Project Zero 2: Crimson Butterfly (Director's Cut)
We deliver up our full review of Tecmo's Crimson Butterfly, aka Fatal Frame 2. Featuring "pre-teen" school girls made to look like 20 year-olds, just to confuse you!
PS2, Xbox (Director's Cut, 2004)
UbiSoft / Microsoft (UK)
Aka: Fatal Frame 2: Crimson Butterfly
Director's Cut edition now available for Xbox, released Nov 2004 (US) and Feb 25 (UK). This review is based on the PS2 version.
On the night of the endless ceremony, twin sisters find themselves trapped within the mysterious Lost Village. Unbeknownst to them the village's dark past, one sister must fight to save the other before they succumb to the village's sadistic ritual, the Crimson Sacrifice - a ritual where one twin kills the other. This sounds awesome to you too right?
Project Zero 2: Crimson Butterfly was published by Tecmo in the States last year under the name Fatal Frame 2, and hits Europe at the end of April courtesy of UbiSoft. Here's the lowdown...
Zero: Crimson Butterfly tells the story of twin sisters, Mio and Mayu Amakura, who have returned to their special place, a forest where they spent many of their childhood days together. A place where Mayu, the older of the two, fell off a mountain path when she was younger, leaving her with an injured leg.
Now some years later, the twins returned to their childhood home, revisiting their secret hideaway before it's swallowed up by a lake at the end of summer. As Mio drifted off into her own world while reminiscing about their times there, a mysterious crimson butterfly appeared and caught Mayu's attention. Enchanted by the faint glow of the mysterious insect, Mayu - who's obviously looking for another limp leg - felt compelled to follow it.
Noticing this, Mio chased after her sister and the pair ventured deep into the forest, past the mystical point of no return where everything around them became engulfed in darkness. As the girls continued through the dark forest they eventually came up to a clearing revealing "the lost village".
Legend has it that long ago, the village vanished off the map on the eve of a sacred ceremony. A ceremony that involved a horrifying ritual known as the Crimson Sacrifice where one twin sibling kills the other! Oh dear...
It's a new day but the ceremony continues, and now Mio and Mayu find themselves trapped in this village of the damned that's forever held in the grip of darkness. With the ritual fast approaching, they must find a way out before they to become part of the Crimson Sacrifice.
This game features a chilling storyline filled with mysteries and horrifying revelations.
In a desperate attempt to rescue her sister, Mio will embark on a terrifying journey through the lost village in search of answers and encounter terrors that define what nightmares are made of.
At the start of the game, players assume the role of Mio, guiding her down a foggy mountain path while in field mode - which is basically a third-person viewpoint. With Mayu in tow, the girls make their way to the village.
I was a little disappointed to see that the one area I had issues with in the original - the controls - remained the same in the sequel. Both Mio and Mayu - who becomes playable at certain points - run a little too slowly and the game retains the same 3D control scheme that made the original, as well as the Resident Evil series, a little annoying to control - especially in situations where you needed to react quickly, turn tail and run.
The control setup allows players to perform actions such as open doors, read diaries and other documents, use the camera to snap pictures, and access menu screens in order view certain files, use health items and power-up the camera.
Once you approach the village the game wastes no time in setting some creepy events in motion with some well-timed spooky sights and sounds that set the tone for the rest of the game. As players explore the village and the nearby forest, they'll uncover clues and other items to help them on their journey through the haunted village. Similar to other survival horror games, items such as maps, books, health items, notes, scraps, and keys among other things can be found throughout the village and stored in Mio's inventory. There are also save points scattered around the village so you can save your progress.
While searching the homes throughout the village, of all the finds you make, the Camera Obscura is the most significant one. A special camera that alerts the user of any paranormal activity within their area, the Camera Obscura is the only thing that can protect the girls after discovering that the village is haunted and most of the ghosts are hostile.
Unlike other survivor horror games that use conventional weapons to combat their evil inhabitants, the Fatal Frame series is known for their unique form of combat. When using the camera, players will enter the Viewfinder Mode, which is basically a first-person perspective mode. In this mode you're able to protect yourself and Mayu from the violent ghosts you'll encounter throughout the village.
Using the camera is simple. After Mio obtains the Camera Obscura, a filament appears next to her life bar. This filament signals her whenever there's any kind of ghostly presence in her area and will glow red to warn her that she's in the presence of a hostile ghost. Entering the Viewfinder Mode, you'll need to wait until a ghost is within the camera's capture circle and the Ghost Wave Gauge is at its highest level before snapping a shot.
Each shot that Mio snaps will inflict some damage on the ghosts and usually drives them back a bit. However, to inflict even more damage on the unfriendly entities you'll need to wait for a shutter chance in which the Ghost Wave Gauge will turn red and can subdue the ghosts with fewer shots as well as pushing them back so you have time to prepare for another shot.
For the ultimate snapshot, waiting for the Fatal Frame shot is the ideal way to go especially in situations where you're battling multiple ghosts at the same time - which happens quite a bit throughout the game. It takes a little timing but the Fatal Frame shot will inflict the most damage and reward you with a nice chunk of extra points when used properly.
One of the coolest things about the Camera Obscura is that it can be upgraded in a few areas. However, compared to the original where all you had to do was accumulate enough points in order to upgrade the camera's basic functions and unlock some extra ones, the upgrade path requires a little more work this time around.
While the lost village is a seamless village, the game is broken up into different chapters, and like many other survival horror games on the market there's a great deal of backtracking involved. Oddly enough, while I've never been fond of such a thing in the past I was so drawn into the dark atmosphere of the game that I actually didn't care.
At certain points in the game, Mayu becomes playable for a short period of time, allowing you to move the story along as well as experience things from her point of view. While playing as Mayu you can only run in a predetermined direction and can't perform any of the actions that Mio can do. I tend to consider these points in the game as interactive cut-scenes more than anything else, but still a nice deviation nonetheless.
Visually, Zero is a very beautiful game. The character models look really smooth with generous amounts of solid textures painting the characters and environments of the game. The environments themselves are even more impressive this time around, the dark settings accompanied by atmospheric effects such as fog and soft light-sourcing effects certainly give the visuals a creepy look.
The environments seemed to be designed in a way that would lead one to believe that there's something lurking around every corner in the game - and usually, there is!
As creepy as the visuals are, the music is just as chilling. A beautifully haunting soundtrack fills the air with some nice orchestral-styled undertones that really enhance the experience. The sound effects certainly haven't taken a backseat neither as there are lots of ambient sounds to spook you off the edge of your bed. From the ghostly moans heard throughout the village to the twisted laughter of the evil "kimono girl" - who sounds much more sinister in the Japanese version - the sound effects and voice acting in Zero/Fatal Frame 2 are of a definite high quality.
Overall, despite some minor issues, Zero: Crimson Butterfly is an amazing game backed by a powerful storyline that really draws you into the game and keeps you craving for more. You'll be hard pressed not to get creeped out by the ambient noises and haunted environments throughout the game. While some may consider it a bit on the short side I felt the 11 hours invested in completing the game felt just right and wasn't too long or too short.
It's pretty much the only survival horror game that kept me glued to the controller all the way through without losing interest - and there are lots of extras, including multiple endings, a mission mode, new costumes for Mayu and Mio, added difficulty settings, chapter selections, a gallery mode and more - that up the replay value considerably. Tecmo obviously did their homework and one can only hope there's a (higher profile) Fatal Frame 3 in the future.