Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse Review – Dance Till You’re Dead

    Title: Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse
    Developer: Koei Tecmo
    Release Date: March 9, 2023
    Reviewed On: PS5
    Publisher: Koei Tecmo
    Genre: Horror Adventure

It’s crazy how I’ve gone years without a new Fatal Frame experience, only to receive remastered versions of the two most recent entries within a few years of each other. However, when it comes to Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse, the west never officially saw this release, giving me a chance to experience a brand new entry, regardless if it predates Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water.

I believe this game could have easily been held back by its roots to the Wii, but this remaster does an excellent job of preserving this experience for overseas fans. Still, some systems should have stayed locked away with the spirits.

Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse has players control three protagonists throughout the story. There’s very little interaction between the characters, but they are each connected somehow and find themselves at Rougetsu Island searching for their memories. The star of the show is Ruka Minazuki, who follows her childhood friends, Misaki and Madoka, to the island. Each of these girls was part of a strange ritual that happened on the island ten years prior. They’ve decided to come back in search of answers as to why the island is calling to them after the people of the island were all mysteriously killed.

Players also assume the role of detective Choshiro, who saved the girls and returns in search of a suspected kidnapper that took Ruka and four others when they were young. Choshiro ended up rescuing them, but the kidnapper got away. The story goes to some dark places, but throughout the campaign, you’ll piece together exactly what happened through flashbacks as the girls get their memories back.

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The segmented delivery of the story can be very confusing. While the crucial scenes take place in cutscenes, most of the lore is found in the various diaries and text spread throughout the island. While sometimes dense, reading these text reveals further insight into the relationship of the characters and also hints at future puzzles. I was never left confused about where to go next, which I can only attribute to good game design, but I also think this has a lot to do with just how small the explorable areas are.

Two large buildings make up most of the explorable areas. However, as you switch to each character, you will find yourself in the same rooms over and over. The back-and-forth design wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the character’s running speed being more of a quick walk. So by default, you’ll memorize the entire map pretty quickly and rarely have to open up the menu map, but it’s there if you need it.

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You aren’t explicitly told where to go most of the time. Instead, the game uses ghosts to lead you in the right direction. If you have a quick reaction, you can take a picture of these ghosts using the Camera Obscura for extra points. However, sometimes traveling through rooms not required during a specific chapter has a few bonuses, including hidden curses and items, that benefit in-game unlockables.

The slow-moving chapters pad this game’s runtime. Further, I will say that there is an added layer of difficulty in this release, even in Normal mode. However, even the Game Over screen takes ages to show up, and the Auto Save feature is tied to simply running by the Save Laterns placed around the buildings. That said, there aren’t many of them, and the game isn’t so nice about including a Save Point before a difficult fight, so there were times when I lost about 20 minutes from dying. While I still overcame the obstacles, I think we can all agree these girls can be a little faster.

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Throughout exploration, spirits will do their best to take you out. That’s where the real crux of gameplay takes place, using the Camera Obscura to put spirits to rest. When encountering an enemy, you can switch to the first-person view to take their picture. There’s a risk-reward system where taking a picture of the enemy right before an attack triggers a Fatal Frame for added damage. This is required for late-game encounters, so you better master it.

I will say that the final boss is highly underwhelming, but there are a few enemies who put your skills to the test. Understanding their movements and how they attack to prepare for a Fatal Frame can be seen as a puzzle, making encounters more fun than simply shooting them with a gun. That said, Choshiro doesn’t have a camera and uses a light, which is faster than the camera making his sections more action-oriented.

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Each character can upgrade their weapons using Blue and Red orbs found throughout the environment. Reaching for these items can be lost if you’re not paying attention because a ghost hand can come out and grab you. These orbs can increase damage and spirit energy to unleash a few special shots using various lenses. It’s all pretty straightforward and fun to customize your lens to take advantage of the effects.

One of the biggest enemies in the game, though, happens to be mobility. Although much more accessible than using the Wiimote, navigating this game is challenging. The character movement is stiff, which makes encounters all the more difficult. Still, there’s a quick turnaround, but sometimes I found it easier to move around in the first person.

Further, items require you to master movement because they are hidden. Players need to shine the flashlight on them to reveal, but the game does have an indicator that shows how close you are to an item. Still, sometimes it didn’t matter if I searched every corner of a room, the item never appeared, and I just moved on with my life.

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Graphically, I was impressed by the character models. Each character looks terrific in-game and during cutscenes. The girl’s lack of ghost-hunting experience shows in their timid movement and reactions, but still, they press on. However, the textures in the game are incredibly dated. Most simply look like brown or gray messes, which has me looking forward to a proper new entry in this series.

One of the best features is the sound design, which really sells the horror experience. With the girl’s audible breathing, the creaks of the old structures, and screams from unseen nightmares, this game deserves to be played with headphones. While your first time through will be for the scares, New Game+ is there for the collectibles, allowing for higher difficulty and access to upgrades or a different ending.

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Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is an excellent, beautiful horror experience that works on modern platforms. From a game design perspective, it works brilliantly to guide the players through the nightmare with minimal confusion. However, the gameplay hurts the pacing with slow-moving characters, control issues, and repetitive structure, making you spend too long getting through it all.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Azario Lopez

Hanging out max, relaxing all cool.