Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse – The game we were robbed of…

If you’ve been following my blog for awhile you’ve probably noticed that I really enjoy survival horror games. And you’ve also probably noticed that I really enjoy Fatal Frame in particular when it comes to that genre! So you can imagine just how excited I was when it was announced that after nearly 15 years of waiting, we would finally be getting a localized version of Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse! Or Fatal Frame 4, as I’ll be referring to it as.

Until now, Fatal Frame 4 has remained exclusive to Japan ever since it was released back on the Wii in 2008. This would be the first game in the series to never get a release outside of Japan and the first game in the series that Nintendo would be publishing themselves. This kind of marked a dark time to be a western fan of Fatal Frame. For whatever reason, Nintendo felt the games didn’t do well enough outside of Japan to go through the effort of localizing them. This meant that we western fans never got to play Fatal Frame 4 or the remake of Fatal Frame 2 on the Wii. Everyone assumed that this would continue to be our fate when Fatal Frame 5 was announced for the Wii U and that did seem to be the case for a long time. But amazingly, Fatal Frame 5 actually got localized! It took awhile but it did happen eventually. However, it was still on the Wii U so not many people actually got it. Especially in the west as Nintendo bizarrely decided to make the game digital only despite it’s file size being larger than what the standard Wii U could hold, meaning that there really wasn’t a big chance for the game to do well. And this is where I assumed Fatal Frame would meet it’s end as a series. Killed for it’s low sales on a dead consoles… But luckily, I was proven wrong!

During E3 2021, it was announced that Fatal Frame 5 would not only be getting a remaster, but it would also be releasing on just about every modern console at the time! I honestly could not believe the news. This was Fatal Frame‘s big chance to come back and get a new game after so long! And while we haven’t gotten a new game just yet, we did get something even more unexpected than that.

I remember screaming when I saw the announcement of the remaster for Fatal Frame 4 in the September 2022 Nintendo Direct. With Fatal Frame 5 getting the remaster treatment, I figured the series would just move on from there rather than go back to another, older entry in the series. I was so happy to be wrong though. I had become a fan of survival horror games not long after Fatal Frame 4 originally released on the Wii. I remember looking up more games in the series after playing 1-3 and being shocked to see that there was in fact a fourth game but I couldn’t play it. And after playing Fatal Frame 5 on the Wii U, I was even hungrier to play Fatal Frame 4! It was the only game I hadn’t played in a series I had come to love and adore. As the years went on, it became kind of like my White Whale, always eluding me and staying out of my reach. I had honestly considered hacking my Wii and getting a fan translation running for the game so I could play it at long last. But luckily, after being very patient, I didn’t have to do any of that. Thankfully, since I’m sure I would have messed up hacking my Wii. And now, after all that waiting, I have played and finished Fatal Frame 4. And I can say that it was worth the wait! For me, at least.

For quite awhile now, I had been wanting to make a post talking about Fatal Frame and my love for the series. I held off on it since I wasn’t sure how exactly to go about it, but now with Fatal Frame 4 releasing, I can use this as my chance to gush about the series and the remaster all at once!

For those who don’t know, Fatal Frame is a surprisingly long running survival horror series getting it’s start in the early years of the PS2 with Fatal Frame or as it’s known in Japan as simply Zero, and in Europe as Project Zero for whatever reason. The series is developed primarily by Koei Tecmo and it’s known for being distinctly Japanese horror. While this does tend to limit the series a little with it’s themes and settings, it also gives itself a very unique image as no other horror series I know of focuses this much on Japanese themes. This often means the stories of each game in the series have a very similar set up, generally a ritual preformed by a small but extremely dedicated community in a rural part of Japan goes wrong and results in lots of ghosts. There. I have literally described the set up to every single Fatal Frame game. However, after that, each games’ story does get unique and pretty deep with how each ritual works and how they were messed up to begin with. While you do generally have to dig through lots of notes and files you find throughout each game to get the full story, it’s always worth it as you slowly begin to piece together what went wrong and maybe how you can fix it. Not only that, they are generally very well written and really spooky as well! Getting a new note was always exciting for me despite the fact that I normally hate reading. Not every note will tie into the main story either, plenty will tell the stories of the ghosts you see roaming around whatever abandoned place you happen to be exploring. This is actually a great way of getting you, the player, invested in the ghosts you’ll be fighting! Unlike a random zombie in Resident Evil, the ghosts of Fatal Frame are very rarely just meant to be fodder for combat. They always represent someone who had a reason for being there in the first place.

