In the original 1998 Ring movie from director Hideo Nakata, the entire film's premise revolves around a vengeful spirit called Sadako, whose internal rage gave birth to a video tape curse via a phenomenon known as ‘thoughtography’. While Sadako is ultimately the driving force behind the film’s narrative, it’s only until the last few scenes that we finally see the spirit with our own eyes (bar a few “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it” appearances). With a total runtime of just over ninety-five minutes, Sadako is only visible for roughly fifty seconds.
Ghosts and apparitions are a lot scarier when they’re lurking in the background, unseen for the most part, only announcing their presence in subtle ways: a creaking floorboard; a piano key ringing out in an adjacent room; a soft, rattling groan seeping out of a crack in a doorway. There’s a fine balance to be struck when depicting ghosts in media - if you show too much, you run the risk of diminishing the potential impact to the audience. Examples include Pennywise from It, the Woman in Black from, uh, The Woman in Black, and - unfortunately - the plethora of ghosts found in Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse.
Mask of the Lunar Eclipse on Switch marks the first instance the game has been made officially available in the west, having originally launched as a Japan exclusive in 2008 for the Wii. For many fans of the franchise, it's the final missing piece in a series that is over twenty years old. But while this new remastered version updates the game’s visuals by a considerable degree, it still very much feels like a fifteen-year old game, one that - for many western players - doesn’t have the added benefit of nostalgia to soften its ageing gameplay mechanics.
For the uninitiated, Mask of the Lunar Eclipse stars four protagonists as they explore the desolate Rougetsu Island. Three of these were once inhabitants of the island at a young age, who return after multiple deaths force them to confront their pasts and solve the mystery of the island. The fourth protagonist is a detective who had once investigated a string of murders on the island and now finds himself back to take on a multitude of creepy ghosts with his trusty flashlight in hand.
The overall narrative is definitely intriguing and easily stands as one of the game’s more interesting aspects. As you explore the various environments, you’ll find copious notebooks, diaries, pamphlets, and drawings, all of which serve to flesh out the overarching mystery. With this in mind, much of the game’s finer details are found within optional environmental cues, so if you’re someone who prefers to simply blast through the main objectives, then you’re going to miss out on a lot of these.
With its core gameplay, Mask of the Lunar Eclipse feels very much like a “classic” survival horror game. You’ll move through rooms and corridors at a glacial pace, shine your flashlight into every nook and cranny in the hope of finding hidden items, and solve benign puzzles to gain access to new pathways. While you do so, of course, a multitude of hostile ghosts will present themselves at frequent intervals, and it’s here that you’ll need to make use of the franchise’s iconic ‘Camera Obscura’ to dispatch them.
The controls, while functional, definitely feel unnecessarily fiddly, even for a survival horror. Walking around is simple, yet cumbersome, and despite the game boasting a free-form camera system, the camera won’t actually follow you unless you start running. This isn’t so much a problem during quieter moments, but when you’re trying to navigate out of the way of an encroaching ghost, or quickly trying to catch a wandering spectre before it disappears, getting the right angle quick enough can be a bit of a nightmare at times. Thankfully, moving the camera around while you’re in the first-person perspective is a bit more manageable, as you’ve got the option to either use the right analogue stick, the Switch’s gyro aiming, or a combination of both.
Speaking of ghost encounters, this is where the game loses much of its potential scare factor. The figures are undoubtedly visually creepy, but the frequency at which they appear along with the almost arcade-like gameplay required to defeat them lessens their impact. When they show up, a light at the top of the screen pops up to indicate what kind of ghost is in the vicinity along with where exactly they’re oriented in relation to the player, so there’s practically no element of surprise. Once you spot the ghost, you simply need to whip out the camera with a quick ‘X’ tap, shifting the perspective from third-person to first-person. Then, keep the ghost in the centre of your viewfinder and quickly take its picture to deal damage.
There are, however, a number of ways the game manages to mix up its core combat. Primarily, by waiting until a ghost is just about to strike before taking its picture, you’ll execute a perfect ‘fatal frame’ attack, dealing additional damage and allowing you to string together combos. You’ve also got a smorgasbord of upgrades and add-ons for the camera as well, which allow for more powerful shots, the ability to dodge incoming attacks, and more.
