It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of horror. From psychological to paranormal, gore to ghouls, slasher to supernatural, I love it all. When it comes to videogames and horror, there are a few series that I value above others – Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Alone in the Dark, The Dark Pictures Anthology (and Until Dawn), Outlast, Dead Space, System Shock, and so on and so forth.
However, I’m adamant that there’s one sort of horror out there that takes things to new heights, trapping you in a nightmare from which you feel there’s no escape. I, of course, speak about Japanese horror. One of my favourite horror IPs is Fatal Frame, a series that forces you to face unspeakable terror as it explores the various horrors you find in Japanese urban legends and lore.
So, it comes as no surprise that I couldn’t wait to get my hands on Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse, a title Nintendo limited to a Japanese audience upon its initial release on the Nintendo Wii in 2008. Well, Koei Tecmo is ready to answer the prayers of fans worldwide as it brings the survival horror game to a Western audience. Naturally, I have the Nintendo Switch version, but even if I didn’t write for a mobile and Nintendo site, I’d still want to play Mask of the Lunar Eclipse on Switch.
It feels like a natural progression, given the original is the first Fatal Frame to hit a Nintendo console, so in that regard, I like the idea of experiencing it on a console from the Japanese publisher, even if it’s not the Nintendo Wii.
For the fourth instalment in the Fatal Frame series, you find yourself on Rougetsu Island as a group of girls return to the dilapidated land years after their escape from it after being held captive. The most important character is arguably Ruka Minazuki, who returns to the island after two other girls do. The reason for their return is honestly a mystery to me. The entire time I’m sat here shouting ‘why, why would you go back to a ghost town where a psychopath held you hostage!?’ Sure, you lost your memories and want to rediscover them, but some things are best left forgotten, you know, a bit like the Green Lantern movie.
But alas, Ruka seems intent on not listening to the sound advice of her mother and myself, so she goes on a not-so-jolly adventure to a ghost town. Literally. Two years after the kidnapping of herself and four other girls, a disaster strikes Rougetsu Island, killing its inhabitants. The fact that two of the kidnapped girls died eight years later under mysterious circumstances only strengthens my belief that Ruka is being a tad bit ridiculous. I’m telling you, girl, play stupid games, win stupid prizes.
Throughout your time on the island, you unravel the mystery and discover the true events from ten years ago, which does tie into how the island eventually meets its demise. Naturally, I have no interest in spoiling this for you, but I can safely say that you’re in for a wild ride with twists and turns that create some serious tension as you attempt to piece the puzzle together.
Not only do you play as Ruka, but you also take control of three other characters, too. Misaki and Madoka are the two girls that return to the island before Ruka, as they too search for answers about their pasts, while the fourth and final playable character is Choshiro, the detective that saved the girls all those years ago. Yes, all four of them are in for a haunting experience that has them questioning everything they believe in.
In order to survive the spirits of those that reside on Rougetsu Island, you need to use an old pal to your advantage, the Camera Obscura. Longtime Fatal Frame friends know all about this life-saving piece of kit, as it’s essentially all you have in order to protect yourself from the ghosts that are keen for you to also join the spirit realm.
Not only can this supernatural piece of kit repel ghosts, but it can reveal things that are invisible to the naked eye, so trust me when I say that this is your lifeline. You can get all manner of upgrades too, including four picture speeds. As you progress through the game, it’s important that you discover and equip yourself with even more powerful lenses and film, which allow you to push back and dispel the most powerful and vengeful of ghosts.
Mind you, there’s another tool on hand to help you on your journey. The spirit torch is new to Mask of the Lunar Eclipse, not appearing in the previous games. Though this very much depends on the protagonist you play as, with Choshiro relying on the spirit torch to survive. Unlike the Camera Obscura, this device uses moonlight to inflict damage on any ghost foolish enough to get within its illumination.
Honestly, as much as I love the Camera Obscura, it feels great to see the spirit torch. It’s a change of pace and offers a different kind of experience when the time comes to deal with ghosts, which helps to keep the game feeling fresh as the hours roll on. Mind you, the environmental design and constant sense of dread also helps to keep you hooked in this terrifying world.
As with the majority of Fatal Frame games, you can expect to explore traditional Japanese houses, something I absolutely love. For as stunning as the architecture is, there’s something unsettling about these buildings when they’re abandoned and in ruin. It’s something I can’t quite explain, but I can never escape the feeling that I’m not alone. There’s no reprieve, and that only adds to the intensity of this survival horror experience. You also have to make your way through a rundown town, and I don’t have to tell you how scary an empty but well-kept hotel is (we’ve all seen The Shining), nevermind one that looks like it belongs in Shrek’s swamp.
The story, characters, and world are well designed, coming together to create a foreboding atmosphere full of dread, but do the controls and performance break this immersion? Thankfully, the answer is no, the controls are smooth, the buttons are well-mapped, and at no point do I feel like I’m in a fight with the camera. As for the game’s performance, I have little to complain about, there was a bit of stuttering when I first started my adventure, but it soon smoothed itself out, and I’m yet to face any other issues.
Oh yeah, there’s also a photo mode, because it’s not just the living that want to make memories, but ghosts too. Plus, I have to say that it’s a good photo mode. It features plenty of options to manipulate the picture to your liking. So go on, capture some images to remind you of the bad decisions you continue to make with each step you take here.
If you’re after a horror gem that brings the spooks, story, and fun, you can’t go wrong with Fatal Frame: Mask of the Eclipse. Better yet, it runs well on Nintendo Switch, and given the fact you can take it with you on the go, I recommend that you at least consider this platform. So, what do you say? Are you ready to return to Rougetsu Island in this previously region-bound title?
Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is an intuitive entry in the franchise that takes everything that makes the other games so great, and cranks it up to 11. The introduction of the spirit torch adds a new dimension to combat, while the photo mode ensures you can create some memories. With little in the way of performance issues, and a story keeps you guessing, this is a game for all horror fans.