Following on from 2021’s relatively successful revamp of Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water, Koei Tecmo returns with a remaster of the fourth title in its Fatal Frame/Project Zero series, Project Zero: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse. Originally released as a Nintendo Wii exclusive back in 2008, this is actually one of our favourite entries from the entire franchise in terms of narrative, however players should be aware that what you’ve got here is still a fairly clunky, cumbersome and glacially-paced survival horror adventure that will frequently test your patience over its roughly ten hour running time.
Project Zero: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse tells the tale of some proper creepy goings-on at Rougetsu Island, a fictional location where five young girls disappeared and were later rescued exactly ten years prior to the events of the game. Now all grown up, and with two of the five having recently mysteriously died, the three surviving victims of the original event - alongside the detective who rescued them back in 1970 - return to Rougetsu in order to investigate what exactly occurred all those years ago. Of course it's not long before the proverbial hits the whirly thing and all of our protagonists are wishing they'd never set foot back in this accursed fortress of ghoulish misery.
It's a narrative setup that sees you take control of all four characters involved over the course of the game’s fairly short campaign, slowly creeping through dark corridors as you solve a bunch of environmental puzzles and make use of your Camera Obscura and a Spirit Stone Flashlight in order to ward off the attacks of a twisted menagerie of spectres and wraiths. As well as using your camera and flashlight to fend off enemies, you’ll also be rewarded for being fast on the draw to capture images of various harmless apparitions that pop up all over the shop as you proceed from one objective to the next. Oh look, there's one staring in the window with its mouth open as black soup pours from its eyeballs. Quickly, take a photo and then go change your trousers.
Mask of the Lunar Eclipse was originally released as a Japan-only title back in 2008 - we had to resort to a fan translation back in the day in order to experience its chills - and it’s genuinely great to see it finally get a proper Western release so that fans of the series can dive into the nightmare. However, this certainly isn’t the most comprehensive of remasters. Yes, the graphics have had a reasonable touch-up, they’ve added a very fitting photo mode, the lighting has been improved and the whole thing looks quite a bit better as a result. But there are still plenty of low-resolution textures to be found on doors and walls as you investigate your surroundings and overall the whole thing continues to look decidedly last-gen, giving the impression that more could have been done in order to justify the remastered moniker.
Besides a lick of paint and some additional sound effects here and there, this is the exact same game we played in 2008 and, as a result, it retains many of the issues that held it back upon its original release. Character movement is painfully slow, even when holding down the sprint button, making the constant retracing of your steps a real chore at times. There is a quick-turn action that can be performed by clicking either thumbstick, but turning around to face whatever is attacking you at any given moment still manages to feel fiddly, especially when you’re constantly switching between your normal view and looking through the Obscura’s viewfinder, thanks to sluggish camera controls and that aforementioned player movement speed.
It makes for combat sequences and general exploration that feels frustratingly awkward and slow – taking on several ghosts at once can leave you cursing at the screen – but, if you can manage to get your head around it all and come to terms with the tankiness of how everything operates, there’s still some fun to be had thanks to the involving narrative, deeply oppressive atmosphere and the unique gimmick that is the series’ signature Camera Obscura.
Yes, as much as we like to complain about the clunky aspects of control and movement in this franchise in general, there’s no denying that using the Camera Obscura to attack and destroy some genuinely terrifying apparitions is a whole lot of creepy fun, and utilising the various different lenses and film types you’ll find lying around locations makes for combat that gives you plenty of options to tool around with. Waiting to the very last moment to take a photo so that you initiate a "fatal frame" shot, a high damage capture that allows you to follow up with combos of snaps, can be nail-biting stuff and getting the timing right whilst using the proper mix of equipment so that you dust off high level enemies in short order sure does feel satisfying. Combine this with the Ringu-influenced style and deeply unsettling atmosphere of the whole thing and this one still retains the ability to send a shiver up your spine at points.
It's just a shame, then, that more effort hasn't been put into refining traversal for more modern audiences, as the constant grind of slowly plodding back and forth through the game’s handful of small locations, the relentless frustration of repeatedly traipsing over old ground only to find more locked doors and barriers to your progress, makes for an experience that’s unnecessarily frustrating and one that remains an acquired taste within this particular genre. We get that the slow movement and tanky controls are all part of the deal when it comes to survival horror, it's what makes confrontations so tense as you struggle to get yourself set in time to repel your foes, but work could have been done here to smooth the edges of a control scheme that irritates far more than it ought to.
Project Zero: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is a reasonably decent time if you can come to terms with its plodding traversal, clunky gameplay mechanics and repetitive exploration. There's an enjoyable mystery to uncover at the heart of this one, it's got some genuine scares along the way, snapping ghouls is as fun as ever and the whole thing has a deeply unsettling vibe that still feels unique to the franchise. However, as far as remasters go, beyond a bit of a visual revamp, it feels like additional work could have been done to make this remastered version of the game feel like a more modern and polished survival horror experience.