Why I Love: the Sunken Woman from Fatal Frame 2

You’ve never alone in Fatal Frame 2. No matter where in the eerily empty All God’s Village you choose to cower and regret your choices, the voices of its ghostly inhabitants always find their way to you. You may adjust to it overtime, but one change to the formula and you succumb to dread all over again. Fatal Frame 2 executes that brilliantly with a variety of unique ghosts, but none nails it quite as well as the drowned ghost of Whisper Bridge.

Sequestered in a lake separating the rest of the village from an ominous and creepy mansion, the drowned ghost (the Sunken Woman to her friends and people who take pictures of her) uses all of Fatal Frame’s best and smartest tricks to ensnare you, upping your anxiety while simultaneously bringing down your guard. After you scrape through a fight against a pack of vicious spirits outside the gates to the bridge (call it a photo finish), the silence of the lake itself seems threatening, as you’re never sure when something else is going to materialize and ruin your day. When you hear mysterious choking and the heartbeat sound that signals a ghost is nearby, you’re amped up and prepared for a battle, because you know how this routine goes. However, the Sunken Woman defies your expectations – look over the railing of the old bridge, and you can see her floating face down in the middle distance, unmoving and waiting for a photo-op.

It’s unnerving, but not especially scary – similar nonviolent ghosts dot the village, inviting you to get a quick snapshot for some extra points to upgrade your picture-taking abilities. You realize that whatever’s out there waiting for you isn’t coming right now, so you can take a moment to get a few extra notches on your camera case.

You take the picture, and the screen turns black. The main character lowers her camera. A hand drifts past her eyes from above. The Sunken Woman is hanging over her head.

There’s no graceful way to respond to that.

This is normally the point at which a horror monster’s fearful qualities start to deteriorate, as you point a weapon in their face and destroy the source of your fear. But the Sunken Woman isn’t so easy to pin down, because even the way she moves and fights is meant to leave you off-balance. It’s not a particularly difficult battle, because she didn’t bring much HP with her into the afterlife, but the way she slithers across the water and flies into the air to attack your face looks and feels unnaturally creepy. You’re a better player than me if you didn’t descend into a frenzy of off-center, blurry, and ineffective shots in your struggle to get the hell away from her.

In the Sunken Woman you can see a glimpse of not just Fatal Frame at its best, but horror gaming itself. If a supernatural threat in a game is too difficult, it can easily become tedious and less frightening through repetition; too easy, and it’s much less impressive after the initial scare. But the Sunken Woman drifts between the two extremes, keeping the fight from ending too soon but never letting you feel like you’re in control (helped by the fact that the only thing between you and a ghostly doom is a dirty camera). Combine that with her grand and sly entrance, and you don’t even realize how well she’s maintaining that balance, because you’re too damn busy being scared useless.

In the end, you’ll probably win the battle for your life, but even when she’s gone the Sunken Woman still won’t let you rest. Head back to the bridge, and beneath a crack in the boards you can find a small crystal with her last thoughts solidified inside (not uncommon in All God’s Village, because this place is awful). Pop it into your handy crystal-reading radio, and the last you hear of the Sunken Woman is her final, terrified thoughts as she drowns in the lake.

Though the details of how I encountered her are a bit different (I actually found her last words before taking the picture, and that almost made it worse), I still think about the Sunken Woman years after first dredging her up from the depths. Dead teen antagonist Sae may be suitably creepy in her bloody kimono, and spirits like the the Grudge-woman climbing out of a box may fuel their share of night-frights, but the Sunken Woman inspires a unique terror that doesn’t get better when she’s been dispatched. She leaves you with something else to be equally afraid of – the reality of your own mortal plight. And she looked so harmless.

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