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Here we go with Fatal Frame 5: Third Drop Gameplay! The second drop was intense. But it looks like we’re jumping from Yuri to Ren Hojo. Ren, for those who might not remember from his very brief introduction in the first drop, was a man who commissioned Hisoka to find a photo album.

That album contained a photo of a girl he’s been seeing in his dream. But was it really a dream… or a memory?

Who are all these people?

Here’s a reminder of who each character is:

  • Ren Hojo – Ren is an author who lives with his assistant, Rui, at the base of Mt. Hikami. He often calls Hisoka Kurosawa to find things with her Shadow Reading.
  • Rui Kagamiya – is the assistant to Ren Hojo.
  • Hisoka Kurosawa – Owner of an antique shop, she’s also a talented shadow reader who’s able to find lost things and people. She vanished during on Mt. Hikami during the second drop while looking for a missing person.
  • Yuri Kozukata – one of the main protagonists. She attempted to commit suicide after the death of her family but was stopped by Hisoka. She now works for Hisoka in her antique store and is learning how to shadow read. She’s very sensitive to spirits.
  • Inn Keeper – We meet him during the prologue while Hisoka is looking for the photo album in the inn. His inn used to be popular but a landslide destroyed most of it and killed his family.

Let’s start!

We start off in Ren’s home, with Ren and Rui leafing through the photo album at the waterlogged inn. But as they turn the pages a photograph falls to the floor. Ren reaches for it and the woman in the photo turns to him.

“Will you die with me?”

Fatal Frame 5 Third Drop Gameplay: a photo of a shrine maiden that moves to stare at Ren.
Pretty enough to die for.

Ren is stunned but he’s the only one who sees, or hears, the woman’s ominous request.

To make matters worse, Ren decides that he wants to go back to the inn where the photo album was found in case there are more photos. With Rui and the Camera Obscura in tow, we head off.


Or we would if I wasn’t a lore hound. Taking a few moments to scrounge through Ren’s disorganized living room, we find a few documents. We find Ren’s unfinished manuscript first. It looks like he’s an anthropologist who specializes in Japanese memorial photograph. The next document is Hisoka’s evaluation of Ren’s camera. She’s an antique dealer but she also specializes in these occult cameras.

Ren’s Camera Obscura, she writes, is the only one she’s ever seen with a compound lens. But perhaps more important, owning a Camera Obscura invites misfortune into the life of the owner. Everyone who owns one has either died, lost their mind, or gone missing. With the Camera frequently outliving their owners.

That rings true, considering Hisoka vanished on Mt. Hikami last drop…

Digging into Ren’s impressive bookshelves we find a few interesting tidbits:

A book details how Mt. Hikami was the home of many shrine maidens. A man fell in love with one, but she refused his advances. In a rage, he butchered all the shrine maidens on the mountain he could find, tossing them into the river as he went.


The bodies of the shrine maidens turned the river red, and their corpses spilled into the Pool of Purification.

The spirits of the slaughtered shrine maidens are said to have haunted the mountain ever since, leading all who meet their gaze into the water, where they drown themselves.

Hmm. Seems very reminiscent of some of the cutscenes and notes we saw while exploring the forest.  

But after the shrine maidens were slaughtered the rituals being performed on Mt. Hikami ceased.

With no more lore to find, Ren and Rui head to the inn, just before sunset. Why is it always sunset?

Fatal Frame 5 Third Drop Gameplay: an image of Mt. Hikami as sun sets and night begins to descend.

“If you climb the mountain in the twilight hours, it’ll show you a different form. It’s true form. Only those who wish to die come here at that time.”

We arrive at the inn and – Nooooooo we have to do another tutorial. Apparently Ren’s compound camera is different from Hisoka’s. I desperately wish it’d just let me find out on the fly. But we can take multiple shots now. And while that’s cool, I’m so so so tired of tutorials.

At least Ren and Rui have better banter than Yuri and Hisoka. And Rui is very happy to provide ample exposition.

Tutorial done, we step inside the inn… we’re almost immediately met with a ghost. A drowned woman who stands, staring, at the end of the corridor. We turn down another hall, and a hatch on a duct slam close as we approach it.

I have a feeling that we’re not wanted here.

And yet the moment we turn around –

Fatal Frame 5 Third Drop Gameplay: a bunch of ghosts in a room of the inn. They're just vibing.
It’s a little ghost party!

An entire room of ghosts. That’s not good.

There seem to be even more than the first time we came here. Why are they all converging here? They vanish as soon as we snap a picture.

We work our way through the first floor, towards a glittering. It’s just herbal medicine. But as soon as we take it a spectral woman attacks us.

