Fatal Frame / Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water Review

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My relationship with the Project Zero / Fatal Frame series is not the most traditional and that's probably putting it lightly. I haven't played a single game in the franchise but I am familiar with them thanks to the speed-running community. Having taken a shine to watching classic horror titles being dismantled, Project Zero was a series that was most interesting to watch unfold.

Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water is the most recent game in the franchise, but is often overlooked thanks to its original release being a WiiU exclusive. That travesty has now been corrected as Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water is available on all major platforms, fully remastered for the best experience possible.

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While I can only compare the game to what I've seen of the original, finally plucking up the courage to play a game in the Fatal Frame series left me rather annoyed that I'd held off for so long! I suppose, if I was going to have any such feelings after playing this is the best outcome!

Here are my impressions of the remaster and why I'm hoping it opens the door for the series to either make a comeback or for more horror classics to return to modern systems!

Ain't no Mountain High Enough

Project Zero takes place on and around the fictional Mt. Hikami, which draws on many real-life inspirations from Aokighara, less affectionately known as the Suicide Forrest.

In the lore of the game, the location is notorious for both suicides and paranormal events, all of which are connected to various bodies of water in the area. It should be pointed out that the story does contain a lot of possibly triggering content for those sensitive to topics such as self-harm/suicide.

While the opening of the game doesn't spend too long on detailing the story, a mix of loading cards and cutscenes set up an eerie and chilling atmosphere that doesn't let up from start to finish. I have no intention of spoiling the story here, but I will reveal that you play as three different characters throughout the campaign; Yuri Kozukata, Ren Hojo and Miu Hinasaki.

project zero maiden of blackwater screenshot
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Each character is very different from one another but this doesn't create a scenario where it's difficult to get attached to either one or follow their individual stories and motives. That being said, at the same time, these characters feel like they're from a slightly older generation somewhat, so don't expect the character depth that you may find in say, an 80-hour RPG.

Speaking of timings, the whole game from start to finish is likely to set you back around 7-10 hours, accounting for taking in the lore/collectables and dealing with the trickier areas.

Simple, Spooky and Sublime

Nothing about Project Zero's gameplay is groundbreaking or award-worthy but it works and it works pretty damn well. Once again, though, the slightly dated nature of the game does come into play at times when moving your character throughout a level. Controls are by no means 'tank' but the speed and weight with which you move is reminiscent of the much older games.

project zero photo mode
Photo mode has been added as part of the remaster

It took a while to get used to but ended up playing into the games' favour the longer I played it. No level is particularly long, but Project Zero slowing me down certainly helps build up both the tension and time spent in each environment.

If anything, guiding each character through an area feels wrong if done quickly. I recall, in the very first level, trying to run through a derelict building and finding that the atmosphere fell off a cliff because I was missing all the small and nuanced details in my surroundings. I also ended up missing out on opportunities to snap photos of spirits because my reactions were hampered by moving too quickly.

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No Selfies Allowed

Now onto the show-stealer in any Fatal Frame game, the Camera Obscura. This is the contraption that is used to communicate and battle spirits within Project Zero. Each of our characters has their reason for coming into ownership of one of the cameras and each one has a unique look.

The gameplay that surrounds using the Camera Obscura is slowly introduced throughout the first true episode in the game and is done so fantastically. Rather than one large info dump onto the player, it instead uses the entire short episode to slowly teach each of the functions and how to best utilize them.

project zero camera obscura

Granted, this is the least you could expect from any tutorial, but in this case, it took a mechanic that could be considered a little convoluted and managed to walk me through the process without making me feel like an idiot... which is nice.

On the PS5 version of the game, the DualSense controller is easily one of the game's biggest assets but also just a huge frustration. Calibration didn't always line up and meant it was often easier to just ditch the motion controls despite how immersive they were when they worked properly. That being said, controlling the Camera Obscura via button presses didn't take anything away from the overall experience.

Beyond the Camera Obscura, there are plenty of opportunities to stop and appreciate your surroundings and learn more about the worlds you're inhabiting. The world is one worth learning about and character dialogue does a good job of this too, but to get the full experience, it's worth taking your time and fully exploring each area in every episode.

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Verdict

Fatal Frame / Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water was a bittersweet experience if only because it made me wish I had plucked up the courage to play games in the Fatal Frame series a lot sooner!

Thanks to a compelling story, tense gameplay, and interesting characters all nicely bundled into one appropriately sized package, it is a must-play for fans of the Fatal Frame/Project Zero franchise, or even just anyone who loves a good horror experience. You won't be left disappointed!

RealSport Score: 4 out of 5

We played Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water on PS5 with a code provided by Koei Tecmo Europe.