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Project Zero: Mask Of The Lunar Eclipse Review

A different take on survival horror

Project Zero, or Fatal Frame as it’s called in Northern America, is a series that has been around for about twenty years, spanning five main games and a spin-off. Every game has been released in the west bar one: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse. It originally released in Japan in 2008 but has now been updated and released to western audiences for the first time. While each game tells a standalone story, the Project Zero series has a habit of linking characters from other games together. Fortunately, this is not the case for Mask of the Lunar Eclipse (the fourth game in the series) so it’s a great starting point for anyone who has not played the others.

Rogetsu Isle has been abandoned ever since five girls that went missing there were found deep under the Haibara infirmary. Three of those girls, Misato, Madoka, and then Ruka, travel to the isle to reclaim the memories they had lost. Time is running out though, as the two other girls, Marie and Tomoe, were both found dead, their hands covering their faces. The only clue is Rogetsu Isle where the residents believe that the sun represents the living and the moon, the afterlife. A mysterious illness called Moonlight Syndrome has been linked to the island’s culture, with an emphasis on the ritual Rogetsu Kagura. There are whispers of another ritual, The Rite of Descent, which was rumoured to have been abandoned after a calamity occurred following it.

Mask of the Lunar Eclipse has three main protagonists, Ruka Minazuki, Misato Aso and Choshiro Kirishima. Madoka Tsukimori is available to play during the prologue only, allowing players to get used to the mechanics before being thrown into the story heavy game. Misato insists on travelling to the Isle in hopes of avoiding the samefate as Marie and Tomoe. Madoka accompanies her, but they quickly become separated in the prologue. Misaki arrives two weeks later, after not hearing from either girl and Choshiro follows Ruka at the insistence of Ruka’s Mother, Sayaka. As the girls uncover their lost memories, they also start to uncover the Isle’s dark past. These stories may be separate, but over time, they reveal that they are all interwoven into a tapestry that makes up the Isle’s dark history.

The core gameplay can be split into two main mechanics, exploration and battle. Exploration is done in third person mode with some fixed camera angles, like the original Resident Evil or Silent Hill.  Character movement is slow and awkward to control at times and running doesn’t increase the speed by much. This can be annoying when the path opens from being linear as backtracking feels like it takes forever. Not improving backtracking times, doors will sometimes take a good five to ten seconds to open, a holdover from hiding loading screens, which was great at the time, but doesn’t really belong in a game released in 2023.

Another issue is that items are not immediately visible. As the character gets closer to an item, it will shine bright blue and fade as the character turns or moves away. To reveal the items, the flashlight must be shone on them, like the world’s worst game of hide and seek. In frustration, I often found myself relying on the camera to find items as anywhere the camera is pointed, the torch is too. In the third person, it’s hard to see where items are when they are revealed as well. It’s even harder to get the game to recognise that the character is standing close enough to give the “Reach out” prompt. It requires some experimentation to be able to pick up items if they’re in an odd location like on the floor or dangling from a light. The icing on the awkward cake is that the Reach out mechanic requires the A button to be held down until the player takes the item. The Cherry, to continue this analogy, is the ghost hands. If a ghost hand grabs your character while they are reaching for an item, the item is lost. This only happens when reaching for health, film or camera upgrade items, but it’s annoying, nonetheless.

To fight the Wraiths haunting the island you’ll be using a special camera for combat. When activated, the screen swaps to first-person mode, with the player seeing through the viewfinder. Ghosts can only be killed by having their photo taken by the Camera Obscura or the Stone flashlight. There are five types of film available for the two cameras. 07, 14, 61, 90 and Zero. 07 is always available and is infinite in its supply, but it is also the slowest to charge, the longest to load and the weakest in its attack. The stone flashlight doesn’t use film and instead recharges when it’s not being used but it can still take photos though with a special lens equipped.

