NS Review – Project Zero: Maiden of the Black Water (Wii U)
I do not know why I do these things to myself. I do not enjoy horror; I don’t watch horror films, nor do I play horror games (unless I happen to be playing a character that possesses a large, powerful gun of some description), I genuinely don’t enjoy being scared. I have a stronger power to resist zombies, monsters and the like, but I have a severe weakness to ghosts and razor tension. But still, I requested a copy of Maiden of the Black Water, the latest instalment of the Project Zero (otherwise known as Fatal Frame series) complete with ghosts and tension, to review. So here I go, squealing and jumping all the way.
The plot of this latest instalment of the Project Zero series is pretty much a masterclass in the classic tropes of Japanese horror. Young girls, in creepy environments, with ghosts, curses, and mysterious pasts. The game actually revolves around three, equally hapless, protagonists Yuri, Ren and Miu and their various misadventures in and around Mt. Hikami; an ancient spiritual ground turned suicide hotspot and Ghostbusters playground. All three narratives intertwine and weave around each other in a very gratifying, layered way (although I personally dislike Ren as a character). However, I cannot go into the plot without ruining anything, so I will leave it at all three characters visit the mountain and obtain a Camera Obsura in one fashion or another.
The above mentioned device is the core foundation of the gameplay of the entire game. Essentially, Maiden of the Black Water is separated into two main types of gameplay, in a rough 70:30 ratio. On the lower end you have the basic exploratory actions, usually played out with a torch, in the dark, from the series staple 3rd person/over-the-shoulder perspective. However, the majority of the game is played out through the lens of the Camera Obscura. The core gameplay also ranks your progress at the end of each chapter based on a set of criteria (including your point score), giving ample opportunity to obtain other photographs of spiritual phenomena outside the ghosts you defeat (of which have contributed to many of my biggest scares so far – see when I discuss the atmosphere of the game).
With Maiden of the Black Water, the functions for the camera are played out using the GamePad, and this device is used to battle ghosts, find hidden items, and locate clues for plot and game progression. With only small hints and pointers given on the main screen, such as your character flinching or breathing heavier, you have to rely on the GamePad and the camera to make progress or to understand your surroundings. The camera, as mentioned briefly, is your means of combat and a deeply unsettling one at that. As you are using the screen as the camera lens, you are basically holding the GamePad up in front of your face, giving a (much scarier) first-person perspective on everything (whether you like it or not).
The combat plays out in a suitably creepy way. Basically put, you have to take photographs of the ghosts to defeat them. However, the most damage is done if the ghost is just about to attack, so this leads to the player waiting (likely, as in my case, terrified) for the ghost to come close enough AND start to attack before clicking ZR to damage them. The fact that this is all played out in first person and so close to the player (owing to the GamePad) makes these standoffs more terrifying then the series has been before this point. Also, you have what I can only describe as a “Wetness Meter” in the HUD that you need to keep an eye on. The wetter your character gets, the more susceptible they are to attack (this can be remedied through items). All of this adds to a game with various moments in which I have been against several ghosts at once, owing to ignoring the meter, and descended into what can only be described as a blind panic.
Usually in this section of the review I would discuss the aesthetic of the game, but I think that this particular title would suit the “atmosphere” being a better point of discussion. Every little touch in this game contributes to the overall tension and atmosphere in the title. The game is rather stunning to behold, in fact, it’s a shame that the vast majority of it is played out in the dark. There are various little touches spread throughout the game experience that are there with the soul intention of unnerving the player; snatched glances of ghosts watching in the distance, or suicide victims in their last moments (including a moment in which I did a quick turn to see a ‘hanged’ ghost right in front of my face – prompting one of my first squeals), or classic horror tropes like dolls heads and religious statues, or even the torch not quite illuminating everything. All of these visual touches complete the package of the perfect horror title.
The music, as well, lends itself to further enhance the constantly prevailing sense of dread in the player, ranging from unsettling atmospheric noise to the (even more terrifying) total silence. Also, in terms of sound, I personally found that the voice overs were very well done, leaving the characters still believable even once translated into English. Essentially, all of the aesthetic details in Maiden of the Black Water contribute to creating a pretty tight experience that (if you are unnerved by the source material in general) really hits the mark and achieves everything it sets out to do.
So, should you play Project Zero: Maiden of the Black Water? My thoughts are that it cannot hurt to try. The game is officially released today and has a free demo that I believe is the first chapter, and allows you to “unlock” the rest. If nothing else, even if you don’t find ghosts scary, it’s a fun and immersive horror title to spend a little time this Hallowe’en playing. A word of warning though, this game is not for the faint-hearted, not in the slightest.
Project Zero: Maiden of the Black Water is out now on Official UK Online Store and on Nintendo Wii U eShop. Thank you to Nintendo for supplying us with a copy of the full game to review.