select screen featuring some variants characters.

As the game progresses, you build and upgrade structures to bolster your defenses against the increasingly difficult hordes of sinners. You also have a deck, through which you upgrade your stats and gain special abilities. With rogue-like elements, you are able to unlock new cards and characters by completing goals, using coins, or finding secrets. This leaves a lot to uncover as you work your way through the circles of Hell. While your screen quickly becomes bullet hell, your structures are more or less automated and do all the sinner punishing for you. The real strategy comes in what cards (and structures) you play, upgrade, and get rid of as the game progresses. 

Screenshot of Heretic’s Fork game play from Endless mode.

I have a soft spot for rogue-like deck building games. Heretic’s Fork is no different. I love the diversity of game play through the many structure, character, and card options. The mechanics really complement the game play choices, making each run feel unique and rewarding.

It was easy to spend hours at a time achievement hunting and exploring the hidden secrets buried in your file systems. In fact, I easily put 20 hours into Heretic’s Fork within two weeks of buying it! It also helped that it was an easy game to play on the Steam Deck, despite it not being created with the Steam Deck in mind. That being said, endless mode did stretch my Steam Deck to its limits (but my PC did just fine). It is also of note, that since September the game has been regularly updated with both paid and unpaid bonus content. It feels like every time I’m ready to move on, something new drops and I’m forced to dive back in!

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If you are a fan of tower defense, rogue-like, or deckbuilding games, Heretic’s Fork is definitely worth checking out! It’s only $10 on Steam, which is well worth the price for an interesting gaming experience.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

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Gaming

The Thing in Review, Movie 1, Movie 2 and the Board Game

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The Thing… Where to start? I guess we’ll start at the beginning, or the first movie as it were, in 1982…. (Note: for all that it is based upon the same book, I am not including the 1951 The Thing from Another World in this review as it is very different from the later iterations. Nor am I reviewing the book itself.)

1982 movie poster detail
1982 movie poster detail

Movie 1

John Carpenter’s The Thing is a cult classic film and a staple of the horror genre despite its original release to lackluster attendance. It focuses on a small group of Antarctic researchers desperately trying to piece together the mystery of what happened at a neighboring outpost before succumbing to the horror itself. Seems that some “thing” was unearthed from its burial in the long frozen ice and has been released to roam the desolate Antarctic wasteland in a ravenous bodyshaping doppleganger frenzy.

The Good

The psychological thriller aspect of this film is laid on thick, with distrust sown between the scant trapped crew remaining, trying to figure out who is and isn’t affected. The characters don’t act irrationally based on tired tropes, making somewhat reasonable choices based on what information they have and learn over the course of the incident, save for acting solo or in pairs despite known risks.

Paranoia reigns supreme and the implications of the circumstances the crew finds themselves in are not lost in the shuffle. This elusive us-versus-them setup is the film’s best quality. And as for another film great, I totally want MacReady’s helicopter flying hat. That is some grand fashion, if I do say so myself. But I digress…

MacReady's noteworthy hat
MacReady’s noteworthy hat

The Bad (or at least, The Ugly)

I won’t go into detail because I don’t want to spoil the plot, but I will mention that the alien being appears in numerous gruesome scenes. Personally, I feel that this is where the film falls short. I get that we had to see its evolving body horror nature to better understand the implications of what the alien can and cannot do as its abilities are revealed.

But it starts to fall into the campy uncanny valley bordering on comic relief when there is too much focus placed on showing the intruder. In my opinion, such vagaries are often more terrifying when left unseen, for the viewer’s imagination to run wild. That said, I will remind everyone that this was before CG, and it was a wholly different world of special effects then. So, for 1982 amidst the shiny happy wonderment surrounding E.T., The Thing was freakishly damn creepy.

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I give the original film 4.0 Cthulhus.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)


Movie 2

On to the prequel, the 2011 version of The Thing exploring exactly what had happened at the Norwegian base camp, as seen in the setup in the John Carpenter release…

2011 movie poster detail
2011 movie poster detail

So, despite all of the mixed reviews out there, I rather liked the prequel. I thought it did pretty well conveying the same moods and story as the 1982 release.

The Good

As expected, the prequel did use a lot more fancy pants computer generated content to depict the sheer terror of the Thing itself. Although it relied heavily on this, I think it used the new capability rather well while still paying homage to the original. The scene developing the two-faced monster was wonderfully creepy in much the same spirit as the 1982 release. The psychological distress revved up very convincingly, with the characters’ paranoia escalating in ways that made sense internally. And the jump scares and grotesque features were good.

