Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir
: Tecmo Koei
: Nintendo 3DS
: Survival Horror
: April 13, 2012
Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir is a spin off from the Fatal Frame series. As a Nintendo 3DS exclusive, Spirit Camera makes use of the 3DSís augmented reality feature to tell a story. The presentation of the game is creative, especially considering the use of the AR booklet included with the game. While it has an intriguing concept, Spirit Cameraís greatest flaw is that the worthwhile experience lasts only a short while, and doesnít leave you with much reason to return your attention to the game after finishing the story.
Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir takes place in your very own reality, which seems cool considering events unfold before your eyes as your immediate surroundings are influenced or distorted by the game. The game also involves a haunted and desolate Western styled house. The house is accessed through the included AR booklet, and is also the place where many tortured souls try, but fail, to escape from.
The player is ďteleportedĒ into this house after opening the ďDiary of FacesĒ (the AR booklet). Inside the house you come across a young woman named Maya, who has been trying to escape the confines of the house as well as a character she calls ďthe Woman in Black.Ē The Woman in Black is responsible for all the calamity and chaos consuming the houseís residents. Maya says that the Woman in Black is also a restless soul herself, trying repeatedly to break out of the diary that imprisons her. The only way she can successfully leave the diary is if she finds a certain person who she has shared a mysterious link to in the past. The diaryís influence has destroyed the life of many people, luring them straight into the diary and to the Woman in Black if their curiosity causes them to open the diary. But for every person the Woman in Black captures who isnít the one she is looking for, she takes their face and is trapped within the diary forever.
You are the next person who has opened the diary. Are you the person the Woman in Black has been searching for, or are you doomed to suffer the diaryís curse?
Most of the time youíll actually be looking at the AR booklet or your surroundings through the 3DSís screen. The only times youíll see actual game footage is when the 3DS responds to the AR book, when you visit the haunted house, or when a character needs to be located through the 3DSís camera as they are ďhidingĒ within your physical surroundings. When graphics do appear that are generated by the game, such as a character model, it looks good, but not extraordinary. I wasnít blown away by the graphics really. I did like how the graphics functioned in relation to the AR booklet. Characters can pop up from the pages or hide within the book waiting to be found. One thing I was disappointed about was the 3D feature. I had the feature enabled throughout most of the story mode, but there was so little about this game that utilized three-dimensional depth perception. It was only really noticeable when something popped out of the AR book, but was next to useless when standing around looking at my surroundings through the 3DSís screen. 3D images were also practically absent in the gameís few cinematic cut scenes. Additionally, if youíre twisting and turning your body with the 3D toggle enabled, then the 3D image will distort itself each time the 3DS is held at an angle. In summary, the 3D feature is good when interacting with the AR booklet, but not so great when moving around freely.
One of the better features of the game is its sound and music. Characters are well cast in their voice acting and they keep the story interesting, but also provide that spooky tone that makes you think something is hiding behind you. This is further amplified by the ambient music thatís also designed to keep you anxious. The music provides this thin layer of creepy atmosphere as you wander the cursed house, occasionally looking over your shoulder with the 3DS to see if youíre being followed. It creaks, cracks, and groans in the right places.
This is where the disappointment of the game takes over. While Spirit Camera has a very interesting way to play the game, it just doesnít last as long as you want it to. You can speed through the gameís story in as fast as three or four hours.
The gameís story mode is called ďDiary of Faces.Ē In the story you must help the character, Maya escape from the diary as she has been desperately trying to do. The player must use a combination of the 3DSís camera, the AR booklet, and their environment to play the game. Although itís a horror game, itís best playing with plenty of light. The 3DS camera will have difficulty registering the AR book without adequate lighting. The game must be played standing up or in a rotating chair. Sitting in place wonít help you find the spirits hiding in your surroundings.
