Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir (SCTCM) is based on the Japanese horror series Fatal Frame. Using the cameras of the 3DS, SCTCM attempts to create an immersive AR game and it manages to succeed fairly well overall. There are several modes of play, but the main one is the Story. The Story mode centers around a young girl named Maya who has become trapped inside the Diary of Faces. There are others trapped inside as well, and they’re being kept there by the antagonist simply known as the woman in black. If anyone tries to leave her trap, they get their face removed; ouch. But, you’re in a position to help. You have possession of the Diary of Faces and the Camera Obscura, a unique camera with several different lenses that gives the user a view into the supernatural world. The Diary of Faces is included alongside the manual; it’s a physical sixteen page booklet, and each page is AR-capable. The Camera Obscura is represented by the outward facing camera of the 3DS. SCTCM’s gameplay requires the use of both of these, and the gyroscope, to work.
I found out pretty quickly that SCTCM wasn’t really going to be a scary game per se, because for the 3DS to be able to read the pages of the AR book, you need to play in a well-lit environment. The 3DS has to be within about eight to fourteen inches of the book, which needs to be laid mostly flat to be readable. It doesn’t take a lot to disrupt this fairly delicate view, but the game will let you know right away if it can no long read the page. Two overlapping circles help you achieve the proper distancing and angle for the intended view as well.
I should point out that while the game requires the booklet, you aren’t looking at it constantly. There are some gameplay sequences where you solve puzzles, and during these times you will hover over the booklet for one or more minutes, depending on how quickly you solve the puzzle. Actually, I do recall one early combat sequence that required you keep the AR page in view…but for the most part, your interaction with the book is flipping to the next page, scanning it, and then getting back to work through the next part of the Story.
The other gameplay elements involve a lot of A-tapping (to read through conversations with Maya), and physical movement in 360 degrees to locate Maya or to fight off evil spirits. I found using either an office chair with the ability to spin 360 degrees or just standing up and turning around to be the most effective way to play. This is definitely not the type of game where you can lay down or sit statically, as it requires you be able to look all around you, which I liked.
The combat elements are a mixture of quickly looking around your environment (again that’s physically moving yourself and the 3DS while peering through the top screen), and timing. Other than the very last part of the final boss fight, these battles are simple and brief. It’s a matter of moving around to locate the enemy, who is usually slowly staggering towards you. Seeing them set against the actual backdrop of the room you are in is pretty cool, by the way. The Zero lens, which is your default lens, has the ability to charge up as you keep the camera focused on the enemy. Later enemies will change positions quickly, making it harder to keep a bead on them. When they’re in a certain range, a red circle will appear for a very brief period of time. During this brief opportunity, you have to press L or R to snap a picture; if you miss time this, expect to sustain damage while the cooldown mechanic for the camera runs out.
Other lenses are used to see into the darkness or restore things to a previous state, but these are very sparingly used, unfortunately. I found it a little odd that the game will display things like Close Attack, Overkill, and Maximum Shot as you attack your enemies, that just seemed like something out of an action game. Regardless, a health meter for both you and the enemy is displayed to keep tabs on how you’re doing.
Combat isn’t the only way to die, but it is for the most part. There are a couple of neat puzzles where you have to locate the right page in the Diary of Faces or where you have to select the right mask (also in the Diary). Should you pick the wrong page or mask, you sustain damage, and I think you can only fail about three times before you have to reload from the last checkpoint. As with the combat though, these parts are pretty darn easy, and I wish there was more to them. Sometimes you have to maybe spin the book around, or in the case of one puzzle that I struggled with, either fold or lift a page up about forty-five degrees. Ultimately, I would have happily traded a few of the combat parts for more puzzles, but you can get more of both in the other modes outside of the Story.
The actual, you know, story of the Story is okay, but rather predictable. There are a few character relationships that you sort out as Maya regains her memory from clues gathered after defeating evil spirits. Most of these are predictable and because of that, the relatively long prose of Maya can be a little bit grating. There was a plot twist toward the end I didn’t expect, where I basically pinned Maya as someone (or related to someone) that she did not end up being, which was neat. All that said, the story is pretty good, but I think it could have benefited if the actual mode were longer. It’s surprisingly and disappointingly brief at only about three hours of actual gameplay.
Thankfully there are a few alternate modes available, including a more difficult and slightly longer story mode that gets unlocked after you beat it the first time. Known as The Beginning, this alternate Story mode primarily serves to add more information to the actual story while also giving you more difficult spirits to battle. I have not re-played through this mode, but I do not believe there is anything further to unlock. The other available modes are what you make of them; some are mini-games, others are based simply on using the camera to create your own amusement (i.e., basic AR game). These modes are split under Haunted Visions and Cursed Pages.
Haunted Visions has three camera-based games: Spirit Photography, Spirit Check, and Spirit Challenge. Spirit Photography is my favorite. You can choose between a normal lens, 3D lens, and a Face Lens. After that, it’s up to you — simply snap pictures of the environment and people around you and see what develops. When you take a picture, a screen pops up that says “Developing” for a couple of seconds. After that, one of twenty or so (possibly more but this was about all that I saw) paranormal images will appear on your image, making it look like the 3DS really is a gateway to viewing the supernatural. The 3D lens is similar except that it inserts characters from the game, while the Face lens is obviously meant to capture people’s faces and manipulate them with different effects. This mode is pretty fun honestly, and even though a lot of the pictures look pretty bad, there are some neat ones generated too. The game asks if you want to save each image as you close it, and these can be viewed from within the 3DS home screen.
Spirit Check has you snapping pictures of your face or those of others to reveal the hidden spirit inside. The intrigue is in seeing which of a variety of different spirits the game will pick each time you take a photo. The spirits chosen are not limited to the few that are in the Story mode either, and a brief, almost fortune-cookie-like text is displayed along with the image of the spirit that describes it. Finally, there’s Spirit Challenge. The idea is to take a picture of someone and then the game randomly generates a vengeful spirit that you have to battle. The attack power, speed, HP, and special attack of the spirits will vary, keeping you on your toes.
The Cursed Pages mode has four games within it. These are the Four Strange Masks, The Haunted Doll, The Boy In the Book, and Spirit House. There are unlockable difficulties within each of these, too. Four Strange Masks is based off of a mini-game that you play during the Story. You will be asked a question and then must watch the masks closely to find the answer. The other three modes also use the AR book heavily, requiring you to use clues to track down spirits to scan with the camera.
As far as the presentation goes, SCTCM gets a lot right. The voice-acting and sound effects are well done, which is important given that the experience loses most or all of its scare factor from having to be played in good lighting. Visually, I had a little trouble working with the glare and reflection on the top screen combined with the intended darkness of the in-game visuals. This wasn’t always a problem though, and in-game graphics are quite nice. The animations from the Diary of Faces were impressive too. Regarding playing in 3D mode, I did for about ninety percent of the story mode, but I recommend flipping back to 2D for the cutscenes, they looked a lot better to me with 3D disabled.
To the summary…