Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse Returns

Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse Preview

Any survival horror fans — especially those cutting their teeth on consoles in the early 2000s — know the Fatal Frame franchise. The fourth entry in the Fatal Frame/Project Zero series of games, Mask of the Lunar Eclipse was released in 2008 for the first-gen Wii. It took advantage of the Wii’s slightly greater power and was a visual step up from the prior PS2 games. Mask of Lunar Eclipse also took advantage of the Wii’s particular controller.

In 2021, Koei Tecmo put a new coat of graphical paint on another game in the Project Zero lineup, Maiden of Black Water. The publisher is poised to release a remaster of Mask of the Lunar Eclipse, the game that is at once a little obscure but also regarded as a high-water mark.

Terror Time

Like all Fatal Frame games, Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is all about ghost hunting with a camera. The ghosts in Fatal Frame aren’t benevolent spirits. In addition to whatever psychological terror they bring, they can wreak physical harm as well. Your weapon in Fatal Frame is the Camera Obscura. It allows you to take pictures of the ghosts, and the better your snapshots, the more damage you can do. Throughout the games, you upgrade your camera with better film and lenses.

Generally, the Fatal Frame games aren’t explicitly gory but are full of jump scares, edgy music, consistent tension, and menace. For their time, at least, they were pretty scary stuff. Of course, since 2008, game technology and narrative sophistication have taken a bit of the bite out of Fatal Frame. However, coming back to the franchise after several years, I noticed that game’s writing holds up pretty well.

Haunted Mansion

I had the opportunity to audition the remaster’s Prologue and early chapters. The game is about a group of young women returning to Rogetsu Isle. As children, they survived a terrible incident that traumatized them to the point of wiping their memories. They return as teens to solve the mystery of what happened. Almost immediately, images and spirits of the past begin to terrorize them. Most of the preview takes place in a creepy, decrepit asylum.

You take turns controlling different characters, exploring the nooks, crannies, and secrets of the asylum, and hunting for items that will help you survive. The ghost count is pretty high, but luckily your consistently upgraded camera/weapon is up to the task.

New and Shiny

The biggest improvement to Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is in its graphics. Keep in mind this isn’t a remake but a remaster. Still, the textures and overall visual fidelity are significantly better than the Wii version. It isn’t like the characters and environments are suddenly full of added detail, but everything is sharper and a bit closer to what gamers expect in 2023.

What hasn’t changed is a long list of mechanics that feel either quaintly old-fashioned or frustrating, depending on your tolerance. Movement is slow and primitive by modern standards and the camera doesn’t handle small spaces very well. Things, like save points, inventory management, and even combat with the Camera Obscura, are stuck in 2008. Maybe most critically, the game just doesn’t feel especially scary. I think this is the result of 15 years’ worth of desensitization by movies, games, and, sadly, real life.

Ghosts of Games Past

Caveats aside, gamers who have enjoyed the Fatal Frame series will enjoy this remake for what it is. It updates the look of an aging game while preserving what fans loved the most. These kinds of remasters always remind you that memory is tricky. The new remaster of Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is a good step in the direction of a real reboot for the series.

Thank you for keeping it locked on COGconnected.

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