A satisfying snapshot of the past
After the relative success of the fifth Project Zero (aka Fatal Frame) being remastered, Koei Tecmo is now bringing the fourth installment; Mask of the Lunar Eclipse, to modern PCs and consoles. This marks the first time it’s appeared in the West since its initial release 15 years ago, and the first time it has been on anything outside of the Nintendo Wii. We got a look at the opening chapters of what should feel like a fresh shot of ghost-snapping terror.
In an age when horror game remakes are prevalent, there’s something rather refreshing about getting a ‘new’ Project Zero game that understandably plays like it’s a step back from Maiden of Black Water. For many Project Zero fans old and new, this will be the first time they’ll have got their hands on the elusive Mask of the Lunar Eclipse, and it’s certainly got plenty to please fans with. At times, it’s like stepping into the series in its prime, but that comes with its own drawbacks.
This preview build features the opening three chapters, and starts off with a punchy, if tutorial-heavy, prologue. Two girls are looking around a dilapidated building, but soon get separated. The girl we are left in control of starts to feel affected by the atmosphere of this place, with buried memories and antagonistic presences creeping into her worldview with every step she takes. It’s not long before she discovers the series’ infamous Camera Obscura. Just in time for a ghost to attack and have the game explain how it works.
As always, the Camera Obscura mechanics help these games stand alone in the horror game space. By getting the best shot, and holding it for long enough, players can inflict the most damage to spirits. There’s still damage to be done with missed shots, but it’s significantly less impactful. Of course, getting the perfect shot is easier said than done when wretched spirits are lurching toward you. The kind of photography-induced panic in Project Zero is probably comparable to that felt by someone who is unbelievably precious about their Instagram account.
What caught my attention in this prologue was just how well everything is framed (pun semi-intended). While Project Zero games have naturally always been about capturing the terrors you witness in the best way possible to gain the upper hand in combat, I’m referring to Mask of the Lunar Eclipse as a whole. Every shot of a ghost appearing, every room that lays out in front of the player, exudes a humble yet striking style reminiscent of the J-Horror boom the series was born from. The glossy aesthetic of Maiden of Black Water lost some of this charm, which is understandable given the six-year gap between the two games and the evolution of horror in the medium. However, there’s a lot to love with Mask of the Lunar Eclipse’s relatively restrained direction and style.
The story, thus far, is an intriguing improvement. Following the prologue, control is shifted to another young girl, Ruka Minazuki, as she travels to the same location as the girls in the prologue. Her mother’s warning echoed in her mind; ‘Don’t go back to that place’.
It is revealed that all the girls have a shared history with the mysterious island of Rougetsu. They were among five girls kidnapped by a suspected serial killer ten years prior. Their recollections of that time are vague, and they remain in search of answers regarding their abduction. Naturally, there’s something a touch sinister about Rougestu, and Ruka will soon uncover disturbing discoveries beyond even the presence of ghosts. Although the story shares similarities with previous entries in the series, there is something in these early chapters that sets it apart and draws attention. Only time will tell if this trend continues.
One aspect that could detract from the appeal of Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is its controls. The movements of Ruka and the other characters are sluggish, even their ‘run’ would see you get outpaced by speedwalkers and people who wander aimlessly in supermarket aisles. Running is rarely the point in Project Zero games, I know, but the game throws up moments where quick readjustment is needed in tight spaces, and it just isn’t there. This leads me to the other problem.
During an early ghost encounter, Ruka is confined to a fairly tight corridor, making it challenging to target the ghost. Of course, the ghost has the ability to shift through walls and reappear somewhere else. So the first time I went through this part, I found myself getting jumped constantly before I could regain my composure and take aim again. While this may simply be a result of getting used to the cluttered controls, it nonetheless dampened my growing excitement for the game.
It certainly got a little easier to understand the way of things after that, but those particular conditions weren’t replicated, so the jury is still out on whether that is going to be a recurrent problem or not.
For now though, Project Zero: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse shows great promise. It seems to embody a true J-Horror feel, which sets it apart from Maiden of Black Water. If everything goes as planned, I have no doubt that it will become the standard-bearer for what this series can offer modern audiences.
Project Zero: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is out on Steam on 9th March, 2023.
Most Anticipated Feature: Discovering the deep dark secrets of the island and its ghosts.