Ghosts in visual media don’t typically scare me, but when they also happen to belong to Japanese horror and supernatural settings there’s something about them that makes my skin crawl. I’ve played some scary games like Song of Horror that build upon suspenseful elements like the sounds of otherworldy laughter or loud knocks on a door. There’s something about Western horror, however, that is less eerie. Perhaps it’s because Japanese horror is more foreign to those of us who grew up with the same old slasher/serial killer stories, tropes that are more recognizable, and pacing that is different than what we find in Eastern horror. Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse very much falls into the latter of these two camps. Did it give me goosebumps? Well, let’s see.
I’ll admit that going into Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse I was prepared for the worst and I launched the game in broad daylight, with cheerful music playing in the background so I wouldn’t fall asleep later that night dreaming of ghost girls with pale skin and long, black hair. This was probably quite a smart move as even during the day, this game is creepy!
If you’re familiar with the Fatal Frame series then you may know that Mask of the Lunar Eclipse was originally released back in 2008. On account of the popularity of the series, the creators decided to remaster the game with improved graphics and the quality is excellent. The details of the rooms I explored, the way the lights beam across the floors and walls, and the characters are more sophisticated and heighten the horror elements of the game. Graphics don’t have to be high resolution in order to make a horror game terrifying, but having more realistic elements certainly improves the ghostly atmosphere.
For me, what truly makes or breaks a game is the story. Without a good story, I don’t feel a connection with the characters and it’s this connection that’s a big part of the impetus to keep going. Thankfully, Mask of the Lunar Eclipse introduces an intricate plot that slowly unravels as you explore the mysterious Rogetsu Isle, discovering different areas in hospitals and mansions that reveal the truth behind a group of girls who disappeared many years ago.
Exploring the environment as one of the teenage girls makes the experience very unsettling. Knowing that something may be around the corner or stalking you from the shadows certainly doesn’t help put you at ease either. In addition to the horribly creepy location, it doesn’t help that your memory has been infected by a strange disease so you don’t know what is happening around you. Feeling this fear of the unknown from the beginning intensifies the mysterious elements of the game and made me wary of every step or turn.
As I discovered new locations, my map would update to help me keep track of where to go after finding different items. It’s a linear path, so there weren’t many detours for me to take (unless I accidentally went in the wrong direction,) but I appreciate that the video game directs you toward your next objective. I really didn’t want to wander about aimlessly knowing that there were sultry ghost women waiting to attack. I was relieved when it was only a matter of minutes before I stumbled upon the Camera Obscura, a device that is used to capture spirits, weakening them and containing their powers.
One thing I discovered about the camera is that it’s a bit finicky, something that really doesn’t help when it’s your only real weapon against the supernatural. It took me a few tries to get the hang of the controls and understand how to use it. I ended up having a few laughs because of how ridiculous the ghost looked as she slowly approached me, hands extended towards my throat ready to kill. If I were a ghost, I would use a different approach to attack my opponent. Especially if they were armed with a camera, but maybe that’s just me.
Mask of the Lunar Eclipse does an amazing job of building suspense. There aren’t any jump-scares (although if you’re not a fan of horror, some of the scarier moments could cause you to jump) but there are many moments where you feel your throat tighten or you think, “What the ___ is that?!” I could almost feel the ghosts breathing down my neck or their cold, translucent fingers hovering above me. The horror here is far more psychological than it is visceral and this is something the game does really well.
Would I call this game a masterpiece? Probably not. There are some mechanics that are a little buggy and a few components that, for me, could be dramatically improved. One of the biggest things in this respect comes down to the movement of characters. Going from walking to running or dodging ghosts feels clumsy and awkward. Motioning with the flashlight is also cumbersome. Really though, these are minor issues that don’t drastically degrade the gaming experience as a whole and ones that could easily be tweaked.
I’d still recommend Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse if you like horror, suspense, and psychological terror. Those of you really wanting to give yourself a fright will find that this title is available on Steam and what’s better than a weekend with ghost women and provocatively clothed Japanese girls? Depending on who you are, possibly a lot of things but this doesn’t stop this game from being really immersive fun for the horror junkies amongst you.
Pros: + Ghostly atmosphere, Japanese horror, and psychological suspense + Amazing story development with interesting characters
Cons: – Mechanics with respect to character movement feel awkward – Camera Obscura and flashlight controls could use improvement