Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is the fourth game in the Fatal Frame/Zero franchise. Originally released on Nintendo Wii in 2008, it was co-developed by Koei Tecmo and Grasshopper Manufacturer, but it never came to the west due to several mysterious circumstances.
Some of the reasons for Mask of the Lunar Eclipse being skipped over could be attributed to various game-breaking bugs that neither Nintendo nor Koei Tecmo was willing to fit the bill. Compounded with Nintendo of America wanting to focus on the casual market, there was no room for an art-house J-horror game in their strategy.
The west did eventually get its sequel; Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Waterwhich is easily the weakest game in the franchise-“Fatal Frame 4″ stayed in Japan as the console market moved on to future generations. Zero: Tsukihami no Kamen has finally been localized as an enhanced remaster with improved visuals and new controls. Has the wait been worth it? Find out in this Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse review!
FATAL FRAME: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse
Developer: Koei Tecmo Games Co. / Grasshopper Manufacturer
Publisher: Koei Tecmo Games Co.
Platforms: Windows PC, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S (reviewed)
Release Date: March 9, 2023 / July 31, 2008
Rougetsu Island used to be a peaceful rural province in the 1970s, but then the local cultists started kidnapping girls for their creepy rituals. Ruka, Misaki, and Madoka were among the kidnapped girls, and after being saved they tried to live a normal life outside of Rougetsu.
Ten years later, the girls are noticing their friends are dying from a mysterious sickness known as Getsuyuu Syndrome. Symptoms include memory loss and not recognizing your face. The effects of this disease last even after death and affect the spirits of the departed. Seeking answers, Ruka, Misaki, and Madoka return to Rougetsu Island.
It does not take long for the girls’ investigation to go south, as the sanitarium and nearby hospital are completely haunted by phantoms that will try to make their stay permanent. Thankfully, the playable characters are equipped with spiritual weapons to exorcise the wayward souls.
The camera obscura is Fatal Frame‘s signature weapon. Functionally, the gameplay in these games is like a first-person shooter, but in Mask of the Lunar Eclipse don’t expect no-scope ghosts. Ruka and Misaki get their versions of the device- both with their bespoke handling and stats. These old-timey cameras are slow and can take some time to reload film, so making sure the shot is perfect matters when having a showdown.
When playing as Choushiro, players get to play with the Spirit Stone Flashlight. This device works with moonlight to battle ghosts and gets its upgrades and handling too. All three playable characters feel different when going toe-to-toe with ghosts and they all can get different unlockable outfits too.
Movement is very slow and a bit awkward in Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse. It is seemingly by design but when you get used to it, things begin to make sense. The environments are on the small side, so characters have to have their movements drawn out to compensate for the tight quarters.
This was originally a Wii game and when playing on Xbox Series consoles, don’t expect any motion controls. While the movement is more fluid than it was in Maiden of Black Water, it is still on the lethargic side and only becomes enjoyable after bumping up camera sensitivity by 50%. Expect to endure very slow and frequent door-opening animations- sadly this has been kept intact from the original release and there is no way to speed it up.
It can feel like you are in a nightmare where you are trying to run away, but no matter how fast you move, you aren’t getting anywhere. It adds to the unrelenting sensation of dread and terror, especially when confronted with several ghosts at once.
Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is a methodical game. Being in the right mindset is important to enjoy it. This is unapologetically a PlayStation 2-era survival-horror game in its structure. All the hallmarks are here: savepoints, adventure gamey key items, puzzle screens, and a consistent location that gradually opens up satisfyingly.
It is refreshing to play a horror game like this, especially since most of the time modern games deflate tension with autosave and hold the player’s hand all the way through. Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse doesn’t do this for the most part and it trusts the gamer to figure things out on their own by using visuals or by leaving clues in very well-written notes scattered throughout the game.
The puzzles can be a little tricky since they aren’t always clear on what has to be done. Some passages will be locked and will only unlock or reveal a clue if the player seeks out the image in a premonition and takes a picture of the respective subject. Other times, expect to gain a basic understanding of sheet music and learn to play the Tsukimori Song; a repeated motif that has plot significance.
The gameplay is still consistent with the 2000s era of survival-horror games but with the third-person over-the-shoulder POV that Resident Evil 4 popularized. What sets Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse apart from its contemporaries is the uncompromising and unrelenting eerie atmosphere. This ambiance is what elevates this game from the other horror games out there and is truly scary.
Regretfully, Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse does not have English voice acting and is presented with subtitles only. This makes it the only entry in the series without an English voice cast. Even Spirit Camera on 3DS and Maiden of Black Water got English audio. It is a shame that this one will be the odd one out and the half-hearted localization may hurt its chances of success.
It is very curious that the photo mode also has a built-in censor mechanism for any gamer who tries to peek up the girls’ skirts. Sadly, the entire character models disappear if the 360-degree camera goes below their waists which is rich coming from the crew who made dead or alive. Even more perplexing is that there are unlockable bikinis for the girls, so what was the point?
The music can sound like a mixture of madness meeting chilling melodies. Compounded with the uncanny designs of the ghosts that suddenly appear, expect to slip a little dookie out for some fresh air. The tension is exacerbated by the intensionally slow controls and animations that make the protagonists feel like they are wading through three feet of elephant spooge.
The graphics were already pretty good when it was released on the Wii back in 2008, but the boys at Koei Tecmo sought to redo the visuals to bring Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse up to modern standards. Most of the 3D models have been redone and new effects added to enhance the atmosphere.
The female cast has refined and more rounded curves to their models now. Their skin complexion is so utterly smooth and porcelain-like and their hair looks more convincing than it did on Wii. Lighting has been significantly improved and the inclusion of dusty particle effects wafting in the air further emphasizes just how decrepit the locations have become.
The new visuals are not 100% consistent. There are many instances of surfaces with low quality and pixelated textures- mostly in the environment and on props. It can be very noticeable, especially when using the camera or flashlight because the subjects get very close and the level of detail is not where it should be, even on a Series S.
On Wii, Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse was a 30 fps game, but on Series S, it is a locked 60 as expected. This is a fluid and smooth experience with a better animation system than Maiden of Black Water which felt very jerky.
Who knows what will happen to the Fatal Frame franchise? It is a series of mostly very good horror games that manages to make players’ blood run cold by relying on incredibly haunting visuals and disturbing diary entries. The physical release is being skipped over for the west and the best Koei Tecmo can do is a digital-only with no English audio.
Whatever happens to Fatal Frameat least one of the best entries finally came to the west. Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse has some of the best material the series has in it and Suda51’s contributions can be felt with very subtle homages from his work on Moonlight Syndrome. If you can adapt to the unconventional and sluggish controls, then expect to have a frightful time with Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse.
FATAL FRAME: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse was reviewed on Xbox Series S using a copy provided by Koei Tecmo Games Co. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here. FATAL FRAME: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is now available for Windows PC (via Steam), Nintendo Switch, Nintendo Wii (via import), PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S.