Project Zero 2: Wii Edition is a remake of Project Zero 2: Crimson Butterfly, first released in 2003 on the PS2 and regarded by some as being one of the scariest video games of all time. It is the second title in the series of games known as “Fatal Frame” in the North America. Why this cult title warrants a re-release as the sun sets on the aged Wii is a question that may never be satisfactorily answered, but in any case it presents an appealing opportunity to dust off that old console one last chance before the relay baton is passed over to its successor.
Twin sisters Mio and Mayu are visiting a spot where they used to play in their childhood when Mayu’s attention is drawn to a peculiar crimson butterfly that she follows into the woods. Mio follows along but the twins soon find themselves trapped in a ghostly village inhabited by tortured souls of the dead – the result of a bungled sacrifice ritual.
Unlike other survival horror games, Project Zero 2 isn’t full of gore and killing. Your one and only weapon is a camera. That’s right – a camera. The Camera Obscura isn’t just an ordinary light-proof box though. In capturing snapshots of the ghosts, their souls are exorcised and the story of the village is progressively unlocked.
Using a magical camera seems absurd, but it is genius when it comes to creating fear through taking away control from the player. Pointing and shooting with the camera switches to a first person viewfinder which limits peripheral vision to further increase the tension. The unease turns to raw fear as ghosts sneak up on you out of view while you have you have your attention and focus directed down the camera lens. The ghosts can teleport behind you too, conferring upon them the ability to literally scare the shit out of you.
If this wasn’t enough for you, the Camera Obscura rewards players for letting ghosts get up close and personal, so if you can keep your cool you can increase damage inflicted by waiting for ghosts to attack you. The Camera Obscura like all good cameras has interchangeable lenses, allowing for progressive upgrades during the game. A second player can also join in and assist – pressing to shoot simultaneously increases the damage delivered to ghosts. While it isn’t a full blown two player mode it does work as well as the similar mode found in Super Mario Galaxy.
The Wii Edition of Project Zero 2 is played from an over the shoulder view, the same as that employed for the Japanese region only Fatal Frame IV (2008). This, along with the improved graphics, give the game a fresh feel that isn’t at all dated. Controls have been updated to incorporate Wii motion controls but that doesn’t mean a departure from awkward controls that will polarise gamers. Some argue that horror games with somewhat clumsy controls add to the tension of these games, and to a degree this is probably true. Depending on where you sit on the issue though, you may find the controls infuriating, with basic movement mapped to the nunchuk analog stick, and tilting the Wii remote to change the viewing perspective. This doesn’t feel intuitive as most Wii users would naturally expect the “pointer” mechanic usually employed on the Wii, but this is obviously an artistic decision that has been made by the Tecmo to heighten the tension of the game. There is a definite learning curve here but one worth persisting with.
The tension throughout the game never eases up as you explore the village and the seemingly abandoned houses. Even the simple act of picking something up has an unnerving mini-game assigned to it, as ghost hands can reach out to grab you as you try to do this.
New to the game is the Haunted House mode which is an on-rails ride through a haunted house in which your fear (or lack of) is measured through how still you can keep hold of the Wii remote. Player 2 in this mode switches from a co-op buddy to competitive, as they can create a cacophony of spooky noises to try and further scare Player 1. It is separate to the story mode and is an interesting diversion but little more. Also new to the game is British voice dialog. I don’t know about you but British voices in a desolate Japanese village just doesn’t sit right with me, and is the wrong kind of “unease” generated by artistic direction for a survival horror game.
It is a rare game these days that does not bring with it some disappointments and faults, and Project Zero 2: Wii Edition is not immune from this. Overall the game does provide an excellent (and genuinely nerve-wracking) experience that isn’t for the faint of heart. Even if you have played earlier versions, the changes that have been made breathe new life into this game of lost souls.