It’s an incredibly easy fight, and she dissipates into blue flame, apologizing. Now I kind of feel bad…

We get to the room where Hisoka originally found the album. Inside, the inn owner is waiting for us. He vanishes once we take a picture but where he stood is a crumpled note.

It’s a note he must have written when he was alive. In it, he laments that the mountain swallowed up half his inn. The only thing left is the album of postmortem photographs. This album is the last thing he has of his father, the last thing he has of his family.


He decides to burn the album and commit suicide upstairs, while watching the sunset. Sunset suicides – what a theme.

Let’s go upstairs!

We turn around to try and find our way upstairs but before we can get too far the ghosts we saw earlier lumber towards us, suddenly ready to fight.

Fatal Frame 5 Third Drop Gameplay: multi-ghost battle!
A school girl and a business woman?

I’ll be honest, the multi-shot function is really fun. It’s pretty brutal against packs.

We head upstairs, where we see the inn owner stumble, disoriented. He vanishes again but we’re getting closer.

We find a locked door and take a picture of it. The film shows us a picture of the hatch that closed on us when we first arrived. It’s a strange mechanic that’s been around since Fatal Framers early games… but if we want to open this door, we better investigate this hatch.

As we turn around, we find the inn manager hanging from the ceiling. But that’s strange, since we know he burned himself to death. He vanishes again and there’s another note.


The note reads that things on Mt. Hikami were always strange. A few years ago two girls went missing on the mountain, but only one returned, though she lost her mind. Since then, she’d return every year to look for her missing friend. Mt. Hikami has a way of making people disappear.

“My father disappeared on Mount Hikami. Will it take me too? And will anyone look for me…?”

Heading downstairs we find the hatch which generously opens for us. It seems like a bad idea to stick our hand in it, but Ren does it anyway, and pulls out a key hidden between the pipes.

Finally, we can unlock that door!

But the moment Ren turns around he’s assaulted by the ghost that attacked Yuri in the first Drop. And he’s a little stronger than he was in that tutorial battle. He collapses and we poke his collapsing ether for a few extra spirit points.


Things are heating up…

Mostly unscathed we head towards the door upstairs. But as we cross the corridor towards it the windows in front of us shatter— and the hung inn keeper bursts through.

It’s more silly than spooky.

Fatal Frame 5 Third Drop Gameplay: the inn keeper's spirit bursts through the window.
That’s an entrance, I guess.

To be honest, I’m a little tired of seeing the inn keeper everywhere. Like… we get it. You’re dead and upset about it. Anyway, Ren photo battles him, but now the inn keeper has shards of glass in him. Rui stands there, staring at you vaguely concerned. Occasionally she walks through the inn keeper, utterly baffled by the events unfolding all around her.

It’s by far the hardest fight during the drop, as he’ll occasionally vanish only to drop on your from above. But once we’re done, we touch his spirit fire and we’re overcome with a vision (cutscene).

Ren sees the inn keeper stands on top of the inn at the roof’s edge, noose around his neck. But this isn’t a man who’s committed to death—he’s terrified. A ghastly pale woman grabs his ankles from below, staring up at him with the most unearthly, hellish expression. He screams and falls, hitting the glass which shattered right before the boss fight. He hangs there, and the spectral woman who startled him into falling stands within the inn, staring at her handiwork.

A woman dressed in black scares the inn keeper into jumping.
I would’ve killed for this look in high school.

But as the inn keeper’s spiritual essence vanishes, he sighs, “Now I can meet them again.”

He’s surely talking about his family who passed all those decades ago. So was he trapped here? By exorcising his spirit, did we free him?


If that’s the case, we’re essentially doing good deeds by kicking ghost ass.

There’s a note, left where we defeated the inn keeper.

Mt. Hikami was once known as the Grove of Shrine Maidens, where mountain maidens oversaw the deaths of pilgrims, easing their passing to the other side.

“I like that. I envy it. I wish someone would be there to see me off,” the note ends.

Looks like that ghostly woman came to grant his wish.


Outside the window, the woman who is perpetually falling off the cliff falls to her death. I’m pretty sure it’s her, anyway. Same white dress, same scream.

We head to the observation room, where a hung woman greets us. Who’s she?? She vanishes once we snap her photo.

There’s another locked door, so let’s skip that for now and go to the other door, which leads to the inn roof.

The roof…

the inn keeper contemplates suicide

It’s the innkeeper. Didn’t we exorcise him? Is he still stuck in his eternal loop? Other ghosts have mentioned dissolving and melting. He jumps, and there’s another note. 

“The sunset beckons. It’s calling me into the water. This is the right thing to do.”

