Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water Review

  • First Released Oct 22, 2015
  • WIIU
Alexa Ray Corriea on Google+

Fatal shame.

Fatal Frame is an eccentric series. Game plots center on horror stories steeped in Japanese myth and tradition, and the main mechanic features using an in-game camera to ward off ghosts. It’s a weird mix, but one engaging enough to earn the franchise a cult following. It’s such a shame, then, that its latest entry is so disappointing. Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water has fun, survival horror moments and does an excellent job building its atmosphere. But a paper-thin narrative and clunky, frustrating controls drag the experience down.

The story takes place in a small rural Japanese town and on Mt. Hikami, a neighboring landmark that has become a popular place for young women to commit suicide. The mountain hosts a number of dilapidated buildings, including a shrine that in ancient days was filled with pious maidens. Unsurprisingly, everything is haunted.

You spend most of the game controlling Yuri, a young woman with the ability to see dead people and view their memories. She decides to find people who have gone missing on Mt. Hikami and lead them back home. Also unsurprisingly, her altruism uncovers the area’s greatest ghost story. The two other playable characters--a miserable young man with equally miserable facial hair named Ren and a troubled teen named Miu--also get caught up in the mystery, with their own specific problems to resolve because of it.

Why did it have to be dolls?
Why did it have to be dolls?

If you’re familiar with Japanese horror flicks, or have at least seen The Ring, then you know what to expect in terms of pacing; this brand of cinema tends to reveal mysteries bit by bit through increasingly gross and shocking events. But Maiden of Black Water front loads most of its intrigue, blowing major plot twists within the first few chapters and destroying any sense of dramatic pacing. Discarded notes and journal entries scattered throughout each area add color to events, but don't yield anything new; you're exposed to enough heavy foreshadowing earlier on that everything is predictable. Much of the middle is a tedious slog, as you retread previous areas wringing little revelatory substance.

It doesn’t help that characters have punishingly little depth. It’s hard to care about anyone in Maiden of Black Water because nobody acts like they care, either. Lifeless lines are delivered through lifeless acting, and the story gives little indication of genuine affection between its characters. Every line is delivered in the same stoic, stone-faced way. There's barely any progression within relationships, no reason to believe a young woman looking for her mother actually gives a damn about her mother or that Yuri's guardian cares about Yuri. Yuri's aforementioned decision to find the missing is not given much context; she just does it, apparently with no motivation given. Character decisions like this are abrupt with no drama or emotion behind them; they are only things that need to happen to further plot. I found it difficult to empathize or care about these people, because Maiden of Black Water tells you these relationships exist but doesn't bother to show you why they exist, or why they matter.

Not exactly surprised, here.
Not exactly surprised, here.

For the most part, Maiden of Black Water tells you exactly where you need to go and keeps you firmly on the path to getting there. But the game is at its best when it sets you down in an area and lets you explore on your own. The graphics aren't the sharpest, but the game does an amazing job of setting a sorrowful tone and creating an atmosphere of simmering tension. Abandoned shrines sit coldly under canopies of dark, dripping leaves, shadows playing along decrepit wooden beams. Apartments are bathed in the dull golden glow of lamplight, creating a sense of warmth but also emptiness. Watching my character slosh through stagnant ponds of dirty water made me feel uneasy; watching her flashlight play off gravestones and ancient, broken stone lanterns made the setting feel chillingly real.

These areas are also complicated. Exploring an abandoned building often involves discovering which doors are locked, searching for keys, creeping through soggy basements and running along rickety porches. These multi-leveled structures are playgrounds for ghosts and the imagination, and poking into every nook and cranny sells the sense of desolation and destruction. You really feel like you’re in a remote area of Japan, a place forgotten by time and haunted by history. It’s a marvelous setting for a story, and exploring it unfettered by main directives is a delight.

Maiden of Black Water's characters often talk about feeling empty, and the game frequently shows people committing suicide. The story briefly touches on depression, self-hatred, and mental illness--heavy subjects that are difficult and painful to deal with. However, the game treats suicide almost like window dressing to plot, and includes the rest as character motivation without explanation. It’s disheartening and uncomfortable to see these problems treated with no thoughtfulness or depth.

