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Vide grenier

A nice sunny Sunday. Off to Montigné-le-Brillant (near Laval, Mayenne) for a two and a half mile trek that took two hours and encompassed thousands of things to look at. If you're interested, I was running a tracker on the route. The really long route to the north was because we parked about a kilometre away from the town centre. Good thing too, it was absolute chaos further down.

We picked up a nice teapot (among other things) and did what any self-respecting British person would do...

 

Project Zero (Fatal Frame)

Given that I had practically zero money (pay day is nominally tomorrow but the banks tend to be quicker at taking than giving!), I had only one thing in mind. A conversion of a Japanese game called "Fatal Frame". I don't know, I think "Fatal Frame" sounds better than "Project Zero", but never-mind.

I had priced it, from about a fiver (plus a tonne in postage) to around twenty (with free post) on eBay. I would be interested if I could do better here.

A few stalls with games, nothing. Thankfully it had reasonably memorable cover-art, so when I saw it, I knew what it was instantly.

The vendor wanted €10. Cheaper than eBay, so, my mother handed over the cash and I wrote up an imaginary I.O.U. note. ☺

 

There was supposed to be an audio CD of "Project Zero" music (OST?) inside. There wasn't anything, nor could I see a place where such a thing might have been. On the plus side, however, despite being very clearly marked as being French, there was also an English language option. This more than makes up for the missing CD because it's a lot more fun to play a game when you completely understand what is being said.
If anybody has a copy of this CD they could MP3 for me... my email address is above, though I'm not expecting much of a response, this game was released in 2002!

 

So the game is released by Tecmo and - get this - Wanadoo. As in the Internet of choice before Orange bought out France Telecom and messed with it. As for Tecmo, their biggest claim to fame is probably "Dead Or Alive" which might was well be called "jiggling boobs with weapons" for all of the gratuitous...ahem...attention paid to the effects of gravity. However I'd read up a little on this game so I was prepared to give it time without paying too much attention to the names behind it. Plus, Japanese schoolgirl saves the day. Isn't that the point behind pretty much every animé series that doesn't involve a giant robot, and some that do?

The plot line starts off fairly basic and standard. It's a haunted house. Japanese, so it goes without saying that it is a creepy haunted house. The twist is that you have a camera which can take photographs of ghosts, and somehow capture them this way. While we might need to hand-wave the mechanics of how it works, it is worth pointing out that you can encounter different types of film with lower numbers being weaker (but less scarce).

You start off playing a somewhat effeminate looking man named Mafuyu. He goes to the house looking for a writer/reporter.

At the start, the game is in a grainy black and white with a fair amount of noise in the picture; this is a prologue so it is brilliantly put together in a film-effect style, even though you are controlling the player.
There are two modes of play. The first is explorer mode where you can walk around, albeit with mostly-fixed viewpoints (it isn't a first-person game). The second mode is camera mode where you can see what the character's camera would see (as close as we get to a first-person view), so the player can point the camera and take photos of things. The camera is able to absorb spiritual power to unleash upon the ghosts (I suspect I might have to crack open my book on Shinto real soon now...).
You can't just snap-snap-snap. If the film hasn't absorbed enough power, it will do nothing. But you can't just bide your time as the ghosts bite.
You see that blue bar on the right? It's your "life". Ghosts don't tend to be happy creatures, so being attacked by one whacks a big chunk off of your life.

The game is marked in France as not being recommended for people under the age of 16. The ghost attacks are brutal and graphic and spooky as hell. In the short time that I played this game, it has already gained top marks for the most immersive atmosphere yet. The lack of cheats mean you have to be on the ball. No more farting around "doing stuff" like I do in GTA3.

It doesn't end well for Mafuyu. It isn't supposed to. It's the prologue.

Enter the protagonist, Miku.

Picking up two weeks after her brother vanished, she's doing what any sweet smart teenaged girl would do. She goes to the haunted house to look for him. At night, ALONE. Good God, didn't she watch Ju-On: The Grudge?
Things are now in colour and less olde-style grainy, although the graphics effects add in some noise and sparkles to help keep the atmosphere alive. Everything in rendered (even the cutscenes are rendered, not pre-built video like, say, the original Tomb Raider), and Miku herself is quite expressive. The ghosts? Right out of the book called "how to make a scary ghost". This sure ain't Caspar.
Did I mention it is very claustrophobic? The clver use of camera angles. The decorations. The sole beam of light from the torch... Whooo...

