Title: Fatal Frame: Maiden Of Black Water
Developer: Koei Tecmo
Release Date: October 28, 2021
Reviewed On: PS5
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Genre: Adventure Horror
Seven years ago, Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water was released exclusively on Wii U, with a bit of controversy surrounding its mostly digital English release and costumes being removed from the localized version. However, it’s gotten to the point where I just want to play the game, and Koei Tecmo has heard those pleas and released the game on modern platforms. Although it retains its campy layers, it still provides unique gameplay elements unlike any games released in recent years.
Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water really sucks at storytelling. After learning about a few bizarre disappearances surrounding the sacred grounds of Mt. Hikami, Yuri Kozukata takes on supernatural jobs with her teacher Hisoka. However, before the relationship between these two is detailed, Hisoka disappears, a writer named Ren bites off more than he can chew, and a model named Miu looks for her mother.
This is all delivered through minimal story interactions to the point where you can only assume they are having more interesting conversations off-camera. This is evident once Miu joins the party, barely says anything because she’s more concerned with being weird, and then a random scene occurs where she acts like she and Yuri are best friends. I promise you will not understand these characters and how they all connect until 14 hours into the game, and that’s about when you’ll complete the story.
However, this isn’t about friends and saving the world; it’s about ghosts. The actual ghost stories found in notes scattered around the levels are interesting and set up some rather grim scenes. It adds to the environment building and tells a story through the various settings you interact with, effectively allowing the player to understand what’s happening around them.
During gameplay, you’ll visit Mt. Hikami a lot. Of course, any sane person would stay the hell away from that place, but you’ll probably have a lot of fun in the opening hours watching Yuri collect girls from the mountain only for bad things to happen, and yet, she returns. The mountain itself is large in scope with branching paths and various locals, but chapters love to reuse areas multiple times. Upon return, there’s typically a new area to open. Still, items and interactable objects are added, so you must explore these areas again, even if the previous mission took you there.
I think the environments are fantastic. It’s moody and atmospheric in ways that really ground you in the world. The levels utilize a maze-like design that makes it difficult to know which way you’re going, but I feel like that adds to the tension. This is what Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water does brilliantly. You’ll constantly be playing with a sense of uneasiness. The musical cues and systems align in a way that grabs hold of your attention even after hours of playing. The moment you assume things are safe, the game throws a curveball.
Combat revolves around photography, where players take control of a camera shutter in the first person and use it to cause damage to spirits. There’s a sort of risk-reward system in place that allows players to wait until an enemy attack to initiate a fatal frame and cause high damage. Further, players can include a series of subjects in a frame to push the enemy back. Taking damage will cause HP loss, but also the spiritual energy will rise, shown as a water-soaked effect on the character and making spiritual attacks more likely.
There’s a scoring mechanic that grades player performance during each chapter, with points being used to purchase upgrades for your camera, costumes, and items. If you explore enough, I don’t think there’s a reason to buy items before the mission, but the option is there.
In terms of enemies, there will be several grunt-like ghosts encountered, but there are also reoccurring ghosts that have their own story to tell. The way to understand that is to touch them after they are defeated to watch short clips of what happened before they died. I thought this was a great mechanic to reuse ghosts and include a story about them for those who put in the effort.
An issue that arises is simply repetition. As you revisit environments as different characters, nothing is justified why the character goes to this location. You can say that their “trace” ability guides them, but I found that I used that too often, wishing the game would just tell me where I should be going instead. It doesn’t always work, though, and those moments force you outside of your comfort zone to complete a puzzle or defeat an enemy.
The camera is used outside of combat to reveal items, quickly take a picture of important scenes, and complete light puzzles. It’s seamless and fun in execution as you feel like you’re getting the most out of this unique mechanic. There’s also an added photo mode that is gorgeous, if not hard to navigate at first. Regardless, once you get the hang of it, you can set up some detailed and cool scenes.
I found Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water to have aged beautifully. The game is a testament to how pretty games were on the Wii U, but all that has been remastered for this release to look even better. The light effects are also commendable, along with the character models. I will say that the English voice-over is questionable, but if you’re a b-rate horror fan, keep it on as it sells that experience. There’s also added post-game costumes and
Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water is a genuinely unique horror game with all the fixings for a campy and spooky gameplay experience. Like any horror movie, you’ll be asking, “Why are you going in there!?” but it’s all part of the show. The remastered efforts shine, even if the narrative isn’t winning any awards. If anything, this game teaches you that only good-looking people can be ghost hunters.
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