Let’s get this review off on the right foot by noting this is my first foray into Fatal Frame. I’ve had awareness of the series forever, but sadly never got around to trying it out. It’s strange, considering my fondness for series like Resident Evil. But Fatal Frame’s reputation never escaped me, and I felt the fanbase’s frustration over localization woes.

It seemed strange to me, then, that after Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water actually made it to English-speaking gamers on the Wii U, the series’ online chatter got real quiet. Except for, you know, the anti-censorship weirdos in the you know what bones crowd. Time went by, the Wii U did its thing, and now we’re giving Maiden of Black Water another try on current platforms.

It pains me to say it, but it’s pretty easy to see why the Fatal Frame community didn’t bite.

Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water Review

At first, it seems like everything is showing up the way it should. Maiden of Black Water starts with some eerie sequences noting some particularly dark subject matter (CW: Suicide) and a very Japanese ghost movie tutorial sequence. But then the true game starts, and whatever intrigue the opening moments bring quickly dissipate into wooden voice acting delivering jargon without any context. 

There’s some interesting stuff going on in terms of gameplay, particularly the series’ trademark camera-based combat. There’s an almost arcade shooting gallery-like vibe to combat here, with a heavy emphasis on seeking out targets, keeping them in your sights and only adjusting your positioning when it’s needed. It’s a little too busy for me, in terms of maintaining the atmosphere though. When I’m worried about points and chasing glowing circles it’s hard to feel scared of what’s going on behind the UI.

Outside of combat, moving around is pretty painful. The camera has a hard time deciding if it’s attached to the character’s flashlight or not, making navigating dark areas a miserable experience. Turning around and running are also incredibly sluggish, concepts that Resident Evil nailed just fine decades ago. The visuals are actually really great though, with a lot of clever use of muted color and some seriously impressive lighting choices that get the spooky started. The rest of the game fails to follow through after the pitch, though.

It just feels like Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water didn’t figure out what it wanted to be, but showed up to the party anyway. There are bits and pieces that are cool or interesting, and others that are either duds or just too awkward to pass off as decent storytelling. The story’s framing feels very slapdash and confused, softening the impact of everything else.

It’s a real shame, especially since we haven’t heard from Fatal Frame since this game originally hit on Wii U, and this second chance opportunity probably won’t hit well. The Wii game that never left Japan officially seemed to be much more well-received, and of course the games before that are considered classics. So if the series’ future depends on the weakest link, it’s hard to feel optimistic. Hopefully we see a collection of the originals, and Fatal Frame gets a stronger chance to resonate with today’s audiences.


 

Pros:

  • Fun combat
  • Properly spooky visuals

Cons:

  • Storytelling is a dud
  • English VO ain't great
  • Non-combat controls feel bad

Score: 5

A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review