Review | FATAL FRAME: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse
A Festival in Shambles
An island engulfed in tragedy, a bizarre affliction, and self-inflicted wounds—welcome to Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse. Developed and published by Koei Tecmo, the Fatal Frame game series (known as Project Zero in Japan) takes inspiration from old Japanese folklore stories and horror films alike, having the player explore many a mansion and town, facing ghosts that can be only taken out with the power of photography. All the while exploring the world and discovering the truth behind the fall of what came before.
Mask of the Lunar Eclipse originally launched on the Wii back in 2008 and only in Japan, making this the first official worldwide release. I myself have very little experience with the Fatal Frame games, having played only the original way back on the original XBox, but not much more than a few hours. The settings of these games (coupled with my inability to run past ghosts without panicking) are fairly unique in the gaming landscape, and this entry is no different. You’ll play through the game’s story across multiple characters such as Ruka and Choshiro, as they roam the Rogetsu Island in search of answers to the disappearance of all the island’s residents and what the Moonlight curse really is.
Join me, the world’s #1 sissy, and my mother (who was in the room for some of this) as we journey through this instalment’s setting: haunted hospitals ‘n caves.
As a survival horror game, your primary objective is to scour the level throughout each chapter thoroughly, collecting resources and key items to progress the game’s story. You’ll find plenty of notebooks and blood-stained letters filled to the brim with the violent ramblings of the patients forced to stay in tenure or the lifeless nurses following the whims of management. But you’ll also find upgrade materials and lenses that you can fit into your Camera Obscura and Spirit Stone Flashlight, weapons that you’ll need to fend off the spirits that want to violently stab and/or hug you to death. These ghosts can be clobbered by simply taking photos of them at the right time to deal maximum damage, called a Fatal Frame (hah!).
Fatal Frame takes some inspiration from arcade games, offering a score system that rewards damaging multiple enemies per shot, finding collectibles such as the creepy Hozuki dolls that litter the halls, and catching photos of spectres and wraiths before they disappear into the nether. Do good and you’ll get points you can trade for resources and cosmetics at the save stations scattered about the stages. Not only that, but you’ll also learn about the ghosts themselves when you snap their picture. There’s quite a bit of fun to be had with this gameplay setup and gives the player a good reason to replay the game I feel. I was also encouraged to play more dangerously, not only to beat ghosts faster but to crank out a high score. That’s one urge I’m happy to have for the rest of my life.
The player characters all have quite a bit of heft to them, and that’ll be no surprise to anyone that plays horror games—a genre full of unreasonably slow protagonists—as all the characters are happy to fight you as you trudge through levels. The game offers a run button but… I couldn’t even describe it as a jog at best. It looks more like a shuffle, the kind that you’d do when you need to get to the restroom, but the contents of yesterday’s meal are well past your sigmoid colon.
This slowness double applies to combat, and while the apparitions aren’t exactly Usain Bolt, pulling up your camera or flashlight while positioning yourself to take the best photo of your life does start to wear on you.
A mechanic you’ll notice very early on is having to hold down the B button to pick up or use something in the game world. I babbled to my mother that this would be a cheap jump scare mechanic somewhere down the road, to which she rolled her eyes and said the Turkish equivalent of “yes, dear”. And I was right, arms will sometimes reach out and grab you when you’re reaching down for items, stopping you in your tracks and taking whatever you were trying to reach for. But despite flatlining my poor heart, I was more annoyed by how items would randomly show as interactable despite walking past them multiple times. If you think you’re missing something, just waltz back one more time and you’re bound to find whatever you last missed. This frustration also extends to the menu system, where there are three whole different displays for logs and items and whatnot. I never got used to which menu option was where in the end.
With the teeth graters out of the way, I do want to say that the game is pretty fun. Yes, ‘running’ from baddies in cramped environments and having to bait ghosts into the lenses of your camera can be sometimes annoying, but I found it exhilarating. Even more so when I catch a ghost that’s right about to attack me in the act, which lets you follow up with a faster attack for free. Exploring the island is also very interesting and there’s a lot of detail scattered about each room. And for a Wii game, this title holds up fairly well visually, as character models and lighting really standout in the presentation which is otherwise low-resolution textures and models.
Confronting A Past
The story of the Rogetsu Island and the once-a-decade festival its people partook in is told through many a cutscene, notebook, and audio entry. Each character you play as will recollect memories of their past, such as Ruka and what occurred during her stay and Choshiro, who found five girls in a dark cavern deep below while investigating the island. There’s plenty of visual storytelling to go along with this, although I found it to be a bit too on the nose at times with the intent that was being conveyed. A violent patient harming another portrayed as a wraith, or a room covered in red stains leaving you wondering what happened up til you find the notebook entry right on top what unfolded.
But I loved the atmosphere of the game. The sound effects compliment the stages well along with the ambience. Rickety doors, broken announcement systems, walking over bits of shattered glass. Exploring these environments rewards you with a sense of wonder and dread, and even better: the characters rarely talk. They speak only to serve the story and the game leaves the random commentary to the players when it decides to spook you. In an age where game characters (and horror protagonists) feel like they need to comment on just about everything, I really appreciated the observation of the golden rule.
In terms of scary-ness, well I think that really depends on you. Even though I jump at my own shadow, the game isn’t that scary. It’s more unsettling, with the depictions of incomplete and incomprehensible faces and masks lying about and ghosts that have been stuck in their routine for far too long. There are descriptions of suicide and animal cruelty to boot, which definitely add to the unpleasantness. But there’s nothing truly grotesque or gory, the game wants to spook you through jump scares and a creepy atmosphere.
Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is a fun romp through old fashioned Japanese horror. The atmosphere is lovely, the story is interesting, and though the gameplay might wear down a bit over time, it’s a unique survival horror game that I can recommend to anyone.
Xbox Series X
- Fantastic atmosphere.
- Visuals hold up from the original Wii release.
- Narrative is interesting and the storytelling is strong.
- Combat and movement are cumbersome.
- Objectives largely stay the same over the course of the game.