Review – Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse
When I reviewed the remaster of Fatal Frame V: Maiden of Black Water just a year ago, I was hoping that would have been the franchise’s return to the spotlight, considering the fact the franchise has always been a cult horror classic that never really got the attention it deserved. More specifically, I was hoping for the fourth entry to be localised as it never got released outside of Japan. Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is that title and I’ve been looking forward to this one, now that my pleas have been heard.
Five girls were kidnapped from Rogetsu Island by a serial killer performing secret spiritual rituals that went wrong. The girls were rescued. Ten years later and the survivors are suffering from memory loss, with only vague visions of what happened during said ritual. However, with two of the girls now mysteriously dead, the remaining survivors head back to Rogetsu Island to uncover their memories and put a stop to the vengeful spirits. Following them is Detective Kirishima, who is also looking for closure and to rescue them once again.
Lunar Eclipse‘s story is one that throws you right into the middle of it, setting up an intriguing mystery in a brilliantly told story that reveals itself as it switches between four protagonists in a non-linear order. Each chapter peels away another layer as you start to figure out what is going on, jumping between four different characters with some excellent twists and characters that will engage you from start to finish becoming the most engaging storyline in the series.
Unlike Maiden of Black Water, this game has a more traditional structure for a survival horror game. Much of the game is slowly creeping your way through a hospital to find clues. And when I say slowly, I really mean it, the character’s movement is glacial and sprinting doesn’t really help. But that doesn’t matter because I enjoyed just how detailed and interesting the environment was. I was scouring each and every room with a fine pick, moving the flashlight around to uncover a wealth of uncoverable items, from resources to upgrade points and tons of lore files.
This can occasionally be a little bit awkward with the flashlight controls not being perfectly moved over from the Wiimote (yep, this was a Wii game at a point) to a traditional gamepad. Regardless, the exploration was a real high point here and I enjoyed every minute of my time exploring Rogetsu Island.
Of course, being a Fatal Frame game, you will quickly come across the Camera Obscura, a camera with the ability to interact with the supernatural and pacify spirits. Fatal Frame‘s combat has always been a unique one and there’s not much to note here about it. Keep the ghost in the frame to charge up the power of your camera and then take a photo to deal damage. Do this multiple times and you will eventually defeat the ghost. The trick is trying to keep the ghost in your view and for it not to get around you and through walls.
Locking on will help this a lot and will sometimes make combat feel a little too easy. If you hit perfect timing by nailing the trigger on an attack, you will trigger a fatal frame. This will allow you to rapidly take photos that can easily dispatch ghosts or deal massive amounts of damage. The only challenge really comes in navigating around these really tight arenas without getting hit, but even then, with the game’s scoring system, you will get a wealth of healing items and more powerful rolls of film.
Also, for the first time in the series, a weapon that isn’t the camera obscura is available. Detective Kirishima will instead be using the Spirit Stone Flashlight. Whilst this functionally does the same thing as the Camera Obscura when it comes to dispatching ghosts, there are a few key differences, namely that it doesn’t restrict your field of view, as well as being much quicker to charge up. To make up for this, Kirishima will often deal with numerous ghosts at one time, making his segments a little bit more action-oriented. It’s a fun change of pace that adds a little bit of variety to the franchise as a whole, not just this game. As a whole, Mask of the Lunar Eclipse‘s gameplay is a refreshingly slow burn with plenty of breathing room.
As a horror game, unfortunately, Mask of the Lunar Eclipse will often stumble. Whilst it’s plenty creepy, with a dark abandoned hospital environment absolutely dripping in atmosphere and environmental storytelling, it’s not, well, scary. Exploring the hospital grounds and surrounding was such a thrilling experience but the horror does fall over, relying almost entirely on pop-up, rollercoaster-style jump scares and loud noises, wrestling control away from you to show you the ghost that just popped up. The game will do this a lot, with more than one hundred and fifty ghost events according to its journal. When this game shows restraint, it’s a much more tense experience, not taking control away from the player and allowing the story to push some occasionally effective scares.
Considering Mask of the Lunar Eclipse was initially released exclusively on the Wii, this game looks pretty decent for its age, and at the time, such underpowered hardware. However, there is an overwhelming amount of film grain that can look rough. Don’t be expecting an entirely reworked experience. This isn’t a remaster. There are a lot of rough spots here, namely with some low-resolution textures that you will see up close, which will happen a fair lot. You need to take the game’s age into consideration.
Regardless, character models and lighting hold up reasonably well, with a wonderfully-designed hospital location, complete with a surprising amount of visual variety when it comes to room decorations that really make it feel like a place that was once lived in. The highlight, though, was the plethora of excellent ghost designs. I was always excited to see what was coming up next. That being said, there are some ghosts that come off as rather goofy instead of scary, but this didn’t happen too often.
The sound design also holds up really well. Whilst there is an overreliance on loud noises every single time a ghost pops up out of nowhere, the rest of the sound is incredible. Each location has incredibly unique sounds from whispering from the ghosts to Sadako’s iconic croaking sound filling the game with its most intense environments to date. Not only this, but the cast is really good as well, but be prepared to listen in Japanese as there are no dubs for this entry. The localisation only extends to subtitles and text.
As Koei Tecmo seems to be re-releasing their backlog to PC, they have been doing pretty well, with titles like the Ninja Gaiden Master Collection to Warriors Orochi 3 being pretty well ported over. Thankfully, Fatal Frame IV also continues this trend. Whilst it’s missing key features such as Ultrawide support, not to mention the very limited graphical tweaks at the player’s disposal, the game runs incredibly well. Running at a constant 144fps at all times, with no frame rate drops to be seen. It’s a remarkably well-polished port.
For many far of the franchise Fatal Frame Mask of the Lunar Eclipse has been an incredibly long time coming with the first time it’s launched officially outside of Japan. Providing one of the series’ most compelling stories; ambitiously weaving the adventures of four protagonists. Unfortunately, some gameplay issues hold it back from being a true classic. With Fatal Frame finally back in the spotlight there is hope for more.
Fatal Frame IV really shows its age and origins (it was a Wii game, after all) with some rough visuals. But strong character and ghost designs hold it up.
Rogesku Island is stunning and the camera-based combat is enjoyable. But Mask of the Lunar Eclipse does suffer from some surprising lack of horror.
With an exception of being over reliant on loud noises to attempt its jumpscares, the sound design in general is excellent.
Fun Factor: 7.5
Mask of the Lunar Eclipse has one of the most engaging storylines in the series but can be let down by its gameplay.
Final Verdict: 7.5
Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is available now on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, PC and Switch. The original, unlocalized version is also available on Wii in Japan.
Reviewed on PC with an RTX 2060, Ryzen 5 3600X and 16GB RAM. Also tested on Steam Deck
A copy of Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse was provided by the publisher.