Here at Push Square it's site policy that we don't believe in the supernatural. Vampires, werewolves, and Frankensteins? Poppycock, hogwash, and flannel, we say. Having never believed in ghosts we've never considered what we'd do should we ever come face to face with one. We can plan for World War 3 or Covid 2 or bumping into someone we don't want to stop and talk to in Tesco. If a ghost popped up and started getting shirty we would probably end up running, hoping that we could get away while the spirit was busy murdering someone else.
Ghosts are the big bad in Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse, a remaster of the fourth game in the long-running survival horror franchise, originally released exclusively on Wii, and exclusively in Japan. This is the first chance for Western Fatal Frame fans to play the game on a real console and in shiny HD, and it's about a bunch of people who all come face to face with ghosts and opt to fight, not run. And it's a good job, too, because they're the slowest runners we've ever seen.
For the uninitiated, the game is set on an island in Southern Japan, where a decade prior a handful of young girls went missing. Eventually they were discovered, alive and kinda-well by a dutiful detective, and in the subsequent years two of those girls have died under mysterious circumstances. Now in the present day two more of the girls are going back to the island to do some amateur investigation but they really haven't thought any of this through.
One of the girls is apparently so confident that she'll have the whole thing wrapped up by tea time that she's turned up to the investigation wearing a mini-skirt and high heels, presumably so they can stop for celebration cocktails on the way home. Now, we're not exactly up to date with current fashion trends, and it's years since we wore heels, but unless they've made some tremendous strides in high heel technology that we're not privy to this seems like a wildly impractical footwear choice. It might go some way to explaining why she's so damned slow, though. We cannot stress enough how slow this game is.
The walking pace of the characters we play as - and we play as a few - is absurd. They all walk about like they're on a romantic stroll through the park. The game tells you that you can hold L2 to run but all we got was a light jog. We haven't been to a gym outside of a Pokémon game in twenty years, but you better believe if there was a ghost after us we'd move faster than this. At one point we had to run from one side of the building to the other and by the time we got there we needed another shave.
The excruciating pace of the game isn't restricted to just running either. In order to find items in the world as you explore, you need to shine a torch in their general direction and then a glowing marker will appear and only then can you pick it up. This takes forever and the detection is hit and miss, with items appearing, sometimes, the second or third time you check an area. This means you're never really sure if you've fully explored an area or not until you've checked everywhere over multiple times.
The controls in the game are what we'd diplomatically refer to as classic survival horror, in the same way that some people might refer to Def Leppard as classic rock — not good, just old. What was rubbish back then is still rubbish now. We're mocking, but in all honesty we do find the clunkiness of the controls quite charming and nostalgic as fans of old survival horror games. If you're a fan too then you'll likely get more out of this game than younger players, or people new to the genre.
Movement in Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is a struggle, and the camera doesn't help at all. It follows behind you automatically as you run, it can't really be manipulated by the right stick as you might expect, and it constantly ends up in unhelpful positions during hectic encounters.
Early into the game the aforementioned ghosts start going on the murder and unless you want to end up as a ghost yourself you've got to fight. You quickly find a magical camera that can kill ghosts when you take pictures of them, which is convenient but welcome. When an evil ghost arrives and gets up in your face, tapping triangle moves you to first person view and then you have to keep an eye on it while the camera charges before taking a snap when it's ready. If you're feeling risky, you can wait until a ghost is just about to attack before you take your picture, resulting in bonus damage.
These ghost battles are tense, and at first we really enjoyed them. The ghosts float about unnervingly, and the controls are just sketchy enough that we never felt safe. The problem is that there's barely any variety in the ghosts you'll face, and even at a lean ten to twelve hours running time we thought the combat had worn out its welcome by the halfway point. The final stretch of the game is particularly grim, featuring one section where you fight the same boss three or four times in a row and it wasn't even very good the first time.
The game is most effective when you're simply wandering, slowly, around spooky locales. It's not what we'd call scary, but it's definitely creepy, and being entirely voiced in Japanese with subtitles means that it avoids any of the cheesiness found in its contemporary titles, at least until the guitar solo kicks off during the ending. The sound design generally works well, blaring and grating in all the right places.
On the plus side, too, for a remaster of a fifteen year old game we think Mask of the Lunar Eclipse looks pretty good. They've done some shrewd work with the lighting and a camera filter to hide a multitude of sins. Close-ups of character faces or hair make it obvious that you're looking at a game from a couple of generations ago, but in the moment-to-moment gameplay we'd say Koei Tecmo's done stellar work updating the experience, which is sure to please franchise fans who've been wishing for a localisation of the title for over a decade.
Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is an old school survival horror game for better and worse. It's charmingly old school, and for people who grew up on a healthy diet of Resident Evil and Silent Hill back on the original PlayStation like we did, there'll be something nostalgic to the control foibles and camera issues. But there's no getting away from the fact that this is a game that feels older than it is, and the leaden pace will be off-putting to many.