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Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water Review

by Andrew Brown - October 19, 2015, 7:01 am PDT
Total comments: 33

8.5

Fatal Frame rises from the murky depths! Does this lurid resurrection sink or swim?

Those who live in the shadow of Mt. Hikami know the local legends. Do not look at the mountain during sunset, lest you get spirited away into the forest, where you'll fall helplessly into the Netherworld, never to be seen again. Once a sacred place, the forests surrounding the mountain became a tourist attraction filled with resorts and hot springs, but after a devastating mudslide the area has been closed off to the public and abandoned, now an infamous place where people go to end their lives. Thus, the story of the Maiden of Black Water begins.

If you're not familiar with Fatal Frame, go check out my preview for a quick refresher to the series. If you're all caught up and raring to sink your teeth into a chilling tale of paranormal photography and historical horrors, read on!

Yuri preparing for her supernatural photo blog.

You play the roles of three main characters in the game, Yuri, Ren and Miu, who each find themselves drawn into the mystery surrounding gruesome and cruel rituals that were once performed on Mt. Hikami. Each character has their own unique set of abilities that offer up a slightly different playing experience, such as holding the shutter for a charged attack, or a fast barrage of continual snap shot photos. The theme of the game is the Mt. Hikami springs gushing forth with the tainted Black Water, said to carry the essence of the land of the dead. The ghosts all have a certain connection with this water, and coming in contact with water or ghostly attacks increases your “wetness”. Sometimes you have to wade through waist-deep water or dash through the rain, making your wetness meter rise steadily. Becoming completely soaked makes you more vulnerable to damage and summons more ghosts to attack you, so careful consideration must be taken to use drying Sacred Flame items or hiding under shelter until you dry off before proceeding.

Controlling your character is a vast improvement over the stiff and awkward movement in previous Fatal Frame games. Walking and running is faster than before, and turning or pulling a quick 180 is now delegated entirely to the analogue stick, allowing for fluid maneuvers when being chased by vengeful spirits.

Battling ghosts with the Camera Obscura is also much more immersive than ever before. To take a picture, you first have to ready the GamePad in front of your face like a real camera before entering into the Photo mode. From there, you see the camera's point of view and HUD on the GamePad screen, while you get a general first-person perspective on the TV. Moving the GamePad around like you would a real camera allows you to tilt and adjust your aim, while the right analogue stick allows you to fine tune. There's a lock-on feature, and twisting the GamePad like a steering wheel lets you snap portrait or angled shots for better framing of the subject, giving added points and damage. There's an option to use analogue aiming for those who prefer the control style from the classic games, but after a few chapters with the new controls it's really hard to go back.

Your characters have some psychic ability, in that finding key items will allow them to sense a Trace, a ghostly guide that shows them the way to progress through an area. Relying on it too much will cause more ghosts to attack, so some degree of exploration is needed. You also get the ability to touch a defeated ghost for a Fatal Glance, which treats you to a cutscene showing that character's last living moments. Most of these are really spooky, and it's a great new feature. Introduced back in Fatal Frame 4 on the Wii, picking up items will trigger a mini scenario where you cautiously stretch out your hand to grab the object, while there's a random chance that a ghostly hand will lunge out of the aether to grab at you. If you don't release the buttons in time, the hand will grab on tight and you'll have to wrench free of its health-draining death grip. Getting grabbed makes for a quick jump scare and really helps to keep the tension high while you explore the haunted mountain. There are some neat and creative scenarios as well, like wading through half-submerged basements and caverns that hinder your movement, a mad dash down the mountainside whilst being pursued by the game's main antagonist ghost, and even a Paranormal Activity style level where Ren has to monitor a cycling security camera feed, protecting the girls from ghosts that try to infiltrate their bedrooms while they sleep.

Gone are the save points of old, replaced by checkpoints that you can reload a file from at key moments throughout a chapter. Between chapters, you can choose to go back and replay previously completed levels to search for secrets you missed, collect items or buff up your spirit points for Camera Obscura upgrades before starting the next chapter.

The artistic directors for the Fatal Frame series are masters of atmosphere. Lights dance off the decaying scenery to cast all manner of grotesque shadows, and it's not unusual to find yourself suddenly spooked by little more than your own flashlight beam as you creep around the various locales. The visuals are sometimes weighed down by some low-res texture maps, occasionally blocky wireframes and hair that clips through clothing, which feels archaic in this generation. The characters are all very expressive, however, with some gorgeous character models that look realistically wet when they become drenched, and ghastly ghosts that feature all manner of lighting, transparency and liquid effects to pull you into the world of the game.

