Mr Fear's Games You Can't Play Alone #1: PROJECT ZERO II: CRIMSON BUTTERFLY

To celebrate the start of our 31 Days of Horror features, we unveil a brand new column from our own Mr Fear, dedicated to the grisly and gruesome world of horror gaming...

Note from the Editor: Okay, so Halloween is coming round the corner with a vengeance, and as part of WhatCulture's 31 Days of Horror feature, it is my esteemed pleasure to unveil a brand new regular feature from the appropriately names Brad Fear offering portraits of the scariest games of all time. In an attempt to truly milk that surname of mine for all it's worth, I've thought it only appropriate to pay homage to some of the most pant-wettingly scary games... well, ever. At their genesis (with such classics as Pong and Asteroids) a video game was only as terrifying as the notion of an exploding two-dimensional triangle or the fear that, when you failed to hit it with your paddle, your white dot would forever be lost in the void of 'off-screen-ness'. But, of course, eventually those dots and triangles formed sprites. Those sprites became monsters and blood-sprays and dimly lit corridors. Narratives came into play. No longer was the innocence of gaming a refuge from the macabre minds of the horror enthusiasts (though their is still always Kirby's Epic Yarn for fluffy pink loveliness). Over the coming weeks, we will be remembering those golden moments when you couldn't grab a controller without first ensuring your man-sized diaper was on. Games which made Hollywood horror look like Twilight and Stephen King look like Roald Dahl. First off, we look at Project Zero II: Crimson Butterfly (that's Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly to you folks in the USA), a gaming sequel which had grown men urinating themselves worldwide... Let's start with an undeniable fact of modern cinematic horror... the Japanese know how to scare us Westerners sh**less, especially when spectral asian girls with long black hair blood-splattered kimonos are concerned. Ring, Ju-On: The Grudge, Dark Water, Carved (A.KA. The Slit-Mouthed Woman), One Missed Call... we could go on. The question is, how was one able to translate aforementioned J-Horror to compelling gameplay in a market dominated by more, shall we say 'hands on' horror franchises like Resident Evil and Silent Hill? Very well, as it turns out: because if there is one thing scarier than facing the twisted nightmares of the damned, it's doing so without a trusty pistol. The protagonist: one seemingly average Japanese girl. Your only defence against paranormal forces... an antique camera. The idea followed a sound logic: at no point in this game is the player going to feel anything but an overwhelming sense of vulnerability. We were victims, not heroes. Needless to say, Project Zero was generally praised across the board for being, well, a plum-terrifying ordeal. But those familiar with the series of 'snap-em-ghost-em-ups' will know that it was nothing in comparison to the bonafide frightfest that was Project Zero II: Crimson Butterfly. So here's the premise: players assumed the control of Mio, who visits a pretty little patch in the woods with her twin sister, Mayu. A crimson butterfly catches Mayu's attention and draws her deeper into the forest, much to the discomfort of Mio. Soon the pair find themselves in a fog-ridden village, seemingly deserted. Much to their horror (but no-one's surprise) the ancient Japanese buildings are filled to capacity with the restless spirits of the dead, trapped in a perpetual 'limbo'. The 'Camera Obscura' provides the only weapon for the sisters as they delve deeper into the locations eerie past, exorcising the phantoms with a few well-aimed close-up snaps (frankly too close some times). It might be worth mentioning that, in this game, players would be faced with both harmless and hostile ghosts: defined by the colour of the filament on the camera upon encounter (blue for mild-mannered, red for f***ing undead psycho). Not that it made much of a difference to the gaming experience. Frankly, anything you saw creaking its way by at the end of a dark corridor was just as harsh on the nerves as the next, whether it was technically dangerous or not. Why? Because those dastardly developers had not only succeeded in making us feel vulnerable, but had created a thoroughly unpredictable mystery. Truth is, the well-mannered spirits trying to guide you only ever ended up pointing you in the direction of one of those nasty long hair and bloody-kimono types mentioned above. The intrigue kept you hooked, whilst the fear of just about anything creeping through a wall and just about any moment kept the hairs consistently on end from beginning to end. That's called sustained suspense, ladies and gentlemen, and you'd be forgiven for not being familiar with it in these years of formulaic Hollywood 'horror'. The game pays homage to the spirit (not that kind) of classic Japanese horror, featuring black-and-white 'video-tape' cut scenes reminiscent of Ring and writhing, croaking demons not unlike The Grudge's own pale-faced poltergeist. At many points, it was easy to forget we were playing a game at all. Accompanied by a creepy and impishly misleading soundtrack, players would find music escalate (much like in a film) only to uncover a room ultimately empty and, as a result, their underwear now wet for no reason. Then, just like that, you'd walk back out and straight into the path of something horrible--guard down and all. One couldn't help but feel the eyes of developers Tecmo watching in devilish delight through the screen, taking great joy in preying upon catching us unaware. From those points on there was no trusting anything. Ghosts could appear at just about any minute and we bloody well knew it. Worst of all, when said spectre revealed itself to us, we were expected to stand still and take a bleedin' snap (or ten) of it, whilse it all the while advanced menacingly upon us. Rewards were reaped for excellent photos, which meant (somehow) keeping a steady hand and keen eye in the face of all that terror. Make no mistake, this was one serious mind-f*** of a game, created with delicate efficiency as a tool of disturbing its audience. This wasn't just a triumph in the survival-horror genre, it was a victory for ghost-story horror fiction, flat-out. Don't believe me? The game hit European shores in 2004. The same year slow-motion fan Zack Snyder remade Dawn of the Dead, the Saw franchise began its seven years of gory monotony and Buffy the Vampire Slayer starred in the disappointing remake of the originally terrifying... you've guessed it, The Grudge. With that to put things in perspective, I have no lack of confidence in declaring that Project Zero II: Crimson Butterfly was a great deal creepier than anything of Hollywood's manufacturing around that time... and most of the time since. If you still have your trusty Playstation 2 in the attic, make a point of taking it down and dusting it off this Halloween. Pick up a cheap copy of PZII:CR and make a further point of playing it on your own at night. Rest assured, it'll leave you tossing and turning with more ruthless efficiency than a night of Paranormal Activity, Insidious and The Exorcist combined (NOTE: I'm not looking for personal opinions on whether these films are scary or not, suffice to say that either way this game trumps them all). Your own Project Zero II gaming experiences would be much appreciated below (even if, somehow, it didn't succeed in scaring you--bravo, by the way, on those balls of steel). Since this is the first in a series of features, I'm interested to know what you guys consider the 'Sh**-scariest' games ever... if we get some distinct favourites I'll run them in future articles.
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Brad Fear is the published writer of two novels, 'A Macabre Myth of a Moth-Man' and its sequel, 'A Siren Song for the Stricken'. He is a keen gamer and an expert on all things Pokemon, Final Fantasy and Star Wars related. His overt geekish qualities have defined him as a leading expert in 'useless knowledge'. Plus he has the second best name in living memory (damn you, Captain Fantastic).