Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water – Safe to Drink

Mt. Hikami is a popular suicide spot for young girls. It has a dark reputation but when someone feels helpless, alone, and “ready”, this spot is the brightest thing they can see. You have no control over any aspects of your life, but you have the choice to kill yourself. The very thought is liberating because you can actually do something with a result, and make a difference by removing your misery from the world. The stresses of your environment fade into the background of your mind with this empowering thought. “Do it” you hear a voice behind you. There’s nobody there… huh? “Doooo it. KILL YOURSELF. KILL KILL KILL KILL!!!!” Whooaaa, this outside force is encouraging your selfish act, and it suddenly has no appeal. All the power and strength you just mustered will now be used to stop this evil force.

It’s a little known fact that the Wii U has supernatural powers. Equipped with a Wii U GamePad, we are going to fight this supernatural force and figure out what’s going on. If we take enough pictures of these ghosts we can vanquish them. Hold it up to the screen. Move the right stick and tilt the gyro to move the camera. If it feels a bit slow, you can turn the sensitivity up. The important thing is you hold it steady and capture the ghost inside the rectangle.

*SNAP*

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Nice job. Spirit Photographs like this Tall Woman are one-time events, unique spirits that disappear very quickly. If you’re successful with the shots, you get to keep their photograph forever in a little ghostpedia with their name and location. The traditional ghosts in this game are a bit angrier though. They take multiple shots to kill, teleport all over the place, and split their bodies into parts.

Ghost combat has a good mix of timing and skill. If you just aim and take a shot, you’ll do a small amount of damage, but the ghost will continue advancing towards you. To actually STUN the ghost and do notable damage, you need to take a good photograph. A “good” photograph is either a Fatal Frame, taken one second before the ghost grabs you, or a combo shot where you get 5 pieces of spirit in one frame. The camera will start ticking and go red when this chance presents itself. GO GO GO!!

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This is perfect. *SNAP* Now both ghosts are pushed back and they’ve been dealt a lot more damage than a regular shot, 5 to 10 times more. While holding the camera in first-person you can still strafe around slowly, and this can help create that perfect angle. The more risks you take by “waiting” for the perfect shot, the better photographs you’ll get and the more damage you do. This is such a fitting mechanic for a survival horror game because it massively adds to the tension. The ghost’s crazy movement will have your eyes darting around the area, while you focus on keeping the camera still. It’s very hard to stay composed.

Even though combo shots are significantly better, single shots also have a use. When you first see a ghost it’ll usually have one circle, and taking regular pictures will “unhinge” the ghost and it’ll start throwing body parts at you. Eventually when you get 5 on screen, you have a chance to push it back and deal big damage with a combo shot. It’s a bit easier to get a combo shot with multiple ghosts, but also easier to get grabbed. I love how intense these fights are and it never gets old due to the fact that ghosts can appear anywhere on the entire screen. The gameplay never, ever stops. WHOA!

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This might be the hardest Miiverse picture I’ve ever taken. This is right before the Fatal Frame chance, waiting for it to tick red. However, he’s already in the attack animation to get you. This is the kind of horrific crap you’ll see in every fight if you want to take them down optimally. You have a very small window to take a Fatal Frame shot and you have to watch the ghost’s movement intently.

The scoring system in this game is very fun to optimise. The key to getting an S+ in a chapter is to not miss any special ghosts, have clean fights with regular ghosts, and not use too many healing items. It works because this is something that just naturally happens the more immersed you are. The atmosphere is so unnerving that you’re going to be on the lookout at all times, not just for your score but your health and peace of mind. This game has a large amount of interesting detail that sparks curiosity in every new area. It’s a game with a lot of elements that blend together and compliment each other. It’s very rare for a horror game to contribute to the tension in its core gameplay and structure. Instead of being a hack and slash management simulator, there is survival horror in the gameplay itself. You also get extra points for a Fatal Glance, which means touching a ghost right as it disappears. This adds incentive to be RIGHT NEAR the ghost as you kill it, which makes the battle even more risky as you walk towards it.

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The shit we do for points. This game proves gamers will do anything. Can’t solve the mystery of an ancient mountain? Just call a gamer. The first time you Fatal Glance each ghost type, you’ll also get a small movie to watch about how they died, or some kind of memory of theirs. It’s incredibly fucked up, with a grainy filter, fast transitions and endless screams. All the usual horror techniques, but relating to this game’s plot. The way the black water is animated is extremely surreal, you can feel it bubbling.

Normal movement is quite simple, with the tank control system from the previous games returning. You walk pretty slowly, but can run by holding ZL. It’s not too robust but I found it pretty consistent through the whole game. Walking backwards can be a bit awkward, and interacting can be overly specific. Picking up items also has its own game mechanic, with a little mini-game that involves holding the touch button. A ghost hand could come and grab you at any point in the game, shaking the screen wildly if you can’t let go of the touch button in time. It’s not going to cause a game over, but it adds a little bit of tension and makes every item feel important.

The game is structured into chapters called “Drops” where you discover new areas and events. With 3 playable characters, Yuri, Ren and Miu, sometimes you will be revisiting areas. This is nothing new to the series and overall I find the number of unique areas in this game pretty high. There are some drastic scenery changes that I found pretty exciting to discover.

I don’t mind the branching paths and backtracking because this is where you find the optional ghosts, which are always interesting with a unique design and animation. You can also find camera upgrades and film lying around which you’re gonna need. You get an unlimited amount of the weaker film type, but it takes forever to get ghosts down with that. Having stronger camera film will help your score and save you from panicking in tough fights. You can also pick up documents.

