Since it is prime time Halloween season, you know what that means folks – lots and lots of annoying kids knocking on your door…
I mean, lots and lots of scary games that all want your attention. Just like the ghosts in Fatal Frame: Maiden of Blackwater!
Who Ever Thought Cameras Were A Ghost’s Arch-Enemy?
Are they the most terrifying ghosts you’ll ever encounter in a video game though? Not really. They’re mostly just apparitions of story-related figures or typical cliche horror characters like creepy running children. But even if they aren’t the scariest adversaries you’ve ever come across, the way they’ll suddenly spawn out in front of the player or slowly back them into a corner might be a little bit intense for some. Plus, there are some pretty disturbing moments both in-game and out during Fatal Frame 5’s cinematic cutscenes, which certainly helps add to the Japanese-styled horror atmosphere.
What also works well with this title, is that our three protagonists deal more damage with their cameras when they’re positioned closer to their enemies. So there’s this interesting trade-off of facing your fears head-on and taking down ghosts efficiently, as opposed to slowly draining your camera’s film from afar. How the photography system works this time around is slightly different compared to previous entries too. Instead of charging up your shots, the protagonists simply have to adjust their angles and take quality photos, that’s all…
Ok, there’s obviously more to it than that! To deal the most damage, the player has to draw out these spirit blob things by taking some solid photos, and then capture said blobs along with the main enemy (sometimes plural) for critical hits. If you’re skilled enough, you can even enter the titular Fatal Frame state by snapping a ghost right as it’s about to strike, which lets you button mash your camera shutter into oblivion for massive damage. Plus, there are different types of film for different effects and a couple of spirit power-ups that let the player heal or even force-push a ghost back. Overall, the combat system is pretty simple, but it’s still quite enjoyable nevertheless. However, it definitely does start to drag towards the end.
Surviving The Horrors in Fatal Frame: Maiden of Blackwater
Just like any other survival horror title, Maiden of Blackwater is all about managing resources. But at the same time, it kind of shoots itself in the foot with the vast number of healing items and film pick-ups the player can collect around the map. I was literally stacked at the end of my run on normal mode because I rarely took any major hits. The dodging system making it a little too easy to evade attacks.
Where I did lose most of my health though, were on those stupid ghost-hand things that would grab the protag when they attempted to pick up certain items. I have nothing but bad things to say about these lads. And the same thing goes for the movement controls because they are absolutely horrendous.
Trying to change your running angle mid-flight is like trying to steer a boat through a hallway – it simply doesn’t work! I’m not sure how to put it in words per se, but you’ll know exactly what I mean as soon as you start playing. There’s just this weird weight to the controls that never feels quite right. And it honestly doesn’t lend itself well to the harsh turns and tight corridors you’ll find yourself in at all, especially during combat. Also, I don’t think I’ll EVER understand why the developers programmed in delays for running starts or to pull the camera up. The amount of times I’d press and hold the button to raise the camera, then awkwardly put it away again for no particular reason was too damn high!
The Lifeless Story of Fatal Frame: Maiden of Blackwater
Two other things that fell really flat were the story and characters in Maiden of Blackwater. Being a mostly self-contained story, Fatal Frame 5 gives very little reason for series veterans to return. Everyone is just so underdeveloped and mopey all the time, with very little characterisation other than sounding like an emotionless robot.
There’s just not enough going on story-wise either. It starts off very intriguing with the mysterious happenings of Mt. Hikami but all too quickly descends into outrageous, off-the-wall ridiculousness, especially in the second half of the adventure. A fair amount of the story feels padded out and it doesn’t help that most of the plot relies on reading detailed text logs and notes. Certain sections of the game also have the player blatantly backtracking to previous areas for the most trivial of reasons too, which definitely hurts the general pacing overall.
This game is no doubt a hard sell. While the ghost capturing gameplay is pretty fun, it can’t help but overstay its welcome over the 15+ hour journey. The thing is, if you’re not entirely sold on the whole photographed-to-death aspect, the story and characters won’t offer much to keep you interested. The new costumes and Snap Mode feature might satisfy some fans, and the atmosphere and ghost designs are as ominous as it gets, but mostly everything else either misses the mark or is underbaked on a foundational level.
Fatal Frame: Maiden of Blackwater is a disappointing horror venture. It gets the creepy, Silent Hill-type atmosphere just right but drops the ball in so many other key areas. The story and characters are vapid, the movement controls are as stiff as Harry Potter’s broomstick and the general gameplay loses its lustre well before the credits roll.
This game was reviewed using a download code provided by Koei Tecmo. The Beta Network uses affiliate partnerships, however, this does not influence reviews or any other content published. The Beta Network may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links that are on the website.