Project Zero 2: Wii Edition Review
There are many genres of both video games and film that consumers of media can indulge in. One of my favourites, however, are horror. Some wonder why I am so keen on the horror genre – or how anyone in their right mind could actually play/ view something “scary” and enjoy it. Well, my reasoning is simple if somewhat flawed – horror games give us an opportunity to experience an emotion or feeling that we possibly won’t experience anywhere else. It’s also one of the only genres that has the potential to stay with you, even after you’ve turned off your television. So, after that little rant, surely I’m going to review something scary, right? That’s correct – and what other game to talk about than one of what I’m pretty sure is easily one of the scariest games ever made.
Project Zero 2: Wii Edition is largely a remake of the original game released back in 2003/2004. As such the story and premise remains the same – twin sisters Mio and Mayu are visiting a spot where they both used to play as children. Mayu finds and follows a mysterious glowing crimson butterfly deep into the woods surrounding their play spot, and Mio, being a good and concerned sister soon follows. Led into a village shrouded by fog and seemingly abandoned, the girls soon discover that they aren’t necessarily the only ones in the abandoned village and that they are actually trapped within the village. The reason? Why a ritualistic ceremony gone bad, of course.
The story in Project Zero 2: Wii Edition is immaculately told through many written files, audio logs and cutscenes (at the behest of atmosphere, more on that later). Reading through the files and discovering the back stories to all the ghosts you see (some are friendly, some are not) really make you feel sorry for the ghosts themselves and understand their plights. The characterisation of the twins in particular – one of them being rather weak and the other being even weaker – really adds to the game’s impending and constant sense of helplessness and subsequent fear from the player.
As previously mentioned, Project Zero 2: Wii Edition is a remake of Project Zero 2 (a surprise, I know). As such, almost everything has been remade from the ground up, including the game’s visuals and camera angles. Character models are quite well detailed, environments are gloomily lit and the star attraction – the ghosts – move with this kind of ethereal beauty that makes you want to look at them but also run as fast as you can in the other direction. Despite the great use of visual effects and great detail in the environments, there are a few rough edges that really show the Wii is starting to show its age. Still, regardless, the kind of muddy appearance makes the atmosphere so much more oppressive and dare I say makes the game even scarier.
The soundtrack is used to great effect to add to the experience too. Slow and haunting “tracks” play while exploring the village, while loud and sharp piercing noises play whenever a ghost can be seen – either in your face or in the corner. Subtle distortions plays as you approach what appears to be nothing, but just because a sound is playing your own heart rate elevates (and your character’s heart rate is also portrayed with rumbles from the Wii Remote). No matter the nature of the scare, it is almost always augmented with incredible sound design from the developers. The voice work is passable but I prefer the original’s Asian accented English voices rather than the obviously British voices in this remaster – the characters are clearly Japanese so why change their accents to sound otherwise? Extra points for playing random sound effects through the Wii Remote itself, I jumped almost every time it happened.
The premise of Project Zero is quite simple – you play a young helpless girl stranded in a desolate environment with only a camera used to ward off and exorcise malevolent spirits. It’s a semi-linear affair where you are presented with a big area that you will backtrack across as the story plays out. Project Zero is also divided into chapters for ease of navigation, though for all intents and purposes it plays quite similarly to Resident Evil. You will traverse all kinds of traditional Japanese environments while collecting keys, backtracking to doors and of course, collecting photographs of ghosts.
Yes, you heard right, your only weapon is a camera. Your camera is based on an old box camera from the 18th century, so it has removable lenses and all kinds of add ons. Aiming is carried out with the Wii Remote and the nunchuk, and different films can be loaded into the camera to increase its power. The combat is a little bit more varied, however, as upgrades can be purchased for your camera – some of them stun ghosts, some of them decrease the time between shots and other kinds of effects. These purchases and upgrades are all purchased with spirit points, which are found at random intervals throughout the game and also awarded depending on how well you photograph certain spirits. It’s a simple currency system that works surprisingly well.
The biggest kicker about the game’s combat, however, is that there are critical moments just before you get attacked by a ghost where the most damage is done if the shutter is pulled. This is an interesting system as it effectively rewards the player for being scared, and seeing some of these ghosts up close truly is enough to unnerve you for quite a bit.
Project Zero 2: Wii Edition takes a bit of a different direction compared to its predecessors. Taking many pages (heck, almost the entire book) from the Japan only Fatal Frame IV, the viewpoint is now behind the player instead of being at fixed camera angles (which means many of the camera angle-based scares have been retooled). Your character can now aim their flashlight either up or down by tilting the remote (controlled by motion, not the pointer) to light up areas. To further add to the tension, picking up items has been turned into a mini-game in itself. When your character goes to reach for an item, a ghost hand may reach out to grab and attack you, so releasing the pick-up button before it grabs you is important. It’s fun and very tense and it thankfully never gets old.
Despite these improvements, there is of course still a few things wrong with the game. The controls are a little bit cumbersome but players will easily get used to them after around an hour of play. In terms of atmosphere, the game is almost perfect and easily one of the most atmospheric games I’ve played, however there were moments where the mini-map that is on-screen all the time (and exclusive to this version) was kind of “distracting”, as was the rather heavy reliance on cutscenes early and much less later on in the game. The final boss in particular is hideously unbalanced – expect one hit kills and many treks from your latest save point to the area where you fight “it”.
The last thing I should mention is that the game is built around old-school game design – that is, your save points ARE your checkpoint, there is no autosaving and there is no continuing from where you died. Died but saved three hours ago? Prepare to play three MORE hours covering that ground again. The chapter system does alleviate this problem, however as it reminds you to save at regular intervals. But some of these chapters are long and it can be frustrating to lose your progress.
Project Zero 2: Wii Edition is quite a substantial package – you’ve got heaps of items to find and level up your camera with, multiple endings to unlock (that are more than just choosing one option at the end of the game) as well as multiple costumes too. The main game itself will take players around about ten or so hours to complete, though many players who like to explore and immerse themselves in the world (and photograph every ghost in the game) could easily take more. A “Haunted House” mode is also available for multiplayer, where one player controls a “house” to deploy ghosts and other strange effects while another tries to escape it. It’s a nice touch but ultimately nothing too substantial.
Project Zero 2: Wii Edition is a very good survival horror game and an excellent addition to any serious Wii owner’s library, though I am a bit sad it has been given this treatment by being released so late into the console’s life cycle. The scares are plentiful, always fresh and remain with the player long after the console has been switched off – and the story is intriguing but unnerving at the same time, told with a dramatic style that gives it a perfect Japanese horror movie feel akin to The Grudge or The Ring. Serving as a perfect introduction to the Project Zero franchise, I have the feeling we’ll be seeing more of in the future and I really hope we see a follow up that the franchise deserves.