When it comes to horror franchises, Project Zero (or Fatal Frame in the US) has never really hit the mainstream in the way that Resident Evil or Silent Hill have. This has, however, ensured that the series has maintained a cult status with a highly vocal and committed fanbase. This was never more obvious than during the campaign to persuade Koei Tecmo to localise the surprise Wii U entry – Maiden of Black Water. The quirky Nintendo console was a perfect fit for Project Zero’s camera-based gameplay with the gamepad working wonderfully as a physical version of the Camera Obscura.
With that original release perhaps most notable for its rarity – second hand copies have rocketed in price over the past few years – news of a remaster for current systems was welcome.
Remaster is definitely the term, in this instance. What you get is exactly the same game as the 2014 Wii U release with some higher resolution visuals and tweaked controls to fit the different systems. There’s also the new addition of a Photo Mode to show off those freshly upgraded graphics, and a number of costumes to dress the characters up in. I hadn’t actually played Wii U release, though I had been a big fan of the earlier games on PS2, so was particularly excited to finally get my hands on Maiden of Black Water.
The graphical enhancements are noticeable, but only really go as far as increasing the resolution and some texture improvements. Animations are kept from the original and many look stilted and unnatural, with the main character’s running animations in particular looking especially dated. This can be a little jarring at times, but the spectral nature of your foes mean that they are not similarly afflicted. I guess the good thing about ghosts is that you don’t need a run animation!
Environments are atmospheric with everything coated in a hefty filter of grime and decay, while frequent bursts of VHS style flashbacks are especially effective and fit the whole mood of the game better than the more polished aspects. Visual cues and button prompts help to highlight interactive points or collectables which fits in well with the paranormal aspects but does make everything feel very game-y.
There’s an expected level of cheesiness to the voice actin (although this is a far more sombre and serious series than the likes of Resident Evil) and the audio design is especially well done. As with so many horror games, the audio really shines through headphones and this is best played that way. The immersion that is sacrificed for some of the graphical aspects is recovered through the haunting use of environmental noises and spectral voices in the audio mix.
The storyline of Maiden of Black Water concerns the eerie Mt. Hikami, a haunted location that has become a popular destination for those who wish to take their own lives. The tales of vengeful spirits and the high number of missing people draws the attention of psychic investigators who must use their wits and their mysterious Camera Obscuras to uncover the mysteries surrounding Mt. Hikami and free themselves from its malevolent influence. Throughout the game you take the role of three different characters – Yuri Kozukata, a troubled teen with psychic powers, Ren Hojo and Miu Hinasaki. These characters mostly control the same way, although there are significant differences in the ways that their camera powers work.
There are two main gameplay modes to utilise in Project Zero – exploration and camera. The former plays out in standard survival horror fashion as you navigate the mountain and its buildings to look for clues and solve puzzles to progress. If you get too wet through taking damage or falling in the water, then more enemies will spawn. Whenever a foe appears you can switch to camera mode to fight them off. Your camera deals damage to the spirits when you focus on them with new and more effective abilities being unlocked as you progress.
Simplistically, the more parts of the spirit you focus on the more powerful your attack will be and there are bonuses for waiting until the ghost is almost touching you or for using different film types and lens attachments. This system is part of what makes Project Zero stand out from other horror franchises and works well here, something is definitely lost in the move away from the Wii U gamepad. I played the PS4 version for review and there is an option for motion control in Camera mode, but I found it too sensitive and unwieldy so switched it off.
Our original review of Maiden of Black Water on Wii U highlighted a number of issues, including a lack of challenge and some screen tearing. Performance on the PS4 version was generally good, albeit with some lengthy load times but I found the challenge to be more appropriate as the game went on. Difficulty is inconsistent as it depends so much on the environment. Waiting for your camera to reload is far less of an issue in open spaces than in some of the more confined spaces and fights with multiple spirits in small rooms can provide a real challenge. There are still plenty of recovery items though, even on the default difficulty, which does take away from the ‘survival’ side of survival horror.