A remaster of an original Wii U release that was released worldwide in 2015, Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water has been released anew for eighth and ninth-generation consoles as well as PC. The title is the fifth mainline entry in the Fatal Frame franchise from Koei Tecmo. It includes the expected visual enhancements, a new photo mode, and some extra costumes for the game’s three protagonists.
Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water revolves around the fictional Hikami Mountain, a notorious mountain and frequent suicide location that is a hotspot for spiritual activity. Rumors about the mountain say that the ghosts of murdered shrine maidens surround the peak and spirit individuals away before convincing them to drown themselves in the water at the mountain base.
As players explore the dense forests and abandoned buildings surrounding Hikami Mountain, they are equipped with the series’ iconic Camera Obscura, a camera that can photograph supernatural elements. Throughout the game, it is used to fight back against ghosts, solve puzzles, and bring items lost to time back to the material world through the spiritual footprint they left behind.
It is a pretty standard set-up for the series, but it also feels highly dated here. Moving around the world and interacting with anything is cripplingly slow. Players can run by holding down a button, but even the light jog that characters do is pretty much just the awkward run people do when cars are waiting for them to use a crosswalk. Opening doors even in sections that aren’t intended to be scary takes forever, and every time players pick up an item, it is a long minigame to see whether a ghost hand will grab the player. It will get the player the first few times, but it is very predictable and eventually just feels excessive after that.
The slow movement is made all the worse with Maiden of Black Water’s structure. Not only do players frequently revisit areas that don’t change in any meaningful ways, but the player also has their hand relentlessly held throughout the game as well. Solutions to “puzzles” or obstacles are usually just given to the player immediately when the problem is introduced. Additionally, exploration is limited to a minimum with invisible walls over clear forest paths, and players are often led through levels by a white trail on the ground.
Since most of the game’s gameplay is spent walking throughout environments, these elements make most levels dreadfully boring and long, especially when players find the solution for a puzzle too early and later have to backtrack for it when the game eventually tells them where it is.
Exploring levels is broken up by the game’s combat, which consists of the player repeatedly taking photos of ghosts as they slowly float towards them. However, the combat does throw some curveballs into the mix, with players being able to switch between different lenses with special abilities and rotate the camera’s framing to get as many floating fragments around the ghost as possible to maximize damage.
However, the combat also quickly starts feeling like more of a chore than a game mechanic before long. Throughout the entire game, ghosts move exceptionally slowly, and even when there are multiple ghosts in an encounter, it is easy to get them all grouped together to become a non-issue. The only other foil to the combat is players having to manage their film inventory like ammunition. In case players run out of better types of camera film, there is a weaker version that players have unlimited access to, although one would have to waste a lot of film to ever really need it.
This leads to another big problem that Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water struggles with: its difficulty. Game difficulty can be hard to get right to make sure that it matches the game’s tone while also allowing players who want less of a challenge to enjoy the game. Despite this, Fatal Frame is a survival horror series, and just how easy the game is makes it difficult to really find any of its scenes all that scary.
Even the game’s incredibly slow cutscenes fail to leave much of an impact. They are all obfuscated with an excess of film grain while the characters seemingly play out the scenes at half speed. Overall, the narrative is pretty predictable, but the influences from Japanese culture and history help it keep one’s interest throughout a playthrough.
Ultimately Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water ends up being a boring slog more often than a tense horror experience. The remaster will likely be welcomed by fans of the series, especially those that never had a Wii U to check out the original. However, any future Fatal Frame remastered titles will have to evolve to feel at home in modern times.
Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water is available now on PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Switch, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S.
Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
- Rating - 4/104/10
Ultimately Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water ends up being a boring slog more often than a tense horror experience. The remaster will likely be welcomed by fans of the series, especially those that never had a Wii U to check out the original. However, any future Fatal Frame titles will have to evolve to feel at home in modern times.