The art of exorcism.
The art of exorcism.
The more ghosts in frame, the better.
The more ghosts in frame, the better.

Taking a photo with your Camera Obscura--Fatal Frame's ghost camera--requires holding the GamePad upright in front of you, aligned as symmetrically as possible with your TV screen, and entering camera mode. Once in camera mode, the TV screen becomes less important as you use the GamePad to identify ghosts’ weak points. Tap a button to snap a photo, which stuns them for a half a second. Then it’s a game of cat-and-mouse as you move to keep out of reach while waiting for your camera to reload for another photo. As you snap away, your camera absorbs Spirit Power, which can be used to trigger a Fatal Frame attack and take several photos in rapid succession without needing to reload. You can stick with landscape shots or flip the GamePad for a portrait shot to get more ghosts in frame.

The camera is also upgradeable. At the end of a chapter you’re awarded points based on the quality of your paranormal photos. These points can be spent on upgrading the camera and its different lenses, the latter of which have special effects like stunning ghosts for 10 seconds or inflicting more damage. Knowing customization is an option inspired me to take care when choosing my photo angles and work quickly when dispatching poltergeists. It’s gratifying to rack up tens of thousands of points and then spend them on creating a powerful exorcism machine. Despite an uninteresting story and choppy pacing, tricking out your camera makes you feel like you’re genuinely achieving something through gameplay.

Fatal Frame is an obvious candidate for an installment on the Wii U because camera controls seem like a perfect fit for the GamePad controller. Having a piece of equipment in your hands that literally feels like a camera is a boon to Maiden of Black Water’s tone and immersion. As you wander through rainy forests and abandoned structures, you'll frequently stumble upon specters minding their own business--or they’ll pop out of nowhere and throw themselves in your face. For the ghosts that don’t acknowledge you, a quick snap will do. For those that want to harm you, it’s time to play quick-draw with your shutter.

However, controls aren’t always reliable. Hairpin precision is essential for getting rid of spirits quickly, but this need can get in the way; if your GamePad isn’t exactly lined up with the screen, you’ll run into trouble if you have to turn more than 90 degrees to get a ghost in-frame. The most powerful ghosts move fast, necessitating lightning-fast reflexes, and sometimes I could swing the GamePad around 180 degrees with no problem, grabbing a shot of the spirit behind me just before it attacked. But other times the gyroscope would just stop working, and I’d find myself waving the controller around in wild desperation. In these cases, you may have to back out of camera mode, take a second to reorient your character, then hop back in camera mode. Almost always in these instances, ghosts attacked during the time I needed to readjust and I ended battles feeling more frustrated than accomplished.


It also takes a painfully long time to turn around, and basic movement is so slow as to feel unnatural. The sheer length of time required to spin on the spot and face a ghost will frequently result in taking damage before you even have the chance to take aim. Some ghosts move pretty quickly, and being so sluggish makes it feel like you’re never adequately prepared enough to defend yourself. It’s aggravating enough to discourage getting into “fights” with them to begin with. Again, you need to keep that GamePad completely upright when you first enter camera mode; even the slightest angle of variation when you start can change the way motion controls read your movements, contributing to disorientation. Additionally, the right trigger has too many commands mapped to it: you use it as your compass, to pick up objects, to inspect pieces in the environment, to cycle through text boxes... Sometimes when you’re standing near an object and press the appropriate button to pick it up, the game will summon a trace--a white human shape that illuminates the path you need to take--instead. It’s another control element adding to frustration.

The most dramatic parts of gameplay are "boss battles” where you take photos of more powerful ghosts. Running around a room and then frantically whipping out the camera to get a demonic priest off your back can be exhilarating--when the controls behave. If there are too many ghosts on screen, the frame rate tends to chug, making everything scary in an entirely different way. Additionally, you can use healing items in battle, but only by calling up the pause screen, which takes much of the drama and urgency out of battling away ghosts. It gives you no incentive to play things safe and protect yourself, as you can always just take a break from battle and load up on purifying water.

Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water is a well-intentioned addition to the Wii U’s mostly family-friendly library and does an excellent job of transporting you to another place and time. That’s about it, though. Its story and characters are not compelling, and the GamePad-as-camera controls are frequently unreliable. These prevent the game from attaining any real sense of excitement or drama. With too much out of sync--from wildly variable handling to the way you use items to the unconvincing character relationships--Fatal Frame: Maiden of the Black Water isn't anything more than a mediocre experience.

Alexa Ray Corriea on Google+
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The Good
Unique use of Wii U’s GamePad controller
Does an excellent job of setting tone and atmosphere
The Bad
Forgettable plot and characters
Controls are unreliable, clunky, and frustrating
Clumsy gameplay moments break tension and hinder any real sense of drama
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

As someone who was a part time paranormal investigator to earn extra money during college, Alexa Ray Corriea is well acquainted with the Fatal Frame franchise. She played Maiden of Black Water to completion for this review and spent some extra time just snapping ghosty pics.
310 Comments  RefreshSorted By 
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Avatar image for shadow_mishra

I realize this comment is a bit late, but I just have to ask this: How often does Gamestop usually give scores lower than 7?! I might have to actually find this game to try it just to see how bad it is to only get a 5...

Avatar image for mrjoeyyaya

Gamespot's Nintendo reviews of 5 or lower usually translate to between 7.5 - 8.5 in reality...

Sonic Lost World is another great example.

Avatar image for MajinSquall

what a surprise Gamespot giving a Nintendo game a bad review

honestly we all know you guys hate Nintendo and Sony and love XBOX and PC so why not just become a XBOX and PC only site and be done with it

Avatar image for petermavreas

after playing for 3 hours its a solid 7.5 game

Avatar image for lyhthegreat

@petermavreas: yea story wasn't great like 2 but the gameplay was good...

Avatar image for 666Rich666

wow... they deleted my comment because it was somewhat critical of the gamespot staff... this is why this website sucks shit

Avatar image for lorider25

Another top notch game for the Wii U.

Avatar image for easy_target77

@lorider25: I know, right?

Now more seriously, I haven't sold my WiiU yet because my daughter loves to play Splatoon. If it weren't for that it would have found its way into eBay's bowels.

Avatar image for madsnakehhh

Gonna check the free trial and see if it's worth it, personally i'm all for atmosphere in games so i may enjoy this one regardless some of the flaws, i just hope the controllers aren't that broken because that's always a huge drawback for me.

Avatar image for oi_oi_spanky

Another Nintendo exclusive the Wii U kids can be proud of. The Wii U's backside is taking more of a pounding than the prison bitch.

Avatar image for cwalk

Just finished the trial version and these are my first impressions. It's worth more than 5, I'd give it a 7. The controls aren't as good as other Fatal Frame titles as they are a bit clunkier. The only thing I wish this game did was have the camera viewfinder on the TV as well as the gamepad, it's a bit distracting switching between the two. However, you can just play the game from the gamepad and not have to worry about switching, it's slightly disappointing, but fixable.

One thing that's made this game a bit more difficult than previous titles is the fact that now you don't just snap pictures of ghosts til they're dead. Instead, when you snap a picture, pieces of the ghost start floating around and you have to snap pictures of them (I counted as many as 4 or 5 on ghosts) before they get absorbed back into the ghost. I didn't play the 4th game, so it could be a completely new mechanic or it could be from the 4th game. I feel this may have been tacked on though as an excuse to use the gamepad to shoot at different angles.

I'm probably gonna wait until the game comes down in price, since it hasn't changed all that much from previous titles. I don't know much of the story, but I thought it was a bit funny that most of the prologue was only told through text. It kind of made it seem like a high quality indie game, rather than a more moderate title like the previous games. I'll probably enjoy this nonetheless.

Avatar image for TJDMHEM

i'll get it later.

Avatar image for franzito

Fatal Frame used to be cool and scary, I still have my PS2 copy of the first (my favorite) but, as the sequences' plots started to get weirder, the ghost's list bigger and the playing hours longer, this series has became excruciating.

