Initial release date: July 31, 2008
Modern release date: March 8, 2023
Mode: Single-player video game
Composer: Masafumi Takada
Genres: Survival horror, Action-adventure game, Photography game, Adventure
Designers: Goichi Suda, Keisuke Kikuchi
Developers: Koei Tecmo, Tecmo, Koei Tecmo Games, MORE
"Review Copy Provided By Koei-Tecmo"
In "Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse," players are immersed in the eerie history of Rougetsu Island, where three enigmatic young women and a tenacious detective return to the remnants of a once-haunted hospital. The ladies are all amnesiac, a clichéd technique to create a shroud of mystery, while the detective remains puzzled since he never truly understood the situation from the beginning. This 2008 game has been revamped with a touch of hazy lo-fi aesthetics for its 2023 release, demanding a full-price tag. While it's up to the individual to decide whether the investment is worth it, I have to say that the updated visuals do little to rectify the dated gameplay and sluggish pace that plague "Fatal Frame."
Once players enter Haibara Hospital, they are equipped with the Camera Obscura and Spirit Flashlight, both designed to repel vengeful ghosts. This unique approach to combat is easy to pick up, with the effectiveness of your attacks dependent on timing, proximity, upgrades, and various film types scattered throughout the hospital. However, the game doesn't offer much in terms of new mechanics or challenges, leading to a sense of monotony. Internationally known as Project Zero, Fatal Frame is a fitting title for a game where you vanquish ghosts by capturing their images. The Camera Obscura transforms into a weapon once you encounter a spectral foe. Activating a Switch trigger button shifts your view to first-person mode, allowing you to aim and shoot by pressing the other trigger.
The game masterfully combines several elements to make this seemingly simple task quite challenging. Ghosts move unpredictably and vanish suddenly, while your camera needs to recharge after each shot. Striking a balance between capturing a close-up image for maximum damage and staying out of danger adds tension to every encounter. Expert timing rewards you with a powerful "fatal frame" shot, but missing leaves you vulnerable to a brutal counterattack. Vanquishing ghosts earns points that you can use to purchase health items and stronger film stock, as well as upgrade your camera with new lenses and gems that enhance various stats. Another character utilizes a flashlight instead of a camera, which is effective against multiple spirits simultaneously. The game's camera combat is a definite highlight, blending innovation and terror as you struggle to regain your footing in tight spaces.
Outside of combat, the camera serves other purposes, such as snapping images of spectral items for puzzle hints or documenting wandering ghosts like a paranormal Pokemon Snap. This remastered edition even includes a sandbox photo mode for customized shots. However, when the camera is put down, Fatal Frame's age starts to show. The intentionally disempowering mechanics like slow item pickup and clunky movement make the game feel dated. The updated control scheme improves button-mapping options, but the overall experience still feels cumbersome.
Although the atmosphere is immersive, individual rooms often blur together as you revisit the same haunted locales during your 10-hour journey. Remembering room details becomes essential as you progress, but the monotonous environments make this difficult. Nonetheless, uncovering new sections of the map and unlocking hidden connections remains satisfying, as you conquer a once-oppressive space.
The real issue with "Fatal Frame" lies in its tendency to waste players' time. The lack of frequent save points means that dying in combat forces you to tediously replay large segments of item collection and repetitive battles. Furthermore, navigating Rougetsu Island can be a chore, with some sections providing too much freedom to roam, which can lead to confusion and frustration. Despite the game's eerie atmosphere, the characters themselves are rather one-dimensional. The leading ladies are 17-year-olds with outfits that seem more focused on catering to the male gaze than practicality. The game also features a $20 DLC and an optional modeling mini-game to unlock additional outfits.
What "Fatal Frame" does have going for it is its haunting atmosphere. While it's not necessarily scary, it is undeniably creepy, with grainy black-and-white flashbacks providing the most chilling moments. These unsettling sequences are as captivating as they are eerie, but they might not be enough to keep players engaged until the end. Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is reminiscent of the Resident Evil 2 remake in its sense of exploration, though it falls short of the latter's creative brilliance. Despite its shortcomings, the game's unique camera-based combat and updated J-horror aesthetics make for an engaging experience. While it's not a flawless remaster, it gives this underappreciated horror gem a chance to shine and finally lay its ghosts to rest.