Although my love for horror games started with the PS1, it truly blossomed with the arrival of the PS2; Silent Hill 2 and 3, Resident Evil 4 and Code Veronica, Rule of Rose, and of course, Fatal Frame. I started with Crimson Butterfly, found it amazing, and cycled back to the first game before taking on the third. Despite my attachment to the series, when Maiden of Black Water was originally released on the Wii U, I was apprehensive; using the gamepad as a camera was a cool idea, but I wasn’t sold. Well, bless Koei Tecmo for listening to their fans — the Switch port is awesome. The updated controls make Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water a lovely addition to the series, as well as a great introduction for those interested in the title.
Once sacred land, the hauntingly beautiful Mt. Hikami is now a place of death. After the sun sets, the mountain calls out to the miserable, luring them to commit suicide in the shadow springs. Yuri Kozukata, Miu Hinasaku, Ren Hojo: three separate souls all venture towards the ominous mountain for different reasons. But there’s one thing they share in common: the maiden of the black water wants them dead.
“Players must capture pictures of ghosts to defeat them, but it’s not as simple as just pointing and clicking.”
As always, the Camera Obscura is the weapon of choice in Fatal Frame. Players must capture pictures of ghosts to defeat them, but it’s not as simple as just pointing and clicking. Letting enemies close means high-damage ‘fatal frame’ shots and consecutive snaps mean satisfying combos. Combat is fluid and less clunky in this title; there’s even a lock-on feature, making chasing the undead easier than ever. Furthermore, ghosts will drop spirit ‘fragments’ when having their picture taken; enough of these in a photo triggers a critical attack, similar to fatal frames. Players who normally have difficulties with trick shots will find this addition incredibly handy.
Another new mechanic is the wetness gauge (terrible name). The more players interact with water, not only do outfits become increasingly see-through, but there’s also a higher chance to be attacked by hostile spirits. When the gauge is full, certain ghosts can inflict a tainted status. Much like poison, the player’s health will rapidly decrease until defeating the enemy or by using a purifying ember. Unfortunately, these embers are somewhat rare, and getting tainted is somewhat easy.
“If anything, Maiden of Black Water is almost scarier purely because you can’t see what’s behind you.”
Exploration is where Maiden of Black Water differs from its predecessors. Although I’m personally fond of fixed camera angles, this game uses an over-the-shoulder perspective. Save for making 180-degree turns, the change works well — and if anything, Maiden of Black Water is almost scarier purely because you can’t see what’s behind you.
Speaking of scares, there is now a chance to be attacked upon picking up items. It can be dodged with proper timing and shaken off if grabbed. Chances are random and slim, increasing if the player is wet. The gimmick brought me back to early Resident Evil games, watching doors open slowly with each room. This was heart-racing at first but repetitious a few hours in.
Comparatively, Maiden of Black Water is extremely linear, largely due to the short episode lengths. In general, players can expect to be travelling from point A to point B, finding keys, and fighting ghosts. During the majority of the game, there is a spirit guide that prevents players from getting lost. While I appreciate the guide and feel that it’s enticing for players unfamiliar with the genre, I thought having the guide took away Fatal Frame‘s puzzle factor. The series never had challenging riddles like Silent Hill, but figuring out where to go amidst a haunted manor felt like a puzzle in itself. Without that aspect, Maiden of Black Water‘s focus is combat — which isn’t a bad thing — but as a fan of the original three, I can’t help but feel disappointed.
“The unsettling vibe I expect from a Fatal Frame is certainly there and then some.”
That being said, what areas players can explore are right in tune with the previous titles. Maiden of Black Water has eerie houses, terrifying shrines, and frightening dolls. The unsettling vibe I expect from a Fatal Frame is certainly there and then some. What I wasn’t expecting was the sheer amount of fan service, though. Tied to the wetness gauge, each female character has an alternate ‘wet’ outfit. Even the blood-splattered and broken neck ghosts have exposed cleavage. I found the over-sexualisation overboard, especially as the game deals with heavy subject matter such as suicide.
The story is slightly above par in terms of the series. All three character’s plots intertwine nicely, and they each have multiple endings. Some delightfully creepy scenes feel uncomfortable to watch, boobs and all. Interestingly, for the first time, NPC ghosts have been given a spot in the limelight. Touching ghosts after defeating them allows players to see how they died, even if it’s not directly tied to the main story. Although not important, I liked that the ghosts gained some reason for being at Mt. Hikami.
“Do I recommend Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water? Absolutely.”
Koei Tecmo put in the effort to modernise Fatal Frame, and it shows. Not only have they ditched fixed camera angles, but combat has also been revamped to make ghost-hunting more fluid. While I miss the less-linear exploration, I know some players would greatly appreciate the guided episodic format. I enjoyed the story and I enjoyed the ghost’s backgrounds. However, I did not enjoy the wetness meter, and I found the over-sexualisation ridiculous. Being the biased ninny I am, I’ll always prefer the outdated Crimson Butterfly. But do I recommend Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water? Absolutely.
Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water is available on PC, Xbox Series S|X, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and Nintendo Switch.