Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water Wii U Review
Horror games – true horror games – are becoming scarcer. One might forget amidst all the yawn-inducing jump scares that subtle and terror-inducing horror can actually still exist. Enter the Fatal Frame franchise. Beginning in that period when horror was at the top of its AAA game (1996-2005), the Fatal Frame series brought the spooks with an interesting take on combat. However, there hasn’t been a new entry in the English-speaking territories since 2005’s Fatal Frame III: The Tormented (Fatal Frame IV was a Japanese exclusive, though Europe did receive an updated remake of Fatal Frame II). How does the series hold up today? Let’s find out with Koei Tecmo‘s latest attempt, Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water.
The game begins with you as Yuri Kozukata, a girl with a history of death surrounding her. If you’ve played any game in the Fatal Frame series before, you’re probably well-versed in playing as female characters with tragic backstories. You’re taken through a tutorial under the guidance of Hisoka Kurosawa, a young woman whom Yuri lives with. As Yuri, you will follow another girl named Fuyuhi Himino, who comes to Hisoka’s antiques store looking for help in finding her friend. This leads you to Mt. Hikami, a dark and rather rainy place full of strange sights and less-than-happy spirits. Eventually you come across Hisoka’s Camera Obscura, a camera that has the special ability to see and damage ghosts. Now you begin your quest to not only find Fuyuhi’s friend, but Hisoka as well.
That’s not all though. In this game, you eventually will play as two other characters, all ending up heading to Mt. Hikami to find someone. You will also play as Ren Hojo, a man who is involved with postmortem photography – a really creepy job that legitimately exists where a dead person is made to look alive for photography purposes – and Miu Hinasaki, who is searching for her mother Miku. If that names seems familiar to you, it’s probably because Miku Hinasaki is the main character from the original Fatal Frame.
Get familiar with Mt. Hikami, because you will be constantly exploring every nook and cranny of this dangerous mountain in search of items, lore notes, and ghosts of various destructive tendencies. It’s actually a lot of fun to return to the various areas of the mountain, as it helps you get acquainted with the area and makes it easier to traverse it as you get deeper into the game. The mountain itself is cursed, and danger awaits at every turn. If it was up to me, of course, I’d consider moving, but they didn’t ask me.
The combat mechanics of using your Camera Obscura to photograph and eliminate ghosts is as strong as ever. Using the Wii U Gamepad, you press X and enter camera mode, where you can lock on and focus on ghosts, snapping damage-inducing photographs with the ZR button. The action you’re really looking for is the titular Fatal Frame, which does the most damage, and now you can take multiple snapshots within the Fatal Frame for maximum pain. Taking better pictures gets you more points, which is your currency to upgrade your camera. There are certain ‘skills’ your camera has, such as more damage or more health healed, that you can upgrade, plus various lenses that increase in usefulness as you upgrade. It’s still a nice touch to be able to make your camera better through being good at the main part of the game.
The graphics are very nice, and really use the Wii U to its best ability. Water in particular flows very realistically, whether it’s in a huge body of water or just the rain that never ceases to fall down upon you. That’s important, considering how much of the game is based around something involving water. Be careful of that water, though: the wetter your character is, the more likely ghosts will pop up and try to make you one of them. On a more negative side though, the facial expressions of the characters look nice, but are lacking in conveyance. It sometimes is a little bit hard to really get invested in the oft-times traumatic and emotional events happening to the characters when all of them have one collective emotion: complete and utter disinterest. While it isn’t a dealbreaker, the fact that nobody in game seems to care about what’s going on takes a bit of weight off of it.
What’s more painful is how slow the game can be sometimes. This is not a pacing issue, but controls. It would have been nice, for example, to be able to switch which button does what, as even hours into the game I was still pressing the button I would’ve liked the certain action to be on. You will definitely want to up the sensitivity to make sure your movements aren’t unbearably slow, but turning is still fraught with issues regardless, especially when faced with multiple enemies. It can leave you vulnerable when you find yourself stuck and unable to get the game to allow you to turn in time. The slowness also extends to leaving menus, as it can take up to five button presses to leave your camera or other menus.
However, the most important thing about a horror game is its atmosphere, and Fatal Frame V delivers that in spades. The mountain is dark and foreboding, and brings a sense of dread every time you enter a new area, for fear that a ghost is going to come out and accost you most severely. It’s not a big deal, but the fact that the game can be dark AND visible without trying to coerce the player to remove all sense of visibility was a pleasant surprise. Even the simple act of picking up an item brings a hint of danger, as you never know when something might try and grab you. The ghosts themselves add to the tense atmosphere, as they’re appropriately creepy without falling victim to “the more blood the better” philosophy that hinders so many ‘horror’ games. Eight potential endings await you once you reach the final drop, and while I won’t spoil any of them, most of them will leave you with a sense of satisfaction. You only need to play the final drop itself to get every ending, and I definitely suggest doing so. It’s worth it.
Koei Tecmo clearly hasn’t missed a beat with this venerable horror franchise, as the fifth main entry plays as well as ever, with nice new touches spread around to make it a great and terrifying trip for any horror fan out there. There’s a secret character to unlock and play once beating the game, but it’s more of an extraneous add-on than anything else. It doesn’t take anything away from the game, but it doesn’t really add anything either. Throughout a game where the characters did their very best to not care about all the pain and anguish that they were feeling, I still was able to get invested in them due to how well the game presents itself. This is one horror game that’s worth the play in any month: just remember to shut those lights off and keep the flash on.