The sombre nature of Fatal Frame usually results in a cast of dreary cardboard cutouts who rarely sound more than mildly concerned at the presence of horrifying ghostly pursuers. Fortunately Black Water's cast feels more down to earth and relatable, with some genuine emotion and motivation to do their best and survive despite their surroundings. I won't go into story details because I don't want to spoil, but it's particularly easy to sympathize with the ghosts in this game as well, their grisly fates, particularly that of the Pillar maidens (you'll see) are amongst the most terrifying in all of the series' history.

The game does have a few setbacks. In older Fatal Frame games, the Ghost List would collect an encyclopedia of every single supernatural entity to be found in the game, from vengeful spirits to disembodied hands floating through walls. In this game, the Ghost List appears to simply collect the malicious ghosts who attack you. To get 100% you still need to beat all the ghosts and then perform a Fatal Glance move to unlock the movie of their deaths, but the list is much easier to complete this time around. There are still dozens of one-shot ghosts that you can snap up like in previous games, but they're not collected in any kind of completion chart and appear to only exist for a quick boost in Spirit Points. As a completionist, searching for every last ghost just doesn't feel as satisfying as it used to.

Those who are familiar with the Japanese versions of this series will also know that unlockable costumes usually include bikinis for the main female cast. I'm sad to say that, just like in the English release of Fatal Frame 2 on Wii, the bikini content is also removed from this game. This censorship seems silly for a game rated as Mature 17+ by the ESRB, but it certainly doesn't detract from the overall experience of the game, and there's plenty of other post-game bonus content to discover.

Despite these nitpicks, this game is a triumphant revival of a series that has remained dormant in North America for several console generations, and for those who did get to play the Wii iterations there is much new spooky fun to be had. Fatal Frame is still the crowning king of the genre, and Maiden of Black Water holds the best representation of everything that makes the series great. The fact that an English release of this game exists at all is cause for celebration, and should definitely not be missed by fans of survival horror or Japanese ghost stories. Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water is good to the last drop.

Summary

Pros
  • GamePad adds a whole new layer of immersion
  • Intuitive and improved controls
  • Japanese voice option!!
  • Long story with at least eight endings!
  • The free trial is a nice introduction to the series
Cons
  • Digital-only is not for everyone
  • Ghost List less challenging than before
  • Some censorship of bonus content

Talkback

TOPHATANT123October 19, 2015

Mop it up?

EnnerOctober 19, 2015

From the "not happy" reviews that have come out, some couldn't get along with the controls. More importantly, they found the story to be crap and the game repeating itself to the point of boredom. Hmm, hopefully a case of different strokes for different folks?


The bikini-esque costumes being removed gets no love lost or gained for me, but it is ridiculous for it to happen for an M-rated game with a niche audience. Looking forward, this sets expectations for some specific armor edits in Xenoblade Chronicles X.

Mop it upOctober 19, 2015

Quote from: TOPHATANT123

Mop it up?

Why are you asking for me in this thread...?

PhilPhillip Stortzum, October 19, 2015

If this were a disc release, I'd be all over it, but I just can't commit to digital only on a Nintendo system when the price is higher than $20. Plus I don't have room on my Wii U.

TOPHATANT123October 19, 2015

Read it on the TalkBack forum, "You play the role of three main characters in the game, Yuri, Ren and Mop It Up." I swear I'm not seeing things.

Mop it upOctober 19, 2015

Quote from: TOPHATANT123

Read it on the TalkBack forum, "You play the role of three main characters in the game, Yuri, Ren and Mop It Up." I swear I'm not seeing things.

Oh, ha ha, I see what you're talking about! I have forum censorship turned off, so I didn't see that. At this point I don't even remember the story, but at some point a mod decided that MIU (initials of Mop it up) would be auto-corrected to "Mop it up."

Unless I'm in this game and don't know it. In which case, somebody owes me some money.

ejamerOctober 19, 2015

Quote from: Enner

The bikini-esque costumes being removed gets no love lost or gained for me, but it is ridiculous for it to happen for an M-rated game with a niche audience. Looking forward, this sets expectations for some specific armor edits in Xenoblade Chronicles X.

I find this kind of censorship weird and unnecessary, and dislike it on principle.


However, I also find the need to put the characters into skimpy bikinis just for fan service very unnecessary.
(I like cute girls in bikinis - no question. But if just feels out of place in this game and is certainly pandering to base desires instead of providing any kind of interesting value.)

