It’s hard to talk about the fourth entry in the long running Fatal Frame franchise in anything but a retrospective manner. Mask of the Lunar Eclipse was originally released for the Nintendo Wii nearly 15 years ago and was a collaboration between series creator Makoto Shibata and director/writer Goichi “Suda51” Suda (of No More Heroes and Lollipop Chainsaw fame). The game had a troubled development and broke away from norms established in the earlier entries, featuring a new camera angle that was positioned behind the player and motion controls that took advantage of the Wii’s hardware. It was a next generation jump from previous PS2 and Xbox hardware.
… and then it never came out in the United States. Mask of the Lunar Eclipse was a game that eluded even the most devout of Fatal Frame fans due to a lack of publisher in the region. To make the situation even more frustrating, the game’s follow-up Maiden of Black Water received a western release. Unless you had a fan translation and copy/file of the game there was never any way you could play Mask of the Lunar Eclipse in any official capacity. Until now.
Hot on the heels of the remaster of Maiden of Black Water, Koei Tecmo has FINALLY revived Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse, and for better or worse it remains a fascinating relic of its time. This new remaster also brings some much welcome improvements.
Mask of the Lunar Eclipse follows the plight of five girls inflicted with amnesia after they were captured and held captive on a mysterious island for unknown reasons. After their rescue, none of them can recall what happened while they were there and are each drawn back to the island (for various reasons that I won’t spoil here), where they discover the “camera obscura.” Using this tool they’re able to defend themselves from various ghosts and specters.
It’s fascinating playing an older survival horror game from multiple perspectives because unlike something like the Resident Evil series, Mask of the Lunar Eclipse’s storytelling seems very calculated in its approach with shifting perspectives, each one providing a different piece to the puzzle. Though broken up into chapters, I was engaged throughout and almost viewed it as if I was experiencing a television series. Taking control of a different protagonist in every chapter, however, is unfortunately where the game begins to show its age. Believe me when I say this is a survival horror game from a bygone era. Not that the control options are bad, per se, but everything has a janky feel to it.
For example, it felt tiring to hold down the L2 trigger to “run,” which isn’t much faster than walking. Mask of the Lunar Eclipse also employed motion controls in its original Wii release that are replicated here. For example, moving the controller using its motion sensor will allow the girls to point their flashlights in various directions. I never found this comfortable to navigate but thankfully there’s an option to map flashlight movement to the right stick. What I never did get comfortable with was the Camera Obscura.
Pressing a single button will put you into first person mode where you are able to take photos but from here you need to lock on with L2 and shoot with R2. It sounds simple but is clunky in its application, especially when one is surrounded by multiple ghosts. Most frustrating of all is the moment you take damage, you get pulled out of camera mode. Perhaps a skill issue on my part, but I found myself getting pulled out of camera mode and unintentionally sprinting instead of entering the camera mode as intended.
As far as remasters go, I was very impressed with the graphical update the game was given. Gone are the days of low poly character models and now we’re treated to more detailed character models that I feel will age far better. The varied environments also receive a massive facelift that now allows players to see far more detail; completing tasks never feels like an impossible challenge. If you want to explore unique Japanese horror settings, Mask of the Lunar Eclipse has you covered. I did not experience any performance issues or bugs with my copy of the game, leading me to believe this remaster and translation was handled with care.
Koei Tecmo finally brings a long lost survival horror classic stateside in an official capacity and I couldn’t be happier. Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is easily one of the stronger entries in the Fatal Frame series thanks to the writing from series newcomer Suda51 and a good amount of variety in its engaging story and setting. On the flip side, at times it feels a bit too rooted in the past because of janky controls. It remains to be seen if this release leads to more entries in the Fatal Frame franchise or even remasters of the original three games, but if nothing comes of it I’m glad to finally see Mask of the Lunar Eclipse get an official release for preservation’s sake.