I was bummed when I first learned that Fatal Frame (Project Zero) IV: The Mask of the Lunar Eclipse was going to be a Japan exclusive. And for the Wii, of all things. At the time, my adoration was growing for horror games outside of Silent Hill and Resident Evil. I wanted to continue to expand those horizons with titles that delivered that same level of fear but with different settings and atmospheres. A group of dedicated hackers and translators took it upon themselves to translate the original version of The Mask of the Lunar Eclipse, but I never had a chance to check out their efforts. Indeed, it took a couple of console generations to go by before I could finally get my hands on it. I can confidently say it was worth the wait. It comes just shy of edging out The Tormented as my favorite Fatal Frame, which should tell you something about its impact. I recommend it to any horror fan, but as always, remember that the controls aren’t always the smoothest.
Years before the game’s present day, five girls were kidnapped from their rooms while staying in a hospital on Rogetsu Isle. While they were rescued, the mysteries behind a motive were never solved. We get to the present day where we meet two of the previous captives: Madoka Tsukimori and Misaki Aso. They have returned to Rogetsu Isle, and to the place from where they were abducted. Why? Well, two of the other abductees suffered horrible deaths that left them with their faces unrecognizable. Madoka and Misaki want answers as they fearlessly enter the Rogetsu Isle hospital, but the answers aren’t going to come easy. The two friends get separated, and things continue to get worse from there. This introduction serves as a steppingstone for the main character of the story: Ruka Minazuki.
Ruka was the fifth victim that was kidnapped, and she is also heading back to the island for answers. However, her ties to the island are much stronger than the others. She’ll be the one doing most of the discovering. Another player in this tale is private detective Choshiro Kirishima. He was the officer that led the charge to rescue the girls all those years ago. Suspecting the culprit is still at large, he too sails to the island. You’ll mostly play as Ruka, but the game will shift between protagonists to add different levels and layers to the story. Which, as you can expect, is great. This is one of the most disturbing tales in the series. That says a lot considering how twisted they’ve been. I won’t get into the specifics because of spoilers, of course. I do want to point out a new term I learned from the game though: “Face Harvesting.” As for what that is, you’ll just have to play and find out.
Keeping a ghost in focus and gathering spirit power, followed by hitting the shutter button at just the right time will result in damaging ghosts. The better you are this, the more points and spirit you accumulate. Points can be traded for healing items, different types of film, and new costumes. Spirit is used in conjunction with special filaments and lenses to add additional effects or extra damage to the ghosts. The cameras can be powered up with multicolored spirit stones that are found throughout the island. It’s fun, but as one can surmise, it can be clunky. A basic control scheme and protagonists that aren’t agile are the norm for the series. That’s the case here. But, it’s rare to feel overwhelmed or at the mercy of the controls. Choshiro doesn’t use the Camera Obscura. Instead, he uses the Spirit Flashlight. He can swap lenses on the fly to take pictures. This flashlight is a lot more powerful than the girls’ cameras. This is good since Choshiro tends to encounter ghosts in groups.
Just like other games in the series, the graphics and their atmosphere are enhanced by a colored theme. Mask of the Lunar Eclipse’s gold motif help bring more personality and realness to the environments. Normally, yellows and golds are associated with brighter, cheerier things. Fans of the series know there’s nothing bright or cheery here. The medical center and its various rooms are aged, eerie, and disturbing. The ghosts that inhabit are right at home. One ghost wears a headgear apparatus that looked so painful, I felt as though I was the one wearing it. To spruce things up, you can unlock various outfits and accessories for the protagonists. The music is limited, but the sound effects more than make up for it. The shrieks the ghosts make when you snap them at just the right moment is both satisfying and bloodcurdling.
Rogetsu Isle is large. So, it can take a while to get from one point to the next. Also, since I got lost often, I did a lot of wandering. All this to say that my playtime was about 15 hours on standard difficulty. The game has a lot of secrets to uncover. Along with hidden spirits and files, there are Hozuki Dolls scattered everywhere. Snapping pictures of these will unlock additional lenses, upgrades, and costumes. There are additional challenges and difficulty options to mess around with, as well. I feel like this game has the most replay ability in comparison to the other games. It’s a meaty campaign, and there is plenty to discover. I plan to replay this again at some point, just like I do for the other games. As excepted, I had a lot of fun and a tiny hint of frustration with Ruka’s journey. The series continues to deliver the frights from multiple vantage points. There are the obvious jump scares and battling the ghosts, but the narrative unique to this title is the real terror. That reason alone should be enough to convince gamers give this game a try.
Overall, 8/10: Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse took a long time to become more accessible. However, the wait was worth it. Fright fans will enjoy just about everything this entry offers.