There was a time that when a game was released in Japan with no word of a Western release, fans would be left in the cold. This is especially true when it comes to some more niche titles or survival horror games and one such title that stung back in 2008 was Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse for the Wii. Despite the platform’s popularity, Koei Tecmo never localized this entry in the series leaving fans of the Fatal Frame series in the West with a nine year gap before the eventual Maiden of Black Water release on the Wii U. Following the enhanced multiplatform release of the former title, Koei Tecmo has seen fit to not only revisit Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse but also bring it to the West for the first time ever. So now that this horror title has arrived on current Western platforms, is this niche title worth checking out?
Rogetsu Island has long since become a place where no one dares tread after a mass casualty event eight years prior to the start of the game led to rumors that the island was haunted by dark spirits. Five girls who were once kidnapped and taken to the island ten years ago have grown up but in the time since their recovery two of them have died horrific deaths due to mysterious means. With the surviving girls believing that their only way to stave off death is to return to the island and recover their lost memories of what happened to them when they were taken, Misaki and Madoka venture into danger. Shortly after Ruka Minazuki also arrives on the island to try and rejoin her fellow survivors only to find that the two girls have already gone missing and the rumors of the island being haunted are as true as the moon in the sky. With Ruka’s mother calling for his assistance, the detective that located the girls a decade prior Choshiro also arrives on the island to track down Ruka and perhaps find the serial killer he was searching for all those years ago.
As usual with the Fatal Frame games, Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is a mostly standalone title with only small references to past games that even longtime fans may not catch at first glance. The story throughout this entry is an interesting one since, outside of one, every playable character is suffering from amnesia and will slowly remember events as players begin to unravel the mystery about what happened to the island and the strange rituals that were held there. This slow build of tension works both narratively and moment to moment gameplay as well as players will often never quite know what they will be uncovering next or what type of specter might be ready to attack. Along these same lines, finding various documents and pieces of information throughout the journey helps tell a well-detailed backstory that lays the groundwork quite well for the events that happen to players and, thanks to the way ghosts are handled in this game there is even some extra details to be had here as well.
Rather than throw generic enemies at players, every ghost that attacks the characters has a name that will be revealed when defeated with the Camera Obscura or Spirit Lens flashlight which will appear in a ghost list. This list can contain interesting tidbits about a ghost and it can make for some interesting revelations when players recognize a name that may have appeared in a document. Combine this with a tight setting that really accentuates the spookiness of any situation and there are a lot of scares and tension to be had throughout the game. This level of detail to building a creepy atmosphere on a mysterious island with a dark past shrouded in danger makes for one of the most intriguing storylines Fatal Frame has had even if it may be a bit slow at the start thanks to the amnesiac elements.
Between the game’s origins on the Wii and its design as a horror game, players should expect Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse to feel rather stiff as they play through the game. The fastest characters can move is at a slow jog but given the often tight nature of the corridors and rooms they navigate, this is for the best. Even grabbing items from shelves or the ground is slow and intentional as players will need to keep an eye out in case a ghostly arm tries to grasp at them losing health and the item in the process. Unfortunately, when it comes to actually trying to locate items in the environment things can be a bit on the rough side as well. A helpful light will appear when players are near an item but almost every object, outside of most notes, must first be revealed by the character’s flashlight. To do this the player must aim the flashlight at the item’s location or at least near it but thanks to an uncooperative camera and some strange instances that saw an object not be revealed multiple times, the mechanic does struggle a bit.
Thankfully the title does offer a quick-turn option which can be useful when encountering the many specters and wraiths that will attack everyone. As the girls, players will battle against the numerous ghosts that attack them using the Camera Obscura. Taking photos of ghosts damages them and will often stun them out of an incoming attack though waiting to take a shot until right before a ghost attacks will trigger a “Fatal Frame” that will not only deal a lot of damage while stunning the target but also allow for multiple photos to be shot in rapid succession rather than having to wait for the film to reload like usual. Choshiro on the other hand can make use of his Spirit Flashlight to dish out larger areas of damage at a rapid pace compared to camera flashes, but not only must the flashlight recharge by not being aimed at a target, players will also need to be careful of the lens it has equipped to it. Choshiro can indeed take photos of wraiths that appear randomly using a camera lens but this does zero damage to hostile ghosts, making his battles and exploration a bit of a juggling act.
As players take photos, they can make use of special lenses that use spiritual power to cause various effects to happen ranging from dealing extra damage to stunning ghosts for a long period of time while also being able to change what types of film they wish to use, with better film dealing more damage but coming in short supply. Of course, since these are ghosts players are dealing with they can not only teleport around the player but also travel through walls and furniture. Each character is given a directional compass that points roughly where a ghost will be coming from, but since they can appear through walls players will always need to be vigilant.
In a rather interesting fashion, Mask of the Lunar Eclipse also features certain ghosts that can “bloom” after being defeated once, making them return in a stronger and more aggressive form that players will need to put down a second time. Combine these ghosts’ abilities to travel through objects, tight quarters, and some stiff movement controls and most encounters can feel incredibly tense while rarely feel cheap or too limited by poor controls. That being said, a few smaller encounters can feel a bit too basic as players wait for ghosts to travel through walls only to be shot and teleport back into a wall once again, becoming a waiting game with little actual danger.
Puzzles and exploration in Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse are handled quite well with a few being solid head-scratchers mixed in with some standard easy to solve challenges. Traveling around the derelict halls and decrepit areas of Rogetsu Island make for some solid exploration and catching glimpses of apparitions to take a quick snapshot of is always interesting. Unfortunately some directions are a bit on the vague side and players will often need to backtrack through locations a few too many times.
As players defeat ghosts using the camera and flashlight or take photos of non-hostile apparitions they will obtain points that can then be exchanged at save points. These points can be exchanged for healing items, stronger film to target ghosts, and for costumes and accessories. These costumes are a bit light on fanservice compared to more recent releases but are fairly fitting given the franchise’s history. It is also worth noting that healing items obtained for one character do not carry over to the rest of the cast, meaning players will need to be careful should they find themselves at low health only to find out that all of their health is with Rika. Something that is shared between characters are the various blue and red upgrade stones that players can use to upgrade the cameras, flashlight, and lenses to do things such as increase damage, reload faster, and more though the upgrades themselves are also character specific.
Visuals & Audio
With Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse originally releasing a decade and a half ago the team at Koei Tecmo has done quite a great job bringing the title to modern platforms. Most of the human character models are well-detailed with plenty of variety in costumes while the ghosts themselves are truly terrifying to see as many of their models have been touched up and look great when viewed through the Camera Obscura. The same cannot quite be said about some of the textures in the game as many locations throughout the game may look decent at a distance or simply walking through but look incredibly rough when viewed through the camera. It is also worth noting that nearly all of the game’s cutscenes that do not use the character models appear to have gone untouched.
As for the voice work, Koei Tecmo has chosen to release the game with only the Japanese voice track accompanied by English subtitles. This works well enough and is fitting given the game’s setting based around various elements of Japanese mythology. The sound effects and cries from the ghosts that players battle against provide some great atmospheric sounds making sure that players never quite know whether they are safe exploring an area, especially since some ghosts do reappear while backtracking.
With a great mystery to uncover alongside a solid storyline that takes a bit to get going, those looking for some classic Japanese horror will find that Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse delivers it in spades. This remaster of the 2008 release has certainly touched up the visuals in most regards and still delivers plenty of great scares thanks to the unique atmosphere combined with the janky limited controls of the era that still remain in this latest version of the game.
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