Happy Belated Halloween! (Project Zero/Fatal Frame)

Hot girls getting killed by crazy ghost girls that used to be hot girls

Big giant NO

Hope every­one had a Hap­py Hal­loween! Though more than a day late, I felt com­pelled to hon­or the hor­ror fes­tiv­i­ties we had this sea­son using this hum­ble lit­tle Japanophile blog of mine in some way or anoth­er. Rather than div­ing into some biz­zarro hor­ror man­ga by the likes of Itou Jun­ji and such, I’ve decid­ed to ram­ble a bit about one of my favorite Japan­ese sur­vival hor­ror video game series that I find myself play­ing every Octo­ber: 零 (Zero), oth­er­wise known as Project Zero in Europe and Fatal Frame in the Unit­ed States.

Zero ~Deep Crimson Butterfly~

The kan­ji for Zero can also be alter­na­tive­ly read as rei, which sounds like 霊 rei… which, in turn, means “spir­it”. As the name sug­gests, unlike oth­er well-known sur­vivor hor­ror games such as Silent Hill or Res­i­dent Evil, the Zero series pits you against venge­ful ghosts instead of zom­bies or the dark con­fines of your psyche.


Even the good ghosts are freaky

From a west­ern stand­point, the real­ly scary ghosts tend to be sub­tle and unseen (The Blair Witch Project comes to mind), so it’s hard to imag­ine sur­vival hor­ror com­bat being fit for ecto­plas­mic spook­ies with­out cheap­en­ing the scare effect. Not only that, but this game cer­tain­ly isn’t Ghost­busters either (don’t get me wrong, that would be a great thing in a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent situation).

Among the many things Japan­ese cul­ture man­ages to excel in, they def­i­nite­ly hit the nail on hor­ror fic­tion. They have plen­ty of dis­turb­ing tales to tell, and their depic­tions of ghosts are down­right ter­ri­fy­ing or at least unset­tling, whether seen or unseen. These ghosts, called yuurei (幽霊), are trans­formed souls [reikon 霊魂] that still linger in the phys­i­cal realm, due to funer­al and post-funer­al rites hav­ing not been per­formed for them. One of the more well-known and con­ven­tion­al type of yuurei they use in hor­ror fic­tion are venge­ful spir­its — onry­ou (怨霊) as they’re called — which are wronged spir­its that expe­ri­enced an unclean death (mur­der or sui­cide). Strong emo­tions such as rage, hatred, jeal­ousy, etc. caused their souls to be unable to pass onto the after­life, man­i­fest­ing into dan­ger­ous spir­its that are basi­cal­ly walk­ing curs­es con­fined to their place of death. Encoun­ter­ing one will not only scare you shit­less, but you’ll expe­ri­ence very, very bad things. Usu­al­ly involv­ing death and spread­ing their curse to you, and usu­al­ly in unique ways depend­ing on the spir­it (look up the urban leg­ends of Kuchisake-Onna or Teketeke).

Once you enter their domain, you’re… basi­cal­ly fucked.


As you can imag­ine, yan­dere girls are even worse when they’re dead

Yuurei are the ghosts that you find your­self being attacked by in Zero, which may or not be the venge­ful spir­its or sim­ply those who’ve been spir­it­ed away (神隠し). The main antag­o­nists are always super-pow­er­ful onry­ou that are the main source/victims of the curses.

Prime example

Tor­ment the moe

All main pro­tag­o­nist in every entry are females (except for the spin-off Spir­it Cam­era, where the play­er is the main char­ac­ter and thus could be a boy). Extra cute, and extra frail female char­ac­ters. You’re not even a cop, an FBI agent, or Bio­haz­ard 4’s ver­sion of Leon doing ridicu­lous black-flips, suplex­es and shit. You’re just a petite Japan­ese girl being thrown into a hell­hole of dead abominations.

Luck­i­ly, you stum­ble across a weapon to com­bat these dead abom­i­na­tions… an old cam­era. Wait.. huh?