Avatar image for mariokart97

Gamespot reviews are shit, but you know how many idiots will be convinced this game is garbage due to this review?

If you want to know one reason why this review is shit is because the author of this review commented on the slow paced gameplay in a negative way.

Anyone who knows anything about SURVIVAL HORROR games is that they aren't usually fast paced. The best Resident Evil games have what some would consider "clunky tank controls" and yet they blow action games like Resident Evil 5 & 6 away. Seriously, your opinion shouldn't limit sales for this game you fucking will. Shit reviews, if they don't get paid they don't get the grade.


Avatar image for easy_target77

@mariokart97: Sir. Please sit down.

Avatar image for Fenixx

Fatal Frame has never really been a huge selling successful series, which is part of why the last two games weren't released on a bigger scale. They're not the kind of games for everyone, even horror fans. They have a very different style of horror compared to anything else out there. I've always really enjoyed them and will be getting this one at some point but it doesn't surprise me that it's getting negative views by people.

Avatar image for ACURadamanthys

The game is a 6 if you rate it as standalone game, BUT, considering the other games of the franchise (that are far from perfect) is good. I've only played FF2 (xbox), FF2 Wii Edition, FF4 and this one, and I can tell you this: The movement controls are a bit worse than the formers, but the use of the GamePad is very clever. Graphics are decent (with some framerate inconsistencies here and there) and the tone and atmosphere that you expect from a FF game is definitely there. I'm in Chapter 5, and the story does not disappoint. Sound is excellent as always ,with some recycle sound and jingles, no biggie. Give it a try if you are a horror fan. If you like the series then you already bought it.

Avatar image for Sp0ilzbury

Still getting it.

Avatar image for tarantani

Problem with all of this is... Gamespot is just polarized towards Sony and Bungie.

Devils third... ohh its sooo sooo bad... well its actually fun, lets wait what gamespot gives it when the online part hits the PC.

Fatal Frame... ohh its sooo sooo bad... just wait if there will ever be a ps4 port with even more broken controls.

Whats up gamespot? Has Ninty removed you from their payroll?

Do you have to pay the retail price for the promotional copy instead of getting it shoved up your a$$?

Gamespot... your polarization towards Sony can't be denied anymore, its undoubtedly, therefore I can't (for myself) take any gamespot review, article or news, serious anymore. Its time to rely on other information channels.

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat

@tarantani: Good riddance to you then.

By the way, you just want an "information channel" that tells you what you like to hear.

Avatar image for Kyrylo

FF lost its spark after second title, and it appear it wont regain it. shame.

Avatar image for lyhthegreat

@Kyrylo: nah 3 was pretty good, i would say it's standard dropped after ff4...

Avatar image for Kyrylo

@lyhthegreat: 3 wasn't bad. But it lacked impact of first and second. It was more of the same and while it had some memorable moments (mostly due to the SH: Room inspiration) overall it was pretty forgettable. FF4 was just plain boring sadly with no scary ghosts and predictable story.

Avatar image for jenovaschilld

Bummer they are censoring the skimpy outfits. Not that big of a deal, but would have been nice if they left it in anyways.

the game will be rated mature anyways so what would be the problem. ?

Avatar image for jenovaschilld

I am borrowing my wii u back that I gave to my sister in law, my gamespot supposed to get one of these this week - plan to play this game on Friday, will keep you updated.

Long time fan of the fatal frame games.

Avatar image for etphonehome

Does the protagonist obnoxiously say "FANtastic!" after she gets a good shot of a ghost on her camera? (+1 for anyone who gets this reference.)

Avatar image for supermark2000

@etphonehome: Frank West would say that in the first Dead Rising game. That game was great, seriously. I loved how you could earn experience points (prestige points) for taking pictures. A fantastic shot would earn you a decent amount of pp.

Avatar image for etphonehome

@supermark2000: Very good sir. But seriously though, classic Dead Rising was brutal, but so much fun, DR2 upped the stakes (gas zombies) and introduced new ways to smash zombies, but lost a bit of the first game's charm. Honestly, DR3 was a hell of a good time, but some of those combo weapons made you SO OVERPOWERED, like some demigod placed on earth to murder zombies. There was also no sense of urgency like in the first 2 games. I'm so glad that there are some classic DR fans out there still.