Quote from: Phil

If this were a disc release, I'd be all over it, but I just can't commit to digital only on a Nintendo system when the price is higher than $20. Plus I don't have room on my Wii U.

I feel exactly the same way, although $20 is probably higher than I'd pay for digital content.


Going digital only completely kills my interest in buying this game, which really hurts because it was one of my most highly anticipated titles since getting announced.  Fingers crossed that it will have a retail release after Nintendo feels they've gotten the most out of digital sales.

ejamerOctober 19, 2015

Cut and paste on the NWR forums strikes again.
I know this happens to others sometimes too.

Not sure what's going on with that, I try to fix it when I see it. I'd advise using the quick reply box at the bottom of the page instead of the full editor. I almost exclusively use that and haven't had any of those formatting issues with it.

SorenOctober 19, 2015

I'm in for the game Day 1, but I have to say the lack of pre-loading is yet another terrible choice by NoA. If you're not going to do it for a digital only title that's over 10 gigs in size then the feature is truly useless.

ejamerOctober 20, 2015

Quote from: NWR_insanolord

Not sure what's going on with that, I try to fix it when I see it. I'd advise using the quick reply box at the bottom of the page instead of the full editor. I almost exclusively use that and haven't had any of those formatting issues with it.

Good tip - will try that.

ejamerOctober 20, 2015

Quote from: Soren

I'm in for the game Day 1, but I have to say the lack of pre-loading is yet another terrible choice by NoA. If you're not going to do it for a digital only title that's over 10 gigs in size then the feature is truly useless.

Isn't that the typical NoA approach though? If a game isn't assured to be a big hit, don't provide anything beyond the most basic support when releasing it?  (Not really serious, just bitter. They've actually given the game more marketing than I had expected, between some nice video trailers and E3 previews. And it is probably going to be a niche affair - doubly so when you consider the size of the Wii U install base.)

Triforce HermitOctober 20, 2015

Good to see it is a solid release. Hopefully it sells well enough. It seems like a legitimate horror game put out nowadays which is something we can't say about its two main competitors.

Save points being taken away does not shock me, but it is a sad to see go anyways.

ghobit413October 20, 2015

First off, I'd like to say great review!!

Secondly, I would like to point out there is small typo on an important part of this review:

Quote:

I'm sad so say that, just like in the English release of Fatal Frame 2 on Wii, the bikini content is also removed from this game.

Should be sad "to" say. And yes, it is very disappointing that Nintendo of America decided to censor this game in addition to double whammy of not releasing Fatal Frame 5 as a physical copy.

sudoshuffOctober 20, 2015

The fact that reviews from other sites are all over the map doesn't bother me. That seems to fit nicely with the definition of "niche appeal", which is what everyone has been saying about this game for months.  I've always enjoyed atmospheric horror over anything that tries to weave a coherent narrative...and I love ghost stories. So, I'm looking forward to giving the demo a try.


The censorship doesn't bother me much (though I would prefer it uncensored).  I'm really confused at what NOA is gaining from censoring the bikinis, but whatever.

Luigi DudeOctober 20, 2015

The Bikinis were censored in Europe as well so it wasn't just an NOA decision to replace them.  NOE was the ones who censored the Fatal Frame 2 remake so it's not just the American branch of Nintendo who has a problem with how this series exploits female characters.

broodwarsOctober 21, 2015

Honestly, as someone who usually has no problem criticizing Nintendo...I really can't say I give a **** about the bikini removal. Sure, it's incredibly stupid considering it's an M-rated title in a series that definitely earns that rating, but at the same time...they're bikinis. I have more important **** in my day to get worked-up over. So long as the content itself has not been censored in any way, and from all reports it isn't, I can only shrug in sheer indifference.

I really liked Fatal Frame 2 on the PS2, so I'll be checking this out when it hits the eShop. It seems to hit the right atmosphere for the series, and honestly most of the complaints I've heard about its structure were minor issues in Fatal Frame 2 as well. I'll be playing the game with traditional controls, so the issues with the gyro controls won't affect me.

I have to wonder if a territory takes a hard line on "17 year old + scantily clad = NO" and Nintendo took it out to comply with legal requirements. (Germany comes to mind.)

ejamerOctober 21, 2015

Quote from: broodwars

... So long as the content itself has not been censored in any way, and from all reports it isn't, I can only shrug in sheer indifference.
...

Based on what I've seen/read, this isn't quite true.


