A common theme in Asian horror films is the use of technology as a conduit for malevolent forces. This strikes me as an interesting means to instill fear, since so many of the modern items we have come to rely on have a secondary function of dispelling superstitions and myths from previous ages. Devices like cell phones and televisions provide us with instant access to vital information and emergency updates, support networks and uplifting videos of cute animals. But in the realm of Asian horror films, these useful bits of technology are gateways from which a vengeful spirit can attack us at anytime.
When the 3DS first released, a major focus of the system was the no-glasses 3D technology that would provide players with a different view of the games they enjoyed. Behind the fanfare of stereoscopic visuals and flashy images that pop out from the screen, Nintendo bundled a set of cards with every system that utilized another interesting function of the handheld: augmented reality technology. Using the camera built into the system, players could interact with the world around them to make games in their own homes. They could take pictures of their friends to import into virtual battles; little alien ships with friendly faces, floating around their homes to be struck down with virtual foam balls. Little did the world know that Tecmo Koei, the company behind the terrifying Fatal Frame series, had plans for this AR technology that involved using the 3DS as a means to bring dark phantoms into players’ homes.
Released in April 2012, Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir follows in the footsteps of the Fatal Frame series, where protagonists must ward off vengeful specters using the Camera Obscura. Unlike previous entries in the series, The Cursed Memoir utilizes the built-in camera on the 3DS to further engage the player as their handheld becomes the Camera Obscura and their home turns into a haunted battleground.
Using an AR notebook called the “Diary of Faces,” players open a gateway between their reality and an old house where many spirits have been trapped. Driven mad by a particularly evil resident of this house, these hostile spirits cross-over into the player’s world. Only a single apparition, the amnesiac Maya, provides the player with any aid to defeat these insane ghosts and resolve the curse behind the diary.
Much of the gameplay involves using the 3DS camera to battle spirits that invade the player’s home. Some of these enemies are rather straightforward in their attacks, appearing around the player and trying to attack head-on. But others will hide and use items from the cursed notebook to aid them in battle. One particularly haunting moment in Spirit Camera involves a game of hide-and-seek with a masked boy, turning through the pages of the diary and looking around the player’s house to find this devious child.
Even with this unique use of the 3DS technology, Spirit Camera falters in some areas. The story mode is rather short and requires the notebook packaged with the game to play (be sure to check for the diary when buying used). The gameplay experience is also limited by the 3DS camera, as a good amount of light is needed for the lens to properly read the diary pages. For those players who prefer to play horror games in the dark, this may weaken their immersion in the game.
Outside of these minor issues, Spirit Camera is an interesting and absolutely creepy game to enjoy on the 3DS. The visuals and character designs are genuinely frightening. Watching virtual spirits coming towards you from inside the comfort your own home provides a level of engagement lacking in other games. After seeing the developer’s ingenuity with the 3DS technology, I am eager to see what Tecmo Koei will do with the Wii-U for Fatal Frame V: The Black Haired Shrine Maiden.