Since the release of its first chapter on PS2, almost 20 years ago, the Project Zero series (or Fatal Frame) has carved out a good slice of fans, even in the West. While Silent Hill has gradually dissolved and other sagas like Resident Evil have focused more on action, Project Zero has continued its tradition of old-fashioned horror titles.
After failing to locate the Mask of the Lunar Eclipse, in 2014 the fifth chapter of the series was released: Maiden of Black Water, exclusive Wii U interesting but definitely passed on the sly. After 7 years, Koei Tecmo brings this title to current platforms in a remastered version. A rather poor way to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the series, but which at least allows all fans to be able to play with it.
Like Aokigahara, but worse
Central location of the story of Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water is the monte Hikami, once a thriving tourist destination that has fallen out of favor due to a series of alarming suicides in its forests, which have gradually transfigured it into a desolate and ghostly place around which strange rumors have risen. In fact, it seems that many people go there to put an end to their lives and even those who venture there out of curiosity disappear into thin air.
In the game we will follow three protagonists: Yuri, Miu e Ren, each of which will find himself in spite of having to visit Mount Hikami in search of other missing persons. The stories of the three will intertwine with each other and involve them in the murky backstage of the mountain, which in the past was the site of dark rituals and curses, which have made it the haunted place of spirits it is today.
The themes of the story are entirely in line with the Japanese horror film tradition, as well as the style of its staging rich in elements of local folklore. The classic style of Project Zero is still present and palpable by the narrative style: the events are marked by the cutscenes, but most of the details of the lore and characterization of the various characters involved are contained in the numerous documents found during the exploration. If you are approaching the series for the first time and are used to more lively rhythms, be warned: this title may not be in your strings.
The plot of the story is certainly accurate and compelling, keeping glued to the joypad while waiting to discover the facts surrounding Mount Hikami. It’s just a pity that the narrative rhythm is not very constant and is plagued by a certain repetition and frequent backtracking sessions that are quite forced.
Who you gonna call?
The beauty of Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water is mainly contained in his atmosphere full of mystery and restlessness. The feeling of being alone with the constant sensation of being observed in secret, whether in a forest or in cramped and crumbling buildings, surrounded by strange noises (also thanks to the excellent sound design), disturbing details, objects that move from suns, oscillating shadows… All without practically ever resorting to the abused technique of jumpscare, but rather by increasing the tension derived from dealing with the unknown and the supernatural. Tension that reaches its peak when we finally find ourselves face to face with the ghosts that haunt Mount Hikami.
Our only weapon is there Camera Obscura, or rather a camera capable of exorcising spirits by taking pictures of them. At the time of the original release, Maiden of Black Water offered one of the best uses of the Wii U GamePad, which was exploited just as if you were holding the game’s camera, while also allowing the classic use of the analog stick to rotate the camera.
In this remaster of the game the pad sensors simulate that same mechanic as they can, but a good amount of practice will be required before we get carried away. Probably the best version of the game is the one for Nintendo Switch (which we tested) which in portable mode actually allows us to use the console a bit like we did with the GamePad. By pressing a button you enter the camera mode and you can frame the ghosts to be fought in first person; our photographic “attacks” will be more effective if we capture the ghosts closely, caught in the act of attacking us, and if in the same photo we capture the various fragments of spirit that surround them.
We will therefore have to defend ourselves by coordinating the tilt of the camera and the timing of shooting at the right moment; especially when we find ourselves in front of more than one ghost we will also have to pay particular attention to our movements, in order to avoid being surrounded. It is also possible to improve the Camera Obscura by enhancing features such as range, power and cooldown between photos, as well as being able to use different types of lenses that will cause various effects.
For the fifth installment of the series the Koei Tecmo team added several features to enrich the gameplay, without distorting the original formula in any way. One of these is the Reading of Shadows, or the ability to perceive “traces” of memories, thanks to which we will be able to identify the right path to advance in case we lose the compass. During the exploration we will also have to pay attention to the water: the wetter we are, the more vulnerable we will be to the encounters of spirits.
Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water is a Simple game system that is not meant to distract from the immersion and atmosphere. It is also very uncomfortable to use and effectively returns the feeling of not being an extraordinary individual ready to slaughter spirits, but a vulnerable human being who must perpetually pay attention to every move.
While the game clearly harks back to classic 90s survival horror, the woody controls surely they are not among the elements we would have liked to find, and they certainly have not improved in the remaster. It’s okay to focus on the sense of helplessness, but we would have done without the frustration of not being able to control the character on duty with the ease we would like.
There are not many additions that accompany this new version of Maiden of Black Water. First we find one renewed graphics with high definition textures and adequate resolution; an operation that is certainly welcome and appreciable, but which fails to revolutionize the dated aspect that the game had already started in 2014.
A photo mode has also been added (pun not intended) with which to immortalize the moments of the game by customizing various aspects of the shot. Finally, new costumes and accessories have been added for the protagonists.
Source: Tom's Hardware by www.tomshw.it.
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