Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Review: Project Zero (Fatal Frame) 2: Crimson Butterfly

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pz2_boxff2_boxConsole: Playstation 2, Xbox, Wii
Released: 2003
Developer: Tecmo
Publisher: Tecmo
Digital Release? Yes, PSN version compatible with PS3 for $9.99
Price: $24.77 (disc only), $26.88 (complete), $56.88 (sealed) per Price Charting

Jam’s Take:

Project Zero 2: Crimson Butterfly is a sequel to the original horror PS2 hit that brings more of everything. More ghosts, more places to wander around and more pictures than a bachelors degree in photography. But is this game a picture worth hanging on your wall or maybe more suitable as a Christmas greeting card?

After surviving the mansion incident from the first game you find yourself now playing as a totally different character in a different setting. This time you play as a young girl called Mio Amakura and occasionally your messed up twin sister Mayu. After becoming lost in Minakami forest you stumble across a village. What could possibly go wrong here? Well it doesn’t take long for you to figure out that the place is haunted with the tortured souls of its dead inhabitants as well as that something weird is affecting your twin sister Mayo.  The plot is completely separate from the original Project Zero title. The only main link being that you find the Camera Obscura, which is the same device in the first game, as a weapon.  You use it to snap the things that go bump in the night – this time its an entire village as opposed to just a mansion.  The plot of this game is rather complicated and felt quite hard to follow. Like the first game, there are several documents littered around the place providing you with some background information on what happened to the village and its inhabitants.

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Project Zero 2 does make a couple of changes to the series as well. First off, the game now has a novice mode for those gamers who are just utterly terrified of the “brave” normal mode. Saying that, even normal mode comes across as significantly easier than the first game in the series.  The most significant gameplay adjustment is taking pictures of the ghosts. Like the first game you wander around in third person and when you want to take a picture you switch to a first person perspective. A small yellow bar will be highlighted indicating that your picture will damage the ghost. Items of interest can be photographed and highlighted in blue in the view finder, taking the picture will usually help unlock a door or solve a puzzle. In this game you are practically encouraged to get up close and personal to the ghouls to take damage from them, the closer you get the more the yellow bar fills. If your used to the charging mechanic of the first game, that mechanic may confuse you at first as it is not made entirely clear when taking a picture will damage the ghost. Similar to the first game there is an opportunity to take a picture at just the right point to do maximum damage, called a “Zero shot,” and your HUD bar will highlight totally red when you have this opportunity. Unlike the previous games ghost encounters may have more than one ghost, they may even last longer, which is saying a lot as ghosts encounters in the first game were not a short experience. Not only that, encounters can be random anywhere in the game, it is not advised to hang around in a room doing nothing for too long.

You can upgrade the camera, which has been made a lot easier from the first. You accumulate points to upgrade by snapping pictures of the ghoulies and you also find spirit stones for upgrade slots hidden around the game. To upgrade the camera you need to use a spirit stone first to activate the slot and then have enough points to solidify the upgrade. This unique way of upgrading seems to be a way of preventing the player upgrading the camera too quickly.  Just like the first game you can also load your camera with different types of film that will do different amounts of damage and specific effects. These are in limited supply and scattered across the village.

You will regularly encounter puzzles throughout the game and many of them involve you using the camera at a specific spot to unlock a door. The game will also give you logic puzzles to solve like rotating dials to match the colours.  A lot of the game feels like a giant Easter egg hunt where you wander around an area looking for key items to solve a bigger puzzle.  You can save your game as many times as you want at designated lamp points; however, if there is a ghost in the area the lamp will go out preventing you from saving. Taking a snap shot and vanquishing the spook will enable you to once again use the save point. This mechanic was in the original game as well and is a great way of making you feel that nowhere is safe.

ff2_3Graphically the game does an excellent job of recreating a spooky village. You really feel like you’re alone as you wander around this creepy place with the sense that something is watching you, and it usually is. Ghosts appear to look surprisingly solid, which I’m not entirely sure is a good thing. Ghosts take on the forms of members of the villagers who once lived there and there are a huge number of ghosts in comparison to the first game. You’ll encounter blind ghosts, priest ghosts, children ghosts, and my favourite the crazy suicide ghost who attack you by constantly falling from a high up altitude. Of course this ghost was not meant to be funny but it did make me laugh more than tremble with fear. There are of course a lot of ghosts which just seem to hang around in the village. They won’t attack you, they act as the collectables in the game. Taking images of ghosts in the game and saving them to a separate photo album file will unlock additional costumes for Mio and Mayu.

The question I just could not help asking in Project Zero 2 was: so when does this game get scary? To be fair this game has several eerie moments but I never particularly felt scared or in danger when playing this game. Once again I am comparing this to the original game which seemed to contain scenes I found very unsettling. Saying that the developers apparently toned the horror down for this game to encourage players to actually finish the experience.

Project Zero 2 is certainly easier than the first game and a lot more accessible to people new to the series. Ammo and health items are very easy to come by even on standard difficulty. Some may find the pace of the game a little slow and frustrating as you wander around the village looking where to go next, the game does have a handy map if you get completely stuck. Once you get over the first few hours of the game you should be able to finish between eight to ten hours the first time through. The game does have multiple endings to experience and you are encouraged to play through the game multiple times to unlock extra difficulties, costumes and collect a picture of every damn ghost in the game if your a hardcore collector.

