Fearful Focus

HIGH The atmosphere and sense of suspense is top-notch.

LOW  Clunky and slow controls. 

WTF Those Shrine Maidens scare the crap out of me. 

Sometimes movies or games are so terrifying to me, I have a difficult time enjoying them — or even sitting throug them — by myself late at night. This was my experience with Maiden of Black Water. With powerful storytelling and a cathartic sense of dread, the latest in the Fatal Frame franchise is sure to delight fans of the horror genre.

Maiden of Black Water weaves a complex and disturbing tale centering around three playable protagonists attempting to solve the mystery of multiple suicides and the titular black water that curses anyone upon contact. It’s a haunting tale, and a masterclass in creating an atmospheric sense of terror and anticipation. With a scarce but haunting soundtrack, solid scenic design, and a cacophony of ghosts around every turn, I always felt like something horrible would be waiting for me behind the next door.

The goal of each chapter is for the protagonists to gather evidence pertaining to the suicide cases, defeat an onslaught of ghosts, and escape with their lives. While controlling the protagonists’ movement is in third-person, combat is through the first-person lens of the Camera Obscura – a special camera with the ability to deal damage to deceased spirits. Ghosts take more damage depending on the angle of the shot, or if the player can fit all of their parts in the frame.

There are various upgrades available for the camera that enable abilities such as stunning ghosts or slowing them down, but I found myself only enabling the highest attack power — and regardless of how strong my attack was, turning around to see ghosts lunging towards me and wanting to run, but instead knowing I had to zoom in on their hideous faces to take a picture is a tangibly terrifying experience. 

Though using the camera is solid and fluid when on the attack, controlling the characters is not. They move far slower than desired, and their mobility options are limited to simply running and jumping over obstacles. These shortcomings make it near-impossible to get any distance away from a horde of fast-moving ghosts, which then forces the player to take pictures as quickly as possible. I suppose this adds to the overall sense of horror in Maiden of Black Water, but it was still frustrating. 

Sadly, this combat doesn’t develop much as the campaign goes on, aside from having to fend off an increasing number of enemies. Ghost variety is rather limited, and I would have loved to have seen a few more breeds. That said, despite the control frustrations and limited enemy types, Black Water’s ambience and sense of fear remained strong. The combination of graphic imagery, the story’s diabolical magnitude, and knowing a ghost could attack me at any moment made it difficult for someone like me (who does not frequent horror games!) to play through every corner of the title. 

Maiden of Black Water is a twisted and engaging experience. Though it has shortcomings, they never diminish the powerful storytelling and atmosphere. I might be too squeamish to comfortably endure the title’s cathartic terror, those brave enough to venture forth will surely be rewarded with a suitably haunting adventure. 

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Koei Tecmo, and published by Koei Tecmo and Nintendo. It is available on PS4, PS5, XBX/S/O, Switch, and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Switch. Approximately 8 hours were spent in the single-player and the game was not completed. There is no multiplayer mode. 

Parents: According to the ESRB this game is rated for Mature. From the ESRB: “This is a survival horror game in which players investigate paranormal activities in a mountain setting. Players explore abandoned buildings and dark forests for clues while encountering ghostly apparitions. Players use an old camera (Camera Obscura) to capture ghostly images and to defeat attacking ghosts by taking pictures of them. Some sequences reveal the circumstances leading to the creation of the ghosts: a man hanging himself; a woman impaled with a sword; a man run over by a car; a woman slashing her own throat; a character jumping to her death). A handful of ghosts are depicted with large blood stains on their clothing and bodies; cutscenes also depict large blood-splatter effects, with characters stabbed and impaled. Some female characters are depicted in revealing costumes with deep cleavage (e.g., swimsuits, skin-tight outfits, wet clothing that appears slightly transparent). In one scene, a woman’s picture is taken from a first-person perspective; the camera angles become more suggestive (e.g., panning/lingering on breasts), as the scene progress with the character on a bed.”

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available. 

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: Subtitles cannot be adjusted. Although there is a red arrow pointing towards offscreen ghosts when they approach, having sound cues is incredibly helpful to determine when ghosts are near, making this game not fully accessible. 

Remappable Controls: No, the controls are not remappable, though the player can choose between two default controller layouts. 

Alex Prakken
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