Synyster Graves

Project Zero 2: Crimson Butterfly

by on Dec.10, 2011, under Xbox 360

Ok ok strictly this isn’t an Xbox 360 title, but it’s got a reputation for being very frightening and seeing the scariness level of the Silent Hill series deteriorate in recent times, with Homecoming being more of an action shooter, I needed something to scare me (albeit I haven’t played Dead Space 2 yet). Plus the Xbox Original version was the director’s cut meaning it had some extra content and a new ending I’ve been told.

Project Zero 2: Crimson Butterfly (also known as Fatal Frame II in everywhere but the UK, and in my opinion sounds much better) is a survival horror set in Japan. You play the role of Mio Amakura, and start the game frolicking by a riverside with your twin sister Mayu on a summer’s day. All of a sudden Mayu just wanders off, following a crimson butterfly deep into the ominous forest leaving you to run after her screaming her name repeatedly. You find yourself all of a sudden going from glorious technicolour to pastel greyscale as you stumble across what you find out to be a deserted village. You are trapped in this village and cannot escape, just as all the Yūrei (or ghosts to us non-Japanese) in the village start to appear and attack. Mayu then runs off into the darkness and you control Mio on her quest to find her sister.

The style of the game is typical traditional survival horror style with a fixed camera following you as you control the protagonist in the third person. You only have one weapon which you discover at the beginning which is the camera obscura, a photographing relic which can exorcise the ghosts by taking photographs of them and capturing their image in a Fatal Frame. Your ammunition is various kinds of film strewn about the place and each kind has varying degrees of potency in regards to exorcising the ghosts. You can also pick up power ups for your camera which can cause status effects on the camera shot or make the camera more powerful. The camera angles most of the time are terrible, and you will end up directing Mio into running into walls repeatedly as you try and evade the hostile apparitions. The other huge problem with the control, which probably adds to the horror, is Mio’s inability to run faster than a glacier. Holding down the run button is marginally faster than not at all, which is the source of probably the most frustration in the game.

I think the most important thing to mention about this game are the ghosts. In all the years of playing horror games I don’t think I have been so frightened of an in-game adversary this much before. You have a filament in the bottom right part of your HUD which lights up whenever there is spiritual activity nearby. Blue is just an ambient ghost which you can take a photo of and gain points, or red is a hostile ghost, which will attack you and you will need to vanquish them or run away, however the vast majority of the time you will have to fight them as you will not have the option of escaping. However if you do run and shut doors behind you (which Mio also does painfully slowly), the ghosts will just materialise through the door making your escape futile. The ghosts also have a terrifying attack pattern of materialising behind you to as an ambush. By far the scariest things I have seen in games, this is why I could not actually play this game on my own, without about three lights on and sitting pretty much on top of the screen out of sheer fright. Taking a huge influence from Japanese horror classics such as Ringu (The Ring) and Ju-On (The Grudge) all the ghosts in the game are incredibly terrifying and the ambience created only serves to increase the horror. I think the only thing which dumbs down the horror is the names of the ghosts, which I can only assume are results of Engrish (mistranslated Japanese). For example, Woman In Box is clearly influenced in appearance from Sadako in Ringu, and the cut scene where you see her climb out of a box, or a subterranean well is terrifying. She even has the long hair covering her face as she ambles towards you, trying to grab you. Similarly Broken Neck Woman is a horrifying sight as she ambles towards you through solid objects with her head at 90 degrees. Broken Woman is horrific as she’s a gaunt woman covered in lacerations and is missing both forearms and keeps eeriely whispering “”my arms”. But perhaps the most terrifying of them all is the Kusabi, a vengeful spirit who was once used as a hanging sacrifice to stop the Hellish Abyss from opening up. He has a haggared, almost skeletal face and has one of his arms tied to his torso where it has been ripped off. Oh and he’s a one hit kill, a single touch and it’s game over.

As with most survival horrors, ammunition and healing items are hard to find and the damage the ghosts cause always sees you caning through the herbal medicines like crazy if you’re not careful. One of the drops which is more plentiful is the Spirit Orb, which can be used to upgrade the camera’s abilities in exchange for the points acquired from defeating ghosts.

The ambience and feeling of the entire atmosphere is probably the biggest factor in the fear and terror which you receive as a player. The imitated heartbeat through the vibration of the controller gets you on edge and the static and grainy filter on the camera sends chills down your spine when you’re encountering hostile spirits. I think the key to this games fantastic atmosphere is the little things. The subtle nuances give rise to peak moments of fear, such as objects falling off tables, doors randomly opening by themselves, or fleeting glimpses of apparitions in inocuous locations such as bleeding eyes or faces which leap up out at you in camera shooting mode.

All in all, Project Zero 2 is by the far the scariest game that I have played. Never before have I not be able to play a game on my own because i’m too scared, let alone have ALL the lights on and suffered sporadic bouts of nightmares over the SIX months it’s taken me to complete this game. The blatant influence from terrifying films such as Ringu and Ju-On just add to the terror and makes me wonder, what with the amazing graphics which exist now in the next generation consoles, how the Fatal Frame/Project Zero franchise has not found it’s way into HD yet, because it is by far one of the most frightening collections of video games and can hold it’s own against the Dead Space and Silent Hills of this world.

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