Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse Released: March 3, 2023 Developer: Nintendo (original), Grasshopper Manufacture (original), Tecmo Koei Publisher: Tecmo Koei Systems: PlayStation 4/5, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One/XS
Despite its positioning as the ultimate family friendly console, the Wii boasted a surprising number of horror games with such spook ‘em ups as Ju-On: The Grudge, Cursed Mountain, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, and The Calling. One title we didn’t get here in the West, however, was a remote controlled installment of the Fatal Frame series, exclusive as it was to Japan, but 15 years later and spruced up a little, it’s finally crossed the ocean. With that much time passing, Tecmo Koei hardly snapped to it when it came to a worldwide release.
Do you get it? Because camera!
It’s immediately obvious while playing it that Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse was originally on Nintendo's influential 2000s console. There’s a certain feel to this sort of third-person Wii game - it’s in the way characters move, a ponderous feeling with a camera that clings tightly to the shoulder and leaves plenty of screen space to glance around using motion controls. It might now be on modern systems, but Mask of the Lunar Eclipse cannot hide its Wiiness.
I said Wiiness.
If you’ve played any Fatal Frame game before (barring the uniquely dreadful Spirit Camera on 3DS), you know the score here. It’s a third-person survival horror in which ghosts are combated using the Camera Obscura - an old timey camera used in first-person that damages malevolent spirits with every photo it takes of them. It’s a cool idea that really helped Fatal Frame stand out from the pack of PS2-era horror games, though after multiple sequels spanning over two decades, it’s hard to be truly dazzled by the same formula.
Formulaic is most certainly what Lunar Eclipse is. You can only scamper around looking through a viewfinder and slowly charging up shots so many times before fighting all the ghosty-pops loses its frightening appeal, and its case isn’t helped by the litany of ways in which the game is abjectly boring.
I'll try to be polite here, but Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is slow as all fuck. You can actually feel yourself aging as you try to do anything, to the point where you’ll very literally become a skeleton with a long white beard before the end. The whole production moves at a pace deader than any ghost you could encounter, and your own damn corpse would provide more invigorating engagement than a jaunt across any of this game‘s many dark corridors.
Running is slower than the average walking speed you'd find in any other game, while walking itself is pure excruciation. Picking up an item involves holding a button and watching the character slowly lean in while cautiously extending their arm. Moving the camera is like fisting an anus full of treacle. Doors take multiples of seconds to open, an issue not helped by random amounts of time spent holding the handle motionlessly before the animation kicks in. Charging the camera to take the most effective shots of ghosts involves a lot of waiting around, as does the reloading of film after every single click.
A word like “lethargic” does no justice to this game’s speed or complete lack thereof. Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse transcends lethargy to become something altogether less brisk.
Such jawdropping slowness reaches a comic pinnacle when you first encounter a ghost that can’t be harmed with photography. Forced to “run” away, you don't pick the pace up one tiny iota, and despite the apparent urgency of the situation, doors are still opened with all the casual deliberation of a Warhammer painter. It’s absolutely ridiculous, as what I assume is meant to be a terrifying chase sequence is undermined by the protagonist’s complete lack of given shits.
But why would anybody feel the need to so much as jog away? The ghosts are just as slow as everything else.
Well, I’ve had entirely too much fun describing this game's snailocity in exhausting detail, so let’s move onto what compounds it - the backtracking. Lunar Eclipse largely takes place in a single hospital, and not a particularly large one. The first four or five hours encompass this hospital's first two floors, and even when you change protagonists between chapters, you remain in the same location. As you explore the environment to find keys and solve simple puzzles, you’ll find yourself crawling back and forth across the same barren corridors, revisiting the same small rooms, looking at the same old crap, to a damn near unforgivable degree.
Many hours in, you get to finally reach the third floor of the building, but by that time there’s not much to be excited about, especially since the new area has the exact dilapidated aesthetic as the previous ones and immediately offers the same dull backtracking cycle as before.
The story is as pedestrian as everything else, repetitive and overworked. It’s set on an island where the whole population went missing or died, and there’s a mysterious illness knocking about called Moonlight Syndrome. The protagonists are a group of girls who went missing during a festival but were later found with no memory of the event, and they've returned to the island to uncover their past. For hours and hours, the same few plot points are regurgitated and belabored during flashbacks documents. I am so sick of reading about Moonlight Syndrome, as diary entries and text logs describe it incessently and find new words to say the same frigging thing. There is so much text that says so little, contributing nothing to a plot in desperate need of excitement to begin with.
There’s but one story element I found compelling, the hospital staff’s experiences with a sadistic little girl named Ayako. Non-hostile spirits of nurses dreading interactions with her, including a particularly creepy image of Ayola dragging one down the hall, were effective enough to hold my attention. The passive ghosts overall are quite neat - they only appear briefly, offering a glimpse of hospital life, and snapping a picture before they disappear scores points that can be traded for items. It's the one element of the series that's remained interesting despite its recycling.
There’s also a protagonist whose gameplay is a little quicker in the combat department, although his gameplay eschews the entire series’ central gimmick. An investigator shows up some ways into the game who uses a magic torch (not Jamie’s) to fight ghosts instead of a camera. The Spirit Stone Flashlight doesn’t need to spend ages looking at a ghost to charge a shot - instead, you hold down a button to ready an attack and just let go. It’s quicker to do this compared to photography, you can charge attacks without needing to aim at a ghost, and the cooldown between hits is reduced. While this all makes combat significantly easier, it’s far livelier and I vastly prefer it as a result.
Despite how miserably uninteresting this game is, I must confess I’ve nonetheless found it… enjoyable? No, that’s not quite the word. I’m neither scared nor entertained by Lunar Eclipse, but there’s some inscrutable thing that evoked a modicum of fondness in me. I’m nowhere near agreeable enough to recommend it, nor does the game do anything to effectively make up for how tedious it is. However, it’d be wrong for me to say I truly hate the game, even if it’s unforgivable in its drudgery.
I can’t effectively speak to its quality as a remaster since I and many others didn’t get to play the original. Obviously the motion control is gone, barring some helpful gyro in camera mode for the Switch version, but as I said near the top of the review there’s an unmistakable Wii quality to its look and feel. The Wiiness. Graphics have been updated and some costumes have been added, though a bunch of said outfits are tied to DLC, so screw that. A new photo mode’s been added that allows you to manipulate and add characters, including ghosts, with a variety of poses to create custom visual scenes.
In all honesty, I reckon photo mode is the most exciting part of the entire production. That might be damning praise, but it is a cute addition.
Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is an interesting snapshot of a time gone by, but that’s essentially the only intriguing thing about it. More an historical curio than a game worth playing on any kind of merit, its torturous pace and general lifelessness absolutely murder any sense of tension or basic intellectual involvement. A plodding narrative, as well a disgraceful amount of backtracking, serve only to enhance the ennui.
I’d have rather replayed The Calling if I wanted to go back to the era of Wii horror… and I don’t remember liking The Calling at all.