Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water (PS4, PS5, Switch, Xbox One, X/S, PC)

All right folks, I’m about to reveal one of my guilty pleasures.  I like ghost shows.  You know those shows on the Discovery Channel where investigators or ‘ghost hunters’ will explore haunted places to try and find proof of ghosts?  Yeah I know those shows are dumb and probably are over exaggerated and maybe even faked at times.  But I still like ‘em anyway!  I just think ghosts are cool.  But there’s not a whole lot of horror themed video games where you fight ghosts.  It’s usually zombies or something else.  But even though I usually like happy, colorful, kid friendly games, I do have a passing interest in the Fatal Frame series, where you use a special camera to fight ghosts by taking pictures of them.  This series of games goes all the way back to the PS2, and the latest one, Maiden of Black Water, came out on the Wii U.  But now it’s getting a second lease at life as it’s being re-released on nearly every current console, but reviewed on PS4 here.

In Maiden of Black Water, bunches of people in Japan have gone missing after visiting Mt. Hikami, a famous suicide spot.  You play as a group of investigators that work (presumably) at an antique shop but they also use their psychic powers and an old antique camera called the Camera Obscura to locate missing persons and fight ghosts.  In each mission, or ‘drop’ as they call it, you’ll play as one of the investigators as you explore a part of the mountain armed with the camera and sometimes even psychic powers.  Depending on how well you do, you’ll earn points that you can use in the next mission to purchase items like healing medicine and film, to help you out next time.  You can also select the difficulty of the mission at the beginning, which will give you more stuff on the easier settings, but you may not be able to record your score online.

You’ll explore various locations around the mountain, including a doll shrine, a mansion destroyed by a landslide, and the surrounding forests and caves.  When you come across a ghost, you can pull out your camera and take pictures of it, which will damage it.  If you can shoot multiple ghosts in one shot, or take a picture of one right before it attacks, you’ll do extra damage.  You can equip different kinds of film and lenses for various effects.  Explore the locations to find hidden healing items and film, as well as notes to enhance the story.  New to the series is a special meter that tells you how ‘wet’ you are.  If you become too tainted with the Black Water, you’ll be most susceptible to ghosts and may even take damage continuously.  But you can use healing items like magic embers to ‘dry’ you off unless it’s raining!  Sometimes you must use your camera in other ways besides fighting ghosts.  You might need to take a picture of something to uncover it, or find a certain area to take a picture of, which will reveal the way elsewhere.  Some characters can even use their psychic powers to trace shadows to show them the way to go, which is nice.

While the game is unique and interesting, it also has a lot of problems, too.  I have trouble playing games that use every single button on the controller.  I often forget which button to push, which can be frustrating in this game since you have to quickly pull your camera out to take pictures.  You can use motion controls to tilt the camera around, which is nice.  It doesn’t help that the characters plod along like they just woke up.  Luckily you do have a ‘run’ button.  The characters don’t get freaked out when they see a ghost, or react at all, so because of this and the plodding control movements, it feels like the investigators took some valium before going on the missions.  The stages also last way too long and you end up fighting the same ghosts over and over again.  Plus you visit the same areas in nearly every mission, so it gets repetitive.  I also didn’t like when you had a take a picture of something specific, as it’s hard to find that one place and take the shot at exactly the right distance and angle.  And since the game is so steeped in Japanese folklore, it didn’t seem as scary to a Westerner like myself who isn’t quite as familiar with that subject matter.  I’m really glad Tecmo re-released this game so I could finally play it, but because of the overbloated repetitiveness, I don’t know if I’ll stay interested until the end.

Kid Factor:

Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water is rated M for Mature with ESRB ratings of Blood, Suggestive Themes, and Violence.  It’s a horror game, so of course there is blood and violence.  Not necessarily in the gameplay, but in the cutscenes.  A lot of the female characters wear revealing outfits, too.  This is the same company who makes the Dead or Alive fighting games after all.  So because of all of this, I’d say this game is best for adults only, or at least very mature older teens.

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