Fatal Frame (in the US), known as Project Zero in PAL, and just “Zero” in Japan is a Survival Horror game that I refused to give a chance.
I have always had issues with skeevy Japanese schoolgirl fetish/anime shite, so I incorrectly assumed a game with a young female protagonist would be up-skirt waifu-bait, and thus never gave Project Zero a chance.
So here I am, to beg you all for forgiveness. Project Zero is honestly the most pants browning game I have ever played.
Shit dribbling down my leg
The closest game I can compare too would be Eternal Darkness if you’re doing an Insanity (Green rune) run, but even that isn’t close. Outlast is a genuinely terrifying game, Silent Hill 2 pulls the psychological strings like no other, but WOW Project Zero is something else on the scare-o-meter. Silent Hill 2’s strength lie in how you’re constantly on edge, that you’re always thinking something scary will jump out. Outlast managed to build tension, with footsteps and the huge fucking thing molesting your face.
Project Zero does both. Yes, it builds tension, but it isn’t afraid to throw in jump scares. The music is sparse, with haunting echos, thunder and a minimalist soundtrack, all of which adds to the bassy “paaaaarpps” coming from your rectum. Every enemy encounter is met with fear, all ghosts move different, and combat takes getting used to.
Instead of using guns, you use a (photography) camera. This will damage unfriendly ghosts, but also allows you to take pictures of spectral anomalies which unlock different paths/doors and earn you experience. The camera is awkward as hell to use, and takes a lot of getting used to, but you feel that this is a purposeful design choice.
Since you’re in a fight to the death with random ghosts who want to molest you and you’re just a young girl, it makes sense that you’re a little weak and not Frank West style photojournalist or even vaguely competent at combat. You can get good towards the end, and you have too as Day 3 introduces multiple enemies, but you’re never at a point where the ghosts are simply there to be pummeled. Though later in the game if you’re scrimping on the good ammo, you can Resident Evil style steamroll from halfway through Night 3 till the end. This assumes that you get used to the camera controls, and don’t get overly trigger happy with the good ammo.
The puzzles aren’t great, but there is no box pushing. You come to a room, you take a picture of an obstruction, that picture shows you an area to explore, you go to the area and you take a picture, which removes the block on previous door. It is simple, but does require you to learn the game inside-out, as the images of other rooms require prior knowledge on your behalf. Other than that, there are some mathematical logic puzzles that can be hard if your brain isn’t wired that way, some door codes based on notes you collect, and item puzzles.
The item puzzles can be a little confusing, as a lot of the items are multiple use. It can be hard retraining your brain that you need to repick up some items. This is especially true on the Day 2 Mask puzzles, I spent 3 hours running through the same 3 rooms before I realised I needed to repick up the “Angry Mask” that I used to start the mask puzzle section.
Other slightly counter intuitive sections include having to repick up items that trigger a cutscene. If you go to pick up an item that triggers a cutscene, you don’t actually pick up the item. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but you do get used to having your hand held in other games.
Story (spoiler free)
Set in 1986, Project Zero focuses on Miku and her search for her brother, Mafuyu Hinasaki. As a prologue Mafuyu goes to investigate strange goings on at the Himuro Mansion, he goes missing, and Miku goes to investigate his disappearance. Once there, Miku discovers that a strange ritual has been carried out resulting in spirits infesting the mansion. As the game progresses, you discover the nature of the ritual, and why things went so fucked up.
I personally find the canon ending (normal ending) a little disappointing, but other than that, the story is fairly well devised and solid. Though for me, it does lack emotional punch as the story basically boils down to the Caspar the Friendly Ghost movie plot.
Project Zero can feel a little all over the place at times in terms of the difficulty. Some Ghosts like the blinded woman are fairly easy to figure out (don’t move) but are nails until you do. Others zip around the room like they’re on speed, and with the clunky aiming it is very difficult to hit them, meaning cheap hits are inevitable early on.
Progress can feel a little daunting when you get a couple of bad random encounters and a story fight in a short space of time, but you’re never too far from a save point, meaning if like me you’re cacking it, you’ll save often.
Health pick ups are not Resident Evil rare, but you do have to make sure you don’t take too much of a beating early on, otherwise your long term prospects will suffer.
Others have mentioned that the puzzles can be a little tough, and I can see their point. Having math logic puzzles is a nice touch, but if you can’t do it, you can’t do it. I have a slight gripe with the having to pick up items multiple times, and as a personal preference I would like more hand holding on the items, as watching a 5 minute cutscene can make you forget to repick up that crucial item. The ensuing backtrack is doubly annoying.
One other thing that I struggled with, is that Project Zero has the same Shenmue style run forward button. Holding run doesn’t toggle run, it makes you run. It means that Miku can feel a little bit like a shopping trolly at times. Also, it doesn’t help that the controls are a little jittery. If you touch the analogue stick in any direction, she’ll immediately jerk off in that direction. It is especially annoying when camera angles change, and until you get used to both of these things you’ll struggle to get away from ghosts in the early portions of the game.
Project Zero is a great game, but it doesn’t quite scale the heights that Silent Hill 2 or Silent Hill 3 manage in terms of story. The action isn’t the best like in Resident Evil 2 or Nemesis, as while deliberately clunky, it prevents you ever really becoming truly au fait with the combat.
However, the shear amount of pant soiling going on makes Project Zero a must for anybody into Survival Horror. The atmosphere is unparalleled, and there is just enough to explore in the Himuro Mansion to keep you interested. Subsequent playthroughs will mean you have better stats, which will allow you to catch all the ghosts, but that is mostly for collector fiends.
Alternatively, for people who like a super hard challenge they can replay the game on harder difficulties to unlock other endings (and skeevy costumes). It took me less than 6 hours to beat the game, and on a subsequent playthrough I reckon I’d beat it in 3 hours, but personally I don’t want to replay again just to catch a ghost that appears for 0.2 seconds on the second night, but others will.
Pros: Poop, poop everywhere
Cons: Poop in my pants, poop in my socks, poop, poop, poop and poop. Animation of Miku is shonkey, the fan community can be a little weird. Rule 34.
Back in the day
Project Zero was a surprise hit in the West after disappointing sales in Japan. This is largely attributed to the influx of films such as The Ring, that had slowly been getting strong followings in the West (as well as terrible remakes). Project Zero reviewed fairly well receiving mostly 8/10 scores, and was criticised for the clunky controls, and praised for the atmosphere.