The Mask of the Lunar Eclipse Review
Nearly 15 years later, Deadly Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse has finally left Japan and is being made available on all modern consoles. It’s a collaborative effort between Koei Tecmo and Goichi Suda’s studio Grasshopper Manufacture and published by Nintendo. Deadly Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse was a 2008 Wii exclusive that most fans outside of Japan could only read about, and very few who played it needed to speak Japanese or install fan patches to understand the story. Now, anyone curious to play it will learn how it holds up.
The answer is that, overall, Lunar Eclipse Mask is a solid entry in the Deadly Frame series and a great horror game, but not without its problems. The story is compelling and tackles some heavy themes while dripping in a haunting atmosphere, but some clunky motion controls and the lack of significant graphical upgrades do little to hide the game’s age.
When it comes to ghost stories, the lunar eclipse mask is simple. Three girls, Ruka, Misaki and Madoka, visit the cursed Rogetsu Island to find out the truth behind their mysterious past, followed by Choshiro, a detective sent to the island to find them. The cast takes control of each of these characters at different points in the story as they pursue the different truths they seek while learning more about the tragedy that befell the islanders.
Given the protagonists’ connection to the candidate, the themes of confronting grief and overcoming trauma may be easy on the nose. However, they are effectively addressed while tying it to the gameplay. The protagonists aren’t quite as fleshed out as they are today, but reading the diaries they wrote, listening to the audio recordings they made, and seeing them confront the moments that affected them the most makes it easier to connect to the central cast: Black Water Maiden is nice to play an entry with a good story, while Lunar Eclipse Mask is technically an older title in the series.
The best part of the game is the atmosphere. Given the importance of the moon in the story, it’s very fitting that when exploring a room with the windows open or one of the few outdoor locations, the moon has an undeniable presence. Hallways with moonlight seeping through windows and seeing the moon’s reflection in a pool are two examples of how the player is reminded of its presence. It also helps to add a haunting yet intimate layer to the setting, and given the amount of backtracking the player has to do, having an incredible atmosphere helps to keep the game exciting.
The atmosphere does a lot of heavy lifting for the game because even though this is a remaster of Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse, the visuals don’t seem to have received much of an update. The character models look good and the ghostly designs are inspired, but seeing the environments up close is a reminder of how old the game is, looking incredibly pixelated and crude by contemporary standards. They look good from a distance, but it feels like more could have been done to update them while keeping the original atmosphere as perfect as it is.
Another area where more improvements could be made is in the controls. For the most part they work well in combat, especially when prepared and ready to fire with the Camera Obscura or Spirit Stone Flashlight, but the movement could use more tweaking. This isn’t a new complaint about the game, the movement was criticized in 2008 for feeling clunky. When working during exploration segments, the camera can get disoriented as it only sometimes moves with the player character and not with others. It becomes manageable over time and probably helps keep the tension high, but it can be equally frustrating.
Once the player finds a good flow to fight in, the game develops the problem of becoming almost too easy. Between permanent upgrades to weapons and the ease of collecting enough points to buy plenty of healing items and ammo, even the toughest enemies don’t stand a great chance on normal difficulty. This is doubly true when their patterns are understood and a Fatal Frame is triggered, causing massive damage with multiple shots in rapid succession. While it lacks the Fatal Frame triggering ability of the Camera Obscura or Choshiro’s Soulstone Torch, it’s still satisfying to get a nice combo of perfectly timed shots.
While the gameplay is intentionally slow paced, with an emphasis on careful exploration and slow movement, the game has a relatively short runtime, with the in-game counter at 8.5 hours at the end of a playthrough, but since time is not counted when in menus or cutscenes, an average playthrough is probably closer to 10 hours, nonetheless, with Deadly Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse there are plenty of reasons to revisit the game after the first playthrough, with alternate costumes to unlock, new lenses for weapons unlocked after completing the game, Mission mode and New Game Plus.
For fans of the Deadly frame and survival horror genre, seeing Lunar Eclipse Mask have an official English release with a solid localization is like a dream come true. Even if this remaster is hampered by some barely noticeable graphical updates and stiff controls, it’s easy to move beyond these issues to experience a solid ghost story with an incredible atmosphere.
If Lunar Eclipse Mask has the same success found with Blackwater Maiden’s port to modern platforms, followed by remakes of other Deadly Framework games and even a new game, the chances of a new game being released would be higher. There’s a lot of potential for renewed interest in the franchise, and despite the troubles to be had with Eclipse Masquerade, the game itself still stands as a solid horror game.