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Fatal Frame: Maiden Of Black Water Review [Nintendo Switch] | Unfocused & Unenjoyable

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There is never a better time to release a horror game than during the month of October. As everyone gears up for the spooky Halloween celebrations, gamers around the world are looking to their most beloved horror franchises to get their annual spooky portions. As for the signature horror game coming out this spooky season, that honor goes to Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water.

As someone who enjoyed the original Fatal Frame games on the PS2 but never played the last entry, this remaster turned out to be the perfect time to catch up with the games and see what sets it apart from its predecessors. But does the game translate well on other systems? And if that also escaped you when it was first released, is it worth it in 2021?

Fatal Frame: The current-generation Maiden of Black Water remaster intends to give the game a much needed love for horror fans who may have skipped the Wii U. With the series relegated to Nintendo consoles. in its latest unpopular iterations, it’s easy to see how it’s been forced to step back for a while. The latest entries just haven’t reached the heights of the original trilogy.

Credit: Koei Tecmo

LOOK AT THIS PHOTO

First, a brief overview of the series. Fatal Frame (which bears the much less interesting title of “Project Zero” here in the UK) is a horror game in which you investigate haunted sites across Japan that contain a large presence of ghosts. Using the Camera Obscura, your job is to capture and appease these spirits while trying to stay alive.

As a Wii U title, Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water was initially based on emulating the use of the camera via the console’s revolutionary gamepad. While I didn’t play it at the time, watching footage of the game in action presents it as quite a unique novelty. It really acts like you’re holding a real camera.

Likewise, the translation to Nintendo Switch also seems justified here, at least in portable mode. You have the option of moving the camera using the joystick on your controller, or you can hold the console and physically move it around in the same way as the Wii U version. This is a great way to fill up. the gap between you and the protagonists, especially during the tense horror moments when you are attacked by ghosts.

The downside is that it is quite awful to play if you are using TV mode. There are times when you have to tilt the controller a certain angle to take a photo, which is really uncomfortable to do when holding a Switch Pro controller or a Joy-Con grip. There were many times when I had to contort my arms so that I could solve a puzzle or defeat an enemy that caused me discomfort.

Credit: Koei Tecmo

GOOD FEAR

As a self-proclaimed “horror boy”, I really enjoyed the atmosphere that Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water sets out. Looks like J-Horror, as a genre, no longer exists in its purest form. Japanese horror games like Silent Hill and Resident Evil are designed for a Western look, and I can’t think of them as true J-Horror. But Fatal Frame has always stuck to the themes and stylistic choices of the genre that it feels welcome.

The horror of Maiden of Black Water also continues this legacy. It capitalizes on the psychological suspense that Japanese horror incorporates. Abandoned buildings, creepy and out of place noises and cursed objects play into these aspects. They transform normal everyday phenomena into otherworldly events. Each level uses these tropes wisely, being careful not to over-mine or use them cheaply.

Water is also a big trope in the J-Horror stories. This often works as a motif or theme for the story. Maiden of Black Water uses it in its setting, Mount Hikami, where the ghostly sightings have occurred near large bodies of water. Running water even signals the titular maiden. Overall, the game does a decent job of adapting traditional J-Horror themes into a title that audiences of all kinds of different cultures can enjoy.

Credit: Koei Tecmo

BLACK WATER OKAY-DEN

But while the horror itself is decent, the game is not. It’s not just related to the annoying controls mentioned earlier, but Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water just isn’t fun to play. The main culprit is serious rhythm problems. The locations you visit in each chapter are repetitive, often having you walk through the same areas of Mount Hikami over and over again with little new to see. By the fifth or sixth chapter, I was tired of seeing the same shrines that I had already passed several times. Even when you’re brought to a whole new area, you get that feeling of too much familiarity due to how similar each level is.

It also extends to the amount of unnecessary exposure the game throws at you. You are given pages upon pages of unnecessary text files to read. They each provide a story to the location, recent events, or one of the characters. But we’re talking about multiple text files every few minutes of playing. It’s annoying, and the game overly reliant on that structure interferes with what might otherwise be a decent story.

Ultimately, it also makes you hate the characters. Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water alternates between three protagonists in each chapter. But they’re so one-dimensional that it makes you wonder why the story is so long as it is. Even after completing the game, I just can’t remember the names of the characters due to their being forgotten. Their motivations, personalities, and flaws are just not evident in the story. Maybe fewer notes to read and more interesting cutscenes would have made them feel like real people.

It also doesn’t help that you have to listen to the English dialogue if you’re playing an English version of the game. The voice acting is pretty laughable and I can’t take any of these characters seriously when they sound so woody. Hey Koei Tecmo, where’s the option for dialogue in Japanese?

Credit: Koei Tecmo

fatal shame

Enemy encounters are also annoying in that your character’s movement makes it look like you’re trying to squeeze through a busy train. You pull the joystick to back up, and instead, the avatar does a mindless dance around the space it’s in. Try to position yourself just to avoid an enemy attack, and you’ll spend a lot of time fumbling around. with the orders you will get anyway. With most of the playable areas being so tight and close together, why do we even have the ability to dodge an enemy attack when they’ll end up grabbing you anyway?

However, now there is a photo mode which is pretty cool. It allows you to pose characters, change the lighting and adjust the angles perfectly. I’m not a big user of photo mode, but it’s a handy little tool for anyone new to virtual photography. Adding this feature to a remaster is also a great move. It’s something that I always say should be in every game that comes out these days.

As much as I love the Fatal Frame series, I have no hope at all for the future of the series if the publisher thinks this title will renew interest in it. It’s bulky, fuzzy, and just not fun to play. Sorry Koei Tecmo; I really like the original trilogy, can we bring them back instead please?

Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch

Koei Tecmo PR sent a copy of the game to GameByte for review.

Featured Image Credit: Koei Tecmo



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