Some of the notes have neat structures like this too!

On that note, no pun intended, let’s talk about the other big thing about Fatal Frame that sets it apart from other survival horror games. The combat! Rather than giving the player a gun or a sturdy pipe to help defend themselves from the horrors of the game, Fatal Frame arms players with a camera! Specifically the Camera Obscura, a magic camera that can harm ghosts. While exploring and running around, Fatal Frame generally has a fix camera or an over the shoulder camera angle, but whenever you raise the Camera Obscura, the game shifts to first person! This does a great job of really getting you into the combat by quite literally forcing the player to get face to face with the ghosts attacking them. But let’s save the in depth look at combat for a bit later and take a step back for now.

Combat in survival horror games is always a bit of a mixed bag. By making it clunky and hard to use you successfully make the player feel weak and actively worried about combat, but at the cost of combat being very not fun. By making it easy to control and very responsive you make your combat much more fun to experience, but in doing so it will make the game less scary as the player has far more power. Fatal Frame has done both of these approaches with it’s combat. In the series’ early entries, the combat was very clunky. This was due to the fact that first person shooters weren’t as wide spread as they are now, so a proper control scheme wasn’t really nailed down yet. However, with Fatal Frame 4 the series finally shed that clunky feeling combat for a far more fun feeling kind! However, as I said before, this does take away from the game’s scares a bit. It doesn’t help that Fatal Frame has always featured arcade like elements to it’s combat. You’ll constantly be awarded points and bonuses for getting special shots and angles on the ghosts! The series gets it’s name from one of these special shots in fact, the FATAL FRAME shot which you get for taking a picture of a ghost just before it attacks you for massive damage. All these elements were even doubled down on in Fatal Frame 5 where you get a letter rank at the end of every level.

Whenever I hear about people dropping the Fatal Frame series, this is normally the reason why. These arcade elements really due suck the player out of any immersion they might be feeling while wandering around the spooky environments of the games. And while I personally can look past these elements, I might even go so far as to say that I enjoy them, I totally understand why others don’t and I think it would probably be good for the series if they toned down these elements for future entries, or maybe kept them to an optional mode. Because every Fatal Frame game really does nail it’s atmosphere! While some locales can feel a bit too similar between the games as they try to keep the Japanese aesthetic the series is known for, each game in the series feels distinctly it’s own. Each game has it’s own mechanics, ghost designs, story and characters that really do feel like their own and manages to make the series feel fresh with each entry. Which very much includes Fatal Frame 4! Making it a great entry to jump into despite it technically being the fourth game in the series. And let’s talk about why! At long last.

As I was saying before, don’t let the fact that Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse being the fourth game in the series scary you away from trying this one first before any other Fatal Frame game. Every game in the series, besides Fatal Frame 3, is pretty separate from each other. The only thing that will often tie the games to one another is their lore, a new character maybe being related to an older character, and the fact that they all take place in the same world. Beyond that, you can enjoy the games completely separate from each other. Fatal Frame 4 in particular has almost no connections to the series. In fact, if you want to go by chronological order, the story of Fatal Frame 4 is the first in the series as it takes place almost 10 years before the events of Fatal Frame 1. And said story is easily one of my favorite in the series!

