It’s been a while since we’ve last seen Fatal Frame. While Japan did get a fourth entry in the series back in 2008 with Mask of the Lunar Eclipse, the last entry seen in North America was Fatal Frame III: The Tormented, which released back in 2005. Now, nearly ten years later, the series is back once again with Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water, available exclusively on the Nintendo Wii U. But has time been kind to one of survival horror’s classic franchises?
Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
Developed by Koei Tecmo / Published by Nintendo
Available on the Wii U.
In Maiden of Black Water, players once again take control of multiple protagonists, similar to what was seen in The Tormented. Players step into the shoes of Yuri, a young woman who has the gift of seeing ghosts, Ren, an author who’s researching for his next book, and Miu, daughter of the original Fatal Frame’s protagonist, as they investigate and get caught up in Mount Hikami, a location famous for suicides and ghostly apparitions.
The story in Maiden of Black Water is nothing to write home about, as it’s very similar to what has already been seen in the series, though it’s not terrible either. Told through various chapters that jump between the three protagonists, their exploration of Mount Hikami and the ghosts that haunt it is an entertaining ride, but it’s full of average dialogue and the expected J-Horror twists and turns. The story will definitively keep you playing to see how it ends though.
Visually, the game is not too shabby, with fantastic character models that are very detailed and creepy ghosts designs that will probably haunt you well after the experience is over. While the environments aren’t as fantastic, especially upon closer inspection with reveal muddy textures here and there, they too are full of detail and do a great job at building a phenomenal and frightening setting.
In regards to how it plays, gameplay is similar to previous Fatal Frame games, which is both good and bad, as the mechanics are pretty solid but rely on older control schemes. As before, players explore a variety of locations looking for items and fend off vicious ghosts looking to send characters to an early grave. Movement in the game is pretty outdated, relying on the classic tank control scheme that the genre is known for. While it adds to the vulnerability of the characters, it makes moving about the environment – which is often tight and labyrinth-like corridors – cumbersome and a chore, especially when you want to get away from ghosts that are far too close for comfort. Characters also feel way too slow and stiff, and running isn’t much of an improvement.
Fighting off ghosts however is excellent. Just like previous entries, players go into a first-person viewpoint and shoot photos with the classic Camera Obscura, dealing damage depending what type of film is used, what weakpoints are aimed at, and when it’s taken, as taking a shot while a ghost attacks nets maximum damage while taking random photos does not. With the Wii U Gamepad, players can now use the controller’s gyroscope to aim the camera themselves by moving it around, as well as take portrait shots by tilting the controller to a vertical position to capture a full body image. The gamepad’s motion controls are very accurate and feel really good, but it’s a bit tricky to get used to and more often than not you’ll end up moving the viewpoint way too much trying to keep track of teleporting enemies, or miss shots due to a small twitch or your arms getting tired. In a game where you have to take precise photos on the fly to deal as much damage as possible or catch glimpses of rare ghosts, I prefer to play with the classic analog controls for the camera, which thankfully enough are available in the game.
Being a new entry in the series, Maiden of Black Water also brings a few new features to the classic experience to spice things up. One of the new welcome features in the ability to see shades, or memories of people, which work as a guide and show players where to go by following them. Another new feature is the wetness meter, which tracks how wet the character is. Getting wet attracts more ghosts to the area, making journeys even more dangerous, but at the same time buffs the camera’s damage output. Then there’s also the ability to summon items from the spirit world with a shot called Phantom Expose, requiring players to get the correct angle and shot to do so, and the ability to see some ghost’s past by touching them after defeating them. The new features tie in with the game’s theme quite nicely, while making it a simpler experience for newcomers.
When it comes down to it, Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water is entertaining game that brings new and excellent ideas to the table, but it just doesn’t get them all right. While shooting at ghosts with the Wii U gamepad is a fun experience and the atmosphere and scares are excellent, the movement controls are antiquated and the plot is a bit on the lackluster side. Still, fans of the classic series and the genre in general will find that Mount Hikami is definitively a place they’ll want to check out, and shooting ghosts with a camera will never get old.