Originally released in Japan in 2008, Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse seemed like a title that would never receive an official English release. While fan translations and patches appeared online, making the game accessible to non-Japanese speaking audiences, Koei Tecmo finally decided to release this Wii exclusive in North America and Europe. Like Maiden of Black Water, Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is a game that is defined by the era it was released. But that doesn’t necessarily make it a bad game by any stretch of the imagination.
The controls for the most part are extremely faithful to the original release (minus needing a Wii remote and accompanying nunchuck). Characters run at a sometimes frustratingly slow speed, with walking feeling roughly the same and unaccompanied by the usual running animation known to the Fatal Frame series. That said, it does create a fair amount of tension as vengeful spirits chase you through the halls of the hospital. So in terms of atmosphere, it only adds to the experience, even if it makes exploration sometimes feel like something of a chore. Because despite how slowly you end up navigating halls between objectives, there is always the tension of a random ghost encounter potentially appearing, which serves Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse well. The game is at its best when you feel as though you are constantly on the edge of potentially jumping out of your seat, or like something could be lurking around the next corner.
Which is what Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse does in its first few hours. Unlike Maiden of Black Water, the game is not split into missions that have you traversing several different areas. While there are different characters that you play as, you are largely confined to one static location. So even the most familiar of areas are never guaranteed to be entirely safe. This is similar to the Himuro Mansion in Fatal Frame and the Manor of Sleep in Fatal Frame III. It feels more or less a return to form for the series, at least within its earlier hours. Those that have played the game in full upon its original release can probably contest this. But as it stands, it feels more in line with the first three Fatal Frame games than Maiden of Black Water did.
The first few ghosts you encounter in the game aren’t spectacular or particularly stand-out, which is a shame. Since Fatal Frame enemy designs generally leave a lasting impression, either through their contorted limbs or eerie facial expressions. That said, the sound design does a lot of the heavy lifting. The pained cries of the ghosts, or even the low murmur of their mumbling mixed in with static felt extremely unnerving. Wearing headphones only amplified this, so those that want to have the full experience will definitely want to wear some as they explore the Rogetsu Hospital. It’s rare that games genuinely scare me anymore, but Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse definitely left a lasting impression.
Memos help amplify this, as you find diary entries and news snippets that detail the lives and subsequent deaths concerning the mystery of Rogetsu Island. These events are what has brought protagonist Ruka Minazuki back to this place as she seeks to unearth her memories concerning an incident that happened some years prior. The scarce bits of information provided through these snippets allow for your to piece together events, while providing backstories for some of the ghosts you encounter. Overall, it helps flesh things out and keep the gears spinning, despite some odd grammar here and there in a few of the notes.
While the controls are mostly clunky, aside from a few nice inclusions like the ability to auto-lock onto ghosts, Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse feels like a return to form for the series. It’s welcome given the last major release was Maiden of Black Water. Despite it definitely not being for everyone, it’s great to see Koei Tecmo bring this entry in the series to North America and Europe. Hopefully this will signal a return from the franchise at large, with much of its formula remaining intact. Either way, Mask of the Lunar Eclipse will potentially be a must for survival horror enthusiasts that yearn for a return to the past, or those willing to overlook archaic controls for some great scares.
Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse will come to the Nintendo Switch, PS5, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and Windows PC via Steam on March 9, 2023.