Project Zero/Fatal Frame: Mask Of The Lunar Eclipse | Review | Nintendo Switch

  • Developer: Koei Tecmo
  • Publisher: Koei Tecmo
  • Release Date: 09/03/2023
  • Price: £39.99 / $49.99
  • Version reviewed: 1.0.1

Introducing: Fatal Frame: Mask Of The Lunar Eclipse Switch Review

Fatal Frame, or Project Zero as it is known in Europe, is a horror survival game series made by Koei Tecmo. The last of the games to grace the Switch with its lovely goosebumps was Maiden Of Black Water, a remake of the WiiU game. Now with Mask Of The Lunar Eclipse, the formerly Asia exclusive Wii entry creeps around the corner. Unfortunately, no physical release was made, but you can always import the Asian cartridge, which luckily has English text.

In Mask Of The Lunar Eclipse you’ll explore Rogetsu Isle, an island off the Japanese coast which has a rich and unique folklore found nowhere else. Years ago, a group of five girls were abducted and later found in a cave below the island’s hospital. All five girls suffered from amnesia and had since left the island for the Japanese mainland. Now, ten years later and being young adults, three of the women return to Rogetsu Isle to chase after their memories and find out what actually happened to them. For all of them, it is a race against time as two of the original five have recently left the mortal plane of this world behind.

Slowly, carefully, creepily…

Uncovering the past is no simple matter. In Mask Of The Lunar Eclipse, you take control of several different characters to shine light into the murky gloominess. Ruka Minazaki, Misaki Aso and Madoka Tsukimori are the three women returning to Rogetsu to find their lost memories. These three and two others had been abducted when they were seven years old to take part in an ancient ritual because of their spiritual powers and their suffering of Moonlight Syndrome, an illness peculiar to the island. Choshiro Kirishima, the last of the characters and now a private investigator, was the police officer who found the girls in the cave ten years ago. He returns to the island because Ruka’s mother has sent him.

The story of Mask Of The Lunar Eclipse is told in episodes in which you take control of one of the characters. Moving through various abandoned places on the uninhabited island you find slips of information like notebooks, pictures and letters and piece together what happened to you and to all the people who originally lived on Rogetsu. The further you move through Rogetsu Hall, Haibara Infirmary or the Yomotsuki Residence for example, the deeper your understanding of the events gets. Unfortunately you’re quick to find out that while no living people inhabit the island, Rogetsu has an unhealthy population of wraiths and ghosts. Some are mere spectres that you can see going about their previous lives thereby guiding you along. Some will even gesture at you or talk to you in order to help. Most, however, are after your life and will attack you without warning.

Your only means of defence is a camera obscura, an old camera created to affect the spirit world. Take a photo of a ghost and it takes damage. Get a good shot to inflict more damage. Repeat this often enough and the ghost dissolves onto nothingness. If you fail to defend yourself and the ghost grips you, you take damage and eventually join their ranks: That’s game over.

Thankfully, your camera obscura can be tuned by stronger film packs that you can both find lying around or exchange for points at save-locations. You can also find lenses with special effects hidden in various places. Finally, camera and lenses can be upgraded in exchange for red and blue crystals. These crystals are another resource to collect.
All of the resources are scarce, so you have to plan how and when to use them. But this is part of the fun of playing a horror survival game. You have to carefully decide when to fight or when to run and which of the various upgrades to camera and lenses are useful to the way you play. Keep in mind that you can run away from a ghost most of the times, but some fights have to be fought because the ghosts block your only exit.

If collecting resources to ensure your survival is not enough for you, collecting the more than fifty hidden Hozuki Dolls might be a worthy challenge. These small dolls are hidden throughout the island and photographing them will break their curse. Mind you, they are hidden rather well: Sitting motionlessly in areas hardly visible, making you crane your neck (or camera’s lens).

That said, make sure to survive each chapter to finally confront your fears, the hidden secret of Rogetsu Isle and regain your memories.

Once you’ve cleared the main game, you have the possibilty to start a New Game+, where you keep all your upgrades and play through the game once more. Time to collect the missing pieces of information/ghost photos/dolls or perhaps you want to challenge the island on a new difficulty? Hard is unlocked by playing through the game once. Finish the game on hard to unlock Nightmare difficulty. Finish Mask Of The Lunar Eclipse in this mode to get the second ending.

You can also spend your collected spirit points on new costumes for the protagonists, or more lenses or upgrades for the camera obscura.
If this doesn’t get your spirit rising (Hah, a pun!) you can go on missions where you have to face off against stronger versions of the game’s ghosts supplied with limited resources and within a specified time.

