Project Zero 2 Crimson Butterfly PS2 Review

So, how does the sequel to “The Scariest Game Ever Made” live up to its pedigree? If you’re looking for survival horror with a slight twist, or are a fan of the first game, please, read on…

Graphics

In this respect, the game arguably outdoes its predecessor; the sprites look lovely, and move very convincingly – Mio’s skipping-motion that she uses to hurry down the stairs is charming, and a welcome change from the usual plodding that seems to often be given to characters. The ghosts also look lovely for the most part, with a great deal more detail added to the facial features in particular. There is also a great deal of variety in the ghosts, which is a welcome addition; for example, on the bridge there is the ghost of a drowned woman that drifts through the air as though in water: later on is a ghost of a woman that fell down the stairs, who is destined to keep reliving the moment over and over. These individualised ghosts are wonderfully rendered, and show some real thought to character design.

The environments of the game are beautifully rendered; as with the first game, everything is painted in dull sepia tones, which works well for the chilling atmosphere of the game.

Gameplay

I’m hoping that some of you guys have played Project Zero, for I feel compelled to make some comparisons…and show the ways that I feel this game has let down the start given to it by this first game.

The game tells the story of a pair of Japanese twin girls, Mio and Mayu, who one day accidentally stumble across an old abandoned village when Mayu chases a crimson butterfly into the woods. As you both seek a way out of the disturbing grounds to get back home, you begin to uncover a series of grisly events that occurred there many years previously…including a sacrificial ritual involving twins in order to appease an ancient evil. As you progress, you learn more about the event that destroyed the town and turned its inhabitants into the tortured souls that try to help or hinder you in your escape. Its pretty compelling stuff, if a bit obvious at times, and keeps things going nicely.

You play the game for the majority of this third-person adventure as Mio, with your sister following you meekly wherever you go. The fact that there are two of you offers the chance for a couple of cooperative puzzles to be solved, and moments when one of you has to wander off alone; this is relatively unnerving, and you do develop some sense of concern for your sister. The game is divided into several chapters, each of which with a title that bears some resemblance to what you will have to achieve in that chapter…though none of them are very memorable.

Like the first game, combat takes place with the use of a camera; hitting circle will open up the viewfinder, which distorts the room into a grainy, disturbing picture – think Blair Witch Project and you will get the idea. You have a capture circle, which will light up depending on how close a ghost is to you, and a viewfinding circle; the aim is to get this and the target that appears around a ghosts head, into the middle of the capture circle, preferably when it is red. As well as this, a marker (when the right upgrade is collected) will flash at a key moment; if you can take a picture at that second, you will get a “fatal frame”, a highly powerful shot that will almost deplete an enemy of its power. There are plenty of upgrades to be collected for the camera, some of which offer special moves like “stun” and “slow” – these have to be charged up with spirit stones before they can be used, but offer great assistance in defeating the tougher bosses. As well as this, the camera is used to unlock puzzles; sometimes taking a picture of something like a locked door will reveal the place where the key may be found, or remove a spirit holding it shut. It’s a great concept, that works very well. New to this game is the ability to hit the shutter at the precise second that you are attacked, which will throw the ghost back and prevent damage from being sustained. If your health bar is depleted by ghost attacks, its game over unless you have a “stone mirror”, which can be used to restore you once; sadly, only one of these can be carried at any time. Similarly, if Mayu is attacked too many times, the game will end. There are no continues, meaning that if you did not save at one of the save lanterns dotted about the game, you are back to the start.

Another new feature that has been added into this game is the Spirit Radio, which can be used to “listen” to messages contained in various stones dropped by ghosts. While the distorted sounds are disturbing – especially hearing someone begging for you to kill them – it doesn’t really add a great deal to the game; instead, it seems like a horrible cliché to be listening to crystals to hear what the ghosts had to say. As if using sacred water to heal wasn’t bad enough already.

Ok…so now the flaws. Anyone that hasn’t played Project Zero (Fatal Frame) will probably get more enjoyment out of this purely as survival horror, because this seems to be the path the game has taken; there are less jump-out-of-your-seat moments and more intense battles that will see you pitched against several enemies at once – something that Project Zero was careful to avoid. Sadly, for someone like me that’s a fan of Project Zero, this is just frustrating; a number of these battles take place in tiny rooms, with the door suddenly “mysteriously held shut by some powerful force”, and trying to get a decent picture of a ghost while another one is sneaking up behind you through a wall gets highly irritating. The fact that when you are captured you enter a brief cutscene in which your health is depleted is also irritating, as it gives the other ghost a chance to catch up and damage you as well.

