Long-time Fatal Frame fans have been clamoring for any movement with the franchise for several years now, as the series has spent a long time being about as dead as the many tortured ghosts you come across in the games. Well, we finally have that twitch of life that fans have been waiting on, and while a remaster of one of the franchise’s least regarded games isn’t the glorious revival that many of us would have preferred, it does make sense for a few reasons and it still does a great job of bringing together the core elements of the Fatal Frame games, and thus, reminding us all why we love them so much. It also serves as a very digestible entry point for newcomers as it is the most modern-looking and playing game in series after all.
The story of the fifth mainline Fatal Frame is mostly centered around its three main playable characters; Miu Hinasaki, Yuri Kozukata, and Ren Hojo. But mostly centered around Yuri for the central narrative. Yuri has an otherworldly gift that allows her to bridge the gap between the realm of the living and the dead in a few different ways, so she finds herself involved with matters concerning the spirits of the dead. Maiden of Black Water starts as she is recruited to help find a missing person among the woods and shrines of Mt. Hikami; an area that’s well-known for paranormal activity and a popular choice for the suicidal. While the plot of this entry isn’t quite as unnerving or as interesting as the first few games, nor is it drenched in quite as much intriguing enigma that the series is still well-known for today, it still serves its purpose well as an excuse to explore the densely haunted grounds of its setting and do battle with countless ghosts.
Maiden of Black Water stands alone in the series narratively, but it is connected to the lore of the series in several ways, so it successfully and wisely threads that needle of being approachable for newcomers yet rewarding for returning fans – despite still not being quite as well-told as the older games. Similarly, the hazy, shadowy, washed-out atmosphere of the original games isn’t as pronounced in this entry, but it is still present albeit to a lesser degree. At the end of the day, it still looks and feels like a Fatal Frame game, and for newcomers as well as old time fans who might not have happened to own a Wii U, there is plenty of reason to give this entry a fair shot.
"Maiden of Black Water does a great job of bringing together the core elements of the Fatal Frame games, and thus, reminding us all why we love them so much. It also serves as a very digestible entry point for newcomers as it is the most modern-looking and playing game in series after all."
The aforementioned ghost battling is of course done with the Camera Obscura, and what this entry of the series might be lacking in story and atmosphere, it more than makes up for with perhaps the series’ best iteration of its battle system. Taking pictures of ghosts as they hobble toward you is as hair-raising as it’s ever been, as waiting for your film to reload while they close in on you provides a very palpable tension. Getting as many points of interest in each shot is also crucial here as it can do more damage that way. Also, different types of film can deal varying degrees of damage and take different lengths of time to reload – so there is a bit of true strategy there as different ghost types or amounts of ghosts can call for different film and different techniques. Regardless of how you approach it, every shot counts, and if you screw one up you’ll likely pay for it dearly.
Overall, I still find this unique combat system to be a great mix of fun, challenging and genuinely horrifying – and that’s something I can’t really say about most horror games with combat. The combat is also deepened a bit more by needing to manage how wet your character is. With the general theme of this entry being water, it makes sense thematically that being damp will cause more ghosts to appear as you explore, but it will also result in you doing more damage to them. So, if you’re feeling risky, you can entice more ghosts to come your way and rack up more points, or you can play more conservatively by regularly drying yourself off with embers and keeping combat encounters to a minimum. Sure, Maiden’s combat system might be held back a bit by some mild clunkiness and a borderline useless dodge function, but despite the game showing its age here and there, it’s still a system that’s a thrill to use from beginning to end.
The Camera Obscura isn’t just for taking out spirits though. It can also reveal items that are locked in the spirit realm if you take a picture of certain spots with the correct angle. Tilting the controller to the correct degree to achieve the right shot is a neat way to illustrate that, and the game uses this brilliantly to reveal hidden keys, notes, and other items of varying interest. You can also use controller tilting during combat, but I found that the gyro controls work better as a way to fine-tune rather than make large sweeping motions. You also get several opportunities in each chapter to sneak a quick shot of various apparitions for extra points before they disappear, so once you get good with it you’ll likely be nailing most of those and spending all those extra points in between levels on much-needed status items.
"Overall, I still find this unique combat system to be a great mix of fun, challenging and genuinely horrifying – and that’s something I can’t really say about most horror games with combat."
When you’re not battling evil spirits, you’ll be searching around for keys, reading notes, engaging with other characters, etc. It’s pretty standard survival horror stuff, but with this entry almost constantly going out of its way to point you in the right direction and keeping obtuse puzzles to a reasonable minimum, you’ll rarely feel stumped or lost – which might not sit well with old-school horror purists, but I feel like it works for this game. I’d even go so far as to say that its more forgiving structure is one of the few improvements this game has over the original trilogy.
Some twitchy movements, occasional camera issues, and muddy textures will likely prevent anyone from thinking this is a current gen game – even for a moment – but this is where that Fatal Frame visual tone comes in and saves the day for the most part. Texture work on much of the environment seems largely unchanged and muddy, especially compared to the characters themselves, but those environmental textures are also usually diffused and shrouded by fog, shadows, and a general lack of contrast so they don’t stick out like they would in other games from the same era. The rock-solid 60 frames per second and high resolution is usually a worthy trade-off for outdated graphics, but here, with most of the game’s worst textures being obscured by its atmosphere, it’s like getting to have your graphical cake and eat it too. Especially on current gen consoles.
Fatal Frame games, much like the original Silent Hill games, are generally light on music and instead seem to favor unsettling droning soundscapes to accompany the majority of the experience – and it still holds up perfectly well here. The exasperated cries of ghosts as they writhe in agony as well as the voice acting of the characters also suit the game just as well as they ever have. Sounds within the combat system also perfectly help signify the different phases of combat, so it’s nice to see all of that in-tact and working just as well as ever for this remaster.
"The rock-solid 60 frames per second and high resolution is usually a worthy trade-off for outdated graphics, but here, with most of the game’s worst textures being obscured by its atmosphere, it’s like getting to have your graphical cake and eat it too."
Maiden of Black Water is not the best game in the Fatal Frame series. It’s probably not even in the top 3, but what many might have forgotten is that it’s still a solid entry in a series that really doesn’t really have any bad mainline games. While the uniquely eerie tone and mysterious storytelling of the original Fatal Frames is certainly watered down in this one, it still comes together as a worthwhile horror game that deserves to stand among its forbearers. Some mild clunkiness here and there is, sometimes, a bit too reminiscent of the era from which it came, and there’s no denying that this is one of the weaker stories in the series. That said, the extra strategy and depth afforded to its combat, the efficient manner in which the gameplay unfolds, and solid up-scaling of the originals’ visuals do add some extra points to it as a remaster and as an admirable entry of an iconic survival horror series.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 5.
Visuals and audio hold up extremely well; Gameplay is some of the best in the series.
One of the weaker stories in the franchise; Fairly minimal texture work instantly dates the game’s appearance.