Hmm. Was the innkeeper influenced by the mountain to kill himself?


There’s a room up here, and I’ll be honest the architecture of this inn has me completely confused. But the room is all burned up, and now I remember why we’re here. To look for the postmortem photographs the inn keeper supposedly burned.

We enter the burnt room and see the inn keeper staring at something. Rui tells us there must have been a fire. Thanks, Rui.

We take a photo, and the Camera Obscura brings something to light. The photo album we came here for.

Behind us, Rui goes to contemplate the noose and the edge, slipping the noose over his head.

We slow jog to Rui and snap a picture to see a woman from the Netherworld behind him.


Boss Fight!

Boss fight, let’s go. We have to exorcise her before she kills Rui. Or gets Rui to kill herself. She floats around, accompanied by the sound of a swinging noose. It’s a gruesome sound, perhaps the creepiest thing in the whole drop.

This fight is much harder, but we eventually catch the final Fatal Frame and Rui faints, falling back from the edge.

Ren steadies Rui but before we can finally, finally leave another Maiden arrives.

A maiden arrives and she doesn't want us to leave.
Another one???

You will dissolve into nothing.”

Fuck. It’s another fight. Ae these Maidens going to show up at the end of every drop?

As we fight her, the reassures her we can: “Show it to her.” “I can see into your soul.”


The only good thing is that she goes down easily. Way easier than the woman who almost got Rui.

There’s one more note. The postmortem album was compiled by folklorist Keiji Watarai, who moved to the base of Mt. Hikami to study the rituals there. The inn keeper’s father helped find photos for the album.

But Keiji became fascinated with how water was revered on Mt. Hikami. So, he built a house on the mountain itself. Shortly thereafter, he vanished. And search parties were unable to find even the path to the folklorist’s house.

Only the photo album was recovered, which the inn keeper’s father took it back to the inn. But shortly thereafter, he, too, started acting strangely and vanished.

“I’d forgotten about the photos until I found them in the old building, after the landslide. But now I understand why my father left. Watarai, too. These photos are so beautiful.”


Like the Camera Obscura, it seems like this photo album leads people to mysterious ends. It seems these photos are cursed. I wonder if Ren is next in line. But Ren and Rui survive the night and return home, scathed, traumatized, and full of questions.

Final Thoughts on Fatal Frame 5: Third Drop Gameplay

So, if I had to give a score for Fatal Frame 5: Third Drop Gameplay it’d have to be 3 Cthulhu heads out of 5. And that might be a little generous.

I’m personally tired of the inn and seeing the same ghosts. Particularly the inn keeper. It felt like recycled content. If we had to go back to the inn to collect story-necessary lore, I wonder if that lore couldn’t have been compiled in Hisoka’s notes, during the Second Drop?

Also there were way too many hanging ghosts. Just, constant nooses, everywhere. Spooky the first time! So very unspooky the fifteenth time.


Approximate Playtime: 1 hour.


Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones (2019), a Game Review

Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones (2019) is a tactical role-playing video game developed by Cultic Games, evoking Lovecraftian horror.



Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones (2019) is a tactical role-playing video game developed by Cultic Games, evoking Lovecraftian and cosmic horror. Published by Fulqrum Publishing, this game is available through Linux, macOS, and Windows. This review will cover the $19.99 Steam release.

The Great Old Ones have awakened, exiling Arkham after the events of Black Day. Design your character and face the abominations of Arkham. Explore the 1920s through a Lovecraftian aesthetic as you unravel the secrets that plague Arkham, facing unknowable cosmic horror and malicious abominations.

The eye icon with tentacles reads Stygian: Reign of the Old Gods. To the left hand side is a woman in a 1920s dress. To the right is a blue abomination.
Stygian Promotional Art

What I Like Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones

The depth of character creation starts the game off on the right foot. While appearance has various options, the game provides greater variety in motives, age, and origins, adding different gameplay elements. For example, age reflects lived experience and physical competency. The younger your character, the less experienced but more physically capable. This dynamic requires trial and error to find the best choice for you.

The paper cutout art provides a unique interpretation of a familiar (but stylish) Lovecraftian aesthetic. While not the most haunting execution of the Lovecraftian, it still manages to unsettle and unnerve while maintaining visual interest. That said, if the style doesn’t suit the player’s taste, Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones might leave that player wanting.

While I find the story engaging and the mysteries worth exploring, there’s a massive caveat to that claim. Regardless, if you fancy the Lovecraftian, few care as deeply and express as much knowledge of the genre as Cultic Games in this installment. This love and knowledge shines through in the often subtle allusions and references to the expanded universe. It may earn its place as the most Lovecraftian game out there.