Like I said earlier, every Fatal Frame game is about a ritual that is performed by a small but dedicated community in a rural part of Japan going wrong and resulting in tons of ghosts and Fatal Frame 4 is no different! However, the game quickly sets itself apart from previous entries by actually having the main characters tied to said ritual in someway. Normally in Fatal Frame, the characters you play as often don’t have much to do with the ritual that caused all the terrible events, normally you play as someone who is roped into fixing said ritual after accidentally stumbling upon it or because a family member gets wrapped up in it. In Fatal Frame 4 however, each of the three playable characters have ties to the ritual that sets the game’s events in motion!

These characters being Ruka, the main character who is there looking for her lost memories, Misaki, a friend of Ruka also looking for her memories, and Choshiro, a private eye sent by Ruka’s mother to find her after she leaves to go searching for her memories. This is the first time in the series that it really feels like the characters involved have something at stake with the ritual rather than just wanting to make it out alive. This aspect affects more about the game than you’d think. Since Misaki and Ruka both are missing memories of their time in this place, you actually get to discover a lot more about them through the game’s notes. Something pretty cool and unique as most notes in survival horror games tend to talk about the location you’re in and less about the characters you’re playing. And speaking of locations…

This uniqueness with the story also extends to the game’s setting. While it is still very much set in Japan, you will be tasked with exploring a rather modern sanitarium and hospital, two locations that are very tired and over used in most survival horror games but not Fatal Frame! This is honestly a super neat twist. And while said twist might not hit new players as hard as it does for veteran players, it still makes for a great setting especially since it also affects the kinds of ghosts you’ll be seeing. That being said, I don’t want to go too deep into the narrative and setting. Exploring both is one of the best parts of every Fatal Frame game, after all. I will say though, the story had a lot more twists than I was expecting. I think this is mainly due to the fact that the game with written and co-directed by non other than SUDA51 himself! The man best known for games like Lollipop Chainsaw and No More Heroes. His influence can really be felt on this game, and as someone who loves his other work, this was quite the treat for me! But yeah, I want to avoid shedding too much light on the story here so let’s move on to the game play next.

The game play of Fatal Frame 4 is when the series began to shed some of those clunky, awkward controls, but it still has some of that to shake off. When it comes to the game’s combat I’d say Fatal Frame 4 falls somewhere between being clunky like the old games and more arcade feeling like Fatal Frame 5. Meaning that while it doesn’t have as smooth controls as Fatal Frame 5 it also doesn’t have that game’s immersion shattering grade system and mission layout. While Fatal Frame 4 is clearly leaning in that direction it hasn’t quite reached it yet, so it manages to maintain some of that scariness with the combat! This in between feeling that Fatal Frame 4 has really does make it great as a starting point for new players as they get to see both sides of the series game play and combat. Speaking of that combat, let’s finally go a bit more in depth with it in regards to how it’s handled in Fatal Frame 4.

Fatal Frame 4 doesn’t really deviate much from the past entries when it comes to how you handle the Camera Obscura in combat. You will be switching between multiple different kinds of films of varying strength as well as swapping between specific Lens to help you out against the ghosts. Learning the timing and patterns of each ghosts to make sure you can land those FATAL FRAME shots as well as when the right time to dodge is all still there like it is in the rest of the series. Something new introduced in Fatal Frame 4 though is the ability to lock on to ghosts. I believe this was added to help with the motion controls of the Wii as it could be hard to hold the camera straight and really focus. This is a feature that would carry on to Fatal Frame 5 as well! Beyond that though, all pretty standard for Fatal Frame. However, the game does manage to set itself apart with two new things; the Spirit Stone Flashlight and the new Blossoming effect.

