Fatal Frame Mask of The Lunar Eclipse is the long-lost fourth entry into Koei Tecmo’s popular survival horror series. The game was originally released in 2008 for the Nintendo Wii but never released outside Japan, until now with the recent launch of its HD Remaster.
It’s an especially interesting game as well considering it was co-developed by GrassHopper Manufacture with studio president Suda51 as the co-director and co-writer. As a big fan of Suda’s work on Killer 7 and No More Heroes, I was interested to see how he would adapt to a horror game and after playing the game, he adapted it well, but with some caveats. Fatal Frame Mask of The Lunar Eclipse is an old-school survival horror experience, for better and worse. Some aspects represent the best among in genre while others feel like they should have been left in the past.
Return To Rogestu Island
Fatal Frame: Mask of The Lunar Eclipse takes place on Rogestu Island. Here a Sanatorium treats patients with a chronic illness called Moonlight Syndrome (I see what you did there Suda) which causes the victim to lose their memories and start going insane before eventually dying. Five girls at the hospital are kidnapped and later found by a private detective in a cavern beneath the hospital seeming to perform some sort of ritual. The girls are taken off the island but have lost their memories. Two years after the kidnapping everyone at the hospital died and it was left abandoned, eight years after that, two of the kidnapped girls themselves mysteriously died.
You now play as three protagonists: Ruka Minazuki, one of the five kidnapped who’s gone back to the island to find her lost memories. Misaki Aso is another one of the five girls who has psychic powers. Finally, there’s Choshiro Kirishima, the private detective who found the girls ten years ago. He’s hired again by Ruka’s mother to bring her back from the island.
The story of Fatal Frame Mask of The Lunar Eclipse is an interesting horror mystery with a lot of interesting themes relating to mental illness, memory loss, and death. While there are cutscenes, much of the story is told through notes, journals, and audio recordings you find in the hospital similar to classic Resident Evil games. While many players might not like the high amount of reading, I thought it was really engaging. It really feels like you’re investigating the hospital and it’s satisfying to slowly piece the mystery together.
Some of these letters are also super morbid and insightful. There’s one you get early on that turns out to be a suicide note. The patient says their family died and only lives through her memories, but because she has chronic memory loss, she now feels like she’s killing them all over again and can’t take the strain and guilt. That feels like Suda’s writing at full throttle.
In fact, while I don’t know which exact parts he wrote, I couldn’t help but notice Suda’s hand at work on a lot of the story beats. Like many of his games, the title centers on the idea of killing the past. Each of the characters must regain their memories and confront the trauma and abuse they faced while on the island. They’re not the deepest characters I’ve seen in gaming, but seeing Ruka and Misaki struggle with their lost past was endearing and Choshiro could be pretty badass.
The Abandoned Sanatarium
A good setting and atmosphere are incredibly important for a horror game and Fatal Frame: Mask of The Lunar Eclipse brings them in spades. The visuals and atmosphere in this game are brilliant. The hospital is dark, murky, and claustrophobic with a good amount of detail to make the place feel alive. There are a lot of narrow corridors and small rooms so when a ghost pops up it gives you a healthy dose of nerves with such little space to get away from them.
This also extends to the enemies. These aren’t just random ghosts, each enemy has a name and backstory. Some are nurses that worked at the premises, others are patients. You can even go into some of their rooms and look at how they lived before death.
This is made better by the HD remaster which really brings the game to the modern generation, especially with the character models which are highly detailed and fluid in their animation (not to mention very cute). Also, apparently, the original Wii game was not localized because it had game-breaking bugs. Whatever these were, they seem to be fixed with the remaster, the performance and graphics are all fine.
This doesn’t bring me to one big issue with the game, however.
The Characters Are Too Slow
Much of the game involves exploring the hospital to find keys and solve puzzles to move forward while surviving the ghosts. While this is all good, the characters all walk incredibly slowly. It’s not too bad for combat but it can make exploration feel tedious especially since there’s a lot of backtracking in this game as you explore the hospital.
There is a run button but it’s less of the run button and more of a trot button and doesn’t make you go that much faster. I understand the characters are meant to be scarred teenage girls but it almost becomes immersion-breaking. There are short times when the characters are being chased by an unbeatable pursuer ghost and they’re barely moving to run away, it’s like they want to be caught.
I should note that this is a problem with almost every Fatal Frame game. The first one was even slower than this game but it’s still a problem regardless. I wouldn’t even mind if the regular walking speed was slow if they at least made the run button a little faster.
Smile For The Camera
The combat of Fatal Frame: Mask of The Lunar Eclipse is the epitome of risk vs reward. Ruka and Misaki use the series staple camera obscura where they take a picture of the ghost to exorcise them. This works by pressing the top face button to put you into first-person camera mode. L2 locks on to the ghost while R2 shoots the camera. There is an indicator on the top of the screen that tells you the general direction the ghost is coming from however they can really blend in with the background and float through walls so you have to keep your eyes peeled.