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I love reading these, you can almost smell the old paper. Nothing like a good bit of lore to get you even more sucked into the world. I love how much effort they put into the map as well. Might seem like a small thing, but that little extra bit of graphical design gives the place a lot of personality. It’s interesting reading people’s diaries, reading about events and also gathering historic information of the area. You can also pick up information from photographs and sound recordings that are very interesting to listen to. Just make sure you go straight into the menu when you pick them up, since they don’t auto-play. It feels kinda cool when you’re accessing them yourself, like solving a mystery.

The graphical detail in this game is a real strength. Naturally by being on Wii U, it’s far beyond any previous game in the series and I can’t think of any other horror game that looks this good. This game looks like it had a huge budget, even though it didn’t. They just put a lot of effort into things. It’s scary and real, and overwhelming at times how much is on the screen. The sound effects also contribute enormously. You almost always hear a distant rumbling, flow of water or just general “you’re about to die” ambience and the ghost screams are horrific. There’s a huge variety in ghost sounds, with some of them gently talking to you, and some going ballistic. It also has different sound coming out of the GamePad speaker for added dynamic flavour, for example if you’re walking past running water, it will sound closer in your hand than on the TV.

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The story touches some very strong themes and is generally fucked up like every game in the series. Maiden of Black Water however, stands distantly on its own with the strength of its unique landmarks and themes. The mountain, the black water, and the topic of suicide make this game world very wholesome and daunting. I’ve never seen a game tackle suicide quite like this before, it’s a very heavy topic that completely consumes this game. I have mixed feelings on this because some scenes take things to dangerous extremes. On one hand that could really fuck someone up, and I would be hesitant to actually let a suicidal person play this game. On the other hand, it’s refreshing for this to actually get some attention. Suicide is very serious, widespread occurrence that a lot of people don’t take seriously. You just get laughed at and unfollowed if you say anything remotely negative on social media. This game shows the mindset and psychological factors behind suicide in a hard-hitting way. There is a clear supernatural force in this game, but to see people driven to extremes is still very unnerving. The game does not hold back though, to its artistic credit.

Of course on that topic, there’s one more thing I need to address. There were two alternate swimsuit costumes taken out of the western release, but present in the Japanese version. Firstly, I think it’s important to mention the two costumes they ADDED to this version, Zero Suit and Zelda. In my personal opinion, they are way cooler than a piece of fucking cloth. The costumes themselves are not what I want to talk about though. The fact that discussion around this game at release was about “censorship” of some random costumes is absolutely fucking disgusting to me. We have a game about death and suicide and somehow a bit of cleavage is more important. After playing through the entire game it is a completely ridiculous way to define it. If you can get a hard dick while playing this game, with the constant threat of death and black water, then I’m not sure what you’re looking for in a horror game. The choice of costume didn’t even enter my mind, because they are difficult to obtain. Not only do you have to beat the game first, but you must see all 7 alternate endings, and figure out how to get them. I’ve even done that and I’m still missing some, so you may even have to play on Nightmare mode. There is just so much more to this game that I can’t believe the censorship discussion ever took place. Costumes are a cool thing in a videogame, a bonus feature. You can also put accessories on after you unlock them.

I’m grateful that we got this game at all, considering the 4th game in the series never made it. It’s a miracle for this to see release in the unhealthy Wii U market, when a Wii game was considered too risky. That’s what we should be focusing on for the health of not just this series, but the survival horror genre as a whole. The digital-only issue is another thing I saw people having a bitch over. This game has 2 chapters on the eShop that are completely free to play, and I saw a lot of people get into the series for the first time through that. The Miiverse community is actually quite a fun place, with people posting their personal camera shots and trying to get S+ rankings. Instead of focusing on this, you have articles like Nintendo Has Personally Killed The Series For The West. Absolutely shameful fucking garbage. If we don’t focus on these positive things then the series is most definitely not coming back. There is a HUGE, meaty, powerful videogame experience here and anybody in the world can play it.

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Back to the gameplay, there’s a bonus Ayane chapter which I found hilarious. There’s almost no story but it does have a different approach to gameplay with a stealth emphasis. Unfortunately, you can run through the entire thing (and S rank it) without ever initiating the gameplay. It’s a shame because the new viewpoint and stealth game mechanic here are interesting. You can’t kill ghosts in this chapter, only paralyze them, and you’re meant to observe their movement and stun them at the right time to get past. It’s a really good idea that was just thrown together too quickly, but I still had fun with it. It’s a nice way to unwind after the relentless intensity of the main story.

Project Zero is a very intense series and the 5th game somehow found a way to ramp things up even further, using the strengths of the Wii U for improved graphics and controls. The GamePad camera controls are so good that I can’t imagine playing without it anymore. It’s miles beyond the poor Wiimote implementation of the Project Zero 2 remake. That game was playable (and still very good), but this game feels natural. This is a horror game in the most accurate definition, with heavy themes and a very thick atmosphere that can actually pull you into a bad emotional place if you aren’t careful. The mountain is calling you. Just bring your Wii U GamePad and you’ll be fine.

3 thoughts on “Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water – Safe to Drink”

  1. I’ve downloaded those free chapters but have been too scared to play them. Also still feeling a little burnt after buying Project Zero 2 in some misguided attempt to prove that collectively Australians liked videogames. One day I’ll learn

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  2. I absolutely loved this game’s atmosphere. Those dolls in the temple seriously freaked me out when I first encountered them.

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  3. Having played 1-3 and 5 I can say these games are some of the finer examples of atmosphere heavy horror out there.

    The Tall Woman gave me the most creeps though. Her and her freaky smile.

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