Something’s wrong with this mirror
Fatal Frame is among the most iconic horror franchises in video games, often listed alongside big names like Resident Evil and Silent Hill. With five mainline games in its lineup, it’s actually surprising that we in North America have only ever gotten four of them, with the fourth entry in the series never leaving Japan. That is, until now! Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse, originally released exclusively for the Wii in 2008, is finally making its way worldwide and to modern platforms as well. The real question is: was it worth the wait? Depending on your experience with the series, your mileage may vary on that one.
Mask of the Lunar Eclipse features the story of three main playable characters, all of whom are returning to the mysterious setting of Rogetsu Island. When their friends die under mysterious circumstances, Misaki Aso and her friend Madoka travel to the island in hopes of finding answers to the gaps in their childhood memories. The two get separated, and Misaki winds up having to explore alone. Meanwhile Ruka Minazuki follows Misaki and Madoka to the island with the same goal, but finds that not only has Madoka perished, Misaki is nowhere to be seen. Finally, Detective Choshiro Kirishima also travels to the island, himself following Ruka in order to bring her back home. All three of these characters begin exploring the local sanatorium, seemingly connected to the girls’ history, but unfortunately for them this sanatorium also happens to be stuffed full of ghosts.
The main mechanic of Fatal Frame is the ghost combat whenever a spirit type known as a wraith appears. Misaki and Ruka both fight using the series’ iconic Camera Obscura, which can be pulled out by pressing X and shifts the game into a first-person perspective. While both Camera Obscuras have a slightly different look to them, they play pretty much the same. Keeping a ghost in frame allows the camera to charge, with its progress indicated by a pattern around the center, and the more charge it gets before you take the ghost’s photo the more damage it will do. You can also increase damage by equipping stronger types of film, attaching different lenses, or by capturing a fatal frame. You can get a fatal frame shot by taking your picture right before the ghost attacks, and this will then allow you to take several shots in quick succession to build up damage. If you’ve played other Fatal Frame games in the past, this is not too much of a change from those. One complaint I have about the Camera Obscura combat, however, is that the setting likes to put encounters in cramped areas like hallways or small bedrooms that give you extremely limited room to maneuver, something that can become a bit frustrating when fighting enemies that can disappear and reappear wherever they want (including inside of walls).
Choshiro does not use the Camera Obscura in combat, and instead goes to Rogetsu equipped with the Spirit Stone Flashlight. Combat with this is even simpler than the camera, as all you have to do is hold down the ZR button to charge and release it to fire your attack. The simplicity of this type of combat actually kind of holds it back, as ghosts become trivial even when there’s more than one of them (an event that becomes especially harrowing with the Camera Obscura). Both these weapons can be upgraded using Blue Spirit Stones that can be found throughout the game, but it should be noted that all three characters share the same pool of upgrade materials while not sharing actual upgrades, so the player is encouraged to pick and choose who they want to upgrade the most. One non-combat bit of control that I had an issue with is the flashlight, which in the Wii version used pointer controls. This does not translate very well to being on the right analog stick, which is also connected to the game’s camera, and trying to manipulate the flashlight to shine over items (the only way to reveal their location) can be a real pain.
Overall, of all the Fatal Frames I have played, this is one of the weaker ones. The setting of the sanatorium is very well done in both atmosphere and sound design, and the newly improved graphics over the original Wii version certainly help make it more immersive. However, exploring the same areas over and over with three different characters gets old rather quickly, especially when characters are also backtracking to those areas as well. The same goes for some of the ghosts, with certain encounters like the sadistic child Ayako repeating several times with multiple characters, which tends to get annoying after the third occurrence or so. Fans of Fatal Frame who want to experience this lost title in the series will likely find enough atmosphere and story to keep their interest, but newcomers may find some of the game’s shortcomings to be a turnoff as their first experience. That being said, you can put a hat on your character that’s a big Camera Obscura, so in a way, maybe it all balances out in the end.