Avatar image for saosebastiao

I like how everyone here has an opinion of the grade this game should be getting without having even played it...

Avatar image for Bread_or_Decide

She also couldn't figure out how to play kirby's rainbow curse. Maybe they need to hire someone who can actually play video games instead of just watching a story play out.

Avatar image for blkgsr

Well crap was hoping for a decent score like 7-8 but 5 is bad, looks like i'll try the game if its ever on sale. And its sad because ive never played a fatal frame game and it looked interesting to me and the tablet seems perfect for a camera in theory. I will be crushed if xenoblade gets a bad score, it was the reason i went out and bought a wiiu. I thought the game was coming sooner back then. I bought the wiiu about the same time hyrule warriors came out. But theres been a handful of great games for the wiiu there just to few and far between.

Avatar image for mrjoeyyaya

@blkgsr: Gamespot gave Sonic Lost World a horrible review just because they sucked at playing the game... There is no way in hell this game is a "5 out of 10". Realistically, the game is a "7.8 out of 10".

Avatar image for deactivated-58ce94803a170

@blkgsr: Nintedo is offering the game as free to start, so you get to try the game out for free on release day.

Avatar image for blkgsr

Well that sucks ive never played a fatal frame game and thought this would be a good start, it seemed perfect for the integration between the game and controller as a camera. Well plenty of other great titles out and coming out. And its nice that fallout and tomb raider come out on my birthday, I think im gonna grab both for a birthday present to myself. Just hope xenoblade is good if it sucks I will be crushed because it was the main reason i went out and got a wiiu. Thought the game was coming out sooner back when i bought my wiiu, got it about the same time hyrule warriors came out.

Avatar image for no_one

Looked mediocre in the trailer. Looked like it was gonna be a struggle to control. Not surprised at all.

Avatar image for lostn

Was really looking forward to this one.

Avatar image for johnnyauau

What's so fun about taking pictures of ghosts? This game remind me of the last Wii game though I forgot what's the game title is. If I had to describe it, it stars two girls and they follow shooting photos in a similar fashion.

Avatar image for cguido

I trust the meta critic scores more.

Avatar image for cguido

I really do not think so at all. hell I am getting the Special Edition ...No game with a Special Edition has ever had a low score.

Avatar image for Thanatos2k

Also, Nintendo of America censored it, so that's another reason to stay the hell away.

Avatar image for playstationzone

3ds animal crossing get 5 and know this get 5

Avatar image for sakaixx

Great review!

Avatar image for YEPEE00

Hmm...yeah, this game had a lot of "right" things going for it. It really seem like it would be likely to deliver.

Avatar image for superbuuman

Still getting it. :P

Avatar image for Random_Matt

Bad reviews everywhere, sorry fanboys, another pathetic Nintendo game. NX is doomed.

Avatar image for sylveon128

Oh look it's her again the female who give Nintendo game bad score for stupid reason lol gamespot is a joke when it comes to Nintendo stuff nothing to see here people just another Sony fan girl in disguise lol

Avatar image for Bread_or_Decide

@sylveon128: She prefers games that are just movies in disguise. The minute she has to actually PLAY the game it's a problem.

Avatar image for sylveon128

@Bread_or_Decide: and that is why GameStop is a huge joke because Nintendo said the focus on gameplay time and time again and since jokespot is bias and only like movies Nintendo is always going to get the short end of the stick. I wish they can learned that both can exist one does not have to dominate the other lol I so glad I have my own mind and don't follow reveiws especially jokespot I would trust a review from them even if they gave my favorite game a good score.

Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water More Info

  • First Released Oct 22, 2015
    • Wii U
    Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water is comprised of three interconnected stories that converge to uncover the truth behind a recent string of tragic deaths in a forest marred by a history of suicides.
    Average Rating17 Rating(s)
    Please Sign In to rate Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
    Developed by:
    Koei Tecmo Games
    Published by:
    Action, Adventure, Survival, 3D
    Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.
    Blood, Violence