DIE... uh, dead thing

That’s right. You’re armed with a “Cam­era Obscu­ra” (射影機 Shae­ki), a cam­era with the abil­i­ty to exorcise/ward off ghosts and oth­er spir­i­tu­al enti­ties using var­i­ous types of film. This isn’t Pock­et Mon­sters Snap. The ter­ror of the “com­bat” comes from the fact that the cam­era is most effec­tive when you charge up the cap­ture cir­cle by keep­ing your viewfind­er on the ghosts for as long as pos­si­ble and let­ting the abom­i­na­tions get as close to you as pos­si­ble for a close-up. As long as the ghost is with­in your cap­ture cir­cle, feel free to go trig­ger-hap­py with the cam­era… but that method isn’t very suf­fi­cient, and is a waste of your good film. In the first Zero, your film is lim­it­ed, but the weak­est film type avail­able (Type-14) can be refilled at every save point as long as the stock is under 30. From Zero ~Crim­son But­ter­fly~ onwards, the series intro­duces a new film type, Type-07, which is unlim­it­ed, but it has almost no exor­cism pow­er and is basi­cal­ly use­less for fight­ing ghosts. Bet­ter film types include Type-34 (first game only)/Type-61 (Reg­u­lar), Type-74 (real­ly strong, first game only), Type 90 (real­ly strong), and Type­‑零/­Type-ZERO (the strongest). Nat­u­ral­ly, as a sur­vival hor­ror game, bet­ter film types are scarce, so it’s bet­ter to save them for the more men­ac­ing ghosts, such as bosses.

Camera Upgrades!

Shae­ki upgrade screen (Zero ~Crim­son Butterfly~)

Each time you defeat an ene­my or cap­ture a shot of wan­der­ing ghosts, you receive spir­it points which you can use to upgrade your cam­er­a’s var­i­ous func­tions, which may vary depend­ing on the install­ment. There are also spe­cif­ic spe­cial func­tions (Track Ghost, Zoom, etc) you can obtain that sig­nif­i­cant­ly upgrade the Cam­era Obscu­ra, grant­i­ng them abil­i­ties that don’t con­sume film. Depend­ing on the game, this sys­tem may vary. For exam­ple, in the first Zero, using bonus func­tions requires con­sum­able items called Spir­it Stones (霊石 reise­ki), where­as in Zero ~Crim­son But­te­fly~ all you need is to charge your spir­it pow­er dur­ing bat­tle to use aux­il­iary func­tions. Spir­it Stones (念珠 nen­ju) are used to increase the max­i­mum lev­el of your upgrades in Zero ~Crim­son But­ter­fly~, where­as in Zero ~Mask of the Lunar Eclipse~ , spir­it points and Spir­it Orbs are replaced with red/blue crys­tals (霊力の欠片 spir­it pow­er frag­ments).

The dolls scare into your soul...

The dolls stare into your soul…

Anoth­er func­tion the Cam­era Obscu­ra pro­vides is a fil­a­ment, which is an inter­face seen some­where on the screen depend­ing on the game. When the fil­a­ment glows blue, that means a hint/“hidden ghost” is near­by. In Japan­ese reli­gion, spir­its aren’t lim­it­ed to just the soul of a human being, but they can be asso­ci­at­ed with var­i­ous objects includ­ing inan­i­mate objects. Tak­ing pic­tures of cer­tain objects (in every game after the first game, it’s best to do this with the unlim­it­ed Type-07 film) that the fil­a­ment detects spir­it pow­er from can give you hints of what to do next. When the fil­a­ment glows red, it means you’re in the midst of encoun­ter­ing a hos­tile ghost, which sucks if you’re at a save point (unlike the old school Bio­haz­ard games, there aren’t any safe havens in these games and you’re not allowed to save if your fil­a­ment is red). For both col­ors of the fil­a­ment, they start becom­ing more lumi­nes­cent as you get clos­er to their respec­tive tar­gets. The fil­a­ment sys­tem has been mod­i­fied for some of the more recent games, but these basic ele­ments remain consistent.


