For those of you reading this article with no previous knowledge of this amazing game series, let me introduce you! Project Zero is a Japanese horror game that was released in Japan on December 13, 2001. The game's themes involve spirits, and everyone's favorite: ancient, gruesome rituals!
Project Zero was brought overseas towards the beginning of 2002, and became well known by its English title: Fatal Frame. The first three titles in the series later became more widely available for the PlayStation Network in 2013.
When I was at my local GameStop back in 2009, I saw the game on the shelf and saw the words "Based on a True Story" branded across the front. I was instantly intrigued! However, there seems to be some speculation to whether the game was actually based on a true story, as there doesn't seem to be much evidence supporting these claims.
And so, I've set out to do as much research as possible to try and figure out the truth! Before we delve into the legends, let's look back on the first game's plot!
'Fatal Frame's' Story Starts Like This...
It's October of 1986 when our playable character, Miku Hinasaki, visits the game's only playable location: the Himuro Mansion. Miku's brother, Mafuyu, went missing several weeks prior when he was searching for his mentor, Junsei Takamine — a folklorist who was doing research on the mansion.
As Miku explores the mansion, she notices that rope marks are supernaturally appearing on her wrists and ankles. As we explore the story, it becomes quite apparent that a series of sinister events happened at the mansion, which caused those marks to appear.
Need a visual refresher? Watch the intro to 'Fatal Frame'!
The game quickly escalates as we learn about the heinous acts that were committed at the Himuro Mansion. We discover that there is a gateway found underground, called the Hell Gate, which is believed to be the entrance to the land of the dead. Every 10 years, a Strangling Ritual must be preformed to keep the gate closed. Failing this task would allow evil spirits to pass through the gate.
The Strangling Ritual is about as gruesome as it sounds, though it starts out seemingly harmless enough. It all starts out with a ritual called Demon Tag, which is quite similar to your typical game of tag. Unlike the game of tag that we know and love, the last captured child will become the next Rope Shrine Maiden to be used for the future Strangling Ritual. The Rope Shrine Maiden must then be locked away from the outside world for 10 years. Upon the night of the Strangling Ritual, she would be brought to the Tsukuyomi Temple, where she would be led into a small cave by the Himuro family master and family priests.
Once there, she would bathe in the moonlight to purify herself, and then be taken to a rope altar to be pulled apart limb by limb. Her pure, holy blood would saturate the ropes, which would be put on the entrance of the Hell Gate to keep it closed for another 10 years.
Not very cheerful, is it? So now we know the game's story, but what about the alleged true events? How well does the game's story tie in with the real story?
What Has the Producer Said About the Claims?
It's always a good idea to go to the creators to see what they had to say — especially when the "true story" claims were slapped on the game's cover art. Supposedly, series director Makoto Shibata has been quoted saying that there is a mansion just outside Tokyo where seven people were brutally murdered.
The mansion is believed to have underground tunnels, spiritual activity (even in broad daylight), and a spirit-sealed talisman is rumored to be stored in an upstairs attic. Those who search for the talisman are later found dead; their bodies broken, and rope marks around their wrists.
This has been quoted as early as 2007 (on Yahoo Answers of all places). It is possible that this quote came elsewhere, but no matter what, the original source appears to be lost and forgotten. Despite that particular quote not having much substance to it, Shibata himself wrote a small PlayStation Blog piece about the first Fatal Frame game, saying:
"We tried to emotionally reach out to players and get them to feel things they cannot actually see on screen. As a result, we selected the horror genre, which was an area aligned with my personal interests since I tend to “see” things myself every now and then in real life. In other words, my experience of seeing things that weren't actually there — or noticing abnormal things around me — were some of the fear factors I thought would appeal to the emotional side of the player, if we were able to embed them on top of the adventure side of the gameplay. [...] When we first started working on the project, our basic idea was that the more fear and fright we provide to scare the player, the more it will sell.”
There was no mention of the previous claims with the Himuro Mansion in the blog post. If we take that, our oldest source of the rumors being from Yahoo Answers, and the fact that only the American version of the game featured the "Based on a True Story" tagline, the true story claims are already wearing incredibly thin. Seeing as how there's not much concrete evidence, it seems more accurate that the game was built around Shibata's personal experiences, and perhaps sprinkled with other forms of inspiration.
People have doubted the existence of the Himuro Mansion for many years now, myself included. I wanted to set out and see if I could find any real evidence supporting the American box art claims, but after searching high and low, it seems that this is just another urban myth created by the developers or publishers to help increase sales. And hey, it worked didn't it?
Perhaps there's something more to the story that we still haven't found yet. Whether it's that the Himuro Mansion truly does exist, or that there's some rather terrifying history behind the stories told through the series — there's no denying that the story of Fatal Frame will stick with us forever.