FATAL FRAME : Mask of the Lunar Eclipse had us genuinely excited that we were being blessed by Koei Tecmo with a brand-new instalment, the first since 2014’s Maiden Of Black Water in fact. No, in fact Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is a remake of the previously Japan-only 2008 Wii release that was originally developed in conjunction with Grasshopper Manufacture. Yes, that Grasshopper Manufacture with that suda51 bloke in charge.
For those of you new to the series, this also goes by Project Zero in Europe or just plain Zero in Japan. It first came to this reviewer’s attention as the 2002 enhanced release on Xbox of the PS2 original. The mechanics of the game are fundamentally the same as they’ve ever been. That being wandering corridors, encountering ghosts and taking photographs of them and by doing so, dispatching them.
OK, perhaps that’s something of an oversimplification on our part but that is basically it. Is it fun though? Thankfully it is. You start the game as one of the four main protagonists, a young lady named Ruka. Lunar Eclipse being set on the island of Rogetsu, the site of an initially unknown tragedy. You’ll be introduced to the mechanics of the main tool you have for dispatching ghosts, the Camera Obscura.
You spend the bulk of your time in Rogetsu Hall, with some time also spent in Haibara Infirmary. All we’re saying is you’ll get very familiar with these locations as you progress through the game. You’ll tread the same halls repeatedly, put it that way. Though a little like a metroidvania game, some sections remain off limits until later on.
The game itself is broken down over twelve distinct chapters, phases of the moon in fact. This being a Koei Tecmo game, all the characters have that distinct studio look to them and wouldn’t look out of place in one of the Dead Or Alive beat-em-up series nor the Ninja Gaiden games either. We’re firmly in weeb territory though, there’s no mistaking that fact. The female protagonists are all seventeen years old and among the unlockable outfits are schoolgirl outfits. The rugged detective guy is spared such sketchiness, though his shades you can buy are pretty cool.
You’ll face three main flavours of ghost: wraiths who can do you harm, revenants who are shadows of significant or traumatic events and spectres who represent those in the past just going about their business. All are tracked in lists and have associated trophies for snapping the whole set. Often when they manifest you’ll only have a split second to take a shot before they fade away. There’s also almost eighty haunted dolls who aren’t quite as missable as the ghosts due to their inanimate nature.
In addition to the photos, you’ll need to collect all manner of artifacts such as news clippings and audio cassettes amongst other items. Once again, these are all tracked and have an associated trophy for being thorough. The best approach upon reaching a new area if you’re not blessed with a cutscene immediately is to scan the area thoroughly with your camera lens as you’ll often unveil points of interest.
Early on you’re introduced to snap mode that encourages you to take a multitude of photographs. Here’s the thing though, for a game that as good as says “g’wan, here’s your new desktop wallpaper,” Koei Tecmo sure do love to watermark every single screenshot you take. Yes. Every. Single. One. There’s probably something in the EULA that stops you from being to crop out the watermark too. It’s a bit odd.
The collectibles fill out the lore of the storyline quite well, with all manner of medical atrocities and supernatural shenanigans having taken place on Rogetsu Island. Often mentioned is a phenomena called Moonlight Syndrome, an attempt by the resident scientists to rationalise the ghostly goings on. This manifests as people losing their faces, known as ‘blossoming’, which in practice is like when you try to take a picture of a household pet or a small child when you just get a blur instead.
Each validated photograph you take either with the Camera Obscura or the detective’s Spirit Stone Flashlight has a score attributed to it, be it during a ghost battle or revenant/spectre shots. These act as your currency to buy consumables such as health items, more powerful camera films (in effect ammunition) or schoolgirl outfits. In addition you’ll find blue and red jewels that let you update your camera/torch and your lenses that act as a damage modifier. Once again, you get a trophy for fully upgrading these items, so it pays to be thorough as you vacuum up the collectibles on offer.
Besides the fact you’re staring at a nubile young seventeen year old a lot of the time, there’s no getting away from the fact you’re ultimately playing an updated version of what amounts to a fifteen year old game mechanically and in terms of implementation. The run button is laughable with barely any discernible difference in pace, even butch detective guy barely increases in speed. Also some of the assets are very of their time with the textures being not much more than badly upscaled on occasion. The less said about the curtains in the lab the better too.
Due to the fact you’ll often be looking for ghostly breadcrumbs, the pace can feel incredibly slow at time. This also isn’t helped by infrequent saves, whether at the end of a phase or at a lamp in a corridor. At least they’re not rationed out like some survival horror games are. Also calling this a horror is a stretch, we happily played with our kid in the room. It isn’t that scary and there’s not so much jump scares as mild peril when a malevolent wraith decides it wants to end you.
End you they will, as you’ll sometimes find yourself stuck in an incredibly tight space with multiple wraiths coming at you from different angles. It’s often tough enough with one wraith able to come at you through bookshelves while you’re rather hamstrung by the physical constraints. It’s often a good plan to take a hit and run away so you at least get a chance of a decent amount of time to frame your shot.
But every so often you’ll get taken down through no real fault of your own and have to retread Rogetsu Hall’s corridors once again to the same point. We often found ourselves making sure we’d got all the incidental collectibles done before a boss we’d succumbed to and running back to the save point to avoid having to collect them again if we died.
Despite these niggles we found ourselves enjoying Fatal Frame – Mask of the Lunar Eclipse and kept returning for another session. Sure, some photos are missable due to timing and the saves are pernickety but the core gameplay loop of ghostly photography is fun enough. Forget completing every collectible in one playthrough though, we’ll pass on that thanks.
+ Ghostly goings on make for an engaging enough yarn
+ Photography mechanic is solid
+ At least saves aren't rationed out
+ Collectibles, while optional, fill out the lore well
- Every single screenshot is watermarked for no apparent reason
- Pace can be glacial, not helped by barely discernible running pace
- Often feels like a ghostly breadcrumb trail
- Some assets show the age of the game a little