It’s definitely engaging, but there’s undoubtedly a bit of a disconnect between the quiet, subtle horror found in the exploration of the environment and the more in-your-face action found during combat sequences. Encounters fill the screen with elaborate target indicators, written combo achievements, and blue orbs that zip from your ghostly opponent and into your character. It's bizarre, but it’s an issue that’s unfortunately plagued the Fatal Frame series since its inception; we hope that Koei Tecmo can find a better balance should it launch a brand new entry in the future.
Outside of the combat, you can also snap ghosts on the fly. These are specifically known as 'spectres', and they hang around for brief moments of time before vanishing into thin air. You'll need to be quick here if you want to take their picture, but successfully doing so will grant you a handful of points. It's a lot of fun catching the ghosts just in time, and it makes you feel like a true paranormal investigator. In addition, hidden 'Hozuki dolls' can be found within the environment too, and taking photos of these will also grant you points.
You can spend these points at save stations found within the game, exchanging them for healing items, camera equipment, or even additional costumes. You can also view exactly which ghosts you've revealed in the in-game menu, along with records of all narrative logs found on your travels. There are an awful lot of items to discover, so having them all accessible at the press of a button is a great way to make sure you're fully up to speed on the story.
In terms of visuals, Mask of the Lunar Eclipse has definitely had a significant upgrade over the original Wii version, boasting more realistic character models and sharper environmental detail. That said, there's no mistaking this for a modern game; the animation in particular feels very 'Wii-era', and if you're coming off the back of the more recent Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water, the downgrade here is definitely noticeable.
Performance is also a bit hit and miss. The frame rate remains relatively solid throughout, but the game often struggles when loading new areas. You'll frequently find that your character will put their hand on a doorknob and freeze for a few moments while the next room renders. This makes the transitions look a bit janky, and we would have preferred the developers masked this delay more effectively; perhaps a short cutscene similar to Resident Evil or Luigi's Mansion would have sufficed.
For fans of the franchise, Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse should be a no-brainer. Fifteen years after its original release in Japan, its launch in the west brings some welcome upgrades to the visuals and presentation. That said, you can definitely feel the game's age in the core gameplay and little has been done to bring this more in line with modern sensibilities. Movement is janky, the camera never quite feels spot on, and the loading between rooms really shouldn't be an issue in 2023. Additionally, the frequent presence of ghosts and the arcade-like combat required to defeat them feels constantly at odds with the otherwise impressive sense of dread felt as you explore the environment, but since this is a core aspect of the series at large, you might be able to overlook this. We definitely recommend checking it out if you're into survival horror, but just know that it comes with a number of quirks that we wish had been ironed out.
The cons, particularly about the arcady combat, resonate with me, it doesn't fit the visual tone, and this isn't a remake.
This is still a wishlist game for me, but I think it'll be one I wait for with the hope of picking it for a prices befitting the limitations identified.
"...if you show too much, you run the risk of diminishing the potential impact to the audience. Examples include Pennywise from It..."
original It was horrifying! Tim curry's clown is a total creepshow: just 2hrs of him talking into the camera on a white background would still be genuinely unsettling.
OTOH, It reboot showed us what it was working with very early on, and it was instantly... not scary. not even a little bit. they could have had me going for most of the movie before revealing that the clown was actually not at all scary, but they did it right away. big, big disappointment. the fact that they split it into two volumes REALLY didnt help.
anyway looks like a good review, ive always been curious about these games!
it feels like one of those cases where 6/10 means "get it if its 'for you,' skip it if its not," but everyone will still see it as "mediocre, buy something else." ah well.
Typical scenario where the reviewer should be one that likes the genre and style: Japanese psychological horror. The original on Wii is great and this can't be worse. I expect the performance and loading times to be better on Series X, though. Unfortunately, Switch typically shows technical issues.
@-wc- That's exactly right - fans of this franchise will absolutely lap it up, and I too enjoyed what I played, but there are definitely a number of caveats to consider.
Well put, thanks for the comment.
Meh. I want more screenshots from the handheld mode. And I want more details about game's performance and graphics, especially in handheld mode. Also, what's about voice-overs, huh? Is there dual audio option support in the game? And haven't Koei Tecmo changed some seiyūs from the original Wii version? I remember that the Hiro Shimono(known for me as Satoshi Mochida from Corpse Party series) voiced one of the characters in the game...
The loading woes sound unfortunate, but everything else just reads like the author doesn't jive with the gameplay of the series in general. Slower combat and movement had long been an integral feature of the classic survival horror formula.
