2014 was something of a mini-revival for horror games on consoles. While The Evil Within didn`t have the universal acclaim that Bethesda was hoping for, Alien: Isolation managed to surprise everyone—including me—when it didn’t embarrass the franchise it was based on. And then there was P.T. which may go down in history as one of the masterpieces of marketing in the videogame industry. It’s one thing to announce a sequel to a revered franchise like Silent Hill. It’s another thing entirely to make a free horror game that manages to scare just about everyone that played it, even though it took place largely in the same hallway.
But among the debut of new horror games like Alien and retreads of old, barely-horror-anymore games like Resident Evil, there’s one classic that remains a treat only for Wii U owners, Fatal Frame. It’s one of the more off beat horror franchises in that the basic concept is all about fighting ghosts with a camera. Because players had to wait until ghosts filled up the frame to do the most damage, the Fatal Frame series has often been a harrowing, stressful experience fondly remembered by those willing to brave its distinctive Japanese setting. Fatal Frame has consistently been one of the most frightening horror franchises in the industry, and right now, Koei Tecmo has kept the niche horror franchise a Nintendo exclusive.
It’s doubtful that this exclusivity is the result of aggressive corporate negotiations on Nintendo’s part. It’s more likely that the series—which has never sold in huge numbers—had lower budget requirements. The cost of developing a game for three different platforms is expensive, and if two of those platforms require AAA production values with extensive motion capture and detailed environments and physics to stand a chance at just getting noticed, it makes sense to scale ambitions back. Obviously, the Fatal Frame series has had a long history on the PS2, and even original Xbox machines, although the last few games have been exclusively on Nintendo machines and, to add insult to injury for those in the West, the latest Fatal Frame game has thus far been only for Japan, so even English speaking Wii U owners can’t play it.
There’s really only one reason for this state of affairs. The number crunchers over at Koei Tecmo ran through the figures and decided they wouldn’t make enough money with a western/multi-platform release for the effort to be worthwhile. The company’s two biggest cash cows are the Dynasty Warriors and Dead or Alive franchises, and most other titles play secondary or tertiary roles in comparison.
Things, however, have changed a lot since the PS2/Xbox days, most notably in distribution. If Koei Tecmo is afraid of losing money thanks to the cost of duplicating discs, putting them in packaging and then shipping across the oceans to Western retail stores, then digital distribution can take a lot of that headache away, as well as ensure that every purchase is a real one, with no used sales to eat into profit margins. If localization is a problem, then don’t bother with hiring Troy Baker and Jennifer Hale for the English voice acting, just add subtitles the way Sega did with the Yakuza series.
Horror is still a viable genre in the West, and it doesn’t necessarily need to be an expensive, AAA experience, as P.T. proved. The Fatal Frame series still has a lot of respect among the hardcore horror fans, and if Koei Tecmo can keep their distribution and localization costs low, it’s quite feasible for them to bring out new iterations of the series on the current generation of machines and still make a profit.