Yuri stares over the cliff into a black ocean in Fatal Frame 5 First Drop
I am alone. In the end, I’m alone.”

I’m excited to continue this series with Fatal Frame 5: First Drop – A Vanishing Trace. The prologue was action-packed and terrifying, and I have high hopes for this new chapter.

We open with a cutscene of Yuri Kozukata, our playable character, contemplating suicide on the precipice of a cliff overlooking a black ocean. But when Hisoka, Yuri’s employer and mentor, speaks Yuri’s broken out of her memory.

Yuri and Hisoka stand at the entrance of an abandoned hot spring inn on Mt. Hikami. Mt. Hikami, you might remember, is the mountain on which Miu, the girl from the prologue, vanished.

Hisoka gives Yuri, the Camera Obscura, our one defense against the ghosts who seek to harm us. Hisoka has brought us to a hot spring hotel, which is undoubtedly crawling with spirits. And I’m excited! There’s a certain allure to abandoned buildings, especially hotels.   

Yuri holds the Camera Obscura in Fatal Frame 5 First Drop
The Camera Obscura, our one defense against the ghosts who seek to harm us.

Hisoka gives Yuri a token, a postmortem photograph to help her find the item they’re looking for.

We enter the dilapidated bathhouse, and quickly stumble upon our first spirit of the chapter. By immediately glancing up upon entering the bathhouse, you can catch a pale man staring down at you from a hole in the ceiling.

A waterlogged room to the side reveals reaching hands rising from the waters, like so many reeds. But like the man who stared at you from the ceiling, they vanish quickly.

A spirit stares forlornly at the sunrise through a hole in the inn's wall in Fatal Frame 5 First Drop
A little reminiscent of Yuri’s nihilistic stare in the opening cut scene.

The first real threat hint of a threat comes a few moments later, when a dead man who lurches towards us and just as quickly vanishes. Hisoka is utterly oblivious to our panic, and for whatever reason we say nothing about it. My least favorite horror trope.

Instead, Yuri dutifully follows the “trace” of residual spirit energy, deeper into the inn. We stumble upon a dusty book, which describes Mount Hikami’s downfall, and by extension, the inns. 

The book tells us that Mt. Hikami has always been considered sacred, and people were drawn to its many shrines and beautiful natural features. But a landslide destroyed the road to the summit, and much of the inn, resulting in a number of fatalities. Including the innkeeper’s family. Now, Mt. Hikami is considered a suicide spot.

We turn the corner and catch sight of the man who was staring at us from the ceiling. He stumbles down the hall, out of sight. This is the inn keeper, looking forlorn and lost.

The innkeeper stumbles past us in Fatal Frame 5 First Drop
An echo of the inn keeper, who killed himself after the landslide took his family and devastated the inn.

This glance is an “Echo of the past”, which occurs when traces of residual energy is very strong. It’s well worth trying to capture these echoes, since it offers points which we can use to upgrade our camera. And we’ll need it as the game progresses and the spirits we fight become stronger and more aggressive.

The inn keeper has vanished at a door, but the door is locked. How typical.

There’s only one room left to investigate, and within we find only two things of note: a mannequin head wearing a wig, and a closet. Despite our better judgement, we open the closet door and find the key inside. But the moment we turn around we’re confronted with the inn keeper’s hanging ghost.

But what’s more terrifying to me is the fact that the wooden mannequin head is also staring at us. She definitely wasn’t looking this way before.

Scurrying out of the room, we return to the locked door, where Hisoka is waiting for us. There’s strong residual traces here, and Yuri aims the camera at a pile of rubble. We take a picture of it and a book manifests.

Out of thin air.

We’ll just ignore how ridiculous that is.

But despite all the trouble we went through to get it, Hisoka snags the book and sweeps it away before we can even get a glance of what’s inside. The only thing we can do is follow her back through the creepy inn.

Hisoka warns us that while it’s easy to find lost objects, lost people, like Miu, are much harder to find. She tells us to never follow the “shadow” of someone who’s been spirited away.

But as we follow Hisoka, it’s clear that we’re not alone. Ghosts stare from around the corners and in doorframes, and I have a bad feeling that leaving isn’t going to be that easy.

And that quickly proves to be the case, when the ghost who lurched at us before corners us again. But this time he doesn’t vanish so easily.

Yuri holds up the camera, trying to defend herself against the spirit in Fatal Frame 5 First Drop

Here’s our fighting tutorial. It’s not too difficult, perhaps more tedious than anything else, and soon enough it’s over. The ghost vanishes in a blue ethereal flame with a strange guttural groan that might be words.

Yuri collapses to the floor, and Hisoka, finally realizing what’s happening, hugs Yuri, apologizing for bringing her here.

The screen briefly fades to black before transitioning to a black-and-white static video of a boy stabbing a young girl to death in what is clearly a ritual sacrifice. The girl falls into a box that looks suspiciously similar to the one we saw in the prologue…

The dreamer, Ren Hojo, awakens. His assistant informs him that Hisoka has dropped off the photobook she found in the inn.

Hojo goes through the pages and sees an image of the girl who was stabbed to death in his dream. She’s standing above the black box, and now he struggles with the question he’s had for years:

Was it a dream or a suppressed childhood memory?

FINAL VERDICT

Like the prologue, Fatal Frame 5 First Drop – A Vanishing Trace leaves more questions than answers. And that’s just the way the Fatal Frame series is. There are ample spooks in this chapter, though you have to be quick and attentive to catch all of them. Fatal Frame is a game that believes in attention to detail.

Again, I can’t say I’m happy with the combat system. And despite the spooks, I think Fatal Frame 5 First Drop drags a bit as we get through the tutorial. But hopefully now, with all the boring control and mechanic bits out of the way, and maybe all the major playable characters introduced, the pacing will pick up.