[Review] Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
Posted on October 19, 2015 by Dennis(@LyonHart_) in Reviews, Wii U eShop
System: Wii U
Release date: October 22, 2015
Developer: Koei Tecmo
Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water sees the return of a series that has been dormant since Mask of the Lunar Eclipse’s release in 2008 for Wii. Sure, there have been a few spinoffs since then – most notably Spirit Camera on 3DS back in 2012 – but it’s been a while since we’ve seen any mainline entries, especially considering Maiden of Black Water would be the first Fatal Frame released outside of Japan since Fatal Frame III: The Tormented in 2005. Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water takes a different approach mechanically and gameplay-wise than any of the other releases in the franchise, yet it still very much stays true to form delivering a great horror experience that we seldom see on Nintendo consoles.
One of the things that has made Fatal Frame so unique since its inception is that unlike any other survival horror games where you’re typically low on ammo or must utilize your surroundings, you’re given a special camera that can see ghosts and help you exorcise them. This special camera is called the Camera Obscura and is used to help bring the evil ghosts around you down once and for all. There are different types of film that vary in power and ability, as well as lenses that also aid in quickness of film reloads, multiple shots, stuns and more.
Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water takes advantage of the Wii U’s GamePad by turning it into the Camera Obscure to use while facing ghosts, putting you directly in the middle of the action. The camera by default is controlled through the GamePad’s gyro controls, which actually work surprisingly well, but the option to change it to analog sticks only is there for people who would prefer it. Personally, I’ve never been a fan of gyro, but it worked so well for Fatal Frame that I ended up leaving it on throughout the entirety of my playthrough.
Despite the gameplay for this iteration of Fatal Frame being well done, some of the controls will take a bit of getting used to. The placement of all the inputs make sense, but it’s not exactly intuitive, so players who are accustomed to a certain playstyle may get a little irritated in the beginning while getting familiar with the controls. I found myself wanting to switch over to the Wii U Pro Controller at many times despite my liking for the camera elements of the GamePad. However, there is no option for the Pro Controller, limiting you to the GamePad only. Another flaw I found myself groaning over – though it’s certainly not a setback for the game itself – is that the visuals for Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water are some of the best the Wii U has to offer, but you’ll find yourself looking at the GamePad a majority of the time because of the ghost fights and camera use.
Alternatively, when not engaging with ghosts, you can turn the GamePad into a map to help guide you throughout the levels if you would prefer that over mirroring what’s on the TV. Having said that, it’s not entirely necessary as the levels are fairly easy to remember. I do, however, want to clarify that because they’re easy to remember, it doesn’t mean that they’re pretty straightforward; the levels are extremely well designed with a ton of detail involved – they just happen to have landmarks that trigger your brain to recall certain moments and locations, almost giving a sense of déjà vu, which the game touches on quite a bit, adding an even more thoughtful touch to the overall experience of the game. Unfortunately, because of the excessive use of the GamePad, you don’t get to appreciate the polish of the experience on the big screen as much as one would like. Every time I would look up at the TV to take in my surroundings and enjoy the visuals, it didn’t take long before I had to look back down at the controller to go into camera mode to defend myself from the spirits. Though Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water is without a doubt a gorgeous game, having to continuously look down at the low-res GamePad is a disservice to it.
Changing up the gameplay from other Fatal Frame entries is the fact that the title is presented in an episodic format rather than a sandbox mansion you would traverse and delve deeper into the more you unlock through its deciphering of puzzles. This can be beneficial because of checkpoints that are frequent and well-placed, making it less frustrating if you were to die or need to turn the game off to tend to other things, though the sense of adventure is lost a bit due to the lack of openness as the levels tend to guide you due to their layout. Despite multiple passages leading to various places where you can find items such as film and herbs, you’ll ultimately be led back on track to head in the correct direction.
The game has an undeniable eerie atmosphere that horror titles as of late tend to forget about. Most go for cheap jump-scares or over-the-top vile enemies to make up for the extremely dull moments and give a sense of trepidation, but Maiden of Black Water checks off all the boxes necessary to make something genuine to the genre and fans undoubtedly should dip their fingers into. The boss fights are well done, the design of all the spirits are memorable, and the characters leave their mark on the game by being such important parts of the overall story that by the end of it all you want more to delve into. The concept of ghosts is one that still works to this day, as the only way to defeat these intangible beings is to utilize your camera. Without your camera, death is imminent.
Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water delivers a genuinely fantastic horror experience that the Wii U has been missing since its release. For fans of horror, we’ve gotten plenty of great titles on the eShop that have quenched our thirst, but have never fulfilled our hunger. Finally, Fatal Frame gives you the fill from a series that’s spanned over a decade of eerie spiritual photography. The use of the GamePad to serve as the Camera Obscura puts you right in the action and increases the intensity of the horror Fatal Frame delivers. I know the large amount of space that Maiden of Black Water requires may deter some from wanting to install it on their Wii U, but for those that are the utmost fans of horror, this is a game you absolutely want in your library. For North American consumers, get external storage if you have to since Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water will absolutely be worth your time – not to mention it’s just in time for Halloween.
As a fan of Fatal Frame since the first release back on PlayStation 2, this is another great entry into a series that has undoubtedly set itself as one of the most memorable horror IPs to date. If you’re still indifferent towards the title because you’re not particularly fond of these types of experiences, I implore you to check out the free trial on the eShop, where you’ll be given the first few episodes for free. This can last you anywhere between 1-2 hours depending on your play style, and your progress will carry over if you decide to upgrade to the full version. There is a reason why Japanese horror has always been in the forefront of both cinema and gameplay, and Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water will further perpetuate that notion.