I’ll always remember playing the original Project Zero on my Xbox back when I was younger and being constantly on edge and terrified of its ghostly enemies. The whole ‘using a camera to defeat ghosts’ idea was really unique, whilst never quite knowing when an apparition was going to show up in your camera lens meant there were jump scares aplenty. Basically, it offered everything I wanted from a horror game and something that felt different to other titles in the genre.
Unfortunately, I never got a chance to play any of the sequels, despite owning Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water on the Nintendo Wii U. Well, with the recently released remastered version of said title, I’ve finally been able to get my Camera Obscura back out and snap up some ghosties – is it actually any good though or is this one horror title that needed to stay in its grave as a Nintendo Wii U exclusive?
Check out a gallery of screenshots down below:
Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water’s tale takes place in Hikami Mountain, a picturesque locale that brings with it dark undertones given that it’s a place where people go to in order to end their lives. It also brings with it spiritual elements, with Shrine Maidens previously helping those that visit reach a peaceful death and move on to the afterlife. However, when the cursed black water ends up taking over the mountain, it becomes home to malevolent spirits that cause harm to those around them.
Players take on the role of three different characters in the game, with each having their own motivation for being there and ties to one another. Miu Hinasaki, one of the playable characters, is actually the daughter of the protagonist from the first game, which shows that the game crosses over with previous releases too. They’re all already acquainted with each other, with their paths crossing regularly as they look to unravel and undo the evils that have struck Hikami Mountain.
With the story tackling the different rituals that took place at Hikami Mountain as well as the beliefs of those that inhabited it, there’s a lot to take in. Thankfully, it’s all entertaining, with the history behind the locale certainly keeping me invested in the eerie occurrences. I constantly wanted to find out more and see how the tale would end, whilst the little narrative details found along the way added to the intrigue. It’s a lot more haunting than similar titles in the genre, with the elements of the paranormal helping Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water’s tale stand out in the crowd.
“The combat in-game is surprisingly deep, with each showdown with the ghosts proving frightening but never leaving the player helpless… well… provided they can take a good photograph, that is.”
The game itself is split between missions known as Drops, with players playing as one of the three protagonists and exploring a variety of different locations. These areas are pretty creepy in themselves, with the likes of spooky forests, abandoned buildings, and ritual sites to explore, but it’s the spirits inside them that’ll catch players out the most. They’re all packed with ghosts; some of which aren’t malicious but are just left eerily wandering around, whilst others will cause you harm. Fortunately, you come equipped with the Camera Obscura – a special camera that allows you to defeat the ghosts.
Snapping photos of ghosts might not sound an effective means to beat them, but hey, it works. Players have to line up shots from a first-person perspective until circles appear on the target, which are the areas you need to specifically try and snap. The closer you are to a ghost, the more damage you’ll do, whilst if you capture a photo just as they attack, you’ll also dish out extra damage. You can also unlock additional film types that offer a variety of bonuses, whilst each character has their own unique Camera Obscura that can be upgraded and brings with it various features. It ensures that the combat in-game is surprisingly deep, with each showdown with the ghosts proving frightening but never leaving the player helpless… well… provided they can take a good photograph, that is.
“It’ll take players a good thirteen hours or so to beat the game (and even more if they want to get all endings), but a lot of that time will be frustratingly spent in the same areas over and over again.”
You won’t just use the Camera Obscura to defeat ghosts though, but also solve puzzles around each environment. Nothing is ever too complicated in Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water and on most occasions you simply need to take photos of an item or object in the environment, but it does add an extra element of investigative work as you try to make sure that nothing eludes you.
There are some decent mechanics on offer that make the game enjoyable to play, but it also has some issues that prevent it from striving towards horror greatness. For one, the controls are really clunky, with the slow movement and fiddly camera controls the worst offenders. Movement is overly sensitive too, making simple things like running around or lining up shots more cumbersome than it needs to be. It might seem like I’m being a little bit harsh here, but it’s really noticeable in-game and I didn’t even get fully used to it by the time I reached the ending.
You can expect quite a bit of repetition as you play too, with a lot of areas re-visited as you complete later Drops. Whilst this is commonplace in video games, it felt a little unnecessary here and like it was just used to pad out the experience. It’ll take players a good thirteen hours or so to beat the game (and even more if they want to get all endings), but a lot of that time will be frustratingly spent in the same areas over and over again.
“Encountering ghosts across the eerie locales constantly kept me on the edge of my seat, whilst the cutscenes managed to get plenty of jumps out of me thanks to their brilliantly scary presentation.”
Still, whilst Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water does have some flaws, there’s no doubting it hits the mark as far as scares are concerned. Encountering ghosts across the eerie locales constantly kept me on the edge of my seat, whilst the cutscenes managed to get plenty of jumps out of me thanks to their brilliantly scary presentation. It feels a lot like an Asian horror movie at times, and honestly, it’ll certainly send plenty of chills up your spine.
The game looks decent enough too, even if it’s clear throughout you’re playing a game from 2014. It doesn’t look or play like a PlayStation 5 game (or even like a PlayStation 4 game at times), but it never looks ugly… just dated. At least some minor improvements have been made to the visuals and some extras have been included such as new costumes and a Photo Mode, so there’s more on offer here when compared to the Nintendo Wii U version of the game.
Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water Review
Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water is an enjoyable horror experience that’s only let down by some repetitive gameplay and clunky controls. If you were judging it on scares alone, it’d be a real hit, with some stand out moments throughout that genuinely saw me jumping on a regular basis. The camera mechanics are neat too and show that not all horror game enemies can be beaten with guns or metal pipes.
There’s no doubting that it looks and feels a bit dated, but I’m glad I got to play Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water. Whilst there are missteps during the adventure, it still offers more than enough to keep horror fans entertained (and, of course, frightened).
Developer: Koei Tecmo
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Platform(s): PlayStation 5 (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC