As we can see, Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water sold well enough to convince Koei Temo that the series was still viable, so we get to strap in for another round. Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse released in Japan in 2008 and was the only entry in the series to not get a release in the West. It did receive a fan translation, but now it’s been remastered for all to enjoy. Mostly. I’ve had a soft spot for the series for a long time and this is a solid title, even if, much like the previous remaster, it has some issues that are harder to overlook.
Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse focuses on a trio of playable characters. Ruka and Misaki were two/fifths of a group of girls rescued from Rogetsu Island as children by the private investigator Choshiro Kirishima. When their desire for answers relating to their missing memories proves too much, they separately head back to the island, with a third member of the five tagging along with Misaki. What follows is a compellingly creepy mystery that ticks all the boxes that Fatal Frame stories tend to focus on. Creepy rituals and spirits and cameras, oh my!
The previous remaster didn’t receive that much of a touch-up since it was a more recent game, but a Wii game wouldn’t necessarily stand up to the same modern scrutiny, so Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse does a bit more in the visual department. Character models have been noticeably improved and the lightning is now very blue (and generally much better), tying in with the moonlight theme in stark contrast to how yellow the original game was. It looks better, even if the toes of the art direction have been a teensy bit broken and the extremely pixelated textures don’t look too hot.
Take a picture, it’ll last longer
Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse switches to one of its three protagonists for each of the game’s dozen or so chapters (four if you count Madoka, but you shouldn’t). Ruka and Misaki look as if they decided to head to the island directly after attending modeling sessions, which would be the only reason that they’d pick cutesy clothes to go to such a spooky island. The two also use a Camera Obscura, which allows them to fight off the undead by taking pictures of them.
Choshiro, on the other hand, has a flashlight that uses moonlight power somehow to ward off spirits. It can also use a special lens to take pictures, which is absolutely something a flashlight can do (on opposite day). Combat isn’t a constant presence and involves carefully moving throughout areas to charge up shots to photograph or shine Choshiro’s flashlight on ghosts. Choshiro’s sections are notably easier than Ruka and Misaki’s, as he can’t do as much damage as them, which can make the gameplay feel a bit uneven. Ruka and Misaki can switch between different strengths of film and take Fatal Frame shots during enemy attack windows to do a lot of extra damage and allow for multiple sequential photos without waiting for a reload. They can also use special lenses that use up spirit charges that do things like slow enemies down or take an extra-powerful shot.
This is the fourth game in the series and the previous remaster was of the fifth, so the photography is a little less engaging in this game, although not by much. You’ll still be exploring environments for items, documents, and solving mostly simple puzzles to move through the story. Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse isn’t particularly scary, but it’s effectively creepy and has a strong atmosphere. Taking photos of ghosts is still as enjoyable as ever too, so I’m glad that the publisher was finally willing to give us the game.
Movin’ very, very slowlay
As the original release made (awkward) use of the Wii remote, adjustments had to made for the controls here. The game plays best with a controller and, unlike the last remaster, you can use your mouse out of the box without having to wait for a patch. Unfortunately, mouse movement is awful and appears to be emulating a joystick instead of using raw mouse input. It’s playable, but it doesn’t feel good at all. Which honestly describes the controls in every Fatal Frame game.
All of the characters are horribly slow and difficult to control. So much of the game is spent watching them slowly inch forward. As always, a lot of the difficulty comes down to being in tight spaces and being unable to move reliably as a ghost or two randomly appears in the wall to your side and grabs you. It can be infuriating and avoiding damage can seem impossible. You can dodge, but pressing the button puts the camera away, so it’s confusing to make proper use of it. Taking Fatal Frame shots during enemy attack windows can also be pretty much impossible to pull off depending on how close enemies are to you, but the game gets much better to control with familiarity.
I do really wish that the controls had been updated beyond offering an optional control mode that switches a few buttons around. All mouse and keyboard inputs can be rebinded, though, which can make things a bit more accessible. I’d be lying if I said that these controls don’t honestly offer a fair bit of personality, but they’re far below the standard for how a modern game should play. If you’ve never played a Fatal Frame game, it’s going to be thoroughly unpleasant for an hour or two.
There and back again
Speaking of unpleasant, the game’s play area is quite small in totality and you’ll quite possibly get a bit sick of revisiting the same locations again and again with the three characters. The map is interconnected and you can often backtrack, even if there typically isn’t much to find for doing so. But there are cursed dolls functioning as collectibles plus brief shots of non-violent ghosts to take, which adds a bit more than just going through the story in a linear manner. The map itself is well-designed and mostly memorable too, so it’s not nearly as annoying as it would be if the place was a bore. Finding items can also be a bit of a pixel hunt, which can be quite irksome.
It’s been nice to play Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse after all these years without having to bother with the troublesome Wii controls (you could use the remote to tilt the camera upward, but not to the side, which was insane). The occasional combat cheapness, molasses-speed character movement, and repetition can grate, but I still think that the game has enough to offer to be worthwhile to fans of Japanese horror games. The fact that a remaster of a 15 year-old Wii game is being sold for $50 is pretty inexcusable, as are the mouse issues, but I still want more Fatal Frame, dammit! If this one sells well, maybe North America will get a remaster of that Wii remake of the second one finally. One can dream. But please, Koei Tecmo, I beg of you – give us raw mouse input next time.