Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse Review – 15 YEARS LATE
Project Zero, AKA Fatal Frame has always been more of a niche series, that’s why it’s particularly fascinating that this once-Japanese exclusive is now available for Western markets. As an old-school Silent Hill and Resident Evil fan, it’s Japanese horror-themed components have often compelled me to visit the series multiple times. Even if I’ve never enjoyed them quite as much as their peers, they still contain several scenes of ghastly ghouls and palm-sweating moments. So does Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse do anything to break the mould? Or is it just more of the same?… Well, unfortunately—it’s nothing special.
While I am grateful that this 2008 Japanese exclusive is finally on our shores in a remastered format, the survival horror-based puzzles and tense, I-ain’t-afraid-of-capturing-no-ghosts gameplay are riddled with shoddy textures, awkward movement controls and complete input lock-ups which occur at the worst possible times on PC. I’d be capturing a shot on my trusty Camera Obscura, then start ducking out to avoid an enemy attack from the side, when all of a sudden my left stick and face buttons would instantly freeze up for no apparent reason. Cue the slow lunge towards my not-so-nimble protagonist.
That’s the main thing that feels stuck in the past, the movement controls and speed. I understand that back in 2008 the Fatal Frame devs had to use some trickery for loading assets by making the player move slower than usual, but now it’s just so laborious. It feels like you’re operating a literal tank, and the four controllable characters often have a brain aneurysm whenever any type of geometry gets in the way. Tight hallways with several sharp turns are these guys’ worst nightmare. Plus, whenever you open a door, a 5-second long animation has to play out every single time—even if it’s locked! Fortunately, the game’s quick-turn feature does alleviate most of these issues somewhat. However, the controls and slow pace of the game will definitely ruffle your feathers sooner, rather than later. Don’t even get me started on those ghost-hand things that can potentially steal random items whenever you reach for something. I absolutely hate this mechanic.
That all being said, the Japanese horror atmosphere makes for some decent scares and the handy hot-and-cold item radar keeps players from slowly galumphing up and down hallways. Even if you’ll revisit certain areas and repeat boss encounters WAY too many times throughout the story, it’s nice to know that the routing is relatively minimized on the user’s end. In the meantime, snapping stray photos of the game’s take-a-shot-or-they’ll-disappear ghosts for your album is fun, and it is enjoyable taking photos/switching film under pressure. Especially when you charge up and wait till the last second for a mighty Fatal Frame shot, or dodge right as you’re about to get spirit-tackled—the latter is a tad broken. Did I also mention that one of the characters can straight rapid-fire on ghosts to quickly capture their souls? And yes, that pun was absolutely intended.
A Lack of Distinction
The story surrounding Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is comparatively better than Maiden of Black Water. But once again, it relies too heavily on reading page after page of notes, instead of creating a more naturally integrated narrative and group of characters who don’t look like they’ve just woken up from a 3-hour nap. The Japanese-only voicework does fit these characters well, however, I honestly got confused at points as to which female character was which. They all have brownish hair with short locks and even though they literally tell the audience whom they’re playing as in between chapters, you could easily be fooled into thinking that they’re just changing out costumes. Talk about good characterisation, guys. It’s important.
Speaking of costumes though, there are a bunch of different outfits to unlock, plus extras if you purchase the digital deluxe edition. Even if you’re not into costume-changing for pure aesthetic’s sake, it might be a smart idea to switch their outfits up just to mentally keep track of all of the similar-looking characters in the story. As a whole, this remaster certainly runs well on PC and there is a definite improvement in the lighting and character models, but it’s just a shame that the grainy PS2-like textures actively ruin the immersion. It makes sense that a more budget title like this didn’t get the full-on, Resident Evil remake-style treatment. Albeit, going that extra mile to polish everything up would’ve made a sizable difference overall.
It’s been 15 years since Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse launched exclusively in Japan, and the wait has sadly not been worth it. Garbage textures, awkward movement controls and complete input lock-ups at times dampen what is ultimately a pretty standard survival horror experience. While it can’t compete with the likes of Resident Evil or 2022’s Signalis, Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse features some tense ghoul-snapping gameplay and a story with a fair amount of intrigue. Even though the narrative relies far too heavily on plot note-dumping, and the characters are about as memorable/distinguishable as a stick-figure drawing, fans of the series may still want to try this one out—but maybe wait for a price drop first.
By Anthony Culinas – Reviewed on PC
Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse could’ve used some more time in the oven. While it’s great to finally have this game in our hands after being exclusively tied to Japan since 2008, more careful polish was needed to fully update the game’s dated mechanics and controls.
This game was reviewed using a download code provided by Koei Tecmo. The Beta Network uses affiliate partnerships, however, this does not influence reviews or any other content published. The Beta Network may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links that are on the website.
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