15 Great Games: Project Zero 3 (2005)

Project Zero 3

We are starting to get close now, aren’t we? Project Zero 3 was released a mere 10 years ago, and while in gaming terms that can seem like forever, it’s really not that much. I was already 18 years old! This game also happened to be one of my first imports, since at the time I had found a good deal on the japanese version. I had been into the series for a while, but only on Xbox. At the time I thought an Xbox version would eventually be made, but for that price, I plunged anyway. Good thing I did too.

Project Zero is often classified as a survival horror, when in truth, that statement is pretty far-fetched. People see third-person games with a horror theme and immediately think of survival horrors. But this game is really a bit different: it’s not survival for sure, because you can never run out of ammo, and the situation always encourages you to fight rather than run. So it’s really more of an action-adventure horror. There are puzzles to solve, though they generally boil down to “go here then here” and eventually the logic kind a la Myst. Mostly, there are battles, and they are the main dish.

You'd think ghosts wouldn't actually need weapons to attack you. I mean, what good is a meat cleaver going to be if it passes right through you? Not that a real meat cleaver wouldn't pass through you, if you know what I mean.
You’d think ghosts wouldn’t actually need weapons to attack you. I mean, what good is a meat cleaver going to be if it passes right through you? Not that a real meat cleaver wouldn’t pass through you, if you know what I mean.

While I am especially fond of the series, PZ3 deserves special mention. The first game was supremely scary and the ghosts really felt like ghosts, but it was somewhat short and repetitive. The second game had a better story and characters, and the game play was refined, but it lost a lot of the scariness by making the ghosts look “human”, so to speak. This third iteration upped the stakes by having both good characters and plot, and bringing the scariness factor almost to the levels of the first game. Ghosts still look mostly human, but they move in otherwordly manners again. The Manor of Sleep, where most of the game takes place, is also larger than ever before. And Rei’s house is a good tension breaker, but one that still saves a few surprises.

Where the game fails a bit, might be in introducing a bit too many gimmicks. The candles system is reviled by many, for good reason: in the late game, strong ghosts will start stalking you everywhere unless you get certain items at regular intervals. While you are trying to solve puzzles, this is hardly a good thing. The third playable character, Kei, is also something of a liability, being too spiritually weak to solve fights quickly (a regular fight for Miku or Rei is considered like a boss battle for him). And to be fair, the game is so long that it can get somewhat repetitive by the end, since you’ll be backtracking a lot.

Hint: at this point, you should have already taken the shot.
Hint: at this point, you should have already taken the shot.

But these blemishes aren’t enough to ruin the experience. You might have an annoying last fourth of the game, but the first three fourths more than make up for it. After all, the sound design is strong, the mansion is big and inviting to explore, and the plot will want you to see it through the end. With three playable characters to upgrade, expect the missions mode to last you a lot. And the graphics are also more advanced than ever before, and don’t stutter like the Wii games, making this the best-looking game of the series in my opinion (of course, while I wait for Project Zero 5 later this month). What’s not to love? Project Zero 3 stumbles a little, but is always eager to please – and scare.

Playing today: unlike the first two games, the third one never saw an updated Xbox release, probably owning to the state of the Xbox market at the time it could have been released (it would have had to be a 360 title by that point). So there’s only one version, the PS2. It is of course playable on a regular PS2, and even supports 480p in all regions, which will make it look a bit better if you have Component cables. And also on the PS3, where it is available as a PS2 Classic. So, while we hope for a remastered trilogy that will probably never come due to Nintendo’s presumed status as new owner of the series, let’s play with what we have.

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