Apparently, there is one scene where a scantily clad character is involved in a modelling shoot that gets too pervy, leading her to be depressed and contemplate suicide. In the censored version, they have her fully clothed, which definitely changes the tone and severity of that scene. It still works... just not as well.


This isn't a huge deal, much like removing the (totally optional) pervy costumes isn't a big deal.


It is disappointing though - the edits don't provide any benefit, and given the dark nature of the entire game it's really hard to justify why that change was necessary. Trust in the ratings system and don't waste time and resources with pointless fixes. Instead Nintendo manage to reinforce their "nanny" reputation despite releasing a game that is anything but family friendly...

ejamerOctober 21, 2015

Quote from: Shaymin

I have to wonder if a territory takes a hard line on "17 year old + scantily clad = NO" and Nintendo took it out to comply with legal requirements. (Germany comes to mind.)

Very possible.


Also possible that it's just normal localization. Don't these type of changes happen often anyway - just without the publicity this one seems to be getting?


I feel like Nintendo being involved leads to stronger reaction because of their (earned) reputation for making unnecessary edits. It's a shame though. Now the narrative becomes "Nintendo cuts bikini costume from game" instead of "Nintendo releasing another niche title targeting mature, core gamers on Wii U".

broodwarsOctober 21, 2015

Quote from: ejamer

Quote from: broodwars

... So long as the content itself has not been censored in any way, and from all reports it isn't, I can only shrug in sheer indifference.
...

Based on what I've seen/read, this isn't quite true.


Apparently, there is one scene where a scantily clad character is involved in a modelling shoot that gets too pervy, leading her to be depressed and contemplate suicide. In the censored version, they have her fully clothed, which definitely changes the tone and severity of that scene. It still works... just not as well.

Hmm...I'm not sure how I feel about that. It kind of reminds me of a scene in the anime film Perfect Blue where the main character has to act out a rape scene. I originally saw the censored version where they cut away before the actual rape scene, and I thought it was more effective that way.

TOPHATANT123October 21, 2015

I won't mourn the loss of bikinis, even more so considering extra Nintendo themed costumes were added to compensate. But it just rubs me the wrong way knowing that someone somewhere feels the need to police mature rated games.

ejamerOctober 21, 2015


@Broodwars:
I agree that a well-placed cut can be more effective than showing graphic detail. Maybe that will be the case here, with dialog before the scene ending indicating that the worst isn't shown.


But couldn't they provide that type of verbal suggestion anyway? Why change a cut scene outfit that was suggestive but didn't actually show anything?

Quote from: TOPHATANT123

I won't mourn the loss of bikinis, even more so considering extra Nintendo themed costumes were added to compensate. But it just rubs me the wrong way knowing that someone somewhere feels the need to police mature rated games.

Do people here like the Nintendo-themed costumes?  I wasn't a fan and felt they looked kind of ridiculous in a game genre that doesn't benefit from the absurdity - but maybe I'm in the minority?


Note that I'm not suggesting that the underwear/swimsuit costumers weren't also ridiculous, but in a different way. I can at least understand the motivation of guys wanting to see scantily-clad girls, and recognize that sex and exploitation have a long history in horror. The cosplay outfits just didn't make any sense to me; this isn't Bayonetta.


In the end it's a neutral move to me. Wouldn't end up using either costume set, and certainly wouldn't buy (or not buy) based on their inclusion.

Ian SaneOctober 21, 2015

I think the censorship is minor content that shouldn't affect one's enjoyment of the game but the whole thing doesn't make a lot of sense.  The game is already M rated so it makes zero sense to try to protect the kiddies.  Large companies usually do this sort of thing to avoid controversy.  But the sort of people that would make a big stink about the original costumes and potentially create negative attention towards Nintendo have no clue this game even exists and, due to it's online-only release, never will.  If this was some heavily marketed title with copies lining the shelves of Wal-Mart, I could see it, but this is as under-the-radar of a release as you can get.

If anything the nature of its release is such that this is going to have the opposite effect.  The sort of people that buy digital-only releases of Japanese horror games are the sort that would be upset by the experience being compromised in the localization.  This isn't going to attract a large audience anyway but the audience it will attract are those that will know the game was censored and won't like it.  Nintendo has created controversy by censoring it.  This is such a classic example of how Nintendo are a bunch of fuddy-duddies.  They don't know their audience.  They're compromising the game for the target audience to appease who?  Where is this audience that will play an M rated game but will be offended by skimpy outfits?  Where are the moral watchdogs, that don't really play videogames in the first place, that pay attention to unlockable bonus content in niche digital-only releases?

