Fatal Frame: Mask Of The Lunar Eclipse

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Release Date: March 9, 2023


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Switch Review - 'Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on March 28, 2023 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

Fatal Frame: Mask Of The Lunar Eclipse is a remaster of the 2008 Wii horror/adventure game that takes place a decade after five girls mysteriously disappeared at a festival on Rōgetsu Isle, an island in southern Japan.

Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse tells the story of an abandoned Japanese sanitorium on a distant island. Something happened there that killed almost everyone in the sanitorium and nearby town. Years later, some of the survivors have also started to die. Ruka, one of the survivors, returns to the island, where she encounters Misaki, another survivor with certain abilities, and Choshiro, a detective who rescued the girls 10 years prior and has returned to solve the mystery. Of course, the island is packed to the brim with the angry ghosts of the victims, and the trio of protagonists will need to find a way to survive.

The story of Fatal Frame is appropriately scary and does quite a bit with the concepts behind it. It spends a lot of time dealing with trauma and the impact it has on a person and those around them. Guilt, shame and misery are commonplace elements in the game, and while it never becomes too overwhelming, it can touch on some sensitive subjects that might be less "fun" in a horror game than shooting evil parasites. For the most part, it handles itself well, and I never felt like the story was dragging.

Mask of the Lunar Eclipse was originally released in 2008 for the Nintendo Wii, and it shows in the remastered version on the Switch. Everything about it is exactly what you'd expect from a survival-horror game of the era. There's a lot of slow movement, simple but engaging puzzles, and jump scares. This isn't to sound dismissive. For a game of that era, it's pretty darn fun, but much of what makes it intriguing isn't so intriguing in 2023, and a lot of what makes it feel old-fashioned is still old-fashioned.

The selling point of the Fatal Frame series has always been the camera obscura. Built around the old myth of cameras having the ability to capture souls, the camera obscura is an enchanted camera with the ability to exorcise ghosts. Think of it like a horror-themed Pokemon Snap. You can pull up the camera and take a snapshot at almost any time, and you'll spend as much time looking through the lens as you do exploring the game from the third-person perspective.

What is fun about the combat is that it genuinely rewards you for taking risks. A quick snapshot is ineffectual. You want to keep the ghost in-frame as long as possible to charge up your damage. The longer your charge, the more damage you do, and gets more complex from there. Taking special shots (like multiple ghosts in one shot) can improve your bonuses. Take a shot right before a ghost attacks, and you'll get a Fatal Frame, which does tons of damage and stuns foes.

The camera obscura can also be upgraded in a variety of ways. You can get different kinds of film. The weakest is infinite, but more powerful "ammo" can be earned that have improved damage or charge rates but need to be purchased using spirit points that you earn from good shots. Different lenses can give you camera different effects or special buffs. You can generally customize the camera to your play style, whether you're going for safe and sure shots or multiple Fatal Frames in a row.

Also new to the game is the Spirit Stone Flashlight, which only Choshiro can use and serves as a sort of "reverse" camera. You hold it on the enemy, but rather than trying to back away, you want to get closer so you can do more damage. It's also more agile and deft than the camera. This is certainly easier to use and more powerful than the camera, but I feel like it loses quite a bit of the flavor that makes Fatal Frame so fun.

I can imagine someone getting frustrated with the combat, as it is from the old days where "stop and shoot" was an accepted part of survival-horror. You're not going to be moving on the fly but constantly shifting from first- to third-person and back again to avoid attacks while giving yourself enough room to take awesome shots. If you are the kind of person who doesn't mind that stuff, the combat is fun. Needing to be susceptible to damage for maximum effectiveness adds a pleasant tension to the experience, and battles with multiple ghosts can really test your skills.

The single largest complaint I have about Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is that it is slow. This isn't really anything new for survival-horror, as tepid walking speed usually goes hand-in-hand with tension and horror, but even by those standards, Mask is pretty slow. It doesn't bother me much when moving forward, but backtracking can feel like a genuine chore, and it kills a lot of the game's tension. Even in the chase segments, I felt like my characters could probably put a little extra pep in their step, but the run button barely seems to give them a push.

It doesn't help that other elements of exploration are also slow. For example, finding and picking up items is a finicky thing, where you need to stand in the right place with the correct camera position. Once you find an item, you don't just take it but have to hold down a button as your character slowly reaches for it. The reason is that you have to avoid ghost hands that grab you. If a hand grabs you, then you lose the item you were going for. It's never a plot item, but it is tedious, and any tension it grants vanishes after the first few times. You can find collectibles, but most of them unlock new (and frequently skimpy) costumes for your protagonists, which is not much of an incentive unless you want to play through the game again while the protagonist wears a swimsuit and cat ears.

Visually, the HD remaster looks nice. The game has gotten an impressive glow-up, and for the most part, the characters and environments look quite good. It still has a bit of that "HD remaster" feel, but it stands out less in this game than in some of the other titles I've covered. The sound work is excellent and does a lot of heavy lifting when it comes to spooking you, and more than once, I was more frightened by a creak than a howling ghost.

Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is a solid and enjoyable experience for fans of old-school survival-horror. It might be a bit too slow-paced and awkward for those who don't have a taste for 2008 game design, but that's the biggest criticism about it. It doesn't break the mold for the franchise, but it's one of the more solid and enjoyable examples of it, and it's a good place to start if you'd like to see what is up with the long-running horror series.

Score: 7.5/10

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