Horror has overgone a dramatic transformation in recent years with jumpscares now severely overused, and cheap thrills commonplace with most releases. Of course, with some fantastic remakes being produced from one of the finest horror series ever in recent times, it’s not unexpected that we’ll see some other beloved franchises brought back to try and reinvigorate the genre once more and whilst it may well have been tied to the underappreciated Wii U last time out, the Fatal Frame series (or Project Zero as it’s known in Europe) is one that certainly has the qualities to bring back genuine scares once more, but with seven years passing since it’s original release back in 2014 and the original release already having a mixed reception on arrival, how does Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water fare on modern consoles with remastered goodness injected into it?
Maiden of Black Water essentially begins as a paranormal adventure of Japanese folklore. We’ve all heard at some point of the ghost stories of Aokigahara forest at the foot of Mount Fuji, and this game takes a similar creepy and horrifying tale that takes players to the foot of the fictional Mount Hikami. Once treated as sacred land, Mount Hikami is now better known for being the local go-to spot for suicide intentions, and despite a legend that tells of certain death to those who enter the mountain at night, locals still decide it’s worth a look, before disappearing never to be seen again. With disappearances rising rapidly, Miu Hinasaki and Yuri Kozuktata, both shadow readers, and Ren Hojo, a man researching the mountain for a book, are our main characters in the adventure and are heading in equipped with the fantastical Camera Obscura, a camera capable of ghostly exorcisms, as they look to relinquish the souls that haunt the mountain and rescue those that have been lost inside.
The game takes place across 14 chapters, and after finishing up with the seemingly never-ending tutorial that teaches the basics of the camera mechanics, which serves as the main weapon throughout the game, players are then given a few more titbits of story-based information before setting off to Mount Hikami.
Now it has to be said that if you like a little pace to your story, then Maiden of Black Water is going to frustrate you. Even as a huge fan of horror, I struggled with the slow-paced nature of things, which was only made worse by the dated feel of the controls which often felt clunky and robotic. Whilst there is a run button to allow you to avoid the incredibly snail-paced walking, the horrible nature of it means you’ll often be running into walls due to the sensitivity being way too low. This could of course be modern-day me being too used to games in 2021, but with 7 years between the original release and now, it would have been nice to have seen some quality-of-life improvements given to things like controls.
Back to the story though and progress is made by following the mostly linear paths to your next objective and utilising the Camera Obscura that is found early on along the way to uncover otherwise invisible objects and defeat malevolent ghosts that appear by way of damage dealing photographs.
Combat is the key focus within the game with players required to line up ghosts within the frame of the camera before taking a picture, and then several more to kill them off for good. Capturing ghosts as they attack is usually the best way to go with well-timed camera snaps rewarding a ‘Fatal Frame’ resulting in a stunned enemy and the opportunity to take several more following to kill them off without threat.
There are a few things to pay attention to besides enemies and objects of interest though, the first of which is the ‘wetness gauge’ that shows in the bottom right corner of the screen. It works as it sounds, the wetter you physically are, the more the gauge fills, and then the easier it becomes for malevolent spirits to target you and mount an attack. Combatting it though is as easy as using a purifying ember which can be found dotted around and works to dry you off a little.
Each chapter when completed gives a time for completion and a score for your efforts, but unless you’re going to be gunning for each and every achievement, there isn’t much to worry about here besides personal bragging rights, but even then, it’s your word and maybe a screenshot to go with it against the world, as there is no leaderboards insight to compare these scores which feel like a missed opportunity.
Whilst the story does offer intrigue, the overall repetitiveness of taking pictures, beating enemies and going from point to point to uncover story plot points does grow tiresome long before the run time is up.
Something that doesn’t help the repetitive feel is the constant tracking back to places already visited within later chapters. There is an area early on in which you’ll visit the foot of the mountain forest to look for an individual, only to return a few chapters later and retrace the same area looking for someone else. It’s not ideal when you want something to freshen up what is already a repetitive experience.
That said, the art style and environmental design, whilst admittedly dated in look and feel, do provide a rather aesthetic and relatable feel to the typical Japanese culture, whilst cut scenes give a unique look with the beautiful old school black and white film reel feel to them as more of the story is uncovered, and the overall look of things is vastly improved to that of the original release back in 2014.
Besides the visuals and the gameplay, it should be noted that Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water does come packing as many as 23 outfits for protagonists to unlock, although most of these will be for the female protagonists with only 4 available for Ren to unlock. However many of these simply scream impractical more than anything with Yuri’s swimsuit option a clear eyebrow-raising inclusion.
The other new option within this remastered version is the new photo mode which brings the option to include previously defeated ghosts within your angled shots, but for me, the photo mode simply felt like it mocked the nature of the story rather than adding anything special to the game, and so I avoided it besides the initial experimenting.
Overall, whilst the general release of a Project Zero game onto modern consoles feels exciting, the long-beloved classic is no longer the same fright mongering experience we know the series for back on the original Xbox. Besides a few creepy images of certain ghosts, there is nothing that really causes much of a jump let alone a true scare, and whilst the story has the potential to be one of true Japanese horror, the horrible pacing and repetitive nature ensure that the Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water goes down as an underwhelming return for what used to be one of the greatest series in horror gaming.Become a Patron!
This game was reviewed based on Xbox One review code, using an Xbox Series S|X console. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.