Though it could be laziness.  If NOE is doing it as well NOA may very well have just copied the European code.

Mop it upOctober 21, 2015

It's probably more a marketing thing. I'd guess the skimpy outfits appeal more to the Japanese audience, and the Nintendo outfits will fit better in other territories.

Luigi DudeOctober 21, 2015

Quote from: Mop

It's probably more a marketing thing. I'd guess the skimpy outfits appeal more to the Japanese audience, and the Nintendo outfits will fit better in other territories.

That's true as well.  In the West these last several years there's been a major push to improve depictions of women in gaming.  A lot of these demands are usually how they're shown in the AAA blockbuster titles which are mostly M rated in the West as well. 

Yes, Fatal Frame is an M rated title but considering the push for more positive portrayals of female characters in Western markets includes Mature games as well, it's not hard to see why Nintendo thought replacing what was basically sleazy looking porn outfits into more friendly looking Nintendo cosplay customs would go over better in the West.  So even though Fatal Frame is very niche, in Nintendo's mind changing the outfits might make the game more appeal to women in the West now. 

OedoOctober 21, 2015

I honestly can't see the exclusion of those optional costumes being the difference between a purchase for anyone. Maybe there are a handful of people out there who wouldn't buy the game on principle over something like that, but they're exactly that; a handful in an already small audience. Mostly I think this is just them avoiding any potential headaches over something pretty much no one is going to miss anyway.

That being said, I'm also in the camp that believes you should have a good reason to censor something and find some of NOA's other choices baffling. Tharja's butt still has me scratching my head. The drew way more attention to a scene like that being in the game by censoring it than they would have if they just left it alone.

I suspect it may not be a NoA decision entirely. Some of the European countries (hello, Germany) have zero tolerance for under-18 characters being placed in sexual situations.

(Don't bring up the UK - NoE is based in Germany.)

TOPHATANT123October 22, 2015

In Fire Emblem Awakening you can literally impregnate a bikini wearing loli dragon and that cruised by with a USK 12. If that's zero tolerance I don't know what is, but what I do know is that it's clear there's a double standard at play.

ejamerOctober 22, 2015

Quote from: Luigi

Quote from: Mop

It's probably more a marketing thing. I'd guess the skimpy outfits appeal more to the Japanese audience, and the Nintendo outfits will fit better in other territories.

That's true as well.  In the West these last several years there's been a major push to improve depictions of women in gaming.  A lot of these demands are usually how they're shown in the AAA blockbuster titles which are mostly M rated in the West as well. 

Yes, Fatal Frame is an M rated title but considering the push for more positive portrayals of female characters in Western markets includes Mature games as well, it's not hard to see why Nintendo thought replacing what was basically sleazy looking porn outfits into more friendly looking Nintendo cosplay customs would go over better in the West.  So even though Fatal Frame is very niche, in Nintendo's mind changing the outfits might make the game more appeal to women in the West now.

This is likely true, although when some regions get the costumes and others don't it feels like over-protective pandering instead of a stance that the (overall) company actually cares about.
Of course, that's how localization works. The choices NoA or NoE make won't be the same as the ones made in Japan.


I will give credit to the localization team for fighting to improve how women are viewed/treated in games. While I think the removal was probably unnecessary, and that the replacement costumes are an absurdly bad fit for the game, the intent is clearly good. Despite my complaints, I can get on board with that.

SorenOctober 22, 2015

That sounds noble, but I'm not giving them that credit. I think this is just the result of Europe's strict laws and NoA not caring at about the game and just releasing whatever Europe put out.

tyto_albaOctober 23, 2015

whoever made the call to censor this game should be fired.
i'm not touching any censored game. stuff like this only reinforces Nintendo's kiddy-image they earned themselves with the MK-debacle back in the 90's and is still hurting them in console sales badly.

EnnerOctober 23, 2015

The game already has virgin suicides. It didn't necessarily need girls in nighties to ward off the kiddy image.

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WiiU

Game Profile

Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water Box Art

Genre Action
Developer Koei Tecmo Games
Players1

Worldwide Releases

na: Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
Release Oct 22, 2015
PublisherNintendo
RatingMature
jpn: Zero: Nuregarasu no Miko
Release Sep 27, 2014
PublisherNintendo
Rating17+
eu: Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water
Release Oct 30, 2015
PublisherNintendo
Rating18+
aus: Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water
Release Oct 31, 2015
PublisherNintendo
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