Anyone who knows me, knows I love good survival horrors. I don’t often get scared playing them, in fact, no game has really made me jump except for the original Outlast. I’m happy as long as they have a gripping and intriguing story. If the story is poor, and I’m not feeling that horror vibe from the game, then in my eyes it has failed to deliver. So how would I get on in Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water, the latest survival horror to hit consoles (both old and current-gen) and PC?
As I had to wait for Maiden of Black Water to download, I started by watching the game’s trailer, to get me into the mood and set myself up for my adventure. And it set the tone nicely, perfectly building the foundations of the story. When finally entering the game on PS5 once it had finished downloading, one of the first things that popped up was a statement on screen, about how all characters and locations etc. were fictional and any resemblance to real-life people or events were purely coincidental.
Now straight off the bat, I find this hard to believe. Maiden of Black Water is set on Mt. Hikami, a location that once had a special religious meaning, but over time has become the attraction spot for those looking to take their lives. Sound familiar? That’s because it is. You’re thinking of Aokigahara, located on the North-Western side of Mt Fuji, it is nicknamed the suicide forest. Because much like the location in Maiden of Black Water, those who feel lost and depressed make their way to the area to take their life.
Now, this wasn’t a major issue, and I can’t say I know who any of the characters may be based on. But I’d have appreciated Maiden of Black Water somewhat more if it was upfront and honest about its inspiration. Rather than saying it was all fictional and coincidental. Just admit and state, this is based on the many tales of Aokigahara, the suicide forest. Instead, I felt like I was almost being lied to straight off the mark, which didn’t leave me with a good first impression.
Once I got over that small annoyance, I started to get to grips with Maiden of Black Water. The introduction is done through a few short pieces of gameplay and cutscenes. These help you to learn the ropes of the game, as well as piece together the main characters and the parts they will play. Whilst the story was set up nicely though, the tutorial could’ve been somewhat more detailed. For example, to kill(?) ghosts, you must use your special Camera Obscura. But there were times I was trying to wonder what the point of some things was like taking certain photographs. These situations could’ve been better described.
Once the tutorial was finished, I progressed into Maiden of Black Water’s main content. It all begins with how and why you make your way to Mt. Hikami, I won’t spoil it for you now. Slowly as you make your way through the game, you’ll find items on the floor. These can be anything from special film for your camera that does higher damage or reloads quicker, as well as potions that will help cleanse you of the darkness that seeps into all living creatures who enter the forest.
I admit, the first time a ghostly hand did pop up out of the ground to grab me as I went to pick something up, it startled me. But it was so easy to escape, much like any battle you face with the ghostly beings. You just aim your camera, take a picture and BAM! It somehow damages them. The more floating orbs you can fit into your lens, the more damage you can do. It’s as bizarre and confusing as I am making it sound. Honest.
But, it is a system that works well for the most part. I began controlling my viewing with analogue sticks, but a slight movement to adjust my seating to get comfy because the cat decided to climb on me, meant the controller detected motion and began swaying around unrelentlessly. It was incredibly annoying, and because of the features of the PS5 controller, the screen starts swaying around too, and when you’re in the middle of a ‘battle’ it is incredibly frustrating. Fortunately, you can sort out the issues by editing Maiden of Black Water’s settings.
This wasn’t the only time I had issues with photographs though in Maiden of Black Water. There are plenty of times where I saw spirits moving, and you take a photo to capture them. But many times, they would appear and be gone before I had a chance to snap my camera. Some places I didn’t really revisit, and those I did were between stints of playing the game, and I forgot where I was, so I was unsure if I had missed them or whether they popped up again. But it was frustrating.
On one occasion I saw someone throw themselves off a cliff. Do you know how long it takes for a body to fall and splat? Quicker than I could open a camera and capture it. Maybe if I lived more as we do in the modern world where everyone’s on their phone all the time, recording everything, I’d not have missed so many photo ops.
Anyway, I made my way through the first mission, and at the end of each one, you get an opportunity to spend points on film, camera upgrades and other bits. It’s helpful, allowing you to top up on vital bits if you’re running low before attempting the next stage. The only issue was with how you earned the points to spend. If you’ve ever played a Koei Tecmo game before, you’ll be used to the idea of scoring points and being classed on how well you completed a level.
And for some games, it works well. Like Samurai Warriors, you get points for kills, combos and so on. That then translates to experience to help you level up, and improve your weapons and other bits. However, despite this being a feature in previous titles in the series, it feels misplaced. It almost makes Maiden of Black Water feel like an arcade game, and that for me cheapens the experience. If you want to tell me how much damage a snap with my camera is doing, fine. But how are my points increasing? Is it because it was a combo snap? Do longer-range snaps do less damage? Who knows, because I definitely don’t.
I feel if this was completely ignored, and it was a similar system to Resident Evil where you can discover or earn gold, and then a random creepy seller pops up now and again, this would’ve been a much better experience. Instead, it feels to me like you’re being passed off an arcade knock-off, except for once, we’re not being asked to pass over more coins to continue.
If you were hoping for me to bring some positives about Maiden of Black Water, I do have a few. The design was actually incredibly good. The artwork was so detailed, and the environments look fantastic. I also actually quite liked the look of the ghosts, and the way the music changes when things are approaching and you’re in danger. You could even enter a photo mode to create some spooky imagery of your own. It’s just a shame that moving through such a beautiful place felt so forced.
The movement in Maiden of Black Water was so stiff. It lacked any fluidity, it was reminiscent of playing games on the PlayStation when 3D titles really took off. It was all fixed-axis and nothing felt as smooth as the artwork, instead, it was all jagged movements and sharp turns. It really was a shame, because I think with a little more work, some polish on a couple of mechanics of the game, this genuinely could’ve been a great horror game. Because it looks the part, and the story is there too. It’s just everything else was lacking.
Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water overall thoughts
Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water has the foundations to be a great horror game, but much like the UPS man that was due to visit me the other day, it fails to deliver. The story is an intriguing one, even if it claims to be a coincidence that it resembles a real-life location when it clearly is a copy, but besides that grudge I hold, it actually plays out quite well.
In fact, Maiden of Black Water is worth checking out just to follow the story. That is if you can get over the numerous issues I found within the game that somewhat take something away from the experience. Not the worst horror I’ve ever played, but far from the best.
Developed and published by Koei Tecmo, Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water is available now on PC and all major consoles. You can find more info on its official website HERE, and for even more game reviews, click right HERE.