The Spirit Stone Flashlight is a new weapon used when you play as Choshiro. It acts wildly different from the Camera Obscura as you don’t need to time your shots anymore and instead just need to charge each flash from the flashlight for a long enough period of time. Not only that, you can very easily hit multiple ghosts with a single flash! The flashlight is honestly kind of overpowered. There aren’t really many draw backs to it besides that it’s inherently weaker than the Camera. But that doesn’t really matter much when you can so easily dodge around and hit multiple ghosts at once. That being said, the flashlight is far from game breaking or anything like that and honestly it does break up the game play in a neat way while also helping Choshiro feel different from Ruka and Misaki. Still! It needed to be mentioned as this is the first time in the series you fight ghosts without the Camera Obscura. However, the flashlight isn’t the only thing that changes up how you fight ghosts this time around.

‘Blossoming’ is a mechanic that is exclusive to Fatal Frame 4. It’s a mechanic that ties into the story and ritual of the game but how it works in game play is that it basically acts as a second form for most of the ghosts! When a ghost’s health drops low enough, there is a chance they will Blossom and grow stronger. In this form, the ghost’s face will become distorted and they will do much more damage as well as just being far more aggressive than usual! On their own, they don’t pose a massive threat but when you’re fighting a group of ghosts and one suddenly starts to Blossom, they can be a real problem.

I absolutely love this mechanic! It keeps you on your toes and really instills a sense of panic whenever it happens. Which is why it’s such a shame that it so very rarely does happens… On Normal difficulty, it is extremely rare for ghosts to Blossom. I honestly didn’t really notice it was a feature until my second playthrough on Hard where it happened more frequently but still not very often. On one hand, I get why they would do this. Blossoming can be really tough to deal with, especially if you’re new to Fatal Frame, but it is such a cool and unique feature that I wish I could experience more frequently! Blossomed ghosts don’t even appear more frequently towards the end of the game like you’d expect either, despite the fact that it would kind of make sense with the lore as time inches closer to the Lunar Eclipse. So while I’d love to praise this feature it’s kind of hard to knowing that most people aren’t going to experience it. Still, it should be mentioned that it is a great mechanic! One I would love to see return in a future game as it does really change up a lot of combat experiences for the better and manages to make combat much more scary despite how much control you have in fights.

One feature I really hope doesn’t make a return though is having to reveal items with your flashlight… This is a feature that was very clearly made with the Wii in mind. Items in the environment are invisible and can only be seen and picked up after you shine your flashlight on them. A radar in the bottom right corner of the screen will let you know when you’re near an item but that’s all the help you get. While on paper this is kind of a neat concept but when you don’t have easy control over the flashlight, which is tied to where you are looking, it becomes a hassle to find and reveal each item. This was obviously much easier on the Wii as you could simply aim the Wiimote all around the screen with pin point accuracy, but the controls have not been updated well enough to work with a standard controller! This might not be so annoying if the items hidden this way were just small healing items or film, but no! You can miss some very useful Lens and upgrades this way! It can really kill the flow of exploring when you are having to fiddle with your flashlight trying to aim it just right to find an item.

Bleh… While this honestly isn’t that big of a deal and certainly don’t hurt the game overall, I just had to at least mention/vent about it.

Disregarding that little bump, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that I highly recommend picking up Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse! It’s a great starting point for anyone looking to get into the series and if you’re already a fan of the series you should hopefully own it already. While the game isn’t perfect or the best horror experience, it is unique. Something I can easily say about the Fatal Frame series as whole. It’s fresh and it’s different. It’s probably the most overlooked survival horror series out there. But hopefully that will change as people finally get a chance to play this game that we’ve been robbed of for so very long.

But those are just my thoughts! What are some of yours? Thinking about giving Fatal Frame 4 a try now? Was this your first time hearing about the Fatal Frame series? I’d love to hear your thoughts so don’t be shy!

And thank you for taking the time to read the post! If you enjoyed it feel free to leave a Like or share the blog with a friend. You can also follow the blog on WordPress or on Twitter if you want to stay up to date on new posts. Also if there’s a topic you’d like me to discuss sometime, go ahead and tell me in the comments! Any interaction is appreciated, even just viewing this post, so thanks again for stopping by.

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