Fatal Frame: Maiden Of Black Water Review(PS5)
Updated: Apr 6, 2022
IF THERE'S SOMETHING STRANGE, IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD, WHO YOU GONNA CALL? No One. You're delusional and seeing things.
Developed: Koei Tecmo
Published: Koei Tecmo
Release Date: Oct 28th, 2021
*Review copy provided to me by Koei Tecmo
''Say cheese and die'' Fatal Frame: Maiden Of Black Water is a Japanese survivor horror game that is developed and published by Koei Tecmo. Having been originally released on the Wii U in 2014, Koei Tecmo decided it was time to bring it back into the spotlight and show people what they missed out on with the once Wii U exclusive. But was this a smart decision on their part or should it have been a title that should've stayed in the bin. Only one way to find out, so let's vogue!
This story takes place on Mt. Hikami, a mountain believed to be a sacred place, and revolves around Yuri Kozukata, Ren Hojo and Miu Hinasaki who act as the three protagonists whose stories are interwoven in this mysterious and dream-like tale. Help them solve the mystery of this tale or lead them to their own terrible fate.
Ready to get your rifle, cast your mage spell or ground pound on some enemies? Well you've come to the wrong place because absolutely nothing like that happens here, like at all. No weapons will be at your disposal or even the means to physically attack your enemy. So how do you even attack? is it a case of having to constantly run away in terror like you do in games like Outlast? Sorta.. kind of.. but not really?. I'll explain that in just a second, but first, let me give a quick run down on the overall premise of the story, what you'll be doing and then we'll dive right into the core aspects that make up the game play. The focal point of the story has you following the characters of Yuri, Miu and Ren Hojo as they go through traumatic experiences that leave them questioning everything, self reflection, self worth and trying to discover the mystery behind Mt Hikami and all the disappearances that occur there every year. Wait.. Hojo is in this? no no, not THAT Hojo you're thinking of, heck no, he's off creating another Sephiroth or something. Throughout your 12-15 hour journey and across 14 separate missions, known as Drops, you will go to dark caverns, spooky woods, abandoned houses, run down shrine temples, cold labyrinths, bus stations and.. that's basically it. Yup. There really isn't a whole lot of level variety when it's all spread out on paper and this tends to be both a strength at times for this game or a complete tedious detriment to your gaming experience depending on how much you like the specific areas.
Each character you play as during your ghost hunt has their own reasons for doing what they're doing and their own resolve to see it through, even if some of their logic is far fetched and their selection of clothing is a bit questionable for the type of investigating they're up to. Like seriously, Yuri and Miu know they're investing run down houses, nasty waters, deep and dark woods, so, yeah, let's find our cutest outfits and be super kawaii the whole time. But I digress, moving on. Yuri, who has an ability known as ''Shadow reading'', causes her to see what other people around here cant, it has caused her to always feel shunned and pushed aside, but that changes when she befriends a woman named Hisoka and the two become fast friends, however things are thrown on its head when she goes missing. Miu Hinasaki, who hears of a woman that resembles her missing mom being spotted heading in the direction of Mt. Hikami, decides she needs to get to the bottom of who this person is and vows to investigate and find her mom, if it is indeed her. For those of you who have dabbled in this series before, the name Hinasaki should be familiar to you as its the name of Miku Hinasaki from first and third entry into this franchise, Fatal Frame and Fatal Frame 3. Sadly she isn't playable this time, but its still pretty cool to have her back nonetheless. Finally we have Ren Hojo, a fiction writer turn investigator. After having his acquaintance, Hisoka, look into some postmortem photography using her shadow reading ability he becomes very curious and decides for himself that he will be investigating the mysteries behind each photograph.. but in hindsight, I don't think that was such a good idea, trust me.