The characters vary in interest and likability, but there’s usually something about them to add to the overall mystery. Naturally, this remains most evident in the companions that accompany the player on their journey.

In terms of horror, Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones achieves notable success. Despite the subjective points of aesthetics, the game brings out the most unsettling and uncomfortable elements of Lovecraftian and cosmic horror.

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

Tropes, Triggers, and Considerations

With an understanding of the Lovecraftian comes the question of how to deal with racism. Most properties try to remove this context, but Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones recognizes the text and era (the 1920s) with caricatures such as a lunatic in blackface. I won’t say it fully explores these toxic elements, but it’s not painted in a positive light.

Insanity and mental illness play a large role in the mechanics of the game, such as becoming a key component of casting spells. Loosely related, drug addiction and usage are mechanics with varying degrees of necessity depending on your build.

If these are deal breakers, perhaps give Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones a skip.

Several listed classes on the left hand side. At the center of the screen shows the Explorer class with their dog.
Stygian Character Selection

What I Dislike about Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones

In terms of story, this game is unfinished, leaving many plots, quests, and arcs with unsatisfying cliffhangers. My understanding is that Cultic Games planned to finish the game, but money ran out, and the focus shifted to an upcoming prequel. I imagine the goal is to use this new game to support a continuation. But that doesn’t change the unfinished state of Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones. The beginning and middle remain filled with content, but the final act (loosely stated) falls monstrously short.

While this unfinished state mostly affects content, I did run into game-breaking bugs. From my understanding, these bugs completely hinder progress. Most are avoidable, but some are unlucky draws.


It’s these points that make this a challenge to recommend, requiring the potential player’s careful consideration.

Final Thoughts

Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones accomplishes what many games fail, bringing to life the Lovecraftian. Unfortunately, this game falls short at the end and leaves game-breaking bugs as potential deterrents for full enjoyment. If what you read above entices you, it may be worth the investment. However, it’s unfair to recommend this game within its compromised state.
2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)

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Ashen (2018), a Game Review

Ashen (2018) is a souls-like action RPG developed by A44 and published by Annapurna Interactive available across all platforms.



Ashen (2018) is a souls-like action RPG game developed by A44 and published by Annapurna Interactive. This game provides a single-player and multiplayer experience with passive multiplayer mechanics. For this review, I am discussing the 39.99 Steam release, but it’s also available in the Epic Game Store, Xbox, Nintendo Switch, and PlayStation.

In this bitter world, your character seeks to make a home for yourself and others. This goal requires you to fight for every inch of land, building connections and alliances to maintain a thriving village. Venture further to make the world a more hospitable place, but know the further you travel, the greater the threats.

The beginnings of a small village. A man waits by a pillar, facing the player.
Ashen Vagrant’s Rest

What I Like about Ashen

In 2017, Ashen earned a nomination for the Game Critics Awards’ “Best Independent Game.” It would later earn several more nominations in 2019. At the National Academy of Video Game Trade Reviewers Awards, it received nominations for “Game, Original Role Playing” and “Original Light Mix Score, New IP.” It was nominated for “Most Promising New Intellectual Property” at the SXSW Gaming Awards. Finally, at the Golden Joystick Awards, it earned a nomination for “Xbox Game of the Year.”

The multiplayer experience remains essential for Ashen, focusing on you and a partner venturing together to explore an open-world environment. However, the single-player experience is my focus and the game accounts for this gameplay. Ashen often pairs you with a villager who helps with the challenges.

The art style remains a plus throughout the gameplay. Though muted in colors and lacking finer details, the style creates a unique world that allows players to get lost along their journey. If the aesthetic doesn’t evoke that curiosity, then Ashen becomes hard to recommend.


Vagrant’s Rest and the inhabitants remain a strong incentive to continue on your journey. Seeing the progression of the town and building connections with the people provide the most rewarding experience.

In terms of horror, the art style often evokes an eerie atmosphere. However, I won’t go so far as to say the game is haunting. Instead, it evokes emotions that can unsettle and unnerve the gamer.

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

Thoughts and Considerations

The souls-like influence remains straightforward. Progression requires the player to defeat enemies and collect currency for weapons or certain item upgrades. Ashen simplifies and focuses its gameplay, reducing variety to polish its choices. The gameplay remains fluid, with a few hiccups that might be a computer issue.

If you prefer magic or defined classes, the gameplay doesn’t enable this variety. Item upgrades and choices define your playstyle, allowing most items to be playable at any stage of gameplay.