As you can see, even post game there is a lot to grab your bones! (And that was the last of the puns, honestly.)

Darkness, imprisoning me, all I see, absolute horror!

It goes without saying that a horror game should look the part: Dark and gloomy. Well, Mask Of The Lunar Eclipse does exactly that. The buildings look decrepit, mouldy and derelict. Illumination only comes from moonlight, a few candles, some dirty electric lights still working and your character’s flash-light. The lighting and use of shadows is excellently done. More than once have I been shocked by something only to realise that it was my character’s shadow thrown onto a dirty wall. Other times I thought something was my shadow and jumped when it started attacking me… Yes, I can confirm jump-scares! Compared to the Wii original, the graphics for the Switch remaster have definitely seen an upgrade. They look fine both handheld and docked.

This game is best played with headphones. Otherwise you’ll miss the carefully crafted mix of haunting environmental sounds, eerie cries, cautious footsteps, ghastly shrieks and whatever else sets the mood for the scary atmosphere of the game. A darkened room, headphones and the tiny Switch screen are enough to get your heart racing, and the soundscapes are a huge part of that. Playing at night without headphones, and therefore lowered volume to not wake the other people in our house, has been a great experience, truly. But turning to headphones opened up a way to immerse myself in Mask Of The Lunar Eclipse I hadn’t expected. Simply fantastic!

Ghosts in the machine?

You can have ghost or bugs in a horror game. Mask Of The Lunar Eclipse luckily only has ghosts.
That said, all is not totally well, because while there are no game breaking bugs present, there is a general sluggishness. Camera movement sometimes stutters and the control of camera and character at the same time is a bit wonky. Fortunately the first is rather seldom and the latter is exactly the same way you control the character in the other Fatal Frame game on Switch: Maiden Of Black Water. It just takes a minute or to to get used to.
There is no difference between playing docked or handheld, luckily.

Conclusion

As you can see, Mask Of The Lunar Eclipse has a lot to offer. The story is intriguing, collectors and completionists have good reason to screen the locations ever more carefully and those of us into horror games get jump scares and action. The presentation is great, too, both visually and aurally.

PROS

  • Easy and normal difficulty from the start. You unlock hard and nightmare after some playthroughs.
  • Good and engaging story.
  • Lots of replayability.

CONS

  • Controls are a bit wonky before you get used to them.
  • Rhythm minigame after the last boss fight: This might be a personal thing, but to me having to pass a rhythm minigame to clear a game is a bad design choice. More so, when you only have three tries and if you fail all three, the boss fight starts again. Oh, and you can’t leave the area or save your progress, so it’s fight and try again and again till you die or get it right. Sure, the high after finally getting the melody right is awesome, but it cost me a lot of nerves and very nearly my controller.

Verdict
Fatal Frame: Mask Of The Lunar Eclipse is a good survival horror game. If you like this kind of games and have a penchant for Japanese folklore, this game is a must-have!

Which Fatal Frame for Switch should you get?

With two Fatal Frame games available on Switch, which one should you get? Let me help you with this question!
In case you already have Maiden Of Black Water and completely enjoyed it, easy peasy: get Mask Of The Lunar Eclipse, too. Just be sure to get the games in the same region. I got Maiden as a EU game and Mask as the Asia version, so I lucked out on a special costume for those who have save files from Maiden. Damn, but I’ll survive.

In case you didn’t enjoy Maiden, there would be no point in playing Mask. Mask Of The Lunar Eclipse probably would feel like a drag as it is essentially more of the same: exploration, jump scares, hunting down collectibles and survival. If that wasn’t your thing before, this game won’t change it.

If you are a fresh soul not experienced with the series at all, the decision is tougher. Both Fatal Frame games are excellent choices. Both offer good scary stories. It’s the details that decide here: Maiden has a lot more endings for you to reach. For two of the three protagonists, you have a good and a bad ending, for the third, two bad and two good endings want to be seen. All the different endings depend on the choices you make during the very last chapter.
Mask only has two different endings and the second one is hidden behind finishing the game on Nightmare difficulty, a feat I would never be able to do simply because of the piano minigame at the end. Playing along to a song without any guidance of which key to press is way above my abilities.

But that’s not even the decisive point. What makes Maiden the stronger game in the end is simply the wider options you have with the camera obscura. It’s not the lenses or other camera upgrades. Those are comparable in both games. But Maiden is the game where you can and need to switch from landscape to portrait with your camera. In Mask you’re simply stuck to landscape. I find this feature far more entertaining and realistic, so I’d choose Maiden over Mask.