P-…puzzles are sup­posed to be the cool-down period…

Beautifully freaky Japanese culture

While the game is set in mod­ern Japan, the sto­ries force the girls to be trapped in very rur­al old school Japan­ese set­tings. The set­ting and puz­zle designs for every Zero game is tra­di­tion­al­ly Japan­ese, which will please any­one who is knowl­edge­able about Japan’s his­to­ry, cul­ture, myths and folk­lore. It adds to the sto­ry’s hor­ror in a way that only tra­di­tion­al Japan­ese beliefs about spir­its and haunt­ings can do — com­ing across icons that seem rather com­mon to tra­di­tion­al Japan­ese cul­ture can be rather unset­tling in the con­text of the game’s sto­ry. Wan­der­ing around rooms filled with Hina­mat­suri dolls or a dark kimono room does not fos­ter a very pleas­ant feel­ing in these games. Espe­cial­ly when you con­sid­er that, again, the idea of spir­its in Japan aren’t lim­it­ed to the human soul, which helps makes such dead Japan­ese set­tings even more eerie than they are.

Exploration is... really anxious

The best part about the Zero games is that, unlike Bio­haz­ard and Silent Hill (which are great hor­ror games, at least for their ear­li­er install­ments, more­so for the for­mer), com­bat is not that much of a com­mon occur­rence in this game. There’s a real build up with sus­pense whilst explor­ing the respec­tive haunt­ed loca­tions, find­ing out what real­ly hap­pened to the loca­tion’s vic­tims through notes, and final­ly inter­weav­ing them with fit­ting ghost stalk­ings and bat­tles. The atmos­phere is con­sis­tent­ly unset­tling and a lot of it comes from how much of a good hor­ror sto­ry they man­age to tell rather than just the visuals/random whis­pers of the ghosts and the heart­beat of the con­troller mak­ing the play­er anx­ious (which by all means is still a great way to immerse the play­ers — I love it).

Can't be survival horror without notes!

Can’t be sur­vival hor­ror with­out notes!

Along with stay­ing true to the routes that have made it such a huge suc­cess, these are def­i­nite­ly the rea­sons why these tend to be my most favorite hor­ror games of all time (Silent Hill II and For­bid­den Siren come after). In terms of keep­ing things with­in the vicin­i­ty of this series, Zero ~Crim­son But­ter­fly~/Zero ~Deep Crim­son But­ter­fly~ (remake) ranks right up there as #1 in terms of the sto­ry (and my favorite pro­tag­o­nists, the Amaku­ra twins), and the orig­i­nal Zero ranks up there in terms of COMPLETE NIGHTMARE (Bro­ken Neck, Rope Priest­ess, float­ing head, and MY EEEEEEYEEEES stalk you through­out most of the game, ugh!).

Torment the cuties...

Sad­ly, because it’s my favorite hor­ror game series, this makes me absolute­ly despise Nin­ten­do of Amer­i­ca for not let­ting Koei Tec­mo bring­ing over the fourth and fifth games of the series to west­ern shores. The only Fatal Frame/Project Zero games the west has seen since Zero ~Voice of the Tat­too~ (Fatal Frame: The Tor­ment­ed) were the low-tier spin-off Spir­it Cam­era (which requires you to play in a bright­ly lit room because it uses the 3DS’s AR func­tions) and Zero ~Deep Crim­son But­ter­fly~, which was a remake of a game we already got AND it was only for Europe. Seri­ous­ly, Nin­ten­do of Amer­i­ca already fucked me over when they made Xenoblade Chron­i­cles (NA Wii) a lim­it­ed print run and this makes me respect them even less.

Miu's cute, just like her mother

Every install­ment: post-game kimono outfits!

The Evil With­in , hor­ror games by Fric­tion­al Games, and Five Nights at Fred­dy’s aside, Zero ~Black-Haired Shrine Maid­en~ might pos­si­bly be the only true hor­ror game sur­vival hor­ror enthu­si­asts are will­ing to touch these days, AND FOR ME PERSONALLY, WOULD BE A FANTASTIC REASON TO PURCHASE A WII U TO BEGIN WITH, and if they don’t bring it over… they’re mak­ing a big mis­take. At the very least, Nin­ten­do isn’t get­ting my mon­ey any time soon.

Sexy costumes galore
Wow lewd. Koei Tec­mo, pls

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