The true triumph of the Project Zero series to date has been its ability to precisely hone in on the chilling simplicity of early J-horror cinema. In much the same way Ringu transformed the centrepiece of the living room into a blood-curdling deadly device, Project Zero utilised an everyday camera as a lens into our deepest fears and made the act of taking a photograph truly frightening.
Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir is a (super)natural evolution of this inspired conceit. Placing the mysterious ‘camera obscura’ in the player’s hands, your surroundings are soon inhabited by wayward spirits and evil spectres thanks to some well-implemented AR tech and a creepy notebook that comes paired with the cartridge.
During the story mode you soon discover that the owner of this diary is a stray soul name Maya, who has little memory of her grave circumstances and can only recall her name. She acts as a guide through the book, forewarning players of the maleficent Woman In Black who resides within the pages, but her otherworldly wisdom rarely stretches beyond simple observations and exposition as you connect pieces of eerie transcripts and unscramble unsettling imagery found on each page.
Flat characterisation notwithstanding, the ambient frights so masterfully crafted in any of The Cursed Memoir’s predecessors fizzle within the handheld offspring. The horror is unquestionably most potent when the 3DS remains static on an image, and one particularly effective segment of the story turns one ghostly image into a gateway to the spirit world. Here a door featuring bloody handprints blocks progress and prods players to outstretch their hand, only for the claws of some undead creature to come lurching towards the player through the screen.
Tecmo Koei would have been better keeping action relegated to the pages like this, but Spirit Camera wanders around your whole surroundings, which has the unfortunate effect of neutering any and all horror. Unless you happen to reside in a derelict log cabin in remote woodlands, the majority of players will find the experience of ghost busting within their own abode a far from scary experience. It’s compounded by misjudged ghost battles that bookend story chapters, wherein you must chase a spirit around the room and build enough power to vanquish them from the world. It’s a chore that inspires dread for all the wrong reasons.
Where the Project Zero series previously transported players into a tightly orchestrated atmosphere where chills were easily maintained, Spirit Camera falters by relying on the illusion-shattering parameters of your own location. There’s no shortage of ideas on display, featuring some of the best use of AR tech on the handheld to date, but ultimately the 3DS feels more like a curse for the franchise, rather than a blessing.