0
Review

Project Zero Maiden of Black Water (Switch) Review

Finally freed from its Wii U prison, Project Zero Maiden of Black Water has been unleashed on all current consoles. Whether you know it as the Project Zero or Fatal Frame series, the real question is, does it still capture people’s attention?

Maiden of Black Water is focused around Mt Hikami. This mountain has been affected by a landslide and has become a known location for people to be inexplicably led to commit suicide. It’s very much inspired by the real Aokigahara or the ‘Sea of Trees’. You play as three different characters; their paths across the story overlap and intertwine as they’re all investigating the eerie mountain. Yuri Kozukata, Ren Hojo and Miu Hinasaki all have their reasons for returning to that mountain time and time again. It helps each of them have their own Camera Obscura, your only defence against the deadly ghosts infesting the mountain. Throughout the game, you’ll witness the deadly hold the mountain takes over people, as well as a tale of ritual sacrifice.

Project Zero’s hook has been that you’re fighting ghosts and spirits by taking photos of them. Using a camera called the Camera Obscura, you can take snaps to damage the ghosts as they try to attack you. The more focus points you can get in the frame, the better, and if you time it right just as they’re coming in for the attack, you can unleash a fatal frame attack. Fatal Frame allows you to take multiple shots and staggers the ghost back.

Each of the three characters carries their own camera, and each has different abilities. You don’t get to choose which character you’ll play for each chapter, so you’ll get used to them all.

This might not be the game for you if you are particularly affected by suicide or suicide themes. If it’s not ghosts recreating their moment of committing the act, it’s notes left around talking about it. It’s not an uncommon theme in horror, but it is a very personal and confronting one. It isn’t helped by how the game gives you opportunities to capture moments where spirits relive their suicide. It’s a strange disconnect from witnessing how people took their own lives while being expected to be quick on the button and take a picture of it for points.

Walking through the forest, you’ll find the ghosts floating down a river or jumping off a cliff, in case you’ve forgotten what the location is notorious for. I don’t know if they’re meant to shock, it feels like they should shock. But the game even manages to make it feel like a ‘fill out your ghost collection’ moment, all the while your character’s clothes are partially see-through because your ‘wetness’ meter is high. It never stopped me from playing through the game, but it stood out enough and left a bad taste.

There is initially a constant tension knowing a ghost could show up at any second for scares. Sometimes your Camera Obscura will detect something that’s quickly appearing before they vanish. Try to be quick on the capture because you’ll miss glimpses into events and spirits on the move. It kept me constantly going into the first-person camera mode so I wouldn’t miss those moments, and it is not helped by the fact you walk so very slow when looking into the camera.

Throughout the game, you’ll get grainy VHS style glimpses into what happened on the Mountain. It’s a nice touch, which evokes the era of Japanese Horror films such as The Ring. It’s old-school survival horror, characters making bad decisions for the sake of keeping the story going. You’d think you’d learn your lesson about being anywhere near that mountain the first time, but of course, it’s never that simple. You’ll find yourself back in the same old forest and the same old buildings.

For a game that debuted on the Wii U, it’s strange that this game feels like such a step further back in some regards. Movement is slow, even the ‘run’ is a very light jog when you’re stuck having to backtrack or jog through the same old open areas again. Then there’s the problem with how the game dishes out its lore. So much of it is found on notes left around everywhere you go. A bunch of the notes feel like they add little, and then it swings right around to the notes having to do the story’s heavy lifting.

The pace is slow in a deliberate way, building up the tension for the inevitable ghost appearances. At first it seems like it’s capturing the feel of the slow boil Japanese horror movies. Then it quickly feels plodding; revisiting locations (even if it’s different characters), long stretches of nothing, and the old ‘door is locked, you’re going to have to go back and get the key’. Some will love the slow build-up, knowing a ghostie could pop at any moment as you explore the dark and foreboding mountain. I enjoyed the slow burn initially, the spooky atmosphere keeping me tense. Only to find that the tension would drag on just long enough to just become boring. More often than not, you’ll know a ghost is there because a red indicator will show up on the edge of the screen to direct you to the ghost.