So ok, you know how long the game is, how many chapters, the characters and their goals, its a horror game, you aint afraid of no ghost, yadda yadda. But how do you even play the game? It's not just some visual horror novel after all. Well Fatal Frame is easy to describe in a way that makes perfect sense. Pokemon Snap meets Silent Hill. Huh? you're telling me that doesn't make sense to you? oh come on, use your imagination and imagine yourself going through the decrepit remains of a once vibrant Lavender Town. It's dark, fog all over and your goal is to take pictures and document all of your findings. But instead of finding lively Pokemon all around, you only encounter Ghost Pokmeon who are out for blood and your only means of keeping them away from you is with the flash of your camera. See? makes total sense right? still doesn't? well too bad because that's the gist of how things go here in Fatal Frame.. minus the Pokemon that is. If you're familiar with this series then you know that Fatal Frame is not about physical combat and instead more so about ''banishing'' and essentially freeing them in a way and that does not change here in Maiden Of Black Water. Utilizing your camera known as Camera Obscura, you're able to take snapshot photos of both non violent ghosts and violent one's who literally try to kill you, to either damage them and stun them or in the non violent ghost's cases, rack up points based off the quality of the photo taken. This mechanic is going to take up roughly 70% of your time in the game, with the other 30% making up your exploration and solving puzzles. But not all cameras are the same. Sure they may have the same or similar names, but each character that wields it will bring a different ability to use in order to give them a direct advantage in combat and all their cameras are able to be upgraded with new enhancements by utilizing your points earned from photos taken, as your form of currency. More on this in a minute, lets take a quick look at what I was just talking about with cameras giving you an advantage in your fighting. An example of unique advantages with cameras, you have a character like Ren who's Obscura gives you a triple snapshot photo technique, that in unison, snaps multiple photos in a row that completely staggers your enemy and allows you time to re-adjust or heal yourself using sacred water when you're very low on health. Miu also has a unique ability with her obscura that allows you to go into bullet time and completely slow everything down around you, which allows you to get all enemies into focus for a chance at doing major damage to the ghost or get yourself out of a sticky situation. Sounds pretty easy right? Well don't jump for joy just yet because the further you progress into the game, the ghosts become faster, more ferocious and not as easy to hit as they previously were, and on top of that, you need to conserve your ''ammo'' because you have a set amount of it. ''Ammo, the heck, I thought you said there's no weapons!''. Woah kiddo, don't make me call BeetleJuice on you, relax. When I refer to ammo, I'm referring to the type of film you get, because you know.. that's how camera's work. Duh. You have a set amount of film to use, so if you get snapshot happy then you will run out and will be completely out of luck. Well for the stronger film that is, you still have a weaker infinite film to use, but it sucks. Luckily as a way to get around this you can either buy some by using your points in between rounds or pick it up off a shelf or the ground when you spot it lying around. But be careful because at certain time's a ghostly hand will come up and grab your arm and damage you, thus forcing you to spin your joysticks like a mad man in order to get out as fast as possible. Don't worry though, it's not a blister inducing task like it was in Mario Party, so you're good. Were not at the end of all things about the camera though, almost, but not quite. It still has a few things about it that makes it way better than having a gun or something similar. The only exception to that rule would be having a proton pack, but yeah, that would make things a little too easy now, wouldn't it?
The final mechanics that are apart of the Camera Obscura has to do with the lenses you can equip to them and the camera's enhancements themselves. By equipping different lenses, 3 at any given time, you will unlock 3 different special abilities that can only be used after collecting enough spirit fragments, and once the spirit meter is filled, switch to any of them with your D-Pad, aim your photo and then unleash a snapshot on a vengeful ghost. Doing this will allow you to stun a ghost that might be too far up in your face with their super stinky non breath mint eating ugly faces, a blow lens that allows you to do double damage, restore lens that gives you a regeneration of health based off your damage output and many others that you can find throughout your playthrough. Obscura enhancement will also play a HUGE role in how tough your fights are vs boss ghosts, maidens or other nasties. Using your acquired points you may upgrade your cameras attack distance to allow you to hit ghosts from a further range, faster film reload time, increase damage dealt and Absorption that increases the amount of spirit fragments collected from ghosts. All of the things I named from abilities of each camera, upgrades, enhancements and even down to the way you must position your camera in diagonally, horizontally, vertically to get all ghosts and their spirit orbs into frame for a Fatal Frame shot or Shutter Chance for big damage, makes the camera feel like you're always strategizing and never feels like just some gimmick. It legit can take some thought to perfect.