@-wc- Yeah, I had a similar problem with the It remake: The first few scares worked really well (in particular, the headless apparition on the stairs was brilliantly staged), but it quickly began overdoing the scare scenes and showing way too much, losing most of its power.
So it’s a like it or you hate it kind of game huh? I will definitely consider this game in the future.
The start of this review is so right: the scariest horror film I ever saw growing up was the Blair Witch Project, and never getting to see the ‘witch’ even once made the horror, fear of the unknown, unseen, even more terrifying.
Cumbersome movement and janky camera controls are suppose to be like that in this type of game. In horror games, the game is suppose to make you feel hopeless in a dark creepy environment. If the game gives adequate movement and accurate smooth camera control then the point of the game being horror won't be felt. This is why the endless flood of new Resident Evil remakes are not that scary compare to the old games cause you got freedom of control and smooth camera perspective making you feel like you're in control and the zombies never had a chance. This killed the survival horror part of those games and turn it into a more generic zombie shooter instead. The only selling point of those games was that they had better graphics which doesn't help if the survival horror aspect are lost.
I don't bother with professional reviews of my favourite subgenre, unless it's written by somebody that appears familar with the mechanics of classic survival horror.
The other four mainline games in the franchise are some of my favourite games ever, and I have no doubt I'll love this when I pick up on Steam based on what other fans of the series think about the Wii original.
I’ve ordered a copy of the Asian release (which has English packaging).
Also bear in mind that the Japanese release will not include English support.
I'd advise those who claim I have no familiarity with the survival horror genre to check out my bio. It should speak for itself.
To be clear, I don't dislike this game, and as I've said previously, survival horror fans will at least like it, if not love it. I have to remain objective, though. There have been several survival horror games over the years that have disproven the claim that cumbersome controls are integral to the experience. It's a defence that frankly doesn't hold up in 2023 anymore.
Koei Tecmo could have tightened up the controls for this game considerably and it wouldn't, in my opinion, have any impact on the overarching sense of horror. As it is, it's immersion-breaking. Controls should melt away and be second nature to the player, especially in a narrative-driven game such as this, and Koei Tecmo has fallen short in this regard.
@Sisilly_G I want this and hope that the back of the game box is fully in English too. I'm sure it is but haven't managed to see a picture yet.
I'm also wondering if it has English on the cart this time, unlike the prior game which I believe needed a patch.
I'd rather have more of this type of horror, than anything we've seen lately in the horror genre (well aside from the Resi Evil games).
I wouldn’t dismiss Reynolds’ review too much. He explicitly states that the game “should be a no-brainer” for fans of the series. He raises some great points for people who may not enjoy classic survival horror, so I feel his points are valid.
I’m also surprised by how many people are defending janky controls and camera systems. I get that they’re hallmarks of classic survival horror, just as absurd difficulty was a hallmark of arcade games. I’d argue these mechanics haven’t aged well because they throw arbitrary obstacles in your way rather than build upon the actual gameplay. Looking at modern survival horror, games like Alien: Isolation and Amnesia (even Subnautica to an extent) demonstrate how you can still feel terror even when you have smooth control of your character and environment.
Since the Wii, I’ve had my eye on Fatal Frame, but I’m not generally a fan of survival horror. None of this series’ games have quite reached the level of critical acclaim I need to try one out.
That's the problem, these are some of the best horror games ever made, hand-crafted beautifully and totally immersive with slow gameplay and without cheap gore but if people read 6/10, they'll probably pass and we might not get the others re-released. The reviewers that say that they're clunky expect to rush through the game.
"Typical scenario where the reviewer should like the genre and style..."
IMO any other kind of review is worse than useless. the more confrontational, negative style was considered "edgy" back in the sega vs nintendo vs next gen days and those reviews werent useful then, either.
These games are the best written and most coherent horror games I've ever played. The second, Crimson Butterfly, is one of the best games I've ever played, period. There's no cheap gore and they hook you with the story, Japanese mythology, stories, decoration and architecture, the collectibles (files) and the slow gameplay. If you like horror or supernatural things, don't miss it and support this niche series!
For the record, I bought and played this on Wii several times (with the English fan-made patch applied) and I pre-ordered the Xbox remaster.
Obviously, some people don't like Project Zero/Fatal Frame but, in any case, there's nothing like it in the video games industry, so try it!