The Bad and the Ugly

The way that the events panned out and how the characters interacted within their circumstances was unfortunately less developed than in the original film. As a prequel, not all of the actions led into the 1982 film in ways that were believable, and thus beg the question of when all that research was conducted with the videos made and written records chronicled. The timeline just doesn’t feel at all consistent. Did this occur over a day, two days, a month, or even a few months’ time? This is not wholly clear. The movie plays out as if everything happened within 48 hours but that doesn’t naturally follow with all of the setup.

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And the 2011 release relied more on typical horror tropes like scientific secrecy and splitting up in ways that don’t entirely make sense. A lot of the characters behaved less rationally even despite being shown to process the information at hand quickly. It’s almost like they were trying to set themselves up to be jump scared and assimilated. Who knows, maybe they were?

But my biggest beef with this film is the weirdness with the alien spaceship. I won’t spoil the plot by giving it away, but suffice it to say the alien’s capabilities seem more influenced by how quickly the humans learn what they can do rather than what they are actually able to accomplish, which creates a sort of unique dysfuntion all its own. I’d have shrugged this off if not for the spaceship but instead was left feeling like the movie just had to push for an Iron Man moment (like in The Martian). I guess sometimes we need a big red sign on the wall that says “Bang head here” in the form of a WTF movie moment.

So I give the 2011 prequel only 3.0 Cthulhus. If I had seen this first I don’t know that I’d have gone out of my way to see the 1982 release, and it really just wasn’t as good as the original despite the psychological tension and creepy factor. I know I started off this mini-review stating that I rather liked it, and I genuinely did. But then again I also rather liked parts of The Minions movie from the Despicable Me enterprise (it had me laughing any way; what can I say, I’m easy sometimes), so you do the math…

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)


The Board Game

And finally, The Thing the board game, based on the 1982 film. Note: there are previous games along themes of The Thing, but I have only played the recent 2022 release. All of the versions have had mixed reviews, mostly being compared to the Battlestar Galactica game of hidden identities, often held as the pinnacle of this “hidden role” game style.

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I really like this game. I love that you can sow paranoia as you try to figure out who is and isn’t human. And if you don’t have enough players to really delve into the psychological aspects of this, with every man out for himself, you can play cooperatively against the game itself as the harsh environment, sabotage and alien infiltration take their toll. And as many of you know, I adore cooperative games.

Game Structure

The board game is a hidden identity structure featuring characters from the 1982 movie. Player characters do not know whether the others are human or are alien-imitating-fake-human trying to assimilate them into the alien threat. Everyone is acting upon their own motives and suspicions as they try to get the hell outta Dodge back to the civilized world. I have not been able to approach this in the full version as my tabletop game group is small, but the cooperative version does still offer some sense of the terror and urgency felt.

The game mechanics are a bit chunky but they aren’t overly complicated and the game doesn’t generally outlast its run time of around an hour once you get the hang of the actions and how the phases play out. Again, we’ve played it cooperatively and this may or may not hold true depending on your game group. First off, you have to account for the weather, which always comes first in such an inhospitable environment as Antarctica. Next, player characters determine where they are going and theoretically what they are doing, though this doesn’t reveal itself immediately and doesn’t necessarily make it apparent who is and isn’t human. Then the alien threat is established and the leader takes a role in determining what happens where. Eventually, food is eaten, tests are administered, and the dogs get out and wreak havoc.

Some pics of The Thing game setup, hanging out in the rec room, and alien attack!
Some pics of The Thing game setup, hanging out in the rec room, and alien attack!

Rulemongering

The art is lovely and hearkens to the original film. And the game is fun. But the game mechanics and rules are not entirely well-explained in all circumstances, including the translation between standard and cooperative play, and the playbook raises more questions than answers. There is much heated debate over the interpretation of this, and my group was not exempt from the discussion around when exactly the dogs get out.

Returning to the film does not offer a better explanation, as the game deviates from the movie in enough ways to create possibilities around actions too far gone, such as blood testing or repairing the communications to call for help. And the original monstrous dog has a big role at the start of the film, pretty much going wherever it likes, so are the dogs supposed to be in or out? Unsure. So expect to get bogged down in this discourse for awhile, especially if you don’t all agree on how the game should be played.

The Fine Print

Because of this extra confusion, sowing dissent for reasons that have nothing to do with the movie or theme and everything to do with people having their own ideas of how the rules and setup should be interpreted, I give the game only 3.0 Cthulhus. Lack of definition in these circumstances is not a boon, and should not be left to the imagination (unlike the portrayal of monstrous creatures which can benefit from not revealing too much). And since everyone is paranoid and self-serving, it only muddles up discussion of how to interpret the rules more, depending on what side you’re on, human versus alien threat… That said, the game is fun and, if your gaming group isn’t full of a bunch of rules lawyers like mine is, hopefully you won’t get too bogged down in the fine print.

