As a fan of the Horror genre, including the Fatal Frame series as well as other popular franchises such as Silent Hill, Resident Evil, F.E.A.R, and Dead Space among others, it was disappointing to say the least when it seemed to never be released in North America.
I still can’t covey the excitement I felt when Nintendo announced that they were going to bring Fatal Frame V into western territories.
With the game’s simplistic concept involving a camera as self-defense, Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water offers an experience not yet found in any of the current-gen gaming systems.
If you never had the opportunity to play any of the Fatal Frame titles (especially the last one for obvious reasons) then don’t worry as you can enjoy this game regardless, although it does help to have some back-history knowledge. Additionally, some of the characters from the previous installments also make an appearance in this game.
Maiden of Black Water takes place in Mt. Hikami, a famous suicide spot in Japan, and is also known as a place where many people have been spirited away. The Unfathomable Forest on the mountain has been fenced in since suicides first became common there.
The story of the game revolves around Yuuri Kozukta, Miu Hinasaki, and Ren Hojo. Naturally, each character has their individual reason for visiting the spooky mountain, mostly involving the search of a mission person. The game is divided into various chapters, each featuring one of the three protagonists.
Each chapter lasts between an hour and an hour and a half, which is a very reasonable runtime. While there were parts where the story progressed slowly, there wasn’t a moment where I lost interest as I progressed.
Instead, I was captivated by the mysteries, lore, and history of Mt. Hikami, as well as learning about each of the protagonists’ individual stories.
Naturally, Mt. Hikami is surrounded by malevolent spirits looking to drag you into the Netherworld with them and the only way to combat them is by using the Camera Obscura, a pretty common weapon used throughout the Fatal Frame series.
By using its various exorcismal powers, the camera is able to fend off hostile ghosts as well as capture lingering spirits and receive helpful clues from ghosts that desire to communicate.
With this latest installment being a Wii U exclusive, the game utilizes GamePad’s gyro-sensor to let it act as a real world analog to the Camera Obscura, which the player can move around to capture ghosts in the game.
However, players can also choose a more classic layout by switching the Camera Obscura’s movement to the analog stick.
Unfortunately, from my personal experience, using the analog stick felt wonky and slow, even when changing the camera’s speed movement, and it almost hindered the experience.
Additionally, choosing the analog stick as a control preference only applies to the camera movement as you would still need to turn your Wii U Gamepad around for diagonal and vertical pictures. There’s also an option to use the Gamepad screen as a map as well.
While I’m not a fan of motion controls, using the Gamepad felt natural with Camera Mode as it gave me the experience of using an actual camera. It’s definitely an improvement from the Fatal Frame titles on the Wii, as the motion control felt horrendous to me with the Wii Remote.
Malicious spirits wander that around the various environments and are much faster than your character. In addition, they can move freely through said environments as they can walk through walls and will appear behind you frequently.
It’s imperative that players stay on the move to avoid them and to position the Camera Obscura at their weak point prior to taking a shot. Additionally, to encourage strategy and smart gameplay, well taken shots award more points which can be used to enhance the Camera Obscura even further.
You are able to upgrade its Sensor, enabling you to attack from a longer distance, its Loading time, Output, which increases the attack damage, and the absorption, increasing the Spirit Power absorbed.
Having enough Spirit Power grants the player a special attack. Depending on the Lens equipped, you will be able to Stun a spirit, recover health or even score more points that can be used for upgrades.
Unfortunately, combating the malicious spirits can sometimes be difficult with the slow character movement.
Even when changing the sensitivity, it feels you still got to force in the analog stick to move faster. Although it doesn’t affect the game to the point that could cause any unwarranted deaths, it is certain a problem.
After beating the game, you’ll have the opportunity to play as Ayane from the Dead or Alive series in a Bonus Chapter.
What I really enjoyed was that the mode is radically different from the primary gameplay mode. With Ayane being heavily injured, she can’t really use her normal athleticism. Unable to fight the ghosts, the player must rely on stealth.
For those seeking for a jump scare experience and expecting it to successfully work, you’ll be highly disappointed.
However, with the constant threat of violent spirits ready to attack and kill you, players must still be constantly on their toes and ready to attack. This contributes to a more understated and tense mood that better contributes to the overall horror atmosphere.
Graphically, the game is visually appealing but nothing out of the ordinary. You’ll encounter low resolution parts while playing through the game, but overall nothing that will truly hinder your gameplay. What stands out the most, though, are the fantastic water and shadow effects.
It is important to note that the game offers both the English dub and original Japanese audio. I personally preferred using the Japanese audio as it felt more authentic to the Japanese horror film theme. Fans of English dubs will have a good experience as well, however, as the acting is quite good.
Fans of the horror genre should definitely pick this title up as it offers an experience not found in the other current-gen systems, including the Wii U itself. While it isn’t a system seller, the title is a must buy for Wii U owners.
With the game having no guaranteed audience in West, as the fourth entry was never released in North America or Europe, and the Fatal Frame 2 Wii remake only being available in Europe and Japan, it is clear that Nintendo took a high risk when bringing this installment over to the Wii U.
If Nintendo realizes that a large enough audience still exists in the West, the next entry in the franchise might be released in the west without such a long wait (and possibly a physical version for North America as well), another incentive for supporting Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water.
For now, I’ll just sit back, turn all the lights off, and enjoy the game.