The combat itself puts a lot of stake in the tight spaces when you’re indoors, in the same building for the nth time. When you’re out in the forest, you have more room to move, a little too often, I was spending my time waiting for a ghost to stop hiding out of camera sight by staying obscured behind a tree. It’s a shame because the whole Camera Obscura thing is an interesting mechanic that’s hobbled by the rest of the game.

The points you gain from taking photos you can use to buy items and upgrades. You likely won’t need to spend them on healing items given they seem so plentiful. The upgrades for the cameras are vital unless you want every fight to be drawn out.

There is an added Photo mode for the remaster, which can be accessed almost any time throughout the game with a simple two-button press. Here you can add in spirits to a scene, move around the immediate area to get the best angle. It’s a nice mode, and once you know what to expect in any given level, it’ll give you another reason to return to them for that super spooky shot.

Motion controls can be used just as the Wii U pad was used for the camera. I gave it a go, but turning the whole Switch on to its side wasn’t comfortable. You can use a combination of motion and using the right stick, or just using the right stick. Picking up items involves holding the R Trigger. It’s meant to build tension, but it gets annoying fast. Worse is that it’s tied into a random jump scare of being grabbed by a ghostie hand you have to break free of. It just makes picking up items annoying when you have to try and fake out a mystery ghost hand.

There’s a Wetness meter which increases the more that you’re exposed to water or watery spirits. The wetter you get, the more damage you take, but your photos do more damage as a trade-off. You’ll find yourself with plenty of items to help get dry or to restore your health, so it never becomes much of a worry. While it is a mechanic that makes sense in regards to the story, between the partially see-through clothes and unlockable costumes for the female characters, it feels more like a shameless opportunity for some sexualisation.

If you’ve been waiting for this game to make it to currently available consoles, then you’re already sold. This game is a must-have for Project Zero/Fatal Frame fans; hell, anyone who misses the old PS2 era of survival horrors will feel at home here. It feels like a missed opportunity to bring out a new Project Zero game to revitalise what feels like a stagnant pool. But the further I got into the game, the more it felt the biggest source of tension was constantly looking around to make sure I wasn’t missing any of the quick harmless ghost appearances.


Ultimately the premise of ghost hunting using your camera to defeat them is much better than the execution in Maiden of Black Water. At first, it’s easy to get caught up in the dark dread-filled environments, keeping the spirits at bay with your Camera Obscura. Then you’re returning to the same places, with long drawn-out moments broken up by ghost fights that go on too long when they get stuck in a wall. If you’re not already a Project Zero/Fatal Frame fan, this game might not be the one to get you into the series.

Rating: 3/5

The Good

+ The Camera Obscura is a novel defence against angry spirits
+ Project Zero fans finally can play the game without a Wii U

The Bad

- Too much time spent going back to the same locations
- Outdated survival horror (even for the Wii U era)

Our Verdict
Our Rating
User Rating
Rate Here
Overall
Final Thoughts

Ultimately the premise of ghost hunting using your camera to defeat them is much better than the execution in Maiden of Black Water. At first, it's easy to get caught up in the dark dread-filled environments, keeping the spirits at bay with your Camera Obscura. Then you're returning to the same places, with long drawn-out moments broken up by ghost fights that go on too long when they get stuck in a wall. If you're not already a Project Zero/Fatal Frame fan, this game might not be the one to get you into the series.

Our Rating
User Rating
6 ratings
You have rated this
What's your reaction?
Awesome
50%
Oh wow!
0%
Great
0%
Fresh
50%
Hmm
0%
Disappointing!
0%
Grrrr
0%
About The Author
Paul Roberts
Lego enthusiast, Picross Master and appreciator of games.

You must log in to post a comment