You might be wondering why I say “finally.” Well, that’s because I bought Maiden of Black Water at launch for the Wii U. And yes, that’s the version I stubbornly decided to play.
The Wii U is practically made to order for Fatal Frame. A game about fighting with a camera, played on a system in which you’re holding a second screen in your hands already? I couldn’t pass up playing Fatal Frame this way, and while the two screens weren’t as different as I would have liked, angling the GamePad to get a better shot of a ghost made it worth it.
(I’d have re-bought it when the remaster came out if we got a physical copy this time…)
If you’re unfamiliar with the Fatal Frame series, the concept at the heart of the gameplay is that you have a special camera known as the Camera Obscura that allows you to damage ghosts by taking pictures of them.
Taking the shot right as the ghost is attacking deals more damage, and Maiden of Black Water also has you deal more damage for getting five or more targets in the shot at once. This includes spirit orbs that appear as you photograph the ghosts. Ghosts often disappear and reappear elsewhere, turning combat into a frantic affair as you try to keep track of enemies and time your shots.
You earn points for your photographs, which you can use to improve your camera, along with special lenses and upgrades you can equip for additional effects and bonuses.
Unfortunately, I didn’t really find Maiden of Black Water scary. Combat could be intense, and the story had its share of creepy and disturbing moments, but it didn’t have that same sense of dread and tension that the first game had.
(I haven’t played 2 or 3 yet, so I can’t make comparisons to those.)
Water plays a key role in the story and lore, and there’s a gameplay mechanic where getting wet makes it more likely that ghosts will appear. Of course, the game frequently puts you in situations where it’s raining or you have to wade through a river. This should add tension, but I never found water to feel like as big of a threat as it wanted me to.
The whole game feels significantly different from the older games in the series, and not just because of the modern controls and over-the-shoulder camera. If you’re expecting the classic survival horror approach to exploration, puzzle-solving, and unlocking new areas, there’s only a small amount of that here.
There is exploration, as you visit a number of large areas ranging from forests to shrines, with film and healing items to be discovered as you explore, along with ghosts to photograph. But you also revisit these areas, and going through the same area to find more items made it feel less like I was exploring an area to discover it, which took away from the atmosphere and reduce the amount of exploration I did later on.
Maiden of Black Water is divided into chapters. It follows three main characters, each delving into the secrets of the sinister and somber Mt. Hikami for his or her own reasons. At the end of each chapter, you’re given a grade and a chance to spend points on additional items before starting the next chapter. Items also don’t carry over between chapters (and I was halfway through the game before I realized that). The characters always seem to return from the mountain at the end of a chapter, so each new chapter begins with them setting out again for one reason or another.
All of this makes the game feel very different, very segmented compared to the exploration-driven focus of survival horror, and I wasn’t a big fan.
Story-wise, it was fine. You find notes throughout the game providing more details about what’s at work on the mountain, and it had enough unsettling and emotional moments to be interesting enough despite a few questionable choices. I enjoyed it as a ghost story, even if I didn’t enjoy it as a survival horror game.
My final feelings on Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water are mixed. It was a fine ghost story and some parts were fun, but it wasn’t quite what I hoped for from Fatal Frame. If and when we get a Fatal Frame 6, I hope it follows the survival horror structure more closely.---
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