Grab your camera, the dead have returned.
Whether you believe in the afterlife or not, the idea of ghosts can be extremely scary. A force, unnatural, or perhaps stuck in between the world of the living and the dead. Who’s to say what they really are and if they really exist. That hasn’t stopped Hollywood from making countless movies about the phenomenon, but the gaming world seems to lack games about ghosts. We have a few off shot games or ghosts in games that fall more under the line of funny or silly measures. Yet one series did ghosts in a scary manner, mixing ancient folklore and urban legends; Fatal Frame, and they have returned once again to scare up the masses.
Maiden of the Black Water is exclusive to the Wii U and in America, we haven’t seen a new iteration in the series since Fatal Frame 3, which is a shame. The last title sadly never made it over here in the US. Luckily this time, Nintendo of American has graciously given us the chance to experience the horror once again, albeit only in digital format. Disappointing for those physical collectors out there, but it’s nice we get a chance to play it at all this time, so I won’t complain. How is the game on the Wii U? Absolutely terrifying, if not a little predictable for those fans of the franchise.
Platforms: Wii U
Price I’d Pay: 49.99
How long to beat: 10+ hours
With a story taking place mostly on fictional Hikami Mountain, the land is filled with an ancient curse. People that come here either never make it back alive, or seemingly just disappear. Some even come there to kill themselves. It’s a story that seems eerily inspired by the real life location of Mount Fuji, dubbed suicide forest, where every year hundreds of bodies are found dead. In the game the reason is clear, something is definitely wrong with the mountain and players will discover over the course of 16 chapters and three playable characters, various notes and documents detailing just what might have transpired to cause such a calamity. One that has souls wandering and attacking the living, wanting them to suffer along with them.
For those that never played the franchise, the question probably comes up “How do I fight ghosts?” In the series, the camera obscura is the key. Using an ancient camera with the ability to see the dead, players will use this to attack and uncover hidden objects throughout their horrific journey. It sounds a little farfetched, and admittedly when first playing a game in the franchise it seems silly, but it really puts players face first with the ghosts, forcing them to not look away, and they aren’t always so pretty. On the Wii U version, the gamepad becomes an extension of the camera. For the first time, players can hold up the gamepad and control the camera via motion controls, where it feels and appears as if the camera is really in player’s hands. It’s a great effect, if not one that can make arms tired in the process. The motion controls can be turned off though, so regular dual analog sticks can be used, but still the gamepad is a necessity.
As the three characters are controlled during the various chapters, they will explore the mountain and its different locations. From water filled caverns, to one creepy ass doll house that gave me shivers to no end. There is plenty to see and do on the mountain and it all ties in together for the story. Imagine as if the mountain map is an open world, and players can explore the various spots in it, this should give an idea on how the environment feels. That being said, players can’t just explore the whole mountain, and many things are locked or cannot be accessed until the specific chapters, but the illusion of connection is there.
While exploring, notes will be found, and puzzles and items will be solved and discovered. Healing medicines, film, and an item that helps dry the player off are key to surviving. The game does a great job of providing plenty of items to discover. When fighting the ghosts and expelling them, points are gained, and this allows players to buy additional items in between chapters and to level up the camera so that it does more damage or recharges quicker. Fighting takes place via the view point of the camera and the disturbing visuals of the ghost get up and personal in the players face. It’s nerve-wracking at times, and I found myself swinging the gamepad around in anxiousness. Targeting the enemies’ nets more damage points that float around and cause even more damage as you get more in the shot. Once a ghost is defeated, running up to them, they can be touched and gain additional points to use and sometimes a flashback into the past showing how they came to be a festering spirit. These are some of my favorite moments as they are presented in a scratchy, VHS style of presentation and some are downright creepy.
Which is to say the entire atmosphere of Maiden of the Black is on point. The soundtrack is extremely moody and tense. The sound effects know just when to play and scare the crap out of players. It’s joined by by some extremely well-acted voices that bring their characters to life. I was surprised to see the game get an English translation at all, let alone a good one. Visuals also sell the title and feeling of dread, and it doesn’t hurt that this is one of the better looking Wii U games in the market. The location details and characters models especially look great. My main issue with the title is simply the controls, they feel dated and rough at times. The camera motion control is fine, but the movement during third person and the ability to turn around is cumbersome and causes moments of frantic-ness into moments of frustration.
It’s great to see a return to the series in the US. It’s been a long time coming, and having been a huge fan since the first game I was worried that some of that appeal might have been lost between releases. Yes, it still does retread a lot of what the series has always been known for, and can comes across feeling as more of the same. This doesn’t matter though, Fatal Frame has been the top tier of ghostly survival horror adventures, and Maiden of Black Water proves you can’t keep a good franchise dead, even when that’s what its entire premise is about.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.