It’s a banner year for horror games from 2008 finding their way to modern audiences in 2023. There’s the Dead Space remake, of course, but survival horror enthusiasts may also be interested in Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse. This game was once a Wii exclusive, but on March 9, a new version will be released with updated graphics on consoles and PC. Polygon previewed the game’s opening chapters, and it still has plenty of frights in store for players who can get past its glacial pace.
Mask of the Lunar Eclipse focuses on a mystery surrounding the fictional Rougetsu Island. Five girls were held captive there in their youth, and all suffer from amnesia as adults. Two of those girls are now dead of mysterious causes, and so the three survivors choose to travel to the island together to investigate their pasts — and hopefully save their lives. Because this is a Fatal Frame game, this journey immediately goes wrong, and one of the girls is murdered by the vengeful ghosts who haunt the island.
The player has to explore Rougetsu Island, switching between the perspectives of multiple characters, armed with a flashlight and the series’ iconic Camera Obscura. The player has to creep and sneak through the island’s homes and a hospital turned hotel in an attempt to uncover the mysteries of the titular mask. As the name Fatal Frame might suggest, these ghosts are of the murderous variety, and the only way to see and subsequently stop them is to take perfectly timed pictures of them with the Camera Obscura. Playing well earns you points, which you can exchange for upgrades and helpful items at save points.
The original Wii game’s controls had the protagonist’s movement connected to the Nunchuk controller, while the Wii Remote controlled the player’s flashlight. Those motion controls have been adapted for modern controllers, but the flashlight roams around with its own joystick. The flashlight also does more than just provide light; it highlights key items to investigate and grab.
Trying to snap a photo of a ghost with the Camera Obscura is when the game is at its most tense, and even nearly 15 years after the original release, I still found myself flinching when I faced down a specter. My original strategy of snapping off rapid shots in a panic was not terribly effective; instead, I soon realized I would have to hold steady and keep the ghost in frame, or wait for an attack animation.
If anything, I wanted more of these moments. There are times when Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is still an effective horror game, like when I find jerky, grainy footage of occult rituals held on the island, or when I pull out the Camera Obscura and find a scary spirit lurking about. However, most of my time in the early chapters was spent slowly trying to open doors only to find them locked, scanning rooms with my flashlight, sluggishly navigating long hallways, and reaching out to gingerly take objects. These slow, deliberate actions didn’t build the tension; they just bored me.
During the preview, I experienced failed jump scares where the audio cue sounded before the actual on-screen act occurred. Cutscene dialogue felt awkward and out of line with the characters on screen. Add in some audio sync issues I experienced in the preview, and I found myself more irritated than immersed. The presentation isn’t all bad, though. The graphics have been improved from the Wii version of the game, and if you’re into the specific brand of survival horror rooted in Japanese culture that the Fatal Frame series has to offer, the fresh coat of paint does a lot to make Rougetsu Island an intriguing destination.
Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse will be available on March 9, on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.