A PC review copy of Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Escape was provided to India by Koei Tecmo.
Japanese video game maker, Koei Tecmo has just released a remaster of Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Escape in March 2023. For those who don’t know, the Fatal Frame series, also known as Project Zero in Europe for some reason, consists of several Japanese survival horror games. First launched in 2001 on the PlayStation 2, Fatal Frame received praise for its horror elements and is widely considered one of the best horror game series to come out of Japan.
Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is the fourth game in the series that was released in 2008 for the Nintendo Wii. The game launch was limited to Japan only. A European release was planned, but that didn’t come to fruition. However, the seventh game in the series, 2014’s Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water (also exclusive to Japan), received a remaster in October 2021 with a worldwide release. Fans of the horror series outside Japan have also been waiting for Mask of the Lunar Eclipse. Now, much to the delight of Fatal Fame fans, the remaster is finally here.
The game is set on Rogetsu Isle, a small fictional island in southern Japan. Here, a festival named Rogetsu Kagura is held once every ten years. Five girls who live in a sanatorium mysteriously disappear on this isle during the festival. Later, a detective manages to rescue them. But their memories of this incident are lost.
Ten years later, it is found that two of the girls who disappeared again were found dead. To find out what happened to their friends, Misaki and Madoka travel to Rogetsu Isle. The remaining girl, Ruka Minazuki also follows them afterwards to know the whereabouts of Misaki and Madoka as well as the prior death of her friends.
For much of the game, we play as Ruka, as we slowly explore this abandoned mansion that once housed them. We uncover secrets piece by piece along with the characters, as spooky details about the island’s past emerge. I found the narrative and the vibe of the game excellent and quite engaging. The game also has some unique gameplay when it comes to combat. However, Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse also drags on for too long and has some clunky controls.
A classic survival horror game trope involves the player exploring a location with a torch in their hand. Fatal Frame: The Mask of Lunar Eclipse also features this trope. In addition, it also has an interesting tool called the Camera Obscura, a staple of the series. This is a camera that can evade ghosts and exorcise them. The combat system of the game is reliant on this camera, as our objective as the player is to snap pictures of the ghosts that we encounter to get rid of them. However, there is also a requirement to aim the lens properly at the ghost and have the camera’s special ability charge up to be able to do any considerable damage. Ghost encounters can be legit scary for the first couple of hours, but they wear off after a while.
Exploration and other game mechanics in Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse
Other than combat, Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse also features exploration and puzzles that you must solve to progress. The mansion is huge, and you have multiple rooms and corridors to make your way through. While making your way through the rooms, you can find new items to upgrade your camera. The characters walk quite slowly, and the run option doesn’t help much. I found myself wishing I could make my way through the mansion faster. This was likely done to keep a sense of realism and invoke some eeriness.
Moving to the puzzle solving aspect of the game, they were not that difficult to figure out. The game maintains a good balance when it comes to exploration, combat, and story, which allowed me to take my own time and get immersed in the atmosphere of the creepy mansion.
While all that sounds great on paper, it’s the controls that come in the way of immersion. I found these to be a bit clunky and finicky. I preferred playing on the controller to the keyboard and mouse. While playing with the controller, it took me some time to get used to the fact that both the left and right sticks move the camera in different ways.
The camera is also slow to aim, making it difficult to get a good shot of the ghosts. This wasn’t a huge problem for me, but the controls are something that needed some more polish. The narrow and cramped corridors can also be a problem when trying to aim at a ghost. This becomes exceedingly difficult when there are multiple ghosts coming at you at the same time. However, I did find the claustrophobic feeling as an additional aspect of the horror element present in the game.
Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse looks like a product of its time, and I mean that in a good way. Graphics in the game help set the tone of the unsettling atmosphere. The environments of the game are a mix of traditional Japanese and modern elements. Digging further, the mansion is also detailed, as I found myself stopping multiple times to check out what’s on a painting or what news article is pinned on a notice board.
The lighting is used very well in the game, as I found myself feeling uneasy while exploring. It made me unaware of what to expect with every step I took. Talking about the character models present in the game, I found them quite detailed and high quality. However, they do not show a lot of emotion even in cutscenes. At times, the character models looked out of place when they’re supposed to be scared out of their wits. Instead, they could barely move their eyebrows as a reaction.
I believe that the right use of soundtrack plays a big part in the success of horror content across multiple media formats. Fortunately, Koei Tecmo, along with composers Masafumi Takada and Etsuko Ichikawa knew what they were doing. If Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse doesn’t scare you with its creepy ghosts, it will certainly give you a few jump scares with the use of its music and sound effects. Just wandering around the mansion feels utterly unnerving because of the soundtrack. The whispers and other minor sounds just add to this effect. The developers managed to create tension perfectly through music as I was on the edge many times expecting a ghost to leap at me.
A dark folktale on a spooky island
Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse setting is captivating, and the lore uncovered slowly during my playthrough wanted me to know more about the mystery. There are a lot of suspenseful moments in the story as well with some excellent performances by the voice actors. The game is only available in Japanese audio, which might alienate some players. However, it wasn’t an issue for me as I really enjoyed the voice acting performances and preferred to play with the original audio.
If you have never played a Fatal Frame game before, the characters may appear confusing at first. Especially because we don’t get to spend a lot of time with all the characters and see them get fleshed out early in the game. You will need to pay attention to the story and read all the logs, articles, and letters you find throughout your journey in the mansion to figure out what is going on. That being said, the story slowly unfolds as we spend time uncovering the secrets of this mystery, finding out what happened in the past, and understanding this world we find our protagonists navigating through.
After spending hours with Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse, it’s clear that this Koei Tecmo horror title is an experience not to be missed by fans of the genre. The eerie visuals of the game, as well as the soundtrack, pulls you into this dark world that keeps you on the edge to know what happens next in this haunting and tragic tale. The controls may take some time to get used to, but the camera-based combat system is pretty unique and fun to play with. Its flaws are forgivable in the face of the game’s uneasy setting, captivating storytelling, and spine-tingling atmosphere. Recommended for horrophiles.