Tecmo’s revamp of its often-revered 2003 classic, Crimson Butterfly, has come at a peculiar time for Nintendo’s ageing hardware. It’s been a long time since the console’s boom period some years ago and with motion gaming no longer being an exclusive perk, the Wii has struggled to gain purchase on hardcore third party software. Even more peculiar (or alarming) is the emergence of the Wii U, expected to launch later this year.
Crimson Butterfly’s re-release on the Wii is the first international outing for the series in over half a decade (if you discount the recent 3DS spin-off), though the are no plans for an American release. Along with widespread critical acclaim, the sequel to the original Project Zero (also referred to as Fatal Frame) has also achieved cult status and it’s easy to see why.
With a distinct focus on Japanese culture, design, and mythos, combined with niche and somewhat temperamental gameplay mechanics, Crimson Butterfly is still an acquired taste even after a thorough re-working and plenty of polish.
Set entirely within the bounds of a doomed rural village and the surrounding woodland, Project Zero 2 is a self-contained account of sacrifice and mystery, told from the perspective of the Amakura twins, Mio and Mayu. Revisiting an area in which they used to play as children, the twins become separated as Mayu is lured by a glowing butterfly into the village below, which is set to become the construction site for a new dam in the neighbouring area.
Seemingly abandoned, it doesn’t take long for Mio and her sister to uncover a chain of dark secrets linked to the village. A ritual known as the “Repentance” has gone horribly wrong, resulting in the deaths of the entire populace who now roam freely as ghosts. Surrounded by despair and depravity, the twins soon find themselves hunted by the tormented residents, hell bent on completing the ceremony known as the Crimson Butterfly Sacrifice.
The narrative is well-paced and chilling throughout, if a little repetitive in areas. Mio and Mayu aren’t the most convincing protagonists though, as in many successful horror games, it’s usually the surrounding environment and its continual development, not the characters, that help steer the plot. Minakami village isn’t as expansive as Raccoon City, Silent Hill or Rapture, though the intimacy drives home a fitting sense of being trapped. Most of the fiction comes from the various collectibles scattered throughout the game; diaries, notebooks and clippings breathing life into each environment through the customs of Minakami’s residents.
Divided into several chapters, Crimson Butterfly comes tagged with a number of survival horror conventions, both old and new. The fixed camera perspective has been swapped for a more familiar, shoulder-cam view, which has its benefits though occasionally trips over the claustrophobic environmental design, especially when tip-toeing through the cluttered halls and tight corridors of buildings. 2003 was a time before the horror genre started to lean more towards action/adventure influences, Project Zero 2 sporting a distinct focus on exploration and puzzle solving.
"Haunted House" mode is exclusive to the Wii edition. These on-rails missions gage how scared the player is by detecting movement of the Wii remote, though never amount to much. The random placement of jump scares fails to have an effect, the mode inheriting a raft of issues from the main game.
Many of the game’s puzzles will have you revisiting areas of the game to collect unseen keys or other significant items. Back-tracking is perhaps one of the least fondly-remembered tropes of the genre but, without fundamentally altering the entire game, it’s a design element Tecmo couldn’t afford to change, even ten years down the line.
Applying common sense and paying close attention I only became lost on a few occasions. However, during such moments, I couldn’t help but feel as though it was poor game design and not my own incompetence that led to my sudden halt in progress. Even after consulting a stock of well-fermented online guides I still struggled to pick up the thread and carry on.
Rummaging through closets, drawers and cubby-holes doesn’t come without the odd supernatural encounter here and there. Though dead, the spirits of Minakami’s inhabitants still infest its many blind spots, and can only be banished through the use of the Camera Obscura. Found relatively early in the game, this allows players to snap shots of both hostile and neutral spirits, therefore capturing/expelling them. When using the the camera you will switch to a first person perspective, the viewfinder lighting up whenever targeting a ghost, the filament can be used as a means of tracking their movement. Once locked, your on-screen reticle will begin to fill, denoting how much damage is dealt when you take the shot.
It’s a simple combat system and one that’s padded out with the inclusion of alternate camera films (ammunition), attachments and purchasable upgrades. Back in 2003 this will have no doubt seemed both fun and intuitive, though compared to modern standards it hasn’t aged well. Having to switch between first and third person view whilst evading elusive enemies can be absolute hell at times, even on the game’s easiest difficulty. The only time at which you’ll feel satisfied with Crimson Butterfly’s combat is when you’re dominating your opponent; introduce even the slightest hint of a challenge and frustration will start to kick in.
Tecmo may have been powerless to remedy a number of the game’s fundamental flaws, though where presentation is concerned, the studio has done a great job. Character models are far more detailed, environments having much smoother, intricate textures. Voice work is a mixed bag, ranging from droll to slightly over par, though it rarely detracts from the experience. Repetition may haunt some extracts of the game’s dialogue but for the most part it’s well thought-out and goes hand-in-hand with the game’s new-found visual prowess to sell the story and its memorable setting.
- Original narrative that keeps the game moving.
- Plenty of collectibles to be found.
- New content for returning fans, including Haunted House mode.
- Great visuals help anchor the setting and characters.
- A standalone 9-10 hour game.
- Motion controls add very little to the experience.
- Polish does little to cover up the out-dated design and mechanics.
- It’s fairly easy to get lost during later chapters.
Project Zero 2′s re-release is more akin to the recent slew of HD remakes for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 rather than a total re-haul. Improvements to how the game looks and tweaking a number of its more archaic elements definitely makes Crimson Butterfly feel up to date, though the game’s issues are rooted in at a much deeper level. Where fans will no doubt revel in having one of their all-time classics refurbished, outsiders are likely to come to blows with a number of the game’s core mechanics and dogmatic design.