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pedrovay2003 avatar 11:06 AM on 12.06.2011  (server time)
Xenophilia: Fatal Frame 4, and the power of the fans

The Wii has been a horror lover's dream this generation, which still makes me chuckle on occasion. Of all these blood-curdling experiences, none were more unnerving or downright beautiful than Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse, dubbed by fans as Fatal Frame 4. The Wii-exclusive tale of terror was never released outside of Japan, despite ads actually running in gaming magazines for a European version. This angered fans of the series, because even outside of Japan, the Fatal Frame series has had a strong following for years, since it debuted on the PS2 in 2001. No one understood why the game was restricted to one region, and the blame was constantly thrown in the faces of Nintendo and Tecmo by both the fans and by the companies themselves.

But we live in a world where game consoles don't have to be used the way the manufacturers intended them to be. The Wii is very easily hacked, allowing players to play games from any region. But that's not enough, now is it? If you can't read Japanese, how are you going to enjoy the game? That's where a group of guys named Tempus, Chabi and Mr. Mongoose come in. These huge Fatal Frame fans used the Wii's security bug to translate the game into English, French or Spanish on the fly, where the text files are replaced with encoded ones on the SD card as they are set to display on the screen, players could also optionally download fan-made costumes for the game's characters, also replacing the in-game costumes as you played. Because of this method of text translation, the team heavily promoted having an authentic, retail copy of the game, and warned that they purposely programmed the translation to not work with pirated copies. Despite the fact that an exploit in the Wii's security needed to be explored to get this game working outside of Japan, you can't help but appreciate that these guys still supported Nintendo and Tecmo all throughout the project. The dedication of this team alone is enough of a reason to give the game a shot, never mind the fact that it's easily one of the coolest games I've ever played.

For those who aren't familiar with the series, Fatal Frame revolves around using a camera to exorcise spirits while you search for someone your character cares about, usually a sibling. During your travels, you learn more about the area you're exploring and the secrets it holds, with the first game being advertised as a "true story." While I'm a huge fan of the other games in the series, MLE deviates from the traditional close-the-hell-gate story that the rest of the series followed in every single game. In MLE, you go back to an island from your childhood in search of your missing childhood memories. You eventually get tangled up in something far more sinister, involving people who you saw in a much different light prior to your trip down Memory Lane. It may sound like a basic storyline, but the way it unfolds is brilliant, with a beautiful locale complimented by perfect ambiance and an impressive amount of attention paid to detail. There's even a pretty big twist toward the end of the game, which is something that never happened in any of the first three entries in the series.

Another deviation from the established formula was the use of multiple playable characters. While the series had always been character-driven, you'd only actually ever play as one. In MLE, you take control of three, one of which who uses a flashlight instead of the camera. This flashlight made use of a completely different play style than the camera, allowing you to rapidly attack spirits without having to load any film (because, you know, it's a flashlight). The weapon did run out of power, but charged on its own fairly quickly. As much as I love the traditional Fatal Frame camera combat, it was really nice to have a new way of playing every once in a while, if for no other reason than to shake things up. While the gameplay is normally slower-paced in order to increase tension, playing as this particular character almost makes the game feel action-oriented, which is a nice feeling. Being able to blast ghosts repeatedly after a tense hour of taking pictures is a great way to unwind while also being kept on your toes.

The storyline is what really impressed me in this game, though. Fatal Frame as a series has an awesome story, and most of it is told through journal entries you find throughout the games. MLE, being a prequel, has a backstory consisting almost exclusively through the eyes of Kunihiko Asou, the guy who created all the spirit devices seen throughout the series, most notably the famous Camera Obscura. The story unfolds at a good pace, and you never get bored since each character offers different, fresh perspectives. The story also wraps up quite nicely in the end, leaving no questions unanswered. It's a great little package that can be played whether or not you've previously played any other games in the series.

Although the game is amazing, the translation is truly the star here. It wasn't just a matter of changing Japanese words into English ones, but it was making the presentation exceptional, as well. Specific fonts were presented to the forum where everything was being planned, and the fans chose which one would make it into the final translation. The custom costumes were also created and chosen by the fans, and programmed into the game by the team. In this week's Bloggers Wanted topic description, Jonathan Ross said "I want you to explain why this game is so good and what exactly the people in your country missed out on by not being able to play it." This game is amazing no matter what language you play it in, but the real star of the show is the translation, and the fact that fans were so dedicated to a series that they wanted everyone to be able to experience it without having to worry about language barriers. MLE has truly transformed from just another video game to something that was made for the fans, and I personally wouldn't have it any other way.

The efforts of this small group didn't go unnoticed, either. When the translation was officially released online, virtually every import gaming website immediately sold out of MLE, and the price of used copies shot up on eBay. In addition to the fans speaking out, there was even a higher up at Grasshopper Manufacture -- one of the companies that helped make the game -- who commented that he had known about the translation and that he thought it was awesome. It warms my heart to hear that for once, a developer heard about a homebrew application for a video game console and actually saw it in a positive light. See, guys? Homebrew isn't all bad.

The Fatal Frame series has always been one of my favorites in gaming, and Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is easily the best foray you can make into that world. Even though the game was never released internationally, be it the fault of Nintendo or Tecmo, the game can now be enjoyed by anyone, anywhere, thanks to a group of dedicated fans, and that dedication is the real reason you should give the game a shot. The fact that it's an unforgettable experience is just icing on the cake.

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