Regarded as the best entry in the series by some, Project Zero / Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is finally about to reach a wider audience.
It was way back in 2008 that Project Zero / Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse released on the Nintendo Wii. But only in Japan. Now, some 15 years later, it’s been localised and remastered for every console that’s currently available as well as PC. But is this atmospheric adventure which finds multiple protagonists returning to Rogetsu Isle, a place where they all had horrifying experiences years ago, still worth playing? We think so, despite some troubling control issues.
With a story spread across numerous phases, you’ll find yourself in control of one of four protagonists in each. Every one of these unfortunate souls has a reason for returning to Rogetsu Isle, and as the phases progress you’ll learn how they’re all connected. The areas available to you expand as well. First you’re confined to the first floor of what seems to be some kind of hospital, but over time you gain access to yet more floors, as well as other buildings and areas that are connected to it.
No matter who you’re in control of, you’ll find your exploration dogged by spirits. And as anyone familiar with the series will know, taking pictures of them is pivotal to your progress. Sometimes these spirits are benevolent, appearing to show you the way forward. Other times they aim to scare you but not directly cause harm. And then there are others out to cut your time in the mortal realm short. You’ll want to get your camera out and take a photo or two of them regardless.
This isn’t some ghostly sightseeing trip, though. Project Zero / Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse isn’t a dark take on Pokémon Snap. You see, your camera is special. Called the Camera Obscura, it can be used to fight off your paranormal attackers. Not only that, but the points you earn by snapping them can be used to buy essential supplies and more. And so, whether it’s to record a helpful apparition that you’ve seen, or dismiss a hostile entity, getting out your camera and taking some shots is essential.
There’s a risk versus reward element, too. Wait until an evil entity is poised to attack, and there’s a small window where taking a shot of them will cause bonus damage, and open them up for further spirit-sapping snaps. But get the timing wrong, and you’re likely to find your own health being depleted. These Fatal Frame shots aren’t the only way to get one-up on your adversaries, though. A whole host of camera lenses can be found, equipped and upgraded, allowing you to perform a wide variety of shots with special effects.
Only one character doesn’t make use of the Camera Obscura, instead being equipped with a flashlight that functions in largely the same way. But there’s one thing that’s troublesome about this multi-character set-up: upgrades aren’t shared between them. It wouldn’t be too bad if the crystals required to upgrade your camera, lenses and flashlight were doled out at a better rate, but for most of the game you’re likely to find them in short supply.
Honestly, though, the main thing that drags this old-school survival horror with text documents and puzzles galore down are its controls. Project Zero / Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse may have been remastered, but the controls are still firmly rooted in the past. It’s hard to explain just how annoying the controls are; it’s not even that they’re tank-like. They’ll perhaps mostly irritate you during combat, with your efforts to reposition after avoiding an attack often being fruitless due to how long it takes to stop, turn around, and then raise your camera.
There are other issues, too, such as occasional difficulty spikes, and a manual save system that can irritate at times. But despite all this, it’s hard not to get sucked in by Project Zero / Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse. It’s not perfect by any means, but its camera-focused gameplay still feels fresh, and it’s story is gripping: dark and a bit morbid, but gripping.
It’s genuinely creepy at times, too. There’s great use of sound to put you edge, and some of the apparitions can only be described as creepy. It doesn’t even matter that while the character models have been updated and the lighting enhanced, that environments haven’t received much attention; they’re still nicely detailed and dripping with atmosphere. We’ve been playing the game on PS5 for review, and while it doesn’t push the hardware at all, it’s hard to look at what’s on-screen and describe it as ugly.
Playing Project Zero / Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse just reaffirms to us that we really need a new entry in this under-appreciated series. But until then, there are a lot of enjoyable chills to be had with this remaster. Its controls may be archaic by today’s standards, but everything else stands the test of time. Add in a wealth of unlockables, including a mission mode, and this is the type of horror game you might return to time and time again.