The use of camera switches to reveal other ghosts watching you – a staple of Project Zero – has also been pretty much removed. There are a few moments where the camera will change angle only to reveal a ghostly figure behind you, but these are few and far between; instead, the camera remains for the most part where it is, and only a distortion of the screen will tell you that there is an apparition nearby. This makes for many wasted opportunities; half of the time, the screen would distort, but I couldn’t actually see anything ghostly on the screen. This, as you may imagine, isn’t very scary; compare this to having the camera suddenly jerk away while you’re innocently walking along to show a tortured soul hanging from a rope from the ceiling and you get the idea. It’s a terrible shame, as this was one of Project Zero’s best features.

In this game, there are two ghosts that will kill you as soon as they touch you; the huge, hideous ghost of the Rope Man, an outsider that found himself wound up in the rituals, and Sae, an evil twin that was left alone in the town. While the screen goes grey and grainy when they appear, sadly neither of them achieve the terror that was so easily won by the Rope Maiden of Project Zero; while the Maiden would appear at scripted points and chase you down, these characters appear only a couple of times, and just aren’t that scary. In fact, it becomes more irritating that the fixed camera makes judging distance and depth awkward, meaning that you sometimes unwittingly run into them.

Along the same lines as this, Fatal Frame 2 has made the damning mistake of becoming predictable; there are some ghosts that appear in the same place a number of times. This detracts from the scare-rating of the game; somehow, entering a room where you know a large enemy will be doesn’t make for great suspense – it just gets annoying. Similarly, there a moments when you are attacked by (usually in threes) groups of villager-ghosts; these don’t look particularly frightening – they are far too human in appearance still. This is a far cry from the ghosts in Project Zero, which all looked deranged and disturbing.

Finally, there is the little matter of the games sources; it is obvious to see that the main influences are more than likely The Ring (there is a girl that crawls out of a kimono box with her hair in her face…you get the idea) and Blair Witch. While this adds greatly to the atmosphere of the game, sometimes you cant help but feel you have seen it all before…which is a shame.

Sound

Once again, there is very little in the way of music; instead, there are distorted background noises that serve as the ambient setting of the game. These are for the most part well-done, particularly the twisted, waning siren-sound that accompanies the appearance of the Ring girl (which seems to have been plucked straight out of Silent Hill). Perhaps the most puzzling use of sound is the music that accompanies the save screen, which wouldn’t be out of place in something like Shenmue; while breaking up the tension of gameplay by having relaxing music playing in a saveroom may work for Resident Evil, it just disturbs the atmosphere of this game, which relies on suspense and the unseen.

The voice acting is fair; certainly, there is little dialogue that is not repeated every cutscene, and where this is absent, a lot of heavy frightened breathing takes its place. The ghosts voiceovers are not particularly impressive either, save for a few of the female ghosts that do sound truly terrifying; being chased by an armless woman who’s crying because of the pain is horrible. Occasionally the in-game voiceover seems too quiet. Still, luckily the number of cutscenes has been drastically reduced in this game.

Lifespan

Like its predecessor, this is a pretty short game – the chapters fly past, and I managed to complete it in a couple of days. There are plenty of things to unlock however; extra difficulty modes, which if completed will open up extra costumes and endings; a Spirit List; a Mission Mode; a Gallery, and so on. The only question is whether or not you can be bothered to fight your way through the game again; luckily, this decision is made a little easier by having extra ghosts appear in different places on the replay, so it isn’t too monotonous. That, coupled with the relatively short length of the game, may make the decision to replay easier.

Overall

A reasonably interesting survival horror game that sadly chose a slightly more action-based rather than shock-value approach to the genre. Still worth looking at though if you’re a fan of the genre, but I would certainly recommend playing Project Zero first – though whether or not you will be willing to come to this after playing that gem is another question. The game just feels for the large part too shallow and uneventful; things like the camera moving to reveal other things just haven’t been used properly. Kudos to Tecmo for trying to steer away from repeating themselves too much, but what they offer here just isn’t up to the calibre of Project Zero. Oh well. Maybe next time the balance will be right.

7 out of 10
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