People starring in Fatal Frame games aren’t going to have a lot of fun. Things happen to these folks. Even if they end up with a good ending, there’s usually some cloud hanging overhead. The original game set a precedent, with Miku Hinasaki being forced to leave the haunted house without her brother, Mafuyu. In the case of Fatal Frame III, the normal ending leaves Kei Amakura dead. Seems like things don’t work out very well for men in this series, huh?
Brace yourselves, because we’re about to enter spoiler territory. Fatal Frame: Maiden of the Black Water is a bearer of good news for Ren Hojo and his fans, because this installment breaks that habit. Sure, the writer has to survive some seriously scary situations and will undoubtedly suffer nightmares for years, but regardless of whether right or wrong decisions are made, he gets to live.
As mentioned earlier, men don’t have it very good in the Fatal Frame franchise. Mafuyu Hinasaki is dead after the first game ends. Itsuki was dead the whole time in the second game, after having outlived his twin brother when participating in the Crimson Sacrifice Ritual. If you don’t go to the trouble of beating the game twice, Kei Amakura never leaves the Manor of Sleep. The fourth game wasn’t released overseas, but I assure you its male hero, Choushiro Kirishima, had a bad time. Ren is an anomaly. Despite being a man and related to multiple Fatal Frame victims through Dr. Kunihiko Asou, he always gets to live.
Ren has more endings than any other Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water character. Both Yuri Kozukata and Miu Hinasaki each have two endings. Ren gets four, two for each ghost tied to Dr. Asou. At the House of Joining, he is able to choose between a white lock of hair that represents Shiragiku, a maiden he’s had nightmares about for years, or a photo showing Ouse Kurosawa, the dead woman causing trouble for everyone in the game. Both women were Tokoshiebana, shrine maidens chosen to be ceremonially placed in boxes with Yomi water and trapped somewhere between life and death in Mount Hikami’s Black Lake.
Despite both the woman and girl being malicious, their endings are uplifting. In each, they are able to come to terms with the events of the game and find closure. The “best” endings have Ren deciding not to dispatch the spirits with the Camera Obscura, instead embracing Ouse or joining Shiragiku in her box. But then, even the “bad” endings have the women realizing that it is time to move on, as Dr. Asou is gone. They accept their fates and allow Ren to go.
Ren then receives an additional guarantee that his post-Fatal Frame future looks bright. Throughout Maiden of Black Water, his assistant Rui accompanies and aids him, even almost being killed as a result of the malicious forces surrounding the mountain. After the best endings, she gets exactly what she asked of Ren earlier in the game, that he’d stay with her. He confirms that he’s there for good this time.
These results mark a pointed change in the Fatal Frame series. It has always been one focused on fanservice, what with female protagonists and additional, optional costumes based on lingerie. Male characters have never received the same attention. They’re ancillary and support the heroines. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but after five iterations, growth becomes a necessity. The final girl horror film theory, in which a single, defenseless woman manages to become strong and smart enough to survive untold horrors, is sound, but can’t be the sole basis for an entire series. Progress needs to be made and Ren’s survival assures that the series has evolved.
It also allows players good endings that aren’t pandering. All Fatal Frame installments have multiple endings. Of them, only one often ends up happy. The rest can be bittersweet, if not downright tragic. Ren gets four endings and each of them offers a result that feels satisfactory, ensures he can move forward with his life, but also doesn’t feel formulaic. Ren, Shiragiku, and Ouse’s character arcs are all resolved. We get closure, not a cop-out.
So hats off to Ren Hojo, one of the first Fatal Frame characters to come out of the worst experience ever largely unscathed. Perhaps his storyline will set a precedent for the series, both in terms of character development and future finales..