Project Zero: Maiden Of Black Water
Publisher Nintendo Developer In-house (SPD), Koei Tecmo Format Wii U Release October 30
Amid the swirl of bleak ideas explored by this unusually thoughtful horror sequel, the one that perhaps resonates longest involves a folklorist positing the notion of the camera as a “lonely box”. Does that loneliness belong to the subject, isolated within the frame, or to the photographer, looking through the viewfinder as if gazing into the void? Maybe it’s both.
Koei Tecmo’s series has always sought to scare players by inviting them to get unsettlingly close to its ghostly subjects. And in using Wii U’s GamePad to frame shots for its spirit-banishing Camera Obscura, it has the perfect conduit to discomfit still further. You hold the controller in front of your face as tortured spirits lurch out of the darkness, spectral fingers grasping at you. Some spin in an elegant dance of death; some jerk and twitch, perpetually dangling from an invisible noose; others crawl and lurch, desperately scrabbling for one last human contact before their light is extinguished. And yet you wait for them to approach, knowing that an extreme close-up is the quickest – most merciful – way to put them out of their misery.
Tilting the controller offers a chance to deal more damage through full-body shots, while other ghosts release fragments that must be snapped to prevent a regeneration. Inevitably, the game’s first half is more frightening, but encounters retain intensity throughout.
While an episodic story occasionally struggles to contrive motivations for the three playable leads to return to the game’s mountainous setting after dark, this network of ornate shrines, tunnels and dilapidated buildings is home to some exceptional set-pieces. There’s a truly disquieting moment when protagonist Yuuri stumbles into a forest of dangling effigies, a disturbing image even before you consider the story’s ties to the Sea Of Trees, Japan’s infamous suicide spot. Later, a bravura firstperson sequence highlights the universal paradox of horror: the irresistible force of the desire to know meeting the immovable object that is the reluctance to find out. If many of its peers explore the fear of the unknown, Maiden Of Black Water taps into the terror of the inevitable and the unavoidable.
Some will doubt the merits of a guiding spirit, who will lead you to your destination with a squeeze of the trigger, yet it’s thematically apposite. These characters are, after all, irresistibly drawn towards the darkness, whether it’s a morbid fascination with the deceased, or the deep, lingering melancholia of (possibly suicidal) depression. Likewise saturated in sorrow, Maiden may be too gruelling for some – this is a potent and upsetting work that leaves a deep impression, spreading and darkening like a bruise.
Koei Tecmo’s motives for the ‘wetness’ mechanic (when damp, your defence is lowered, but your shots deal more damage) may not be all that pure. Plenty of attention is paid to how flimsy clothing can look when saturated