Overall, Project Zero 2 is a solid game but as you could tell from this review I could not help constantly comparing it to the original. The game changes the gameplay mechanics for the camera in a way I don’t think is as enjoyable by timing the right shot as opposed to charging it up. The story didn’t really draw me into the world or care as much for the main characters. When the game was finished I was quite surprised as it just seemed to abruptly end. Saying that, the game is a lot easier and more appealing to people new to the series. Unfortunately the game will still only appeal to a niche audience. If you want to try a horror game that tries things different from the typical survival horror experience I recommend giving this a try. If you liked the original I’m pretty sure you’ll find this game enjoyable. For everyone else this is a tough game to recommend. Though I had fun with the game I favour the original more, but felt compelled enough to look at the sequel.

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Fred’s Take:

Unlike Jam, I have not played the first and thus do not have to worry about comparing the two.  What I have a harder time with is wrapping my head around why this game is so popular in US horror gaming circles.  I get what appeals in other Japan-centric games like Silent Hill or even potentially Resident Evil – disturbing images and big squishy monsters – but I never understood that supernatural appeal vibrant in Japanese ghost stories.  These stories in visual media always break the universal rules of good horror: they are complicated tales instead of a simple plot, you see the danger in full view instead of off screen or lingering in the shadows, and they don’t clearly end.  Fatal Frame II is all of these things and I just don’t understand the appeal.

ff2_4Despite this fact, it is a decent game that encompasses solid mechanics and a great world to explore.  Whereas many found it to be an unsettling attack to the senses, I found to it to be a great exploratory simulation of events and locations I’d never have to the guts to tread in real life.  I always talk about games being haunted house simulations, which is more of an American view in that I’m expecting big gory beasts and graphic violence, whereas Fatal Frame II is literally a series of haunted houses you have to reconcile.  The village is flooded with souls that are both at peace and tortured, but you may never know who these people are or why they fit in either camp (except for whether or not you can damage them with the camera) thanks to the brunt of the plot being in collectible books.  Reading those books isn’t the issue, its knowing whether or not you have found all of them and the game’s complete lack of care whether you did or not, that I start having issues with.  When unraveled the tale is quite simple, but far be it for the developers to present it that way and instead you end up circling the same concepts and stories a few dozen times before you can comprehend what even happened by the time the credits roll.  Fatal Frame II does effectively capture the strongest sense from Japanese ghost stories, which is to screw with your perspective and corrupt something you love.  It’s very good at that.  It messes with you.

Combat is consistent, although figuring out the inner workings of how that all comes to pass takes time.  Just when you think you’ve figured out a mechanic, the game allows other ghosts you encounter to change or break the rules you just figured out.  Perhaps you could always snap a shot of a ghost coming out of invisibility the last time but this time the ghost’s ability is to disappear when it’s fully visible and you have to hit it at a different time or distance.  Maybe the ghost is in plain view but because the camera doesn’t turn yellow/red you can’t snap a photo for damage.  Maybe a girl is literally falling out of the sky to her death and although she’s invisible has the ability to hurt you when she lands even though other ghosts walk right through you.  It’s a bit irritating at first until you realize you have plenty of health and healing items for trial and error, but when faced with a ghost that can’t be exorcised or one that kills you in a single touch (or both) the annoyance of the battle system can get the best of you.  I just had a hard time being threatened by enemies that I can walk through, in many points of animation can’t harm me, and consistently go invisible.  Then again, I was scared to death and on the edge of my seat as I navigated a room plagued by a one-hit death ghost.

With all the focus on exploration – whether it’s fighting a new enemy, looking for something specific, or trying to find out where your half-goofballs sister is gallivanting to next – I was hoping I’d be looking for more interesting items.  The random unnecessary books that document the past, present, and potential future of The Lost Village and your place in it are fascinating little tidbits of lore, but those are completely optional as are the content spirits lingering about.  What is necessary is annoying fetch quests that have you finding stupid little stones in the ground with fragments of a key, assembling a doll from six or seven different parts strewn about, or traversing an entire house only to find the item you need was in the first room you entered and having to re-trace your steps twice while you fetch and return with that item.  It makes the relatively short game a bit long in the tooth.

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In the end I guess I just wasn’t in the mood for a traditional, non-violent, complicated ghost story about fetching things while your sister goes crazy.  I did, however, have a good time getting through the game’s 6-8 hour initial campaign and appreciating the moments, stories, and enemies that did make me smile and nod.  Fatal Frame II is different from other games and it’s well executed in what that specific game is, which is perhaps why it stands as such a pivotal title in the genre.  Everything you experience, down to the final moments and multiple endings, assure you that if you’re a fan of the likes of Ringu (The Ring) or Ju-On (The Grudge) that you’ll be right at home with the eerie atmosphere Fatal Frame II has to offer.  For me, this was nothing more than a unique style to a niche genre that, while well executed, just wasn’t that much up my ally.  Still, if you feel at home with a good old fashioned Japanese ghost story, complete with cryptic outcome, this may just be the game you’ve always been looking for.

Final Scores   Jam: 2 out of 5  –  Fred: 3 out of 5    (Review Policy)

Written by jamalais

October 30, 2014 at 2:01 pm

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