Human Sacrifice, Spirit Photography and a Cursed Village Haunt Nintendo Wii's Project Zero II: Crimson Butterfly
Two people who are lost in the woods find themselves in a strange village that vanished a long time ago under mysterious circumstances. No, it's not Brigadoon--it's the Nintendo Wii edition of Tecmo's Project Zero 2: Crimson Butterfly (a.k.a. Fatal Frame 2).
Project Zero 2 was one of the last major releases for the Wii, but it was only sold in Europe and Japan in June 2012. I was able to purchase a copy of the European version at a reasonable price through eBay, and then I played it on my Wii console through the region-free Gecko OS application that I downloaded for free from the Homebrew Channel. This might sound like a lot of effort just to play a video game, but I'm glad I did it. Even though it arrived late in the Wii's release schedule, Project Zero 2 is one of the best horror games available for that console. Read on for my complete review.
The Wii edition of Project Zero 2 is a remake of Fatal Frame 2, which was originally released for the PlayStation 2 in 2003 and the Xbox in 2004. While the game has been changed to fit Wii's motion control system, its plot remains the same: Twins Mio and Mayu Amakura are hiking through the woods of Japan to return to a place they liked to visit in their childhood. Mio follows Mayu into a detour that takes them much deeper into the forest, where they find an ancient village that appears to be abandoned. As they explore the village, they learn that a human sacrifice ritual involving twins that was regularly performed by the villagers had gone horribly wrong, which then opened a portal to the underworld that plunged the village into a state of murky limbo. Yet many angry ghosts still walk the streets of the village, and they are determined to use Mio and Mayu to perform the ritual correctly to end the curse that imprisoned them in everlasting darkness.
Project Zero 2 is one of the creepiest horror games I've played on the Wii. Between its detailed environments, gruesome story and impressive selection of ghastly spirits, this game will make your skin crawl for hours on end. Players will encounter ghosts of previous sacrifice victims, as well as those of visitors who found the village and became trapped by its curse. Two of the most disturbing spooks among the cast of phantoms are the woman with the broken neck (she walks around with her lifeless head eerily flopping from side to side) and the woman who committed suicide by throwing herself down a stairwell (watching how this ghost moves herself along the floor will make you squirm). As the game progresses, players learn more about the specifics of the sacrifice ritual, the people who lived in the village, and what went wrong that caused the village to vanish.
The game utilizes the Wiimote and nunchuk controllers to enhance players' immersion into its gloomy world. Players use the Wiimote to aim either a flashlight or the Camera Obscura, the only weapon Mio and Mayu have to fight against the ghosts. Defeating ghosts gives players points, which can then be used to buy upgrades for the Camera Obscura. I've never played any of the Project Zero/Fatal Frame games before this one but I found the Wii-specific controls to be very intuitive and responsive, so much so that I’m astonished that Nintendo didn't adapt the entire series for the Wii console. (Actually, Nintendo did release Project Zero 4: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse for the Wii back in 2008, but that release was exclusive to Japan and it currently costs around $80 or more to buy on eBay. Dammit.)
Unique to the Wii's version of Project Zero 2 is a Haunted House mode, where players tour different haunted locations. This is a fun addition to the game that "measures" your fear by how much you shake the Wiimote during your haunted visit; this mode also allows a second player to participate by triggering random scares to surprise the other player. The selection of haunted environments and two-player game play format is very similar to another Wii title, the Ju-On: The Grudge Haunted House Simulator. However, Project Zero 2 is the better purchase simply because it's better made and has so much more to offer than the Ju-On game.
Project Zero 2 does have its shortcomings, but not enough to ruin the overall gaming experience. Most of the missions involve looking through old village buildings to find various objects; this becomes repetitive and a somewhat annoying from time to time. Furthermore, because of the game's strong focus on narrative, players will often have to find a certain object or perform a particular task in order for the game to progress. If players cannot figure out what the object or task is--and sometimes it is not as obvious as it should be--then the game essentially comes to a halt. For example, I was in a level that required me to look through a hole in a wall in order for a necessary cut scene to play. Yet because this kind of action wasn't required anywhere else in the game to make it continue, it didn't occur to me to do it until I watched a Project Zero 2 walkthrough video on YouTube.
If you enjoyed other Wii horror games such as Calling, Cursed Mountain and Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, then you will want to add Project Zero 2 to your library. It may be hard to get for some Wii gamers, but the effort is worth it.