Initial release Date: July 29, 2014
Rerelease Date: October 28, 2021
Series: Fatal Frame
Mode: Single-player video game
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Wii U, Xbox Series X and Series S, Microsoft Windows
Developers: Koei Tecmo Games, Koei Tecmo
Publishers: Nintendo, Koei Tecmo Games, Koei Tecmo, KOEI TECMO AMERICA Corporation, Nintendo of America
Designers: Makoto Shibata, Yuki Sakamoto
"Review Copy Provided By Koei Tecmo"
The Fatal Frame or Project Zero franchise has been around since the very early 2000’s and has been one of the most creative and original entries in the survival horror genre that dove deeply into Japanese lore. Unfortunately, the Fatal Frame series never took off in the west or gained the notoriety of its peers. In 2014, we received the 5th entry in the series that was unfortunately available as a digital download only for the Nintendo Wii U in all regions except Japan where it saw a physical release. Fast forward nearly 7 years and we have an enhanced version of this game with all content included and some graphical and presentation enhancements now available on all major platforms. Is this the time to dive into one of the most beloved entries in the series? Let’s find out!
The story kicks off with Yui Kozaukata working at an antique shop for Hisika Kurosawa in her antuque shop until one day Fuyuhi Himino arrives requesting that Hisoka finds her friend Haruka Momosa that has gone missing around Mt. Hikami. With Hisoka being absent, Yuri takes it upon herself to go to Mt. Hikami and investigate and find Haruka. Little does she know what fate and the spirits have in store for her.
The Fatal Frame series has always been a creative take on the survival horror genre by being based in Japanese folk lore and urban legends and instead of using the traditional firearms, you utilize what’s called a spiritually powered camera called the Camera Obscura and special films of which you utilize to take on the lingering spirits of the departed.
Utilizing a behind the back instead of fixed camera perspective, you take control of 1 of 3 playable characters (4 if you include Dead or Alive’s Ayane) and take up your Camera Obscura and solve the mysteries surrounding the mountainous area of Hikamiyama. Moving about the environments can feel smooth one minute and clunky the next with you needing to navigate tight corridors and either fight or avoid ghosts that appear randomly (and in scripted locations) while searching various rooms looking for keys, health restoratives, and film as you advance along each chapter.
Given that the game is centered around the concept of water, there is a wetness meter that will fill up that will give the player a buff of having stronger spirit power for shots with the Camera Obscura with a trade of being that your defenses are lowered and will have more ghosts spawning. You can avert the wetness status by utilizing an item called a Purifying Flame to remove that status.
When utilizing the Camera Obscura, your perspective shifts to first person view with you having motion controls if you’re playing the game on the PS4, PS5, and Nintendo Switch with the option for traditional controls whereas the PC and Xbox versions give you only the option for traditional controls with you moving around with the left stick while using the right stick to aim and left trigger being for aiming down sights and right trigger to shoot. When it comes to the camera, you can aim up your camera reticle to shoot the ghosts before they teleport around the room, or you can line up the camera sights and build up Reihan by taking shots of the ghosts and the fragments that appear around them so that you can do Fatal Frames to do some critical damage. You can also wait for enemies to try and attack you so that you can get a critical hit in or you can press X/A/B to evade an incoming attack.
The camera is upgradeable during chapters at the pause screen where you can have a variety of lenses and films that do a wide range of damage and more. You can utilize the points you accumulate to gain different buffs and bonuses to your camera such as faster reloads. You can also utilize those same points at the beginning of each chapter to get various outfits and accessories for each of your characters.
This originally came out on the Nintendo Wii U back in 2015 and while it does still hold up fine and has received some visual upgrades to the character models and the environments; you can’t unsee the fact that this is essentially a port of a Wii U game.
The character models all look fine and fit perfectly into the unsettling locations you find yourself and even close ups look pretty decent at times, yet there are moments when you trigger a cutscene or event and then the higher resolution models downscale back to the original Wii U’s graphics. It can be quite jarring especially when you get acclimated to certain areas like the forest area with the shrine in chapter 2 where it looks drop dead gorgeous one moment with the spooky mist and fog and then it reverts to old graphics.
On the PS5 and PS4 Pro the game runs at a smooth 60FPS at 1080P with no dips in performance.
The atmospheric music and sounds really hit strongly in this game and are so well done that it will creep you out and unsettle you well before you see anything. The sound you hear those ghosts makes is incredibly unnerving and wll make the hairs on your body stand on end. The ambient sounds when you’re walking about areas can also get to you as sometimes it can go from babbling brooks and noisy wind to dead silence and then the creepy noise of the ghosts and then the music starts kicking in.
The voice acting is rock solid and everyone does a great job with their performances to make the characters sound believable.
The motion controls can be initially off-putting and the movement can feel sluggish especially when you’re trying to get away from ghosts. I often found myself fighting with the controls as I’d bring up the Camera Obscura and then immediately struggle between using the motion controls, L1 and R! along with L2 and R2, and he left and right sticks; this would happen every time a ghost would pop up and I’d panic. After time, you get used to the motion controls and the feel responsive and yet the sticks and buttons combo never feels and fluid as the motion controls.
The graphics going from the upscaled and enhanced look for current generation to the Wii U graphics can be very jarring. I understand that would require them to rework all of the cutscenes and events but still it is annoying to have to see the graphics changing so frequently.
Many have complained about the amount of backtracking that you have to do yet for me its not an issue. What is an issue is having to hold down R2 to pick up items because the character moves incredibly slowly in their attempt to reach out and it is pretty ridiculous and takes too long. I get it’s done for dramatic effect but that wears out incredibly quickly.
So, the biggest complaint I have is the slowness with opening doors that the characters have as it really feels unnecessarily slow and should’ve been either reworked or sped up.
Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water is a ton of fun with a very engaging narrative that treads into some very bleak territory with the topic and depictions of suicide as well as the supernatural; it is only hindered by some questionable gameplay decisions and inconsistent graphical fidelity. If you’re looking for some good scares, a great story with twists, and finally available on all major platforms makes Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water the game you should pick up today!