Review: Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water

Fatal Frame Screen 1

Back in the PS2-days, the Fatal Frame franchise (or Project Zero, as it’s called in Europe) has been one of my favourite series around. The console had plenty of good horror games to choose from, but Fatal frame brought some very unique things to the table. First of all, you were playing as a schoolgirl, who isn’t exactly a powerhouse when it comes to fighting off the enemies that the series confronts you with. I’m talking of course about the ghosts that you encounter in all the games and which you have to fight with your trusty camera that somehow is able to suck the life out of these ghosts. It was unique, scary and fun to play, but the series experienced a sharp decline after the initial trilogy. The fourth game never made it to the west and the last entry we saw was a Wii-remake of the excellent second game. As a fan of the franchise, I was surprised and happy to hear that Fatal Frame V would not only make it to the west, but would also get a physical release. But is it worth your time and money?

Fatal Frame Screen 4

I must admit, at first it seemed like the WiiU was the perfect fit for the franchise: Thanks to the controller, we could finally really take control of the camera obscura! But unfortunately, controlling the game like that is really cumbersome and complicated and I turned that feature off after just a couple of minutes. Call me conservative, but I enjoy traditional controls way more and I’m happy they are included as an option. And some elements from the new control scheme are still present in the classic mode: you still need to tild the controller, which gives you more possibilities to attack your enemies. This actually works quite well and adds more strategy to the gameplay. Especially when there are several enemies on screen, this new freedom lets you handle these situations in a better way.

Fatal Frame Screen 7

What else is new? Well, there are several playable characters now and they even come with some special abilities. While the female protagonists share the same camera obscura from the previous games, Rui gets a different model. It has a multi-shot ability that is quite handy, but since the cameras have to be upgraded separately, one of them is going to be weaker. Since Rui doesn’t get that much action, his camera was a bit weaker at the end of the game. Still, I was able to hold my ground with him and enjoyed the small adjustments I had to make to my playstyle.

Fatal Frame Screen 2

While the upgrades you can make to your cameras are a bit boring (you get to increase range, damage and absorption) they make many situations easier. But most of the time, I felt overpowered during my playthrough on the normal difficulty setting. Sure, the game constantly throws a lot of enemy ghosts at you and it becomes tiresome after a while, since the controls make it difficult to fight them in small rooms, but you get so many health items and even a regeneration shot, that it’s all rather easy in the end. That doesn’t make me look past my main problem with this game: The controls are way too stiff and unresponsive. It amazes me, how much this game feels like a PS2 game in the wrong places. Everything, from moving, to exploring, to fighting is a hassle thanks to the controls.

Fatal Frame Screen 8

However, the atmosphere and the story are pretty enjoyable. While a lot of it is delivered via text, it still makes for some very interesting moments. Unfortunately, there are also some very silly scenes that undermine it and the general lifelessness of the voice actors and character really hurts the game. They react to the presence of ghosts like it’s nothing exceptional. There’s a general lack of urgency thanks to that, which hurts the game in the long run. Speaking of which, you’ll need between 12 and 14 hours for your first playthrough. Add some more if you want to unlock all the costumes.

I consider this game a mixed bag. On the one hand, I’m happy to get a classic horror game in this beloved franchise, but on the other hand, it feels like there are many missed opportunities to get rid of some very dated mechanics and controls. Instead of feeling like a rejuvenation of the franchise, it seems like it’s on its last legs. It’s enjoyable enough to play, but it certainly doesn’t reach the quality of the first two games on the PlayStation 2.

6/10 – A good game, whose flaws bog it down considerably. Enjoyable for fans of the genre.

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