What makes this so effective is that you can’t just shoot wildly. Instead, you’ll notice that there’s a circle in the center of the camera. You want to get the ghosts inside this circle which will build up a meter. The more the meter is charged up the more damage you inflict on the ghost.
The Fatal Frame
As you charge, the ghost will be getting closer to you and you usually do more damage as they get closer. If you managed to shoot them right before they attack, you have a chance of triggering a ‘Fatal Frame’. This is a critical hit that will allow you to take more photos right after for extra damage. Basically, the game dares you to play it more dangerously by letting the ghost get closer. It’s really intense making for a thrilling combat sequence that works well for a horror game.
As the games go on you also realize you can’t camp in one spot and wait for the ghosts to come to you. The girls are even slower in camera mode and have a limited amount of view. As such you have to switch in and out of camera mode, moving and evading the ghosts in third-person mode then shooting them at the right time in first-person. It’s definitely a more slow-burn style of combat compared to Resident Evil or Silent Hill but it does ensure that you feel the terror of each fight.
Another cool thing is that you can also move the camera with the gyro sensor if your controller has one which can help adjust the camera to be more precise when taking shots.
One At A Time
That being said, it’s most fun when you are up against one ghost at a time. When the game tries to throw multiple wraiths at you, it becomes a bit too frustrating. You can attack multiple ghosts with one camera shot but cramped locations and slow-moving combat become more tedious when one can attack hit you from one direction while you’re trying to shoot the other. The best strategy is to move so they’re all chasing you from one position but it’s still a pain since your character moves so slowly.
Unlike the two girls, Choshiro does not have a camera obscura, instead, he uses The ‘Spirit Stone Flashlight’. This torch works very similarly to the cameras but with key differences. Pressing the triangle snaps you into a close-up over shoulder mode and you hold down the R2 trigger to charge the flashlight, letting go unleashes a flash of mystical light that damages the ghosts.
Choshiro moves at a quicker speed and has far more visibility compared to the other two, allowing him to maneuver around the ghosts more easily and hit them faster. The balance to this is that he often has to fight multiple ghosts at once more often but it’s actually not too bad thanks to the aforementioned greater mobility. You can tell they had Resident Evil 4 in mind when making this weapon, as it gives Chisori more action-oriented gameplay compared to the girls while still keeping to a horror tone. It’s a fun new mechanic that offers a nice change of pace from the camera.
Upgrading Your Camera
As you go through the game you have different types of camera film that act as different bullets. Each is a bit more powerful however only the weakest is unlimited. The others have to be found or bought at a save point with spirit points you get in battle.
Also found around the setting are crystals which can be used to upgrade your camera to do more damage or have a wider range amount other helpful buffs. There are also find different camera lenses you can equip that give it different effects like stunning the ghost or pushing them back to give you more room to move away. It’s a pretty simple upgrade mechanic but easy to understand and use.
One divisive thing is that with some items you don’t just pick them up. You have to hold down the button and the character will slowly reach out to get it. During this time there is a chance a ghost will try to reach out to grab you. You if don’t pull back in time, it will grab you and you’ll lose the item. It’s cool the first few times but I can see some people finding it annoying after a while.
In terms of collectibles. During the main story, you often see passive ghosts wandering through the halls. You can snap pictures of them for extra points to buy new items. There are also special Hozuki dolls that you can take pictures of to “lift their curse”. They don’t affect the main story but you can unlock specific items and costumes if you get enough of them.
Speaking of which, you can also unlock new costumes for the characters through various means and while there are no wet clothes options like the sequel, there are some more risque outfits if you’re willing to find them (sadly the Zero Suit Samus costume got cut from the original version).
Finally being a game about taking photos, it appropriately has a photo mode called ‘Snap Mode”. This is new to the HD remaster. It lets you take cool pictures of the character and ghosts in different parts of the building with different filters and more dynamic angles. I didn’t use it much but it seems like a fun extra to fool around with.
The Mask of The Lunar Eclipse
As I said at the beginning, Fatal Frame: Mask of The Lunar Eclipse is an old-school survival horror game for better and worse. In many ways, it feels like the spirit of a game from 2008 that’s been raised from the dead. The slow walk cycle, emphasis on backtracking, and occasionally clunky combat will likely not be for new fans that want something more modern.
That being said as a fan of old-school horror games, I found a lot to love here. The story is intriguing and the use of diary entries and recordings makes it more immersive. The setting is likewise highly atmospheric and while the battle was sometimes a pain, I still found it fun most of the time. The camera system is such a creative way to induce fear in a player, rewarding you for taking risks and letting to ghosts get closer. Not a lot of games can get my heart pounding but this one certainly does.
|Well done atmosphere and visuals||Character walk too slowly|
|Interesting horror mystery story||Combat can be frustrating when there’s more than one ghost|
|Intense combat and survival horror gameplay|
Fatal Frame: Mask of The Lunar Eclipse is available for Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC.
A review code was provided by the publisher and the game was reviewed on the PS5.
Discussion about this post