If there is one thing I can say right off the bat, its that this game is really creepy and also extremely weird. It's basically the Metal Gear Solid of horror games type of weird. Its intriguing and you find yourself captivated by all the strange things going on around you, either in game or during the cutscenes. But as soon as it ends you just think to yourself ''Wait. So what the hell did I just witness''. This is what you're going to be telling yourself a lot while you play this and don't get me wrong, that's definitely not a bad thing. The atmosphere and environments you come across can range from very eerie to downright terrifying depending on the level you are on. As you move through a level, your goal is to find your objective, usually always being finding a specific person by using a ''Token'' of theirs like a photo. By holding down R2, you see where their ghost has been, follow their path like a waypoint and moving along that said path can lead you through a dark death forest with hanging dolls, a large shrine temple with underground caverns of water, or abandoned houses with coffins. Each area feels very unique and spooky in their own right, with some utilizing the tried and true puzzle mechanic of finding an object using your camera by locking onto it and taking a psychic photographic that shows you where a specific item is located, finding it and then collecting a crest, plate or key to unlock another door. There's not a lot of these type of puzzles, but the ones that are available, are pretty decent, even if backtracking can feel a wee bit tedious at times. With as dark and sinister this game is, maybe the Obscura is a bit of a metaphor here with its flash. A little light in darkness can brighten up your day right? well not so much for these ghosts, they hate bright lights so much that I can just hear them scream BRIGHT LIGHTS BRIGHT LIGHTS, just like cute little Gizmo. Sadly this is where my praise ends... for now.
While yes there are a plethora of great positives to be had with Maiden Of Black Water, It still can't get away from the amount of negatives I have that either irritated me or made me roll my eyes. Lack of level variety is one of my gripes during my playthrough, while I loved the environments, scenery and atmosphere of them all, they can outstay their welcome. Why you ask? well you see when you play a level, you will 100% go back to that level and do a similar process as last time, just with another character. That's 3 characters, going through the same 5-6 areas or so, over and over and over, with a few exceptions here and there. It can get tiring and feel like padding. Another thing that annoyed me were characters that were just saved from an area, now head back to that SAME area they were just a prisoner of. like HELLO, girl, you were literally just in a dang box with black oil like water a day ago and now you just wander back and we have to replay the same level again, but now as you? ugh. Sometimes the only solace to keep my sanity was to find random stuff that I found funny, like one time I took a ghost photo and got points for it that totaled up to 1337. Do you guys remember that back in the day when 1337 stood for LEET?. Yeah. I'm getting old. But the worst offender of all is the five nights at freddy's knock off of Drop 8. In this mission you have to watch surveillance cameras to make sure all the girls are ok and occasionally have to leave the room and protect them from a ghost when the camera goes nuts. It starts off really intriguing and even a bit nerve racking because you don't know where they're coming from, but that doesn't last. After literally 30 minutes of doing this same thing over and over, you're bored out of your mind and I nearly fell asleep. I wish I was exaggerating, but I hated it.
When you have completed your journey through all drops, you still have a little bit to do should you choose to do it. By completing the game you unlock Nightmare mode which will make the game way harder than before and cause you to rage, not against the machine, but against the game itself. But the most notable piece of extra content is an extra chapter featuring Ayane from the Ninja Gaiden series, which instead of using the Camera Obscura, you instead use her skills as a ninja to make your way through your mission. There is also multiple endings for each character, so keep replaying till you get every single one. Some are absolutely dreadful and sad though. I got all the bad endings. Oops.
At the end of the day, Maiden Of Black Water is both a great and bad game, sorta like a movie on SyFy channel. The game when its at its best allows you to use the great camera mechanic and strategize, take you to interesting locations, feel sadness and emotion for characters and the ghosts, feel like all upgrades are meaningful, build upon lore of Mt. Hikami that makes you want to know more, creepiness that I loved back in the best days of horror with original Silent Hill games and Resident Evil. But with tedious missions like surveillance, backtracking with characters through same levels over and over, camera being hard to use in tight spaces, game at times feeling like its dragging on, it can leave a sour taste in your mouth. I'll be honest, if this game were $60, I'd probably say wait for it to hit $40 and snag it. But alas, here we are with it launching at $40 right from the start, so you got lucky there game. So because it is $40, classic horror feel and fun camera mechanic, I guess that means my verdict is clear, GameNChick says THIS HOUSE IS CLEAN. Huh? no no. GameNChick says BUY NOW!