Review: Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water
Happy Halloween! To celebrate the occasion, we have a horror game especially for you today! And that on a Sunday. Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water may already sound a bit familiar to you, because it is not a new game.
You may already know the game as Fatal Frame, or Project Zero. Maiden of Black Water is the fifth installment in the Japanese horror game series. The game originally appeared for the Nintendo Wii U in 2014 for Japan and in 2015 for Europe. At the time, the game made excellent use of the unique Wii U hardware. The biggest gameplay feature was the use of a special camera. These had to be operated by players with the Wii U Gamepad. Since this played quite uniquely, we were very curious how this horror game would translate to the current hardware configurations.
Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water is available this week for Playstation 4 and 5, Xbox One, Series X|S, Nintendo Switch and PC. For this review we played the game on the PlayStation 5.
A Japanese suicide story
Japan has a shivering connection to suicide. Though purely fictional, Maiden of Black Water's story is partly related to Aokigahara , the infamous Japanese suicide forest located at the foot of Mount Fuji. If you're somewhat familiar with the stories surrounding this forest, or the creepy stories of suicide in Japan, it's even more terrifying to play through this horror game.
Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water is set around a fictional place in Japan called Hikami Mountain. The place is notorious for the many suicides and spiritual events associated with pools of water. During your playing time, you take control of three different characters. One of these characters is the daughter of a previous protagonist, Miku Hinasaki. Although this is the fifth installment in the series, you don't need to know any previous games to enjoy this installment.
Every character has ended up in this place with his or her own motive, but what it mainly revolves around is Black Water. This corrupted the mountain and all the ghosts hanging around. The game has a bad ending. Depending on some actions later in the game, it will be determined which of the two you will see. The story is a bit difficult to follow at times, a lot of important information is hidden in texts that you find during the story, or have to search during the game.
During the gameplay, players travel through dark forests, ruined buildings and abandoned temples. It is a quintessentially stark Japanese setting with lots of recognizable architecture. Although it consists of a very linear progression, players in different locations are free to move around to find secrets, collect items or find additional background information. Here and there, there are also unique events that give you a glimpse into the horrors of this fictional place.
The biggest feature of this horror title is the Camera Obscura. With this camera you can photograph ghosts to cause damage. Every flash damages a ghost. With the 'Fatal Frame' you do a lot of damage in one go. You can perform a Fatal Frame if you have 5 ghost fragments in your camera field. With every photo you take, you shoot fragments of a ghost, which then circulate around its body.
Since the Camera Obscura was originally controlled with the Wii U Gamepad, the question is of course how this translates to the PlayStation 5. Actually, not much has changed compared to the Wii U control system. As soon as you open the camera, your field of view changes from third-person to a first-person camera view. At this point, you can move and rotate the controller to align the frames exactly with the ghosts and ghost fragments*. You can then also adjust the camera with the thumbsticks.
Controlling the camera takes some getting used to, but once you get the hang of it it plays nice and smooth and you flash the ghosts to the afterlife. Of course it starts nice and easy with ghosts slowly approaching you. Over the course of the game, they get faster, get more and more, and do special attacks that require you to dodge. This is where the game shows its age.
Apart from the camera controls, the rest of the game is still a bit old-fashioned with a fairly stiff controls. Walking and running is a bit wooden and turning the camera (not the Camera Obscura) is a bit awkward and very sensitive. Despite the reissue, it still feels a bit old-fashioned. And that's how it looks. Regardless of which platform you play on, the game looks almost the same as it did on the Wii U in 2014. It's not disturbing, but a little polishing wouldn't have gone amiss.
Due to the somewhat clunky controls, you often miss the right timing at optional moments to shoot ghosts for extra points. Unless you know exactly what to look for, you are often just a little too late.
Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water is a unique horror experience with unique gameplay elements that actually still plays best on the Wii U. The game has remained virtually unchanged, which is why I wonder who this re-release is actually intended for. Project Zero is a niche series well worth checking out, but let's be honest, there are better horror choices out there today. It would have been a lot more appealing if the game had been remastered or remade, because despite the cool story it is difficult to follow, the controls are a bit outdated and due to the unique gameplay features the game still plays best on the Wii U .
*Gyro control is not possible on Xbox and PC. Only PlayStation and Nintendo Switch (and of course the original Wii U version).
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