It will release tomorrow. Fatal frame 4. Never played this one. Good serie. I have played only Fatal frame 2 on Wii. Still not new game from this serie maybe later. I can play this serie I can understand it everything about it. Not difficult game for me. The puzzles are not hard.
I didn’t look too thoroughly, but each Fatal Frame game has earned glowing reviews from some critics who would likely agree with your assessment of the series. I would personally love to try out the second game if it was ported well to the Switch. I also generally trust a critical consensus on a game because I’ve been burned by too many games scoring in the 60s-70s range. There are too many games which score better that I haven’t played yet. Admittedly, I’m faint-hearted as well, so I need ample reassurance the game is fantastic to justify scaring myself.
I get wanting a game to be successful so that more games are released (I was ecstatic when the recent Direct revealed We Love Katamari is coming to the Switch). I just wouldn’t blame critics or consumers for this Fatal Frame’s success or lack thereof. I definitely don’t think reviewers who call the games “clunky” are single-mindedly trying to rush the game, especially when other games take considerable more time to play before a critic can write a review.
I hope this game finds success so the Koei Tecmo can continue improving the series! I just don’t think Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is the game in the series which will bring droves of new fans.
@Solomon_Rambling I honestly think that rating this or Maiden of Black Water 6/10 is misleading. The low scores seem more related to not liking the theme and slow gameplay than reflecting the quality of the game. Good news is that Maiden of Black Water remaster is the best-selling entry in the whole series and I expect this to beat another record. Thanks for your reply! 😊
Still have an official copy imported for the Wii, which I then had to hack to run with a fan translation, making the step much smaller to run other games as roms instead of importing them or buying them at their inflated prices. Most games I really wanted I did buy, even if it meant importing them, like Excite Bots, Kirby's Anniverary Collection,... But yeah, it did make pirating my Wii almost a necessity, out of which pirating grew on me. My Wii has a massive "virtual console" library now, and so will any system I ever own, once it has "expired" otherwise.
I tried to get into this series but I find the writing and overall plot to be funny rather than scary.
The whole point of the game is battling ghosts with a camera, while they're coming at you in the most disturbing way possible, playing as an almost defensless girl. And the reviewer complains that "you see the ghosts too much". HAhahahahaa.
Be getting a physical copy from PlayAsia in the near future
I wanted a physical copy, and I've been looking on Amazon for months, but it still hasn't popped up.
So I'll wait and pick up copies for Switch & PS5 like I did with Maiden of Black Water.
I'll have to play it myself to make any statements about the game. Fatal Frame was always scored way beyond its worth by everyone. Not that the review is wrong or anything, but FF5 had similar scoring and it was in reality a solid 9/10
Only Digital for NA gamers Physical you have to go to PlayAsia or similar to get Physical. And even then you don't get the extra which is royal pain.
I've been interested in getting into the franchise for quite some time. I downloaded Maiden of Black Water on Wii U for the Nintendo exclusive costumes that aren't on Switch, so I'll check this game out afterwards.
I need to finish Black Water...normally I don't bother with horror games because I'm not a fan of jumpscares. (something that a lot of horror games has, lol) But this is way less jumpscary and loud noises and all that so I gave the series a try. But then more games came out and I keep getting distracted. lol
As for this game, I may not bother after watching the review video, Black water's controls were already....awkward sometimes, so, eh.
The reviewer got this series wrong. Not all horrors are aiming for scares front and center, nor disturbing imagery or psychological fear.
This series isn't supposed to be intense fear throught. It has a point system, replay modes and reoccurring enemies for a reason.
The horror serves more as atmsophere for the story with jump scares added for good measure. The series is often more a tragedy than horror.
I pkayed through the original and it's not my fav. But, still, seems this reviewer misunderstood some aspects.
I don’t care about the review score. My game is preordered and I'm looking forward to playing it. Clunky controls here I come!
I started Maiden of Black Water back in the day and would genuinely love to give it a second go around at some point, but as seems to be the hot issue surrounding the series I couldn't really get on with the janky (intentional or otherwise) controls and quickly moved on to something else. I like horror games in general, but sometimes it can feel a little too much like you're fighting the software itself rather than the eldritch horrors it's conjured. Definitely one to pick up if the price is right though.
@EvilSilentFrame To bad for you, the game is crap
@henkes_10 maybe to you it is. I’m loving it so far.
Ik ben. Blij met de remaster van project zero 4 mask of lunnar eclipse
Ik hoop dat de delen 1 2 en 3 ook nog een ramaster krijgen
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