As the days grow shorter and nighttime lengthens, we start to enter prime horror gaming season. Running from scares, battling demons, smacking the odd ghoulie or two and more…they’re all appropriate for this time of year. If you’re looking for a new horror game to whet your appetite for scares, you could probably do worse than Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water, the fifth entry in Koei Tecmo’s long-running horror photography series that’s also a remaster of the 2014 Wii U version.
We follow several paranormal researchers, each with their own agenda, as they explore a cursed mountain. “Cursed,” of course, means “stuffed to the brim with ghosts” and it’s unsurprising that you’re going to run into plenty of spirits throughout the journey. Thankfully, you’re armed with a few special powers of your own – the Camera Obscura, for instance, a camera capable of taking photos from the spirit realm, and Shadow Reading, a sort of ESP that allows the user to see things that have occurred in an area’s past. Armed thus, you’ll explore Mt. Hikami and try to discover the area’s haunted past.
It wouldn’t be Fatal Frame if you weren’t dealing with dozens of ghostly spooks using your Camera Obscura, of course, and Maiden of Black Water doesn’t disappoint. Think of it as a more lethal version of Pokémon Snap. Proper photography will deal more damage to your undead foes, so you’ll want to capture the ghost as perfectly as possible to both deal damage and push them away. Maneuvering’s also important to avoid damage and ensure you’ve got the right angle to take your shots.
Ghosts also have weak points you can aim for to deal additional damage and a sort of bullet-time ability that activates when you take your shot right as a ghost attacks. There are some minor upgrades to spice up the combat a little, such as better types of film that come in limited amounts (unlike your bog-standard regular film) and can do more damage or shoot faster.
Aside from the unique twist on survival horror combat, Maiden of Black Water is a pretty standard post-Resident Evil 4 experience. There’s simple puzzles to solve, currency to collect, items to buy and a story to follow along with. None of this is anything out of the ordinary, though there’s something to be said for checking out Japan in this kind of game. Your characters, by and large, seem pretty used to paranormal activity and handle it surprisingly well even considering that. Personally, I’d drop the camera and abscond, but that’s just me.
That said, one thing worth noting is that you’re coming for scares, you’re probably not going to get too many out of this one; the combination of your photographic exorcism abilities and the generally tame nature of the ghostly goings-on means that this is more of a paranormal-themed picture-taking game than serious horror. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing is probably going to vary from player to player.
Maiden of Black Water is generally more interested in fanservice than scares, anyway, offering plenty of goofy costumes to purchase with in-game currency and as DLC. If dress-up is your thing and you’ve got a taste for very gentle frights, this is going to be the game for you.
This release is a remaster of the original Wii U version released back in 2014, so you probably shouldn’t come in expecting the height of graphical prowess here; Koei’s got to work with what they have, after all. Fortunately, on the PC at least, Maiden of Black Water looks pretty good and plays well. I encountered a crash or two here and there, but by and large the game was playable so long as one remembered to save often.
It’s no horror tour-de-force, but Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water is an entirely acceptable bit of paranormal activity. The unique way that you bust ghosts sets this game apart from the typical run-and-hide horror experience that was popularized by Amnesia: The Dark Descent so long ago. Those interested in some light jumpscares and a little bit of checking behind your back just to make sure there’s nothing around – plus a taste for goofy cosmetic options – just might have a good time with this one.