Is this spirit-snapping story a spooktacular success?
I'm tackling this review from two angles: from the perspective of someone who has played and loved previous versions of the game, and from that of someone completely new to the series. If you've never played Project Zero before, don't worry—I won't leave you guys in the ghost-infested dark.
Project Zero, known as Fatal Frame in the United States, is a classic haunted house survival horror series that began its ethereal afterlife on the PlayStation 2. Each game features different characters (usually cute, young girls) in different places (often abandoned, derelict buildings), but all focus on the mysterious abilities of the Camera Obscura, a device that allows its users to take photographs of ghosts and other paranormal phenomena. The first two games had updated Director's Cut versions on the Xbox, and the fourth was a Wii exclusive that never made it out of Japan. Each game plays something like an exploration expedition, and a first person camera simulator kind of akin to Face Raiders whenever you're attacked by something from beyond the grave.
Smile, you're on can-dead camera!
The latest entry into the series is an updated remake of the second game (also known as Crimson Butterfly). It tells the story of twin sisters Mio and Mayu, who wander into the lost, deserted, and very haunted Minakami Village. When the girls become separated, Mio must use the Camera and her wits to piece together the grisly story of the village while battling vengeful spirits and searching for her sister.
The visual differences from the PS2 version are immediately apparent. The Wii version looks gorgeous running in 16:9 widescreen, with updated character models and completely rebuilt scenery. There are a few low-res texture maps here and there, but the dilapidated old buildings are as spooky as ever to explore. There's also a kind of grainy old film filter over the camera in the Wii edition, adding to the grungy atmosphere of the village.
Check out Mio's nice... uh... posture.
Instead of a series of fixed camera angles from third-person, the game now has an over-the-shoulder first-person perspective that follows you around, a view much more immersive than the original version’s.
One particular element from the fourth game carries over very well in Project Zero 2: picking up every item has become a nerve-wracking game of chance. You slowly reach your hand out to retrieve the object, with a randomized chance of a ghostly arm appearing out of nowhere to grab at you. You also have the new option to warily peek through windows and other small gaps in the scenery in case a nasty ghastly is waiting to pounce just out of sight.
Along with the new perspective, the game features a different control scheme that takes some getting used to. Movement is straightforward, using the analog stick to run, back up, or turn. Holding the Z button on the Nunchuk makes you run, and a quick shake of either the Nunchuck or the Wii Remote does a quick 180-degree turn in the corresponding direction. It's when you're using the Camera Obscura that things get technical. Pressing B whips out the camera, and while looking through the lens, tilting the Wii Remote up or down aims high or low. You can lock onto any attacking spirits by aiming at them and holding Z, then twisting the remote like a screwdriver will slightly nudge left or right, allowing you to fine-tune your aim within the lock-on reticle. It's a confusing system of balancing which movement type best suits the situation, but it’s entirely manageable with a steady hand and some patience.
Careful you don't get your arm grabbed, Mio!
An unfortunate yet noteworthy point: The game suffers from occasional pauses when loading new rooms, and the Wii disc drive often revs up in a frenzy just before something of consequence happens. You could use this disc loading sound as a warning of an imminent attack, but it does dull some of the surprise when a ghost pops out at you.
I have mixed feelings about the localisation. Compared to the PS2 version, the translation is vastly improved. Spirit and location names, collectable diaries and texts throughout the village, script dialogue: it's all much more accurate and realistic than the often robotic-sounding translation of the original. The game has a new voice track as well, which in many cases has a better acting than the first English dub. Several key characters however, in particular Mayu and the ever-persistent antagonist Sae, sound flat and bored. My main beef, though, is the lack of an option to use the Japanese voices, which greatly hurts the overall presentation of the game. This is a Japanese horror story about two Japanese girls lost in a Japanese forest, coming across a haunted Japanese village built around a Japanese shrine—why does everyone sound English? The game even has subtitles in the cut scenes and the game's manual distinctly says, “experience the chilling fear of Japanese horror.” There's no reason they couldn't have at least given players the choice of which voiceover they prefer. Fortunately, the creepiness factor is still more than strong enough to enjoy the game, even if the accents take you out of the moment from time to time.
So Nintendo, what part of these girls looks British to you?
The Wii Edition also has a small but decent collection of new content beyond the cosmetic changes, including two new endings and some version-exclusive character costumes. A second player can help out with the photography in the main story mode, and if both players time their shots perfectly, a Synchro Shot bonus deals more damage and earns more points.
There's also the new Haunted House mode, a series of mini-game levels that have you creeping along an on-rails path through one of many random haunted locations. As you go, the game judges wayward Wii Remote jiggling as “scares” that count toward a fright meter. In any level, maxing out this meter instantly kills you, requiring a steely resolve to make it through alive. Sometimes a haunted house gives you a mission, such as photographing different ghosts or collecting items along the way. The multiplayer works well here too, giving your partner the opportunity to psych you out with a range of distracting pictures, sounds, and Wii Remote vibrations. The Haunted House mode is unforgiving at times, as it will often add scares at even the slightest of twitches. I could have sworn on several occasions it even punished me when I had the Wii Remote completely motionless.
Mio's outfit has been considerably cleavage-ified.
Despite some flaws, Project Zero 2: Wii Edition is still an incredibly fun and spooky experience. The game, arguably one of the scariest ever made, is hands down the best survival horror game on the Wii. Whether or not this is the definitive version of Crimson Butterfly depends on your personal preferences, but fans of the older games still have plenty of reason to polish their lenses once more. As Nintendo now co-owns this franchise, I can't wait to see what ghost-snapping adventures they cook up for the Wii U.