The Fatal Frame series is great at forcing you to do something that goes against every survival instinct, then coping with that “decision” as best you can. Do I want to go to the death island filled with killer ghosts? No. Is going up the stairs the creepy ghost nurse ascended wise? Absolutely not. Should you go into the nurses’ station after said ghost nurse looked into your soul and ordered you back into your room? I mean, at this point I’d be too busy crying in a fetal position to do so in real life, so yeah, that’s also a no from me. But Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse constantly pushes you into these situations, and that’s part of what makes it such a great game.
Years ago, Ruka Minazuki, Misaki Aso, Madoka Tsukimori, and two of their friends were found after an incident on Rogetsu Isle. All five young women lost all memories of their lives prior to that moment. Now, two of them are dead. The survivors are convinced the answers to what happened, and their hopes of surviving whatever claimed the lives of their friends, are back on that island. So they return, as does Choshiro Kirishima. He’s the detective who found all five girls that day while investigating Yo Haibara, and Ruka’s mother called upon him to come back to find her daughter.
Naturally, as this is a Fatal Frame game, there was a ritual gone wrong on Rogetsu! The fallout spawned a horrifying situation, and the result is an array of restless ghosts ready to torment the living.
I really loved how the narrative worked with Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse. For some reason, Fatal Frame III: The Tormented and Maiden of Black Water’s multiple protagonists sometimes felt a bit forced to me. The use of Ruka, Misaki, Madoka, and Choshiro feels stronger here. Everyone seems a bit more united with their similar sorts of causes. It also helped me to root for them.
It feels like the ritual and backstory for Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is a lot more cohesive than other entries as well. There are some installments in the series during which you’ll start to learn what’s going on, find out what was being done in the rituals and why, and you think to yourself, “Maybe these people had it coming and deserved to become murder ghosts.” But here, things aren’t black and white. I sometimes felt bad for the villainous characters or, at the very least, understand why they would go to the lengths that they would. (But not that Ayako. Why? You’ll see.)
As with all Fatal Frame games, Mask of the Lunar Eclipse also works horrifyingly well because of its limitations. You want a little “light” that shows you the way to your next goal and reassures you that maybe somebody is on your side. No! Nobody on Rogetsu Isle cares about you! No light for you! You need to use your memory, hand-written notes on your phone, and a map you’ll probably check every five minutes because you’re so paranoid about taking a wrong turn and running into a ghost that wants to murder you dead instead! And you know what? You’ll like it.
Would you like to run? No. You are, for the most part, playing as terrified young women who are also suffering from Moonlight Syndrome. (They also, like all Fatal Frame characters, are wearing absolutely adorable dresses and impractical footwear.) You will explore at a light jog, with controls that are slightly clunky, because honestly it’s probably more accurate. I also feel it heightens the experience, which is fine. Said people also “reach out” for items highlighted at the same slow pace, which builds tension and makes you wonder, “Is this the time a ghost will grab me back?” (I hope not, because I’ve been drinking a lot of coffee to stay awake from the scary specter dreams and my heart can’t take it.) It retains the series’ trademark of doors opening slowly as well, so you never know if there’s a ghoul on the other side. Frankly, if it’d been a while since a scary revelation after opening a door, I held my Switch away from me until the music and sound effects told me if it was safe to look.
It’s like listen. Koei Tecmo gave you the ability to quickly turn around this time around. That alone is a blessing given how often a ghost will pop up out of nowhere to sap your will to live with a single touch.
Besides, you have the Camera Obscura and Spirit Torch. A camera and flashlight, respectively, each one is capable of damaging the ghosts and saving your life. I was pleasantly surprised to see both the standard and gyroscopic controls both work quite well. However, I did prefer and would recommend using the analog sticks for aiming. As usual, you can happen upon lenses while you venture through the island’s locations, which can make encounters with ghosts much easier. There are also different sorts of film that can be acquired to help with damaging your opponents as you line up perfectly timed shots to dispel them. However, as in the past, one does offer infinite film, so you’re never truly left prone. If you enjoy this element, a Mission Mode lets you really focus on shooting ghosts. Or, you can play at being an actual photographer with its photo mode.
I must say that the ghosts in Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse sometimes feel like an upgrade over ones that appeared in the past. As usual, Koei Tecmo knows how to capitalize on common fears. Do you not like little girl ghosts? Let me tell you, there is a kid in here that gave me flashbacks to some of the Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly ones. (Remember the children who play hide-and-seek with you? They still haunt my dreams every Thursday night.) Don’t like dolls? Good news! There’s a ghost with a human-size doll you’ll get to hang out with! (It’s a more terrifying encounter than the Crimson Butterfly ghost-and-doll one again!) But what stands out is that some ghosts are much faster and more unpredictable than in past entries. It really tripped me up in a good way.
Not to mention the new Bloom mechanic means that some ghosts will blossom. You may hear the words bloom and blossom and think, “Hey! That sounds positive. Flowers bloom and blossom, and those are good things!” Then you remember this is Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse. Here, that means the ghosts transform to become even more horrifying, powerful, and deadly. There are a lot of ways in which this particular installment ramps up the tension. This mechanic amplifies that, while also tying it into the story to make it feel like a natural addition.
Especially since all of the ghosts look good. Maybe they look too good? This is a rather well-executed remaster. Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse can look really fantastic on the Switch sometimes. Yes, there are a few ghosts that look more silly than scary. I was generally impressed. (When I was feeling brave enough to actually look some of them in the eyes, that is.)
The good news is, if you are a wuss like I am, Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse’s easy mode has some lovely accessibility features. The Camera Obscura will automatically lock onto ghosts. This is especially a godsend for some of the new and improved faster ghosts that come up. There’s also one “altercation” later in the game with multiple specters that, honestly, even felt trying with that bonus due to the overwhelming nature of the encounter. It’s a lot!
Listen. Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is so scary that one night after I played it for about five hours straight, I couldn’t sleep properly as I live in an apartment building. Whenever I’d hear a neighbor shuffling down the hall or someone slam a door too hard, it would jar me awake. I was certain one of these ghosts was going to get me. This is the kind of game it is. It wrecked me in a way past Fatal Frame entries didn’t, and I’m sure once I’m able to rest without seeing some of these ghosts in my mind’s eye, I’ll appreciate that.
Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is available on the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and PC. It also appeared on the Wii in Japan.