Gameplay is very simple. The 3DS acts as the ďCamera ObscuraĒ, which is both a tool and a weapon to defend yourself from haunting ghosts. Spirits will awaken from the AR booklet when you interact with it and theyíll proceed to ďhauntĒ you by hiding in your home. Itís at moments like these when you can turn your body to try and locate the spirit and battle them to rid them from your real world environment and return them back to the Diary of Faces. The way combat works is that once you have a ghost within your camera lens a series of orbs around the lens will begin to glow. To inflict the most damage possible you must wait for every orb to glow and then photograph the ghost to damage them. At times the ghosts will attack, and youíll know when to snap a photo to avoid taking damage when the targeting reticule turns red. Taking a photo too early wonít have much effect, and taking it too late will cause you to receive damage. As you progress through the game youíll be given new lenses for the camera and you can switch between these by using the directional pad to press right or left. Ghosts will get craftier and the lenses are designed to give you an edge. Some ghosts canít be seen in plain sight unless you use a specific camera lens. Other ghosts wonít be able to take damage until you remove their protective aura using another lens. The story mode also features some fun mini games aside from battling ghosts. For example, you can play hide and seek with this ghost boy who gives you hints as to where heís hiding within the AR book. Additionally, you wonít always be flipping from one page to another page that directly comes next.
Maya joins you on your mission to escape the clutches of the diary as well as understand the mystery surrounding the Woman in Blackís motives, and itís best not to take her presence for granted. In fact, you can periodically spin around to locate her in your surroundings and speak to her. Her somber tone serves as a good storytelling technique, as sheíll share her thoughts with you. Moreover, whenever youíre stuck and canít figure out what to do and/or where to go next, locating Maya and speaking to her will give you a hint to help you out.
The downside to all this is that it becomes very predictable and repetitive. Itís a pattern that doesnít change at all. First you interact with the AR book, awaken a spirit by solving a puzzle in a certain part of the book, they then escape the book, you send them back by battling them with the camera, talk to Maya about what to do next, and then repeat the process all over again.
I did enjoy the gameís few eerie moments. One of my favorite moments in the game required me to use the 3DS camera to look for a ghost hiding within the haunted house. There was this object right before me that looked like a vine stretching upward to the ceiling. I didnít think much of it and continued to look to the left, the right, below me, and behind me all by using the gyroscope. But I found nothing. Finally, I noticed I hadnít looked up. It turned out that vine pattern was a design on the seam of a dress. I followed this vine design upwards and my heart skipped a beat when I noticed that a face was staring down at me the entire time! While it was spooky good fun, there wasnít too many of these moments and it wouldíve been great if there were.
This was really all there was to the core gameplay. Itís easy to learn and the concept for the game is great, but the story is over before you know it. Itís the story thatís all the game has going for it and itís a shame itís so short.
There are two other modes playable in the game, but neither provides much incentive to return. First is Haunted Visions. In this mode there are three challenges that utilize the 3DS camera. Spirit Photography uses the camera to take photos of your surroundings to find wandering invisible ghosts. It doesnít matter what youíll take a picture of because youíll always have a ghost appear in the picture you take. Thatís all this challenge does. Next is Spirit Check, where you can take a photo of a friend or person to see what ghost is haunting them. Similar to the previously mentioned challenge only your, or a friendís, face appears in the picture along with a ghost. Spirit Challenge is similar to the built-in 3DS game ďFace Raiders.Ē You take a picture of your face or a friendís face and the face is mutated into a ghastly figure that pops up randomly in your surroundings and youíll need to stop it.
The second mode is Cursed Pages, which has four mini games, and makes use of the AR booklet. The first mini game is Four Strange Masks. The masked boy hides behind four masks, and youíll have to figure out which mask he ends up hiding behind by tracking his movements. The second mini game is The Haunted Doll. A doll haunts the player who must find the dollís correct body to dispel its spirit once and for all. The third mini game is The Boy in the Book. The masked boy, who appears in the story, wants to play a game of hide and seek. You already play this in the story, but itís included as a mini game. While itís fun, youíre just playing the same thing over again. Finally there is Spirit House, which brings you into the haunted house to exorcise the spirits in it by photographing them.
For me, the selling point for the game is its use of the AR book. It still is. What holds it back from being a great game is its highly disappointingly short story and its repetitive gameplay. Additionally, many of the gameís secondary modes are a direct copy of the gameplay you already experience in the story. Since you experience these moments in the story thereís little reason to play the same thing again unless thereís something you enjoyed, like playing hide and seek. Spirit Camera had a great idea going, but it really, really dropped the ball. I donít recommend picking this game up at full price. Sure, itís fun and spooky in a few areas, but the thing thatís frightening about the game is its inadequate shortcomings.