fatal frame review

Review: Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse

Refurbishment

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It’s a pretty great time for refurbishment right now. With Metroid Prime’s fantastic remaster in recent memory and Resident Evil 4’s remake just up ahead, those of us who like to re-experience old favorites with re-done visuals are eating good. Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is something special, however. Originally released exclusively on Wii in 2008, it never left Japan. While the re-release of Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water was apparently enough to warrant a remaster, I’m surprised Koei Tecmo would go to the effort of localizing such a niche title.

I’m glad they did. While Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse harkens back to an uncomfortable period of survival horror, it also… uh, harkens back to an uncomfortable period of survival horror. Back when controls sucked molasses, but you just couldn’t help but get engrossed. And that basically sums up this entire review.

Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse Intro
Screenshot by Destructoid

Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse (PS4, PS5, Switch [Reviewed], Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PC)
Developer: Koei Tecmo
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Released: March 9, 2023
MSRP: $49.99

While Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is the fourth game in the series, there are only minor links to previous games, and none of them are important for continuity. It starts off in medias res. Two girls who were survivors of an incident on Rogetsu Island return to it 10 years after the fact. Two of their friends – also survivors of the incident – had recently died, and they’ve been dealing with memories resurfacing. In order to avoid a similar fate and recover the rest of their lost memories, they return to the place they were rescued from to learn the truth.

Shortly after, Ruka Minazuki, another survivor who apparently smells and wasn’t invited along by the other girls, shows up. After that, a detective named Choshiro also shows up on the island looking for Ruka. Throughout the game, you play as each of the four of them as they explore the island.

I hate amnesiac characters. It’s really hard to care for a character when they have no motivation aside from doing exactly what’s in front of them because, what else? However, the loss of memory is absolutely central to Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse. Beyond that, the narrative makes up for its lack of compelling characters by maintaining a dream-like atmosphere. A lot of things don’t make sense at first, some things never explicitly make sense, but it all tells a complete story that you unravel along the way. You’re pulled through it, like you exist in the same trance as the characters.

Wallmaster

As with previous Fatal Frame games, you defend yourself from ghosts by using a special camera. It’s like Pokemon Snap, but all the Pokemon are tortured, malicious spirits. While the camera mechanic is fine, I mostly just appreciate the level of detail in the ghosts. Rather than simply put them down as monsters, you keep bumping into the same ones. These are characters within the backstory, and you can read about each of them after you’ve snapped their portraits. The fact that they have actual defined traits make them more interesting than just normal enemies, as you have a chance to connect with them as you read their diaries and learn of their torment.

The downside of the combat is it’s a huge, vacuous suck. Ghosts appear at seemingly random distances and slowly glide toward you. However, they have no hang-ups about appearing deep within the walls, so you have to just follow the markers at the top of your camera and wait for them to clip into the environment. However, the rooms are often cramped, meaning you often have little time to charge your camera and react once the ghost appears.

You may say that the combat is unsettling or lends to a feeling of claustrophobia, but it’s rather just frustrating. It’s hard to eliminate a ghost that only appears for a moment, and staring at the wall, waiting for them to show their anguished faces is boring. Uncomfortable as it may be, it’s also boring and frustrating. On top of that, it feels unbalanced when fights in open areas are so much easier.

Occasionally, you’ll have to fight multiple ghosts at once, which is another kind of frustrating. Since they’ll constantly be popping in around you, you have keep whirling around to try and stop them from touching your thigh. Damage can be unavoidable, so combat sometimes gets bogged down as you cram herbal remedies down your throat like you’re trying to ward off a cold. The combat was so vexing that it made me want to throw in the towel early on. I’m glad I didn’t, but I can also feel the pain of that encounter in the room with the four-post bed.

Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse encounter
Screenshot by Destructoid

Pixel-gloss

The controls kind of suck in general. All the characters run like they’re trying to hold in an enema, but that’s sort of the least of its problems. The worst is when it comes to finding items. You get an alert on your HUD that an item is nearby, but you can’t pick it up unless you shine your light on it. However, the flashlight seems to take camera movement as only a gentle suggestion that it should point in that direction. This was probably better back on the Wii, but no effort was made to make this more comfortable on a gamepad.

In terms of a remastering, the overhaul of Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is similar to the recent Metroid Prime Remastered. Although you can largely tell it’s flexing the same bones, all the models, textures, and lighting have been touched up. However, unlike Metroid Prime Remastered, it’s a lot less consistent. Some parts of it look great, and other times it looks like an upscaled Wii title.

What bothered me the most were the textures. A lot of them are grainy as a pair of swim trunks after a day at the beach. Most remarkably, however, is that they’re pixelated in a way that I haven’t seen since the advent of texture filtering. Not the character textures, mind you, but the environments. I kind of prefer pixelated textures over blurry filtered ones, but I couldn’t stop staring at them. It’s really weird to see when it’s not specifically an aesthetic choice, like in a lo-fi Puppet Combo horror game.

Overall, I’d say it’s an appreciable glow-up, but you can definitely see the budgetary differences between Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse and Metroid Prime.

The Switch version also has some performance concerns. It doesn’t run at the best pace at the greatest of times, but then there are places where it dips further. It never got so bad that it bothered me, but I know there are those who can’t stand to be dipped.

Fatal Frame Woman in Black
Screenshot by Destructoid

Making memories

Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse starts off extremely slow, and then it ends slow. You’re only truly let off the leash for a portion in the middle of the game. However, despite all the drawbacks I could continually bang on about, it did eventually grow on me. It’s a quiet, isolated horror experience. Well, until ghosts come out and your TV starts screaming at you in some of the worst noises possible.

The narrative keeps an ethereal quality, often avoiding direct answers, but giving you enough meat to chew on and draw your own conclusions. It’s a very Japanese horror game, and I appreciate it for that.

On the other hand, going into Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse, you have to be prepared for an uncomfortable experience. The combat is a mire of frustration, and the controls really could have used some tender loving care. However, if you’re looking for some classic Japanese horror with a stack of cryptic narrative lore to dig through and you’re aware of what you might be in for, it’s definitely worth diving into.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]

7.5
Good
Solid and definitely has an audience. There could be some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.

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Zoey Handley
Staff Writer - Zoey is a gaming gadabout. She got her start blogging with the community in 2018 and hit the front page soon after. Normally found exploring indie experiments and retro libraries, she does her best to remain chronically uncool.