Really, exactly, absolutely the sort of place a teenage girl should be wandering around alone, don't you think?

It probably helps that Miku, like her brother, like their parents, possess a sort of sixth sense which gives them a head's up on when creepy stuff is about to happen. That plus the ability to use a spirit-sucking camera give them a... I would say a chance, but I don't imagine for a moment that this game will be easy. It is especially hindered by only being able to save the game at specific save points, plus a lack of cheat options, so when it is you versus ghost it is a serious matter. In other words, pay attention or it'll be a grisly demise.

There does appear to be one ally in the game - a kimono-wearing kokeshi that points out a hidden doorway. That's a little more useful than something else trying to kill the girl.

There is exploring to do, objects to collect (such as herbal medicine), and ghosts to capture or flee from. There is also a massive amount of darkness (you might have noticed from the screenshots), an environment designed to increase the spookiness by orders of magnitude, pretty good use of the controller vibration feature, and... here was a quiet moment:

Moments later, a terrified Miku was savagely beaten to death by an unforgiving ghost.

Game over.

I think I'm going to have to get more used to the controls here, so that I may have a chance of legging it, buy some time when the ghosts are out in force.

 

For the advanced gamers, there is a "nightmare mode" which is like playing the normal game, only this time the odds are very definitely stacked against you. There are also different outfits to "unlock" by completing the game in various ways. What's the betting one of them is a seifuku? ☺

 

In terms of gameplay - excellent. Usually when I lose early on in a game (which I have a good track record of doing, I barely managed to see daylight in Resident Evil: Codename Veronica, I go "meh" and find something else to do. With this, I'm wondering if I can pick up a cheap power pack for the PS2 to save running it from my eeePC's power brick. The reason is simple - the PS2 (powered by the eeePC's power brick) connects to the USB video grabber which connects to the eeePC which splats the picture onto the 19" monitor. It'd have been better if the PS2 had a VGA output, but it doesn't. Oh well.
Anyway, I want to go back for more. To try to improve. You see, you could draw a fair few similarities between this game and Silent Hill, but the difference lies that Silent Hill has been strongly influenced by western horror films - I don't mean cabin-in-the-woods or dead-cheerleader, think of David Cronenburg.
Project Zero, on the other hand, stays a lot closer to its roots, and retains a lot of Japanese ambiance. You'll quickly come to expect to see the stringy-haired ghost girl crawling across the ceiling in practically every room you enter. Along the way, you collect bits and pieces of backstory - diary pages, newspaper pieces - and it's left to you to work out what the actual backstory is. The further into the game you go, the more that is revealed. I have a feeling that the truth will be worse than the current threats facing Miku. This is, after all, the country that brought us The Grudge and The Ring and Dark Water before bland Western-friendly remakes diluted the stories. At any rate, nothing I have seen here has been bizarre (as in, out of context for what the game is trying to achieve). This is hard core survival horror and I have a feeling that it is going to be extremely effective (even if I doubt that I'll ever actually finish it).
I'm looking forward to my next crack at it, and if Mick comes over this year (hint! hint!), we'll need to do this in a dark room after midnight...

 

 

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Gavin Wraith, 6th May 2014, 15:36
Dear Rick, I hate to admit it - put it down to my age - but I have never played a computer game. Well Zarch, maybe, on an Archimedes. This review of Project Zero is most impressive. 
I seem to remember that the topology of the Zarch world was toroidal, not spherical. The possibility for computer games to demonstrate alternative topologies has long interested me, and maybe you are the right person to ask if any have.  
Imagine yourself lost in a maze of square rooms each of which have four walls with a door in the middle. In the real world, if on entering a room you take the right hand door four times you will be back where you started. With a different topology this might not be so. The physics and practicalities are fascinating. The rate of decay of sound, for example, depends critically on the topology. You can look through a door and see the back or side of your own head, but you can never see yourself head on. Think it over! 
I would love to see this explored in a computer game.

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