At long last, Fatal Frame / Project Zero: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse has made its way to the States. Or at least the remastered version of the game. Previously, in 2008, Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse was released in Japan for the Wii, but users from all over the world can now play the game on all modern consoles and the PC. If you don’t already know, Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is the fourth entry in the Fatal Frame series and the only one of the five mainline entries that didn’t make it to the States. Even though it took 15 years to localize and remaster the game, I’m all the more glad to experience the gameplay via undoubtedly better controls than the Wii, and advanced visuals as icing on the cake.
Otherwise, Fatal Frame’s unique take on supernatural horror, different from any of the zombie gore and psychological terror in Resident Evil and Silent Hill, respectively, can stay. Even the atmospheric appeal and tense occult plot wouldn’t be much of an issue if retained, as these very elements are exactly the reason Fatal Frame remains one of the best classic Japanese horror game franchises of all time. Praises aside, how exactly does Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse fair against popular horror games today? Is it worth the wait or buy? Let’s find out in the Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse review ahead, shall we?
To Hell and Back
I would think that returning to hell, if it were ever in the picture, would be a ludicrous thing to do. Or, if you survived a traumatic experience, would you ever want to go back there? Say, you don’t exactly remember everything that went down. Would you ever choose to retrace your steps in the hopes of recovering your lost memories? It’s a horrific endeavor, one Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is determined to put players through.
Five schoolgirls are abducted and taken to remote Rogetsu Island to participate in traumatic rituals. They survive the experience, only taking a handful of memories with them. Years later, two of the survivors pass away mysteriously, forcing the other girls to start dealing with their trauma. Eventually, they decide to return to the dreadful island to search for answers. Answers that will hopefully fill the gaps in their memories and help them heal.
Not too long after their arrival, they face the vengeful spirits that aspire to make their stay permanent. From an abandoned psychiatric hospital to a lighthouse and other haunted buildings, you're forced to search every nook and cranny for answers, whether it’s through the eyes of one of the girls or a detective.
You can definitely expect the story to take a turn for the worst, including some dark places better left unsaid. While cutscenes uncover a huge chunk of the plot, most of the other fillers are found in diaries spread throughout the island, reading text on-screen, flashbacks, and more.
Fatal Frame to the Rescue
Thankfully, you have a fatal frame, which is essentially a camera, and you can simply take a snapshot of the ghosts wanting to kill you. The same way you have to focus, then snap, is the exact same way the camera works. So, you must wait until the right time to deal maximum damage. This can get a little wonky at first, but it does grow on you after some time.
The more spirits you kill, the higher your score. Finding collectibles while scavenging through the daunting spaces racks up your points, too. The more points you earn, the more you can trade them for resources and cosmetics. And, of course, exploration comes in handy when piecing together the story.
All in all, Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse’s gameplay is pretty fun to play, especially if giving yourself a fright at every turn is your parte. One downside, though, is how annoying the pacing is. Characters move so slowly through levels, which makes little sense when exploration plays a big role in the game. What’s designed as running barely counts as jogging. Rather, more like a shuffle?
I guess slow movement is something one can stomach, but not when the same applies to combat. With ghosts lurking in every corner, Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse needs to put its foot on the gas where your life depends on it, precisely when pulling up the camera or flashlight and trying to focus on taking the most accurate shot.
Despite being a remaster, the gameplay tends to feel very surface-level, kind of like a copy/paste from the previously clunky mechanics on the Wii. That said, I wouldn’t say all is lost, given the incredible fun catching ghosts unawares and exploring the island gives.
At First Sight
With the adoption of all current-gen consoles, I’d expect the game to present itself above par as far as visuals are concerned. And, thankfully, “Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclispe” delivers. This game looks great—definitely far superior to the Wii version. The character models do portray the love and care they received, and the lighting does stand out despite the low-resolution textures the game demands.
The Thing You Cannot See
I think you’ll agree with me that the scariest part of horror is the unknown. The thing that you cannot see but can hear. Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse firmly understands this concept with the compilation of horror sound effects they throw at you, whether it’s the sounds of steps close by, a child crying, some distant clang, radio static, a piano playing by itself… all these combine to create the creepiest atmosphere unique to the franchise.
Speaking of creepy atmospheres, nothing quite describes the feeling you have while moving through the low-lit rooms and corridors in Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse at a glacial pace. You have a flashlight to help guide you, literally focusing its path on every nook and cranny to find collectibles and solve puzzles needed to advance to the next stage.
While you're busy scavenging for resources, weird sounds cut through the air, and a sea of horrific ghosts spring at you. The ghosts are a sight, too, with their black eyes and creepy forms. Perhaps the ghosts would have been less frequent, and there wouldn't have been a pop-up on the screen indicating what type of ghost was about to appear. Otherwise, more than enough spine chills are to be had for sure.
Although Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse barely comes close to the standards set by the likes of the Resident Evil remake, it does put some work into elevating the graphics to modern standards. Frankly, the plot didn’t need much of a remaster, so the fact that it remains largely similar to the original is very much okay. What’s perhaps disappointing is the gameplay, which, despite being in desperate need of remastering, barely looks different from the Wii version.
The game looks very much old school, with low-resolution textures and models. The pacing is frustratingly slow, which sucks given the huge amount of exploration the game demands. The camera angles feel odd, and the controls, oh, the controls, are a pain, to say the least. When a ghost pops up, and the adrenaline kicks in, the mechanics ought to match. Unfortunately, pulling up your camera to take that accurate shot or trying to turn around takes a lifetime.
That said, the tense, unique atmosphere we’ve come to love in Fatal Frame games comes through, from the abandoned psychiatric hospital to its narrow corridors to the weird audio feedback that cuts through the air from all sorts of weird places, seals the package and ties it with a bow. Eventually, it all starts to grow on you as you pace, neigh, walk around finding collectibles, and piecing puzzles together.
My only wish is that the characters could move faster, you know? There are plenty of things to do here, and ghosts lurk in every corner, so dilly-dallying is not an option. Plus, if it’s not too much trouble, a revamp on the controls. I feel most gamers with no experience playing games from back then will just about pull out their hair unless those patch updates come through.
Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse Review (PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Switch, & PC)
A Remaster of a Classic Fatal Frame Adventure
Fatal Frame has cultivated a culture of occult and folklore supernatural survival horror experiences, with the remaster of the fourth entry in the series, Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse, being not much different. This is a game for those who missed out on the original Japan-exclusive entry for the Wii in 2008. It’s a nostalgic adventure for fans of Fatal Frame on current-gen consoles. And, most of all, a perfect rendition of the unique, atmospheric milieu that only Fatal Frame has successfully mastered in the genre. Quick, grab your copy of Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse, remastered, out on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch, and Microsoft Windows.