While Project Zero Maiden of Black Water has recently been ported to modern consoles with new content, I’d like to celebrate it by sharing a personal list of the ghosts in the Fatal Frame/Project Zero series that I found the scariest and most memorable. Being one of the most representative series of the J-horror wave, Zero has so many having so many frightening enemies, with great designs, creepy voices, and interesting backstories, that it’s really hard to pick a favourite. I could explore all of them but I decided to just select 15 ghosts. Keep in mind this is only a personal selection, based on my memories of playing the games, and it’s not a top list (there is no particular order, even if the first one scared me the most back then). Feel free to share your own list of the ghosts that scared you the most in the franchise!
I’ll try not to go into too much detail to avoid major spoilers, but be warned that I might slip away some backstory elements. Sorry in advance if it reveals too much. Here is my list of the scariest ghosts of Fatal Frame!
15. Kureha (PZ2 Wii Edition)
Kureha is the biggest novelty of the Wii remake of Project Zero 2 Crimson Butterfly. While not directly taking part of the main storyline, she invites you to test your courage in her Haunted House as a bonus mod of the game that was never seen in the series before, and that replaces the missions of the original. She offers the player to enter in the lost house during the Shadow Festival and guides the player to one of the missions she prepared just for you. She’s eager to watch your performance in the haunted house and evaluate your courage and your connection to the spirit world. After you escaped (or not) one of her houses, she shares her conclusion, based on your attitude and behaviour. She’s fascinated by the feeling of fear and is always “dying” to see you again, so she can explore your heart. She has no interest in life, only death will give you a reason to go on, as she’s endlessly waiting for a new soul to evaluate. The more you play this mod, the more she opens her own heart to you, revealing slowly her backstory with implicit clues that you progressively put together. You’ll eventually realize that her story is just as tragic and sad as the other ghosts of the game, and that she’s deeper than she seems at first. Note that you may also see her as a vanishing ghost in the main game, in the Kureha Shrine if you try to abandon Mayu. A wonderful addition to this Wii remake!
14. Stroller Grandma (PZ3)
Directly based on a ghost Director Makoto Shibata says he saw them when he was playing in an abandoned house when he was a child, very little is known about her, apart from the fact she dug her dead grandson up from his grave and put the corpse in her stroller. If you pay attention, you can hear the baby crying (just like when fighting the woman in the box in Crimson Butterfly) and even see his or her face in the stroller.
13. Kyouka Kuze (PZ3)
Somewhere in the manor of sleep, there’s a room in which you may hear strange music. Come closer and you will realize the music is played by a ghost woman who, when she’s not sharing her musical skills, is seen brushing her hair. Keep a quiet attitude, don’t disturb her, and she shouldn’t mind you… but if she notices your presence (as Kei), she’ll whisper “I found you! I’ll never let you go!” and indeed chase you to catch you in her deadly embrace. Too bad for Kei, he looks a lot like her lost love, the one she’s been waiting for so long. Consequently, you’d better take extra care when she’s around and starts stalking. Her fast attacks and her freaky grin are the main features that makes her terrifying. You may also notice what she does of her hair to beckon her loved one…
12. Long-armed Man (PZ1)
Imagine you’re walking in an empty corridor, alone and desperate to find help. At the corner of the hallway, a figure appears. It is skinny, has long and thin arms and is dying to use them to embrace you. You just encountered a Long-armed, corpse-like entity that is responsible for more than one death in Himuro mansion. Not the hardest battle of the game, but an encounter you won’t soon forget…
11. Broken Neck (PZ1 and PZ2)
Two different female ghosts share a similar feature: a twisted neck that gives away the painful way they died. The first one, seen in Himuro Mansion, stares at you with her face upside-down and the player encounters her many times during the walkthrough, making her one of the most classic ghosts of the game. Her counterpart in Project Zero 2 Crimson Butterfly first appears in the foggy cemetery. Her head is twisted at 90° and her face is frozen in an uncanny frightful expression that seems to beg for help. She died by falling.
10. Ayako Haibara (PZ4)
One more ghost child, but this one stands out for her murderous tendency when she was still alive and was a patient of the Rougetsu Hall Sanatorium. Having a sadistic nature, she enjoyed harming and bullying other patients even when it implied animal cruelty…This exceptional darkness and homicidal behaviour, even for a Zero game, didn’t seem to disappear when she died of her disease and became a ghost.
9. Reika Kuze (PZ3)
The main “nemesis” of Project Zero 3 The Tormented, Reika Kuze is a hostile spirit that would stalk the three main characters in the Manor of Sleep until the final confrontation with Rei. Haunting the dreams of those who are consumed by grief after the loss of a loved one, she literally holds this infinite pain printed on her whole body. Her naked torso is covered with the bluish motives of the tattoo, her menacing whispering voice, her staring eye,…Everything about her looks terrifying, and her unhappy story is likely to make the player shed some tears. What’s more is her invincibility and the fact she would most likely show herself during the unpleasant and eerie moments of Miasma, occurring when the protagonist is out of candles. You’d better run (and hide if you play as Kei), because you can’t win the fight. Her saying “I found you” is enough to warn you that you should quickly move. A stoic ghost that carries on her body all the horror and pain of the game.
8. The Kiryu Twins (PZ2)
When you visit the Kiryu house in Chapter 6, you find out it’s haunted by several phantoms, including a pair of twins. They cause Mio trouble multiple times as they attack together, trying to encircle her. The difficulty is to figure out which one is the real vulnerable one, the other one being a doll. This leads to a tricky fight in which the player must pay attention to the signs (the doll sounds different when speaking and she also has some subtle physical differences). They walk slowly toward Mio but don’t underestimate their strategy: one would often runs toward Mio while she’s busy aiming the other one. They increase the paranoia factor of the game and play a big part in its visual imagery, even staring at the Western cover box. Their presence generally manifests itself by a gloomy voice (“Why do you kill?…”) so you know they’re around. Just like most ghosts of the game, listening to their memories with the spiritual radio reveals a lot about their tragic backstory…
7. Crawling Woman [Kiriko Asanuma] (PZ3)
Now that’s a peculiar one! While Crimson Butterfly had a ghost that seemed to be heavily inspired by Sadako from Ring, this one will bring back memories to fans of the Ju-On/The Grudge movie series. The way she crawls on her all four, as well as her unique facial expression, is very reminiscent of Kayako Saeki. You would find her in between the walls of the Manor, where, like a fast spider who found her prey, she would grab you and shake you in narrow spaces where you can’t run away quickly. But what makes the encounters so unique is that you’re stuck in FPS mode, as your character has no choice but to creep in those mouseholes, where she’s likely to be found and attacked by this specter. Also, don’t be naive and think you’re safe when your character is awake…
6. Sae Kurosawa (PZ2)
The main antagonist of Akai Chou, Sae is probably one of the most iconic tragic villains in horror game history. Unlike the more quiet, more calm antagonists of the other entries, she shows sadistic behaviour, laughing at your misfortune and playing with Mio’s emotions by imitating Mayu. Her sinister smile, her maniac laugh, and especially her bloody kimono with red stains taking a recognizable shape…all ingredients that make her a perfect embodiment of the creepiness of Zero. Her cutscene in the Kurosawa house is one of the big moments of the game, as she stands on a pile of dead bodies, giggling while the flashes of lightning ominously reveal the shape of the Kusabi behind her. The fact both of them are responsible for so much death is enough to shake the player, but she shines even more in the chapter named after her. In this monochrome stage, she chases, stalks, and psychologically tortures the protagonist by using her sister’s voice and failing to avoid her embrace equals death. A lethal cat and mouse game is played in this chapter, and would only reach its conclusion as you get to battle her as a final boss if you play in high difficulties. While we feel sorry for her, one can’t deny her insane giggling is a hell of a fright.
5. Tall Woman (PZ5)
This ghost appears randomly to attack you throughout the game. As implied by her surname, she’s a giant freaky female ghost and she’s delighted to have an opportunity to harm you (look at her smile!). She wanders in the forest, in search of victims. Inspired by the Japanese urban legend of the Eight-feet Lady, there is little to no information about her, and her connection to the story of the Mountain of Suicide is quite unclear.
