The fact that we’re even able to finally play Project Zero 4 is down to the hard work and dedication of a group of fans, who tasked themselves with translating the latest in the Fatal Frame series not long after Nintendo’s refusal.
As a result booting up this import feels like opening Pandora’s Box, a chance to experience a Project Zero game with it’s original Japanese voices and touches. What is revealed in translation was well worth the wait.
Story and translation
- This release will always been benchmarked by the translation project that has enabled the western world to play it. In this regard nothing here disappoints, the fan translation has been completed with the professionalism and flair the series deserves. While game dialogue is still in Japanese the translation team have worked hard to localise all menus, help text tutorials and subtitles, with only a handful of (fixable) mistakes. All that is needed to play is a retail copy of the Japanese game, an SD card and the appropriate patch files. Every step has been made to make the temporary language patch and region free ability as simple to use as possible.
- Project Zero 4 continues the series fascination with Japanese spirituality and calamity-preventing rituals. With a new focus on memories based around lunar activity, playing the game feels like experiencing each characters moment of deja vu. The sense of vulnerability that previous games perfected with the Camera Obscura as your only weapon is still extremely palpable, and makes exploring the intriguing kidnapping mystery even more rewarding.
- While the translation work on this game is superb, the font used to transcribe the game can often be difficult to read on a standard definition setup. Particulary numbers and text that aren’t in standard colours, or on the story summary screen. As a result playing this game with a component cable is a must or certain text becomes a little too difficult to read. There are occasional problems with the patch itself such as text leaping out of boxes or minor typos, but on the whole nothing that demeans the gaming experience too greatly.
- The only negative aspect of the story is the fact that it doesn’t deviate too much from the narrative template of previous games – i.e. striving to understand the spiritual rituals performed by secret groups and the consequences of their actions. As a result its often very easy for veterans of the series to second guess what is about to happen next. There are two huge, primary locations to explore throughout the game, and as such it feels a little smaller than the first two games. Three characters revisit the previous chapters setting seperately, this does mean that occasionally the story may confuse and take a little longer to put together than other horror games.
How to play
- With a slight change of pace, there are three playable characters for this game, each with a particular interest in the mask rituals, and each out to either find someone or recall their lost memories about the lunar eclipse. The Camera Obscura is back, with an easier to understand combat UI, and quicker, tighter controls that really help with the games trickier (and scarier) moments. The ability to upgrade the your camera-type weapons remains, and has been enhanced further for those wanting to tweak their abilities more.
- The game generally rewards you for taking risks and exploring, with some of the better items only findable by taking long routes and exploring empty rooms not covered by the immediate story. This also extends to combat, with the most damaging shots from your camera being a “fatal frame” moment; taking a photo the second before your character is hit for maximum damage, so the fact that you can now combo fatal frames is a perfect addition.
- There are a few major bugs in the game left in after the games original release. This can occasionally mean some clipping issues, or a console freeze. These problems are legacy issues left in from the fact that Tecmo were able to fix the issues for release, and Nintendo’s inability to localise the game, while annoying if avoided the game is still perfectly playable.
- Upgrading crystals seem to be shared between the three characters leading to some very difficult upgrade choices for your fighting equipment. While the ability to buy healing items and film using your points score is a welcome addition there are often times where allowing the player to improve their camera using spirit points as with previous games will be missed. Waiting on crystals to appear effectively drops the rate at which you can upgrade, limiting players capable of taking advantage the game’s risk and reward scheme of play by defeating more ghosts.
A few new touches
- This is one of the first Wii games to feature torch controls using the Wii remote. The decision to use a mixture of Wii remote and analogue stick was a wise one, as a result the controls feel firmer than previous Project Zero games. Then there are the bonus features; collecting photos of cursed dolls replaces the hidden spirit photos of previous games, with unlockable costumes and extras as rewards. The game rewards people who cautiously investigate each inch of the game with their torch, with items only appearing once the torch light has touched the right area.
- There are tons of helpful new mechanics in this game, a clearer ghost direction indicator helps makes the combat a little more manageable than previous games, the ability to avoid ghost attacks altogether with a well aimed remote shake is helpful when it can be mastered. Motion controls are used perfectly in this game, with captured ghosts groaning out of the remote, and the inspired choice to hold the A button to reach out to pick up items rather than a simple button press. This increases the tension considerably, and often leads to an additional shock!
- Even with the new mechanisms that Tecmo and Grasshopper have developed for this game, Project Zero 4 may be a little too predictable for veterans of the series, particularly as it lacks as many random ghost fights that happen if too much time is spent exploring, as such the pace is a little slower in comparison to the first three games, but the replay value is at least still there with additional unlockables and extra difficulties revealed once the game is completed.
- While Project Zero 4 is definitely a scary game, I didn’t find this one as terrifying as the first two in the series, as they dealt with some genuinely morose ideas that left you feeling not only scared but deeply uncomfortable by the subject matter the game was portraying. Project Zero 4 is often guilty of relying a little too much on the sort of “jump scares” of other horror games, and less on the tension created by the subject matter.
A deeply engaging horror game
Collectively as with the rest of the Project Zero series this is one of the best horror games ever released and a welcome addition to to a group of games that was starting to flag. Project Zero 4 makes the right steps towards invigorating the format of the game, so it is a great shame that we will probably never see a Western release, we should be eternally grateful to the group of fans that have enabled this game to be experienced.
If you can import a Japanese copy of the game to patch then Project Zero 4 is a must-have title for the Wii, and well worth the minimal set-up time.