For most of the game, the player controls protagonist Miku Hinasaki through four chapters (called "Nights") as she searches for her brother Mafuyu, whom the player controls only in the introduction. The characters' hit points is displayed in a life bar located in the lower left corner of the screen; if the character's HP hits zero, it's game over. The player can find healing items throughout the game's different locations, which restore their strength to a certain extent. Plus, the player can obtain a special item called a Stone Mirror, which automatically and completely restores the player's HP once it reaches zero. The player characters also have a flashlight to aid them in the exploration of the mansion.
Miku's only weapon is the Camera Obscura, an antique camera that can photograph and expel spirits. However, the camera also relies on "ammunition" - films, which prepare a certain amount of shots for the player. There are different types of films scattered throughout the game, and each type of film possesses a different strength. The camera also contains several special abilities, which must be unlocked using spirit points, which can be gained by capturing ghosts. These abilities, such as Paralyze and See, can aid Miku in fighting spirits that have different attacking patterns to the standard ghosts. During the game, Miku must explore the entire mansion and its grounds, and must obtain certain objects and solve puzzles in order to progress through sections of the game. During this time, Miku will encounter different types of spirits, either random or mandatory. Some spirits will not attack Miku, but most are hostile. The chapters progress as Miku reaches a particular location, usually after completing a major segment of the chapter.
The player can save their game at save points, which are located in different parts of the mansion; and at the end of each chapter. If a spirit is within range, the save point will turn red, preventing the player from saving until the spirit is defeated.
In October 1986, Miku Hinasaki goes to the supposedly haunted Himuro Mansion to search for Mafuyu, her older brother. Mafuyu has been missing for two weeks, after visiting Himuro Mansion to look for his mentor, Junsei Takamine. He had also gone missing in the mansion, together with his assistant and editor, while conducting research for a new novel. As she explores, rope burns start to appear on her wrists and ankles, and she learns this is part of a ritual performed by the shrine maiden, in which she is torn apart by a rack-like device tied to her wrists, ankles, and neck.
As Miku explores deeper into the mansion, she eventually learns about the dark secrets behind the enormous mansion and about the malignant spirit of Kirie Himuro, who had kidnapped Mafuyu because of his strong resemblance to her former lover, a young man who visited the mansion. Lord Himuro ordered the man disposed of, and Kirie learned the truth in her dreams. Her resulting doubts in her obligations allowed the Hell Gate to open, unleashing a great darkness called "the Malice".
At the end of the game, Miku manages to rescue Mafuyu and free Kirie of the darkness. At this point, the endings diverge. In one ending, Mafuyu tells her that he must stay at Kirie's side so that she will not be alone again. Afterwards, the underground cavern crumbles and Mafuyu disappears together with Kirie. After she escapes, Miku sees the entrapped spirits of the mansion being released and floating into the night sky. An alternate ending shows Miku escaping with her brother, leaving Kirie behind; and a third ending (which is exclusive to the Xbox version) has Miku escaping with her brother and has Kirie's lover return to her to be together with her at the underworld gate for all eternity. For all endings, Miku explains that after that day, she "stopped seeing things that other people can't see". According to the events in Fatal Frame III: The Tormented, the first ending is the canon ending.
Supposedly, the game is based around the true story and legends surrounding Himuro Mansion in Japan. The mansion is rumored to be the gruesome death site of a Japanese family and several of its associates a few decades ago. However, when asked, Makoto Shibata, the series producer, said the game was based on two old Japanese urban legends and ghost stories; he made no mention of the previous tales of the Himuro Mansion murders, which brings into question the factuality of this previous "basis" for the true story. It is also worth noting that the game was not explicitly advertised as being based on a true story in Japan; the "Based on a True Story" tagline was not used until Tecmo released the game outside of Japan.
Fatal Frame has received positive reviews from critics. Aggregating review websites GameRankings and Metacritic gave the PS2 version 81.48% and 74/100 and the Xbox version 79.56% and 77/100.
^Tecmo (4 March 2002). Fatal Frame. PlayStation 2. Tecmo. Scene: Black Notebook Scrap 1 (in-game file). "Junsei Takamine: A series of murders in a country village. Dead bodies turn up one after another. Murders that resemble cruel Shinto rituals of legend in the area. The acts of a man sworn to revenge, and the strange correlation between those acts and the folklore. The man is gradually more and more influenced by the legends. The work will be the story of this man, proceeding in parallel with the tales of the local lore. Records of the past discovered after an earthquake. The story gradually blurs the boundary between the present and the past.
About Himuro Mansion
Himuro Mansion is known as the home of a large landowner who controlled this region. But they say it was originally the place a shrine was built for performing a certain Shinto ritual, passed down through the generations. But the people of that time kept the ritual a deep, dark secret. They were even forbidden to speak its name aloud. Today, almost no accounts of the ritual exist, aside from a smattering of folklore legends."
^Tecmo (4 March 2002). Fatal Frame. PlayStation 2. Tecmo. Scene: Mafuyu Notes 1 (in-game file). "Mafuyu Hinasaki: Himuro Mansion was once that home of a large landowner that controlled vast areas of land. They also say that the site held some special significance that had to do with Shinto rituals of the region. (I couldn't find any detailed books about these Shinto rituals, though.) The last master of the Himuro family line massacred his entire household. Later, another family that tried to live there disappeared. Because of incidents like these, nobody visits the mansion today, and it lies in ruins. Maybe that's why there aren't any accounts of the Shinto rituals, and why the exact location of the place isn't recorded anywhere.
I've had a bad feeling ever since I came to this mansion. I'm leaving notes in this notebook just in case anything happens to me. I've got to find Mr. Takamine and the others fast...I hope it's not too late!"
^Tecmo (2005-07-28). Fatal Frame III: The Tormented. PlayStation 2. Tecmo. "Miku: Now I understand. These tattoos...are my punishment for living. For living on...for surviving...that day... Ever since I was a child I've been able to see things other people can't. My brother was the only one who understood me... That's how...I know...we're going to die."