4. Blinded (PZ1)
Selected by the Demon Tag ritual as a child, this poor creature is forever condemned to wander in pitch black, suffering eternally from her bleeding eyes, and the best part is she’s after you! Her ability to hear your footsteps and teleport right behind you makes her quite a challenge to defeat, and yet her “My eyes! It hurts!” are heartbreaking. Make sure to save powerful enough film for her, otherwise, she will be really tough to beat…
3. Kusabi (PZ2 and PZ3)
With this ghost, we’re entering the area of the emblematic figure of the series and the main antagonists. Arguably the Pyramid Head of Project Zero, the Kusabi is first encountered by Mio in Kurosawa House, but doesn’t even dream of beating him at this point…Appearing in a greyish fog in the dark, he was probably the biggest and most impressive ghost seen at this point of the series (later on beaten by the Tall Woman of The Maiden of Black Waters). In an area where not even your flashlight works, this floating tragedy is a terrifying experience for most players. Not to mention that a single contact with him will take your life away…Mio would then fight him properly at the end of the game (in easy and normal difficulties), after discovering his horrifying backstory. Use only the best films you have (90mm or Zero film) and mind your timing. One mistake would be fatal (frame).
He’s back in Project Zero 3 to torment Kei and Miku in the All God’s Village part of the Manor of Sleep, but some theorise it’s a different Kusabi sacrifice. He attacks violently, beating your neck and throwing you on the ground. It is unclear if it’s another Kusabi or the same one as Crimson Butterfly’s.
2. Children (PZ1, PZ2, PZ3 and PZ4)
Spooky Children is a classic trope in J-horror. They upset our idea of innocence by corrupting purity and turning it into something disturbing. The creators of Project Zero are definitely aware of that. In all games of the series, you have to face one or a group of peeping ghost children toying with your nerves, often laughing at your misfortune. The singing kids of the Demon Tag Ritual in Zero 1, the three kids playing hide and seek in Crimson Butterfly, the four handmaiden girls of The Tormented, and the evil little girls in Face of the Lunar Eclipse… Whereas they just want to play or pierce your limbs with a stick, they usually initiate long and painful battles, due to their speed and their ability to disappear or teleport before you manage to photograph them. Not being fair players, they usually attack in groups while you’re alone. After facing them, you may hear their “Over here!” or their “Not yet” in your head for a while at night…But it’s only your imagination, isn’t it..?
1. Sakuya Haibara / Falling Woman (PZ2)
You’re walking on a cracking wooden staircase, and suddenly you hear the eerie sound of something or someone falling just behind you. You’ve just met Sakuya seen for the first time on the stairs of Kiryu house. This female hostile ghost is basically falling forever, which leads to one of the most memorable and terrifying jump scares of the game. Originally a villager of Minakimi Village, she preferred choosing her own death and jumped from the top of the stairs, rather than being swallowed by the darkness wrapping the village. She didn’t really find peace though…The first encounter with her disarticulated body horrified many gamers. Her heaven-shaking scream was enough to make us jump out of our seats, and she would show again in later random encounters you wish you could avoid as much as possible. She is rather tricky to fight, as she keeps disappearing and falling again above Mio, trying to grab her and lurking over her messed-up limbs. Don’t let her get near you as she twists and crawls in your direction, and you should be safe from her attack, but not from the sight of her unsettling look. Not the most important ghost story-wise, but definitely one of the creepiest.
This is it, my personal selection of the 15 scariest ghosts in the Project Zero/Fatal Frame series which gave me the creeps. Many more spirits deserved to be on such a list, and it truly saddened me not to include some of them such as the Engravers or the Mourners. So, I invite readers who played the game to share their scariest ghosts of the franchise in the comments.
Student and former short film maker, Anthony Auzy always loved scary stories and horror content, with a special fondness for Asian horror. It inspires him for poem books, short stories, short films and videos, and other creations. He like to dig hidden findings that may be overlooked or unnoticed, and I enjoy scary Asian games and spooky reads. Besides watching many J-horror movies, he keens on exploring how the movement was born and expanded in different forms of media, and study its cultural impact.