To quickly bring you up to speed if you don’t know me: I am what people may call “a giant chicken”. Horror is NOT my scene in the slightest! So naturally, I regretted my decision to review this game for some time after installing it. Luckily, PROJECT ZERO: Maiden of Black Water (franchise name being ZERO in Japan and FATAL FRAME in the USA) isn’t all that scary; in fact, the biggest factor in my anxiety levels was my anxiety levels themselves. Fear of what could happen at any given moment had me creeping around every corner like I was tiptoeing through a room full of sleeping babies. Now that I’ve finished, I can safely inform you that you don’t need to do the same! Most of the time anyway…
PROJECT ZERO: Maiden of Black Water (which I will refer to as MoBW for brevity from here on) is a remaster of the 2014/2015 Wii U game of the same name. You step into the shoes of three main protagonists — Yuri, Ren, and Miu — as they investigate the mysteries of Mt. Hikami and attempt to save people from the horrors that await all who step foot there. Along the way, you’ll learn about the old faith of the mountain, the Maidens, and the insidious Black Water that threatens everything. There are multiple endings for the characters, based on the actions you make in the final chapter.
Gameplay is a third-person over-the-shoulder style affair as you explore, with combat view switching you into first-person. Your weapon of choice, as with the rest of the franchise, is the Camera Obscura; a special camera that can take pictures of ghosts, capturing their souls and dealing damage to them. Usually, people can’t see ghosts; luckily however, all three protagonists seem to have the rare ability to do just that, so that’s handy! The two girls share a Camera, whilst Ren has his own. Both Cameras can be upgraded in four areas; range, damage, reload speed, and a special function depending on which Camera you’re upgrading (Spirit Power absorption for the girls, multi-shot for Ren). Each Camera also has a special “attack”; the girls’ Camera utilises various lenses in combination with Spirit Power for extra effects (such as increased damage, healing, stunning, and so on), while Ren’s Camera can take multiple shots in short succession that gain additional effects as you upgrade the camera skill.
Combat is as simple as getting out your Camera and taking pictures of the enemy! Except, of course it’s not quite that simple. Every ghost has various weak spots, indicated by circles whilst you aim. Taking a picture of a ghost’s weak spot(s) releases spirit fragments that orbit around the ghost that released them, and these can also be targeted. The more circles you get in your shot, the more damage you do! If you get five or more targets in your frame in a single photograph, you will knock back all ghosts that took damage and also consume their fragments (photographing fragments with no ghost in the frame will also consume them).
If you get a shot off at the right moment whilst a ghost is attacking you, you will knock back the enemies and enter “Fatal Frame” mode for a couple of seconds; during this time, you can take pictures without using film and with a greatly reduced reload time, allowing you to fire off many shots for rapid exorcism.
Everyone in MoBW seems to have the insatiable need to only go out at night, so most of the exploration you do will be aided by a handy little torch. The game isn’t all that dark, but the light does help to see what you’re looking at! Anything you can pick up isn’t likely to be missed though. Whenever something of interest is within range, an indicator will pop up on the screen to inform you of its general direction from you. Additionally, pickups will sparkle very clearly, in some cases even through walls and around corners. Whenever you try to pick anything up, there is a chance that a ghostly hand will spawn and try to grab you; to dodge it, you need only stop picking the item up.
Water is an important continuous theme throughout MoBW, both within and outside of the storyline. The various chapters are called Drops, likely referring to “drops of water”. There is also a wetness gauge, and the wetter you are, the more ghost hands and aggressive ghosts will spawn to try and bring you down. Now, at this point in the review, I feel obliged to point out that the female characters tend to wear tops that go rather transparent when wet. And going hand-in-hand with this, what would a Koei Tecmo game be without some good old jiggle physics? Yes, the boobs do bounce a disproportionate amount, especially right after coming to a stop while moving. Yes, some of the alternate costumes are swimsuits that are CLEARLY designed to take full… advantage of this feature. Luckily, for those who are less interested in that sort of “plot”, it’s not overpowering enough to be a major distraction, and most of the time your camera will be — or SHOULD be! — behind the character anyway.
Every time you photograph a ghost of any kind, as well as when you finish a Drop, you will receive a bunch of points; this is basically the currency for the game, and they are used for three things. Firstly, upgrading the Cameras (and lenses for the girls); secondly, buying provisions at the start of each Drop (although I never bought anything myself, there was always plenty around to find); and thirdly, unlocking some of the alternate costumes. Pro tip: don’t forget about the camera upgrades like I did for the first quarter of the game!
The graphics are really well done. There are many cutscenes that have a grainy effect, but that’s always intentional and are meant to replicate the older quality of captured videos from the setting’s time period. There was one small and very specific area with some graphical tearing, but other than that everything was pretty gorgeous to see. Unfortunately, the lip syncing was off, but that’s not terribly surprising considering the original native language would have been Japanese.
The audio on the other hand felt like a let-down. There was so little variety that I was sick of it before too long. It does well in its primary objective of being suspenseful, but it would have been nice to have more than one mysterious ambiance for the 24+ hours I spent playing. Admittedly I may have spent less time getting through if it weren’t for my need to pick up everything in the history of ever, but even only a few hours would surely have the same effect on my ears.
Some previous reviews, at least on Steam, mentioned bugs and glitches; however, my ride through the game was incredibly smooth on that front, outside of the tearing I previously mentioned. There were also one or two cases of typos, but they didn’t detract from the game in the slightest. The only other real negatives I can think to mention are the somewhat janky turning (sometimes, the controls seemed to have a mind of their own on that front) and the fact that the game just seemed slow. Opening doors, picking up items, even running around — again, while it builds suspense, these all grew tiresome very quickly due to how slowly the characters managed to do anything.
Overall though, the negatives were a mere annoyance rather than anything that even remotely resembled a deal-breaker. I had a lot of fun playing PROJECT ZERO: Maiden of Black Water, especially given my intense dislike of most horror games. I will definitely continue to play and attempt to unlock everything; an accolade not easily earned where I am concerned!
FATAL FRAME / PROJECT ZERO: Maiden of Black Water (Reviewed on Windows)
This game is great, with minimal or no negatives.
Although somewhat lacking on the horror front, PROJECT ZERO: Maiden of Black Water is a fun time with an interesting story and gorgeous graphics. The audio could use some improvement, but the pros far outweigh the cons.