Some people believe that having one’s picture taken will cause them to lose a part of their soul, which will then be trapped inside of the camera and said photograph. Although that idea has never been scientifically proven in any way, it’s still an interesting concept to think about. Enter Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir, the latest addition to the frightful Fatal Frame series, which has brought its spirits to the portable confines of the Nintendo 3DS. Its augmented reality-enabled trip into paranormal history plays on the idea that a special camera can react to and damage evil spirits hiding in a mysterious diary.
Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir centres upon a storyline involving spirits who’ve been trapped inside of a magical diary known as The Diary of Faces, by a woman in black. It’s said that she is looking for someone, but has not yet found her target. Until then, every soul confined to her alternate reality house of horrors is destined to have its eyes and mouth sewn shut. Saying more would ruin what is an interesting and rather immersive plot line that possesses a run time which hardly surpasses the two hour mark. Its thirteen separate episodes are rather brief, but they effectively combine to create an experience that happens to be unlike just about every game on the market. That is, if you can overlook the fact that it mimics The Ring by focusing on a mysterious item that will forever change its owner’s life.
Those who’ve used the 3DS’ cameras for AR games will know what to expect from this forty-dollar cartridge. Within its lore, the handheld gaming system becomes the Camera Obscura, a photographic device that can effectively take pictures of spirits, damaging hostile ones. It reacts to the unmarked diary and ends up sensing things within its aforementioned pages, kicking off the game’s story-based events. Your goal throughout all of this is to use the camera’s varied lenses on the correct images, in order to instigate an event. While aiming at one, two circles will appear, destined to be lined up together. Once that magic occurs, a video will play out and something else may need to be done, such as the completion of a lens-based puzzle, or a battle against something ghoulish.
In battle, the environment around the player takes on a new meaning. Spirits who’ve escaped from their papyrus confines will circle around you with malicious intent. Using the system’s motion sensor and the above-mentioned external cameras, one must line-up and snap pictures of said attacker. Focusing in on one will bring up a yellow circle which slowly fills in over time. Pressing a shoulder button to instigate a picture is the main goal during these sequences, but it’s best to wait until the circle turns red before you snap. Reason being is that red means the entity is about to attack, which is when it’s at its weakest point, resulting in a stunned effect in addition to damage. This design is quite interesting, making good use of Nintendo‘s technological marvel, but it doesn’t evolve enough from start to finish. Sure, unlocking unique lenses is nice, but each combative encounter is similar.
There’s no denying that Tecmo Koei went for something ambitious with this release. After all, the augmented reality and survival horror genres haven’t mixed much in the past, if ever. Their internal development team deserves commendation for creating something different. This is the type of game that a handheld would only be able to do because you’re forced to stand and aim at the book before circling around during battle occurrences. Thankfully, it works quite well and makes good use of the 3DS’ assets.
By being different, Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir has made its faults easier to forgive, though they’re hard to miss. Its required booklet needs to be well-lit in order to work. Even then, frustration will occur as it fails to register with the camera – something that happened on quite a few occasions during my play through. Tilting the 3DS would often help resolve the problem, which seemed to be caused by the book itself, as it was tough to keep pages laying flat. Those registration faults marred what would have been a much better experience without them, although added campaign length and the inclusion of more diverse gameplay also would’ve helped. Chapters’ needed pages are quite often in order, making the search for answers easier than it should have been.
Once The Diary of Faces has revealed its dark secrets, the player can choose to revisit its tale through a new game plus option. It offers extra information, along with a more challenging difficulty level – something that more seasoned gamers will appreciate, given how easy most of the core challenge level is. This unlockable mode is flanked by a battle replay option, as well as a chance to take spirit photos of family, friends and close-by locations. Secondary mini-games are also included, using elements taken from the campaign, including a hide and seek challenge, ghost doll matching, spirit attack scenarios and more. All of those modes combine for short-burst entertainment, though they won’t have you coming back regularly. As a result, the game’s overall replay value isn’t that high, although it is something neat to show off to friends.
Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir borrows certain elements from the survival horror genre, such as puzzles. However, the one element which sticks out more than any other happens to be its similar presentation style. The game’s ghost-filled elements are showcased using creepy camera angles and disturbing imagery. That creepy house mentioned above is used sparingly, but it looks good when you’re being propelled through its halls, with good colouring and no lack of immersion. Ghosts occasionally appear within, but they’re usually reserved for the AR booklet and your local environment, which means that concessions have to be made. The game looks quite good for what it is, but it won’t blow you away considering that its locations are limited to a briefly used house, a dark book with the ability to play interactive cinematics and the player’s physical space.
Throughout this paranormal sleuthing adventure, one will come across several different entities, with each one possessing its own unique personality. All of them talk, but none do so more than spirit guide Maya, who offers information pertaining to the story and its chapters. Stricken with amnesia, her mind is as confused as the player’s, and they both uncover things as the campaign progresses. To properly create this experience with the above-mentioned characters and elements, an eerie atmosphere was key, and The Cursed Memoir delivers that in spades. Distant voices, decent acting and creepy sounds are all accounted for, along with some haunting music.
Whether Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir is right for you is something that will need to be individually analyzed. It’s a very neat game with tons of unique qualities, but there’s a lack of length to be found on what is a full retail cartridge. If the game was longer and less troublesome, recommendation would be easier. Those who’ve been looking for something new and interesting will find what they’ve been searching for with this one, while folks with casual interest may want to wait for a price drop. There’s a pretty good game to be found here, and it’s unlike anything you’ve ever played before. However, technical issues and a steep price versus content ratio mar its appeal.
This review is based on a copy of the game that we received for review purposes.