Upgrades allow the camera to do things like display an enemy’s health or warn the player when they are in danger. Lenses give the camera special powers, like pushing enemies away or using all their spirit points to deal a devastating attack. Lastly, there is a system that allows the camera’s base stats to be improved. Both upgrade paths require special stones, blue and red respectively. The aim during combat is to do the most damage possible in a single photo, with extra points given for special shots. Two ghosts in the same image creates a double shot. A shutter frame is when a photo is taken during an attack, preventing it. Fatal Frame is the holy grail of attacks and can be chained if using a fast-loading film. These points can then be used to exchange for items like better film and health items at save points. There is auto-save, but only at save points, making it kind of pointless. The points also accumulate in the cameras and allow the lenses to use these points to pull off special attacks. The points used for the special abilities are separate from the ones used at save points to avoid confusion and can even be used to unlock new costumes and other extras, once they’ve been unlocked. Lenses and film can be easily switched on the fly, but due to the lenses being kanji characters, it can be impossible to tell which is equipped.

Aside from wraiths, there are spectres, revenants and Hozuki dolls. Unlike wraiths, who are aggressive, spectres and revenants are harmless. Spectres require a quick trigger finger and use a yellow filament glow on the UI and the camera. The character automatically aims at the spectre if one is around, a generous assist from the game to the player. As a bonus, spectres appear only as players continue the story, making it easy to tell if someone is lost. The last of the ghost types is the revenants, hidden ghosts that require looking at the blue filament, like the item/clue UI, and having their photo taken. While these aren’t required for the main game at all, they do give extra spirit points as well as unlock goodies as the ghost list is completed. Completing a section of the ghost list will unlock special costumes once the game is complete, so you’re incentivised to find them all. The ghost list gives a small history of the characters that have been fought so far. It’s interesting that the developers have taken the time to give everyone a name and backstory, no matter how small. Lastly, the Hozuki dolls are hidden all around Rogetsu Hall. Should you need help hunting these spirits, hints are purchasable at the save points and are expensive but a one-time purchase at least.

Final Thoughts

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Project Zero: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse may be showing its age, but it still does what it does best. It is great at creating an atmosphere that draws players in. The music, characters and story go well with the awkward gameplay to create a great air of tension that’s rarely seen in survival horror games these days. It’s easy to become immersed, even to the point where text messages were giving me a small fright. Something that Project Zero has always done well is making the enemies relatable. These often aren’t bad people, but rather a series of unfortunate circumstances that led to their deaths. Quite luckily, the good aspects of the game make the small annoyances worth putting up with. Returning fans will know what they are coming into, but in terms of story, Mask of the Lunar Eclipse outstrips Maiden of Black Water, the fifth and most recent entry in the series. Its gameplay may not be as polished, but it is still a solid, and enjoyable, game.

Reviewed on Switch // Review code supplied by publisher

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Project Zero: Mask Of The Lunar Eclipse Review
Wraiths Take The Worst Selfies
An intense atmosphere and intriguing story which is unfortunately marred by the age the game was created in. Looking past the clumsiness of the movement, it is still one of the most accessible and fun Project Zero games.
The Good
Amazing story
A variety of interesting characters
Relatable enemies
Incredible atmosphere
Robust camera/flashlight upgrade system
The Bad
Movement is slow and awkward
Doors take a long time to open
Difficult to pick up items
7
Solid
  • Koei Tecmo
  • Koei Tecmo
  • PS5 / PS4 / Xbox Series X|S / Xbox One / Switch / PC
  • March 9, 2023

Project Zero: Mask Of The Lunar Eclipse Review
Wraiths Take The Worst Selfies
An intense atmosphere and intriguing story which is unfortunately marred by the age the game was created in. Looking past the clumsiness of the movement, it is still one of the most accessible and fun Project Zero games.
The Good
Amazing story
A variety of interesting characters
Relatable enemies
Incredible atmosphere
Robust camera/flashlight upgrade system
The Bad
Movement is slow and awkward
Doors take a long time to open
Difficult to pick up items
7
Solid
Written By Renee O'Flynn

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