Anime News Network was provided with a preview build for this title. The following impressions are based solely on the game’s first three chapters. This preview was played on ‘Normal’ difficulty.
Next month, Koei Tecmo will release Fatal Frame: Mask of the Luna Eclipse for the first time in North America. The previously Japan-exclusive Wii game follows four protagonists as they attempt to uncover the truth behind their memories, a harrowing ritual, and the Moonlight Syndrome that may have killed two of their friends. The story sees Misaki, Madoka, and Ruka exploring a sanitorium on the isolated Rogetsu Isle, and detective Chōshirō Kirishima investigating the same island’s local hospital where patients underwent horrific experiments in one doctor’s search for a cure to Moonlight Syndrome. All three girls, the detective, and the disease are interconnected through a local ritual involving the lunar eclipse.
My experience with Fatal Frame is limited to playing Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly for the Xbox circa 2005. It’s a game I remember fondly for both scaring the daylights out of me and weaving an interesting story. Like previous entries in the franchise, Mask of the Lunar Eclipse takes place in a fictional, rural area of Japan with deadly customs amid a sprawling estate. Players will wander the halls haunted by ghosts while armed with a flashlight and the Camera Obscura, an old-timey-looking camera that can exorcise spirits. In the case of Detective Kirishima, the items are one in the same. Yes, he can equip a lens on his flashlight that lets him take pictures.
As a horror title, Mask of the Lunar Eclipse excels at eliciting jump scares, and its sound design expertly builds up tension as players roam the narrow corridors of a delipidated hospital. I have gotten jumpier over the years, so you’ll have to excuse me for playing this in the middle of the day with the lights on. Most of the spookiness comes from suddenly being trapped in enclosed spaces with ghosts, while the ghosts’ appearances aren’t much to write home about. The menagerie of specters is either kids, nurses, adult patients, or hospital staff. There’s little in the way of visual storytelling through the ghost design, and you get little sense of how they died from their appearance. For comparison, I starkly remember a ghost from Fatal Frame II whose entrance was falling three stories from an overlooking balcony down a stairwell, screaming all the while. She pursued the player by crawling on all fours because her bones were broken. There’s nothing like that in these early chapters. It’s merely a humanoid ghost floating around the room that attacks when it gets too close.
This brings me to my primary beef with the gameplay. It’s too slow. Even with the film upgrades, it will take a while to exorcise a ghost to move into the next area. Since most battles occur in cramped rooms and hallways, players are left armed and ready to shoot off the next attack after each successful hit. However, ghosts disappear after each successful hit, and it often takes 15-20 seconds for them to reappear again. That would be fine if it took about three shots to kill them, but it’s often more. You don’t know where they’ll appear in relation to you; if you lose sight and don’t act quickly, you’ll lose a fair share of health. I often found myself stumbling into the respawned wraith, which is frustrating. This is exacerbated by characters moving like they’ve got cement shoes on. There is no actual ‘run’ function; there’s painfully slow walking and painfully slow stomping. I understand from a development perspective that you don’t want players fleeing every ghost encounter, and Fatal Frame isn’t an action series, but if we’re going to draw out the confrontations and drop characters into sprawling facilities, a bit of oomph in the movement department would be nice.
This brings me to my secondary beef, which is tethered to the gameplay issues. You will end up replaying 20-minute segments of Mask of the Lunar Eclipse. Listen, I loathe redoing things I’ve already completed, especially when the game’s character movement is limited to what it is and I’m navigating large zones. Mask of the Lunar Eclipse utilizes save points and its auto-save function cues up when you walk past one (kind of pointless since you can hard save) or at the end of each chapter. If you get caught by a ghost, and it kills you, that’s it; you’re redoing everything up until that point, including past wraith confrontations. Healing items are few, and you are temporarily disarmed if a ghost catches you. You have to re-up your camera/flashlight to prepare to attack again while swirling around to locate the ghost. Additionally, that lens I mentioned for Detective Kirishima’s flashlight must be unequipped in the menu every time you encounter a hostile ghost. This meant I frequently swapped in and out of the menu in chapter three so I could still take non-hostile ghost pictures for the point system.
As an added bonus (and to show Fatal Frame doesn’t take itself too seriously) there’s a photo-taking mode where you can stand in a location and bring in the other characters and ghosts to pose and take photos together. It’s like that island you can go to in Animal Crossing to set up elaborate scenarios, but for ghosts.
These are quality-of-life grievances that kept me from enjoying the game fully. In all likelihood, I’ll still play the game to completion, as there’s a bevy of side content to pursue and an interesting story underneath the control and save issues. I’m just more likely to start up the game on ‘Easy’ mode to save myself the frustration.