Project Zero (or Fatal Frame as it’s known in the U.S) is a horror series that debuted on the PlayStation 2 way back in the early 2000’s. It saw a young teenage girl exorcising ghosts with a supernatural camera. It’s one of those games that seemed like it would be a match made in heaven on the Wii U due to the potential of using the gamepad as the camera, and now that it’s been done. The game’s setting may be straight out of the underworld, but the experience is a little slice of paradise.

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The story revolves around Mt. Hikami, a mysterious mountain that people go to when they want to end their own lives. The area is plagued by constant suicides and it’s always surrounded by death. The game follows 3 characters as they make their way to the deadly mountain. Yuri is looking for someone close to her, while Miu is searching for her mother. Ren on the other hand has been having a surreal, recurring nightmare that is somehow connected to this place and is trying to find out the truth about it.

Each playable character doesn’t really have much of a personality, and they all come across as extremely timid and flat. The real star of the game however is the mountain itself and all the frightening things that inhabit it. You’ll learn more and more about what happened to this place and you will witness a lot, and I mean a lot of dying. You’ll often see apparitions of people jumping off cliffs or hanging themselves and even slitting their own throats right in front of you. It holds nothing back.

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The overall character arcs and backstory can be really obscure sometimes with heavy relations to occult rituals and traditions as well as Japanese folklore, but it provides just enough intrigue in each chapter to you keep you playing. There is even a tie-in to Project Zero 3 as well when it comes to Miu but it is kind of a weird revelation when you do find out the truth about her and it might just upset some of the fans. In the end, the story wrapped up nicely and even with the multiple endings, it felt satisfying.

Project Zero Maiden of Black Water Doesn’t stray too far from its roots when it comes to the gameplay. Players are still equipped with the series’ iconic weapon, the Camera Obscura, which they use to vanquish malevolent spirits by snapping pictures of them. You’ll have different films to equip which act as the game’s form of expendable ammunition. During the game you’ll also accrue points that you can use to buy more items and ammo or to upgrade your camera’s abilities such as faster film reloading or strengthening its attack power. It’s all very familiar and though it may seem like a rehash of past gameplay mechanics, its main hook completely changes the way this game is played, and that’s using the gamepad as the camera.

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Instead of looking at the TV when using the Camera Obscura, you’ll now have to use the gamepad as a second screen and use its built-in Gyro-sensors to track and take down the enemy. It takes a while getting used to, especially having to adjust my head to the gamepad from the TV whenever I spot a ghost and not to mention the increased complexity of using the motion controls to move the camera. Once you get the hang of it however, it all feels responsive and completely natural but purists can still opt to use the analogue sticks instead, though I found that using them together made for more effective ghosts busting.

Whenever you take a shot of a ghost, pieces of its spirit will break off and float around it. These pieces act as added targets and if you don’t destroy them in time the ghosts will reabsorb it to replenish its health. These pieces however plays a much bigger role in battle as if you manage to fit 5 of them including the ghost in one shot then you’ll not only stun it and do extra damage but also push it back for some much needed reprieve. Trying to get that perfect shot had me waving and rotating the gamepad all around and while it may look like a chore from the outside, I was having an absolute blast with the combat system.

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My favourite mechanic of the series makes a return as well; the Fatal Frame shot. This occurs when you snap a shot the moment before a ghost attacks you. If you want to do extra damage, you’ll have to wait until the ghost comes right up to your face before you take a shot. It’s a really clever mechanic that plays on your fear as you wait to get up close and personal with the enemy. This works even better now that you’re using the gamepad as it really feels as though you’re looking through the lens of the camera just as you’re about to get attacked. The combat is just an absolute joy, plain and simple.

Aside from the combat, the game feels like a classic survival horror title straight out of the PS1 or PS2 era. It has eerie environments with suitable amounts of exploration thrown in. The later levels feel more like previous entries with tight indoor corridors and creepy pathways. There are also numerous puzzles throughout the game too but most felt pretty tacked on. You’ll also find an abundance of backstory titbits in the form of files and even flashbacks from defeated ghosts. I truly admire a game that sticks to its roots. With games like Evil Within feeling more like a modern shooter than a classic survival horror, it’s great to see a game that fans of the genre will truly appreciate. My only gripe however is that I wish the game didn’t necessarily control like it was made in the 90’s.

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Though it may seem a bit harsh, I would honestly even prefer classic tank controls to what we’ve been given with this game. The camera movement while exploring is extremely slow and feels unresponsive at times and the character moves with such rigidness you’d easily think you’re playing as a chunk of concrete. Characters wind up before they run and even simply trying to turn around is a mission unto itself. I’m not a fan of the idea that sluggish controls contribute to the tension in the game. Frustration does not equate to fear, it only serves as a deterrent to your overall enjoyment.

While the controls definitely hampered my enjoyment, I was so absorbed by the amazing art and sound direction that more often than not I could overlook whatever annoyances was thrown my way. The audio in this game is absolutely superb, with some sound effects routed to the gamepad too, it greatly adds to the immersion and creepy factor. The ghastly wails of the departed haunt my dreams while every creek in the floor adds to my paranoia. The sound feeds off the environmental design to create some truly scary moments. With areas ranging from derelict and abandoned homes and shrines to unsettling forests and caves, it ticks all the right boxes for the perfect Japanese horror setting. I found that playing with the Japanese audio adds to the authenticity of the experience, and this is not to say the English voice acting is bad per se, I just personally enjoyed playing with the Japanese audio instead.

Last Updated: October 19, 2015

Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water
Overall, Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water is a superb return for the series, and while it will undoubtedly frustrate most players with its archaic and downright atrocious control scheme, it makes up for its shortcomings with a fun and intuitive combat system, a scary and obscure story and stunning sound and art direction.
8.0
Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water was reviewed on Nintendo Wii U
67 / 100

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