[Review] Fatal Frame/Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water
Mt. Hikami was once revered as a spiritual place.
It housed a unique religion based on beliefs and customs of worshipping water as a deity and is said to have been a site of many gruesome incidents and mysterious phenomena.
This mysterious and intertwined story follows three protagonists—Yuri Kozukata, Miu Hinasaki, and Ren Hojo—as each of them explores the ominous Mt. Hikami, a place where many came to die, and the secrets it hides.
First of all, I would like to extend a huge thank you to Nathan Mills (@iNathanM) and Koei Techmo for providing me with a code for this game.
I've been sitting on this review for a while, wondering just how I'm going to word it. Because truth be told (spoiler alert) I'm not entirely sure just whether I liked it or not.
Originally released for the Nintendo Wii U in 2014, Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water is the fifth instalment of Koei Techmo's survival horror series. In 2021, 7 years after its original release, a shiny new remastered version was unleashed on the world - and better yet, it was released across multiple platforms. The community burst with excitement when it was announced that this was coming - after all, being released solely for the Wii U and as a digital only game alienated rather a lot of people. Fatal Frame was an insanely popular franchise so the disappointment was palpable. However, roll on 2021 and Fatal Frame 5 was released upon hoards of over excited fans.
I must mention now that this was my first jaunt into the world of Fatal Frame so I was incredibly excited to jump on in. Almost immediately it became obvious just how dark the story was - set upon a lonely mountain that had once been the home of a group of priestesses that had been brutally murdered, people are then drawn to the wooded mountain where they mysteriously disappear. It gets even darker than that too - depression and suicide become central themes to the story, and you can't hep but think about the stories surrounding Japan's 'Suicide Forest' or Aokigahara. The links become clearer when characters are found to have committed suicide on the mountain, and the ghosts that haunt the area. The themes presented are heavy, dark and compelling and really do make you feel for the characters involved. It's something that not many video games can do, that's for sure. However, whilst this does help the creepy atmosphere of the game, it may be too heavy for some. Mental health and suicide are sensitive topics after al. Overall these themes add layers to the game as well as a heaviness and sadness that works incredibly well.
Combat involves, as with previous Fatal Frame games, fighting off ghosts with a camera. Yes, you read that right - a camera. As I mentioned earlier, this was my first foray into the Fatal Frame series so to start with I found the idea of combat by camera really odd. But then as I (sort of) began to understand the mechanics of it I began to find it quite fun. Sadly, despite it being an incredibly unique combat system it soon became frustrating and tiresome - something that I started to feel more and more as I continued playing and it wasn't just all over the combat. The areas of gameplay were stunningly beautiful - dark and heavy and full of shadows that made you wonder just what was waiting around the corner. But then each area kept being recycled over and over and over - it almost felt like the devs ran out of ideas and just decided to recycle areas. This constant recycling also impacted the story for me, dragging it out for far too long - towards the end of my 14/15 hour playthrough I was bored. I have to admit that I was really really bored. Something else that got frustrating very quickly was the insane amount of lore files to pick up and read through. As a long time Resident Evil player I'm used to reading lore files and normally I love it - or should I say that I love it when they're balanced. In Fatal Frame 5 there are just so many of them that it felt like I was spending more time reading than playing. Now then, anyone who knows me will know how much I love reading and how often I have my nose in a book but...this was just too much.
This new version features updated controls for the consoles - in the wii version, controls were motion controls. However everything is now mapped to separate buttons so you don't have to use motion controls, which reminded me very much of the old school Resident Evil and Silent Hill controls. So I found myself getting along with these very very well. Motion controls are still part of it, especially with the Nintendo Switch version. There was also the ability to turn them on for the PS4 version yet also.
Going briefly back to the areas that you find yourself in in game, the remastered graphics are absolutely beautiful. The backdrops are haunting and the characters look almost flawless in their design. The team deserve high praise for creating such stunning environments.
Now let's talk about the horror aspect of the game. I went in with high expectations having been told just how scary that older games are. And I admit that from the moment I first started playing I felt a profound sense of unease. But as for pure terror? I just didn't feel it. Yes there were a few jump scares such as when you bend down to pick up an object only to be grabbed by a ghostly hand. The first few times had me jumping out of my skin but after a while it just became stale. The horror of this game, I thought, came more from the extremely heavy and sad story that blankets the player in a sense of unease. I fee that this could have been used much more in making the game truly terrifying. Instead we were given a game that was only lightly scary, the horror coming from a story that made you humanise and relate to the suffering of the characters.
As mentioned right at the start of this review, I'm not sure if I can say whether or not I truly enjoyed this game. There were aspects of it that I did really like - the story, the environments and the controls were all very good. But on the flip side it is a game that suffers from repetition, an overabundance of lore files, combat that quickly becomes frustrating, missions that aren't clear on what you have to do that left me stuck on multiple occasions and a lack of a true terror. Would I say that its worth a play? Yes, simply to experience that sadness of the games storyline. But honestly, I expected so much more having heard such good things about the Fatal Frame series. Overall I would say that this is an ok game and a fine attempt at horror that would have been so much better without all of the repetition that is forced on the player. What I will say though is that it has me curious to go back and see what the older games are like. Perhaps, in them, I will find a survival horror gem.
Fatal Frame/Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water Remastered is available on Steam, PS4/5, Nintendo Switch and Xbox One/Xbox Series X/S