Weapons make a greater difference in playstyle. Most of these differences are self-evident (i.e. blunt weapons are slower but stun), but upgrades make any weapon viable. You pick an aesthetic and function, sticking with it until something better catches your eye.

A character helps another limp away, using a spear to help walk. Above reads Ashen.
Ashen Promotional Art

What I Dislike about Ashen

As mentioned, the game had some technical issues. I often assume this to be my computer, but I did note a few others mentioning similar issues. The gameplay remains fluid, so take this comment as a small point of consideration.

With limited roleplay options, liking the characters or art style remains essential for your time and money investment. As mentioned, the game doesn’t hold the variety of FromSoftware, which means their selling point comes from that unique art style and world. 


Passive multiplayer is a major part of the marketing for Ashen. While I don’t mind this mechanic, 6 years after release reduces the overall impact. When so few wanderers appear in your game, it’s hard to see the overall appeal.

Final Thoughts

Ashen delivers a highly specialized souls-like experience, preferring to perfect what it can at the cost of variety. If the art appeals and the thirst for a souls-like has you wanting, Ashen stands as a strong contender. However, there are many contenders which make this hard to overtly recommend.
3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

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I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream (1995), a Game Review

I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream (1995) is a point-and-click horror game based on Harlan Ellison’s award-winning short story.



I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream (1995) is a point-and-click horror game based on Harlan Ellison’s award-winning short story of the same name. Developed by Cyberdreams and The Dreamers Guild, this adaptation brings a new perspective to a familiar story. I heard of free purchasing opportunities for this game but cannot verify the quality. For this review, I played the 5.99 Steam release.

Play as one of the remaining humans on earth: Gorrister, Benny, Ellen, Nimdok, and Ted. Each faces a unique challenge from their common torturer, the AI supercomputer known as AM. Chosen by AM to endure torment, these challenges require the participants to face their greatest failures and tragedies.

I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream Cover Art. A mutilated face with no mouth.
I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream Cover Art

What I like about I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream

Having experienced this story a few times, Harlan Ellison provides the most substantive execution of his vision and moral questions in this game. While all have individual merits, I assume the added content and context better dive into the relevant points he hoped to explore. He also played the voice of AM, giving us the emotional complexity of the machine as he saw it.

As the above comment indicates, I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream remains a faithful adaptation with only one notable change. While that one change does reflect in that character’s journey, it uses that opportunity to the fullest. Where the short story left room for potentially inaccurate interpretations of the characters, this added context makes us better understand them.

The game’s writing remains a selling point for this story-driven experience. It dives further into the lore of the human characters and even allows further development of AM in the process. There are many ways to progress, and the multiple characters allow gamers to adventure further if stuck. That said, progressing individual characters to complete their journey remains essential for the true ending and experience.


As a point-and-click game made in 1995, I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream holds up well. In many ways, it pushed the genre in its time with dynamic storytelling and game features. Harlan Ellison was someone who pushed boundaries to challenge himself and others. He saw the gaming industry as another opportunity to evoke story-driven art, a focus reflected here.

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

Thoughts, Triggers, and Considerations

I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream adapts a dark and bleak story from an author notorious for his dark material. This game is no exception to that standard. Mental illness, sexual assault, genocide, and torture envelop the game. These elements are handled with attention but remain triggering to those sensitive to such dark material.

If these are deal breakers, I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream will likely earn a skip.

A cartage with red flames, a face in a circuit.
I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream Game Cartage

What I Dislike, or Considerations, for I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream

While the short story remains a haunting example of fiction in every sentence, I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream doesn’t evoke the same tension. It allows room to breathe or refocus on another character, which reduces the horror such a story evokes. While the characters participate in their torment, the loss of agency and hopelessness doesn’t translate in the execution.

Some mechanical and gameplay issues are noteworthy. For example, the saving mechanic remains dated, piling up if you save often or for specific reasons. Most of the mechanical issues stem from outdated UI from a gamer of a more modern era. Play it long enough, and elements start to click, but it needs that user investment.

Point-and-click caters to a niche audience, so modern gaming audiences aren’t inherently the demographic. The puzzle-solving and gameplay won’t win you over if the genre isn’t to your taste. Even within the genre, many of the puzzles remain challenging. For fans of the genre, this likely earns a positive merit. For those looking to continue the short story, this challenge will prove an obstacle.

Final Thoughts

I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream provides a new opportunity for the award-winning story to reach new audiences and continue to grow. Not satisfied with repeating his story in a new medium, Harlan Ellison expands this bleak world through the point-and-click game. While not as haunting as the short story, this game provides the most context and development of any adaptation before it. 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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