The Fatal Frame franchise is an important contributor to the horror gaming genre, creating a unique world of fear that players experience through digital mediums. This latest entry in the series brings with it many new changes and refinements, but ultimately doesn’t manage to make any notable leaps forward.
“Fatal Frame” is a game that has been around for a long time. It was one of the first games to make use of photorealistic graphics and it paved the way for many other horror games. “Maiden of Black Water” takes everything that made “Fatal Frame” great and brings it back as a survival horror title with modern day visuals.
Fatal Frame has been an outlier in the J-Horror game scene for the last 20 years. It’s not like Resident Evil, Silent Hill, or other PlayStation 2-era classics. Its slower-paced investigation of terrifying haunted locations with just an antiquated camera as protection from furious ghosts remains distinctive.
Fatal Frame Maiden of Blackwater isn’t the first time the restless maiden spirits alluded to in the title have made an appearance; the survival horror game was previously launched in 2015 for the Wii U, but it’s likely still new to most players. While the aesthetics, resolution, and other aspects of this new edition have been improved, Fatal Frame still looks and feels like its predecessors.
The Return of Creepy Photographic Horror in Fatal Frame Maiden of Black Water
For those of us in the West, the series as a whole hasn’t been watched in a long time. Since 2005, no Fatal Frame games have been published in the United States until Maiden of Black Water. As a result, there’s an entire generation that hasn’t heard of the show. And now is a great moment to get started.
Maiden of Black Water is set among the gloomy woods, lakes, caverns, rocky trails, and temples of Mt. Hikami, Japan, and tells the story of three separate individuals. Once a beloved location, it has been transformed into the stuff of nightmares due to a horrific twist in its past. Countless suicides, brutal murders, and individuals who just vanish have occurred on Mt. Hikami.
Yuri Kozukata, a young lady blessed (or cursed) with extraordinarily powerful sensitivity to the supernatural realm, is central to the game. She becomes engrossed in a case concerning missing females.
Ren Hojo’s tale is deeply intertwined with Yuri’s. He’s a guy on a mission to figure out what’s causing his strange dreams. The third character, a young lady called Miu, enters the tale later, but they all wind up on the same route in their quest to uncover the mountain’s secrets and horrors.
While there are some slight changes in controls and abilities between the three characters, Maiden of Blackwater mostly plays the same regardless of the character or chapter you’re in. Its third-person exploration via maze-like terrain transports you to a range of indoor and outdoor settings. There are plenty of things to look into and treasures to collect, but there are also plenty of risks.
Those hazards are always supernatural in nature. Fatal Frame is obsessed with ghosts more than the actual perils of zombies and vampires, and the Camera Obscura is his sole weapon against them. Using well-placed photos, you can suck up a ghost’s energy with a vintage camera. It also allows you to view things that would otherwise be hidden.
The camera is often used to concentrate on a certain place in order to expose concealed items, which is easy enough. Other jobs demand you to locate a location shown in a photograph and replicate the scene. These puzzles may be aggravating and irritating, since determining the precise sweet spot can be a tedious and seemingly random process of trial and error.
However, the camera combat is fantastic. You’ll discover a variety of film kinds with varying reloading rates and damage modifiers, as well as camera add-ons that enable you cause more damage among other things. You’ll deal damage whenever you take a shot of a ghost with its face highlighted, and that damage will compel the ghost to lose more spirit energy.
The more energy you can catch in a shot, the more damage you’ll do. If you inflict enough harm on the spirit, it will be exorcised. Of course, the spirits aren’t going down without a fight. They’ll attempt to assault you, attack you, and pull you into the abyss. Thankfully, there is a dodge ability, and Fatal Frame is more about establishing an intense mood than murdering you on standard mode.
Despite the game’s age, the mood is really dense. The plot of Fatal Frame manages to include practically every J-Horror stereotype you can think of. The suicide forest, frightening ghost children, even creepier haunting dolls, and furious shrine maiden ghosts that seem to float around the afterlife wearing tight white dresses with plunging V-necks that barely contain their ghostly assets are just a few of the attractions.
Two of the major characters are straight out of the Japanese schoolgirl camp, replete with dubious fashion choices based on their position and a desire to get their clothes wet. It’d be simple to find sexist tale aspects here as well, but the overall result is a game that does an excellent job of generating a terrifying horror-movie experience.
Fatal Frame’s popularity stems in large part from its cinematic quality. It makes excellent use of film and home video filters. Memories are shown in hazy VHS-style sequences. The color schemes have a nice old-time photographic feel to them, and the interplay of light and dark throughout creates a magnificent creepy and unsettling atmosphere.
The ghosts seem to be wonderful. Eerie black-and-white faces that move through the air and through structures with a malevolent and frequently fatal purpose. There are many different spirits to meet, and recording their last moments on video may be unexpectedly sad and powerful.
The whole audio is fantastic as well, with a fantastic score and fantastic ambient sounds that heighten the creep factor. In addition, the voice acting and dialogue are excellent. The tale is told via various notebooks and books, and although the writing is minimal in general, it serves to construct an intriguing and bleak backstory.
The controls are a cross between the original Resident Evil’s old-style tank controls and more current third-person games. As a consequence, there are some strange occurrences. Because the camera has a propensity to spastically rotate around the figure, interacting with items might be awkward. Running and following are strange as well.
You may be required to hold one button down to see and follow a spirit, and while the button is held down, you will automatically travel the route. Running also makes the character seem ungainly and if they’re on automatic pilot. It’s difficult to turn, stop, or look at anything else during either action.
Objects of interest are highlighted on the edges of the screen with either white or red (for threats) arrows that supposedly lead in the direction of something. However, they’re inaccurate and inconsistent identifiers, which makes it difficult to monitor the teleporting ghostly beings.
The Bottom Line in Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
- Beautiful cinematography, film and video filter effects, and brilliantly drawn ghosts create an incredible scary atmosphere.
- Even though the gameplay and fighting are oriented on photography, they remain distinct and fascinating.
- Excellent overall tale that cleverly incorporates a variety of J-Horror movie cliches.
- Photo reproduction challenges are very time-consuming.
- The camera and controls might be clunky.
- For the female characters, there are a few problematic dress choices (together with corresponding camera angles and clichés).
The comeback of an obscure but memorable PS2-era series, Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water, is a pleasant one. This Wii U remake retains the game’s nostalgic atmosphere, but it makes such excellent use of atmospheric visual and aural effects that the total experience is a fresh take on horror games. Giving this remake a second shot is totally worth it.
[Note: The copy of Fatal Frame Maiden of Blackwater used for this review was given by Koei Tecmo.]