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Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse’s Remaster Shines With New Light But Shivers With Age

The fourth entry of Koei Tecmo’s Fatal Frame series finally arrives outside Japan, but the game falters with being a product of its time.



Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse Review

Developer: Koei Tecmo Games, Grasshopper Manufacture | Publisher: Koei Tecmo Games | Genre: Survival Horror |  Platform: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4/5, Xbox One/XSX/XSS, Microsoft Windows | Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch

In 2008, Koei Tecmo’s Fatal Frame made the jump from PlayStation to Nintendo in Japan as the fourth entry in the cult-classic horror game series left its original trilogy on PlayStation 2 behind to embark on a new journey with the Wii. For everyone outside of Japan, however, Fatal Frame would not return until the Wii U’s Maiden of Black Water. After having its English localization canceled in 2009, Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is back from the dead with a fresh HD remaster ready to prove that this missing entry is still a spirit worth capturing.

Co-developed by Koei Tecmo and Grasshopper Manufacture, Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is a prequel to the original three Fatal Frame games–only this time around, video game auteur Suda51 was placed at the directing helm as Tecmo wanted to reinvent the series with a fresh yet familiar style of gameplay. If players look at the auteur’s prior work, like Killer7 and No More Heroes, they will find his influence all throughout Fatal Frame 4, from the gameplay direction to the nonlinear storytelling style.

Without spoilers, Mask of the Lunar Eclipse revolves around three girls who explore the fictional island of Rougetsu in southern Japan to recover their lost memories. A decade before the events of the game, five girls were kidnapped during a festival on the island, but all were returned home safely with no memories of the incident. Years later, two of those girls wind up dead, and the other three decide to investigate their sudden demise. After the opening prologue where players take control of Modaka, the game bounces around between the perspectives of two of the teenagers, Ruka and Misaki, and Choshiro Kirishima, a private detective looking to also solve the mysteries of the paranormal island.

Image: Koei Tecmo Games Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse Nintendo Switch review Fatal Frame 4
Image: Koei Tecmo Games

Like the other Fatal Frame games, when players take control of the teenage girls, they will use the iconic Camera Obscura to snap first-person photos of hostile spirits. As they wander through eerie rooms and halls to vanquish ghosts, the player will focus on traversing around Rougetsu Island, solving puzzles, and upgrading equipment. What is new–or rather was new–to this Fatal Frame entry is the Spirit Torch, a flashlight wielded by Kirishima that uses moonlight to perform the same function as the Camera Obscura at a more rapid pace.

The sections where players take control of Kirishima initially seem offputting, but they quickly grow into enjoyable breaks from the more slow-paced horror setpieces Ruka and Misaki trek through. Quickly blasting away multiple spirits at once with the Spirit Torch can be more satisfying than using the Camera Obscura, and Kirishima’s segments are backed by some of the game’s best story moments. For the most part, Mask of the Lunar Eclipse lives the classic Fatal Frame formula in a different light, however, that should not come off as a complete compliment.

The characters of this game admittedly move at a glacial pace that is almost laughable, the story can slow to an absolute crawl when gameplay clouds the forefront, and, for better or worse, this Fatal Frame entry falls more on the linear side of game design. This is one of the few Fatal Frame entries where you more than likely will not get lost as map designs are compact, and the game asks players to really poke around each environment they are in. There is a bit of backtracking here like the last few entries, but getting from point A to B is never made outright confusing.

For some players, Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse will be a complete bore, while for others, it will be an enjoyable slow dance waiting to be disrupted by scary ghosts and eerie atmospheres. No matter which side of the camp you fall on, interesting characters and an immersive environment undoubtedly help make this Fatal Frame entry stand apart from its predecessors and arguably its successor. Despite its numerous gameplay flaws that haven’t aged well, the story and atmosphere of Mask of the Lunar Eclipse still hold up and should be considered some of Fatal Frame’s finest.

Naturally, Mask of the Lunar Eclipse does not always look as impressive as last year’s Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water remaster, but the game undoubtedly has received a massive glow-up that makes the game almost as visually appealing as any other modern release–especially on Nintendo Switch. The environments of Mask of the Lunar Eclipse are nothing short of great as they all elevate what the original Wii release was attempting to accomplish. The whole island of Rougetsu resonates with thrills and chills as the game’s two main locations, a mental ward and a hospital, both echo some of the most sinister vibes you can encounter in a horror title. Every deep shadow and particle effect helps add to the game’s tense emotions, and many character models have been stunningly upgraded.

Image: Koei Tecmo Games Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse Nintendo Switch review Fatal Frame 4
Image: Koei Tecmo Games

The only real letdown of Mask of the Lunar Eclipse’s environment is caused by the game’s camera direction that attempted to accommodate for a change in perspective. In the original three Fatal Frame games, the series stuck to locked camera angles that always gave the developers plenty of opportunities to scare the player. In Mask of the Lunar Eclipse, you pretty much know when something scary is around the corner. Whenever the camera stops to make a cut, you know there is likely going to be a jump scare in the next few seconds. When the visuals start to fall into a fuzzy filter, you know that a ghost is about to pop into the room.

This is where Mask of the Lunar Eclipse shows a lot of its shortcomings. The game often gets stuck in a rhythm that will cause die-hard horror fans and even casual goers disappointment. For an entry that intended to help a series transition into a new generation of gaming, at the time, not all of its decisions are ones that can be looked back on with complete fondness. Considering this is a remaster, Tecmo could have gone back and fixed some of these problems, but instead, Fatal Frame 4 has new issues it has to carry on top of its old faults.

The biggest issue with Mask of the Lunar Eclipse’s remaster is often the controls and how its third-person camera functions. The controls do not work adequately enough. They should have been overhauled and modernized to a greater extent. In the original release of Mask of the Lunar Eclipse, the player used the Wii Remote to move their flashlight and the Nunchuck for their character. With a change in control style and way more buttons made available than before, this game feels as if it is still being restricted by that old control scheme from over a decade ago. The third-person camera and overall movement just feel clunky and ruin many jumpscares. This issue will not drive players to the brink of insanity, but it is extremely noticeable and difficult to overcome at times.

Since Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse went multiplatform, it also should be noted that (unsurprisingly) the Wii game’s original Nintendo costumes have been taken out of this release. While for Switch players this may be disappointing, Koei Tecmo did take their time to add in new unlockable costumes for all the playable characters alongside an in-depth photo mode. While these additions are minor, they certainly will be welcomed with open arms by fans as players can run through the game with more goofy costumes than before and take some really stylish screenshots.

Image: Koei Tecmo Games Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse Nintendo Switch review Fatal Frame 4
Image: Koei Tecmo Games

When it comes to atmosphere and story, Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse will shock players with how much it has to offer in visuals and storytelling. While its gameplay and controls may falter in several areas that drag down the experience, Mask of the Lunar Eclipse still holds up fine enough after all these years. It is disappointing that this remaster fails to fix the game’s more striking problems, but you also have to acknowledge that this is not a remake. Many of the decisions this release suffers from are due to being a product of its time.

For any Fatal Frame fans that have been waiting for this prequel to make landfall outside of Japan, you know what you are getting into here, and you will not be disappointed with the results.

Creative writer, NXpress Host, and Games Editor. I have always held a high interest in the fields of professional writing and communications. You can find me with my head deep in the espionage genre or in a kayak upstream. I’ll always be first in line for the next Hideo Kojima or Masahiro Sakurai game.

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