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3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

And for follow up, we decided to ignore the forums and make a house rule that one dog begins outside of the kennel sowing confusion and the location deck is interacted with from there to see if the other dogs are released. This seems to be more in keeping with the spirit of the original film, for whatever that’s worth. The other dogs weren’t even shown to be at risk until that dog is taken to the kennel, so maybe they shouldn’t come out to play until exposed. And here we go again…

More Game Reviews

If you enjoyed this review and want to explore another creepy cooperative game with lots of character motive, feel free to read about Dead of Winter. Or you can delve further into the survivalist genre with Ravine.

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Fear & Hunger (2018), a Game Review

Fear & Hunger (2018) is an RPG survival horror game developed by Miro Haverinen, using RPG Maker for a dungeon-crawling horror.

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Fear & Hunger (2018) is an RPG survival horror game developed by Miro Haverinen. This RPG Maker game brings to life a dungeon-crawling horror set in a grimdark fantasy world. Published by Happy Paintings, this game remains available on Steam and Itch.io.

You are one of four adventurers tasked with uncovering the truth of a dungeon simply called Fear and Hunger. Fighting through the horrors, you must manage your hunger, health, and sanity. But with fate stacked against you, how can you hope to survive?

Five people stand side by side. One man in leather armor, another man with long hair and black robes, a man in bulky steel armor, a woman in slimer steel armor, and an outlander in wolf skin
The Mercenary, the Occultist, a prisoner, the Knight and the Outlander

What I like about Fear & Hunger

Despite the plethora of RPG Maker horrors, Fear & Hunger stands out in nearly every way. While it looks like an RPG Maker game, the aesthetic provides a uniquely decrepit and haunting visual uncommon even among the horrors.

Fear & Hunger wears its inspirations on its sleeves. Any casual search on the development, even the aesthetics, will reveal these influences. However, it weaves these inspirations to add something new.

This game is excruciatingly hard and unfair in the best of ways! I tried a few runs with specific tests in mind. One was on the default experience, or “easy mode.” This mode affects how much damage monsters can take before dying but doesn’t notably affect your “luck” rolls. It’s these luck rolls that truly make the experience. Every step can lead to danger, forcing you into rolls that may cost your life.

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Many factors lead to abrupt endings or benefits, making each playthrough unique. Each level has a few different potential layouts. While not procedural generation, this provides variety throughout playthroughs.

There are several options and ways to play that I enjoy indulging in, following the structural choices akin to Souls-like games. While there are no inherent right ways to play, there are easier options and tactical decisions. This truth applies to character selection. In fighting, the Knight gave me the easiest introduction. The Dark Priest requires more tactical gameplay but companionless potential if played to their unique strengths. The Barbarian can provide the easiest food resource and competent combat. Lastly, the Mercenary acts more like a rogue, so try and avoid initial confrontation.

White background, rubber stamp with disclaimer pressed against the white background.
Disclaimer Kimberley Web Design

Tired Tropes and Triggers

The most important trigger to mention is sexual assault. This game, unfortunately, includes several examples of sexual assault and abuse. While these often lead to blackout screens, the game leaves nothing to the imagination. The creator took the feedback to heart and made drastic changes to the sequel to minimize these moments. However, this doesn’t change the first Fear & Hunger.

If you get squeamish by pixelated nudity, then it’ll be hard to overlook the quantity found in Fear & Hunger. There’s more male nudity throughout the game. This point is especially the case when concerning enemies. Regardless, it remains ever-present. A game option might even turn you into a nude abomination.

As a sanity meter implies, characters can have mental breakdowns. Characters must indulge in various activities, including drug use, to survive.

A black screen with "Fear & Hunger" written in white text
Fear & Hunger Loading Title

What I Dislike about Fear & Hunger, or Food for Thought

Failure often leads to punishment. Where most games provide a game over, Fear & Hunger forces you to play. In these moments, the character is usually bleeding out and crawling, with little hope for salvation. I don’t exactly understand this gameplay decision. You lost to die again? There are likely ways to survive these scenarios, but some moments seem impossible and unrewarding.

I’ve heard mention that this game “hates you.” While I disagree with the wording, I will say that chance plays a heavy role in your survival. You can do everything right, but a few uncontrollable rolls can doom you to death. These dice rolls even affect when and if you get a saving book or can rest (to save), which likely means you lose progress.

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Despite the innovation in gameplay mechanics, this remains an RPG Maker game. Movement remains linear, requiring the keypad to adjust to specific angles.

Final Thoughts

Fear & Hunger remain terrifying. As one delves further into the dungeon, harder choices force the character into more desperate acts. Few games truly make these decisions necessary, like Fear & Hunger. While mechanics are a bit janky, and the material does shock for the sake of shocking the viewer, it captures a darkness few games dare to cross.
4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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