Project Zero: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse

Project Zero: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse

Måns has snapped photos of creepy ghosts and sworn at outdated game mechanics in the remastered 2008 horror flick...

Subscribe to our newsletter here!

* Required field

The fact that the Japanese are really good at horror is not a revelation. Since time immemorial, they've been churning out obscure titles with so much atmospheric psychological horror and dread that I've often thought about opening the balcony window and simply jumping out. Films from Japan have caused many an American studio executive to panic and call in some half-baked director for a completely pointless remake. And it is exactly that Japanese horror movie feel that Koei Tecmo has managed to capture in Project Zero, as it was called in Europe, or Fatal Frame in the US, or simply Zero, as the game series was called in its native country of Japan. As we know, dear children have many names.

The set-up is simple and extremely effective. Using only a camera as a "weapon", I wander around the house that God not only forgot but also deliberately neglected. This Camera Obscura is my only defense against the ghosts that haunt the building and everywhere there are old newspapers and letters telling horrific stories of those who died there. There have been a total of five games in the series, but in yours truly's opinion, it's the first and second games in particular that best evoke that genuine sense of dread. In fact, the director of part two claimed that his game was so horrific that players were afraid to finish it. The fourth game, Mask of the Lunar Eclipse for the Nintendo Wii was never released outside of Japan, but now, in keeping with the current trend of remasters and remakes, it has been ported to all platforms.

Project Zero: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse

I loved these games at the time. They were pulse-pounding and nerve-wracking experiences, with the feeling that something was always creeping up on me. One long experience of existential dread that wouldn't let go, even after the game was over. But now that I find myself once again in haunted environments where unholy spirits are constantly trying to prevent me from finding out what really happened, I sadly realize that time has not been kind to Project Zero: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse. It's not only the people left behind on Rogetsu Island that are haunted, but also the game mechanics and in the end it's not only because of jump scares I'm lying on the floor in the fetal position.

I arrive, as Roku, on the isolated island to try to recover my memory of what happened there so many years ago, when I was just a child. The hospital, which is now a hotel, is very run down and I can almost feel the gloom. The dust is thick in the air and the paint on the walls is starting to peel. The furniture is old and worn and everywhere there are fragments that remind me of times gone by. Yellowed diary pages and news articles, which gradually lead me to a horrible truth. Every little step slowly but surely pushes me closer and closer to the edge of madness and ideally I just want to put my legs on my back and run away. Escape to something more pleasant. I want to trade gray, darkness and the stench of mold for greenery, sun and the smell of honeysuckle. Yet this is exactly where Project Zero: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is at its best. When the claustrophobic horror lies like a wet blanket over the dilapidated building, suffocating all that is beautiful. When I take my very first shaky steps into the unknown.

This is an ad:
Project Zero: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse
Never forget to check your back. All sorts of crap can pop up there when you least expect it.

But once the novelty has worn off, after the opening chapters, it's not quite as fun anymore. Then the age makes itself felt and now most of the game becomes about backtracking, checking locked doors in unnecessarily long animation sequences and constantly wandering in the same corridors in search of something that has changed since I was last here, and it goes slowly, very slowly. It should be noted that I move with the speed of a snail. Not even when I'm running it's fast and that should of course contribute to the overall feeling of helplessness and vulnerability that constantly prevails, but there's no getting away from the fact that it's frustrating. Especially since nothing else really manages to qualify under my rather basic requirements for game control.

Turning around is like steering an armored cruiser in rough seas. Especially if it has to be done quickly, such as when I suddenly hear a voice behind me and have to panic and pull out my camera, turn around, try to zoom in on the guest breathing down my neck and snap a picture at just the right moment. When I'm looking for my missing friends, clues are essential, but managing to locate them and pick them up is anything but easy. First of all, the environments are often crowded and dirty, which means that some objects are simply hard to spot, even though they glow faintly in blue, and then there was the issue of unnecessarily long animation sequences. Every time I want to pick up something of value, I have to hold down the B button (Xbox) to see my hand slowly reach for the item. This may sound like a small thing, but if I happen to die shortly afterwards, I have to replay the entire sequence again and unlike many modern games, there is no way to skip cutscenes and my progress is also reset after the last save point, which means that not only do I have to kill the same ghosts with my camera again, but I also have to pick up the same items again.

Project Zero: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse
An unusually cozy room, bathed in light. At least compared to the other accommodation in Project Zero: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse.
This is an ad:

That being said, Project Zero: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is a fundamentally engaging experience, and the developer has done a great job of updating both the graphic design and sound. Stepping into a pitch-black room for the first time, sweeping the flashlight along the walls and suddenly hearing a muffled scream or a hysterical laugh sends chills down the spine and often makes me jump on the couch. It's not at the level of wishing I'd written my will, but there's always a deadly tickle in my chest, and that's mainly because I'm facing the impending danger without being armed to the teeth. In most games where I'm constantly in a vulnerable position, I have a weapon at hand, ready to be used immediately, but here, where my only defense is a tucked away camera, the fear is always palpable. Especially since I can never really prepare for battle. There's always that wonderful ominous feeling that anything could be waiting around the next corner, ready to tear me apart.

As I, with the help of "spirit stones" can upgrade my Camera Obscura and flashlight, it becomes easier to defend against the approaching danger but I can never feel really safe as each sudden encounter means that I must quickly carry out a sequence of different actions before I can fight back. Sometimes I reach the end of the road and have to solve some kind of puzzle to move on and these are a welcome challenge in themselves. They're not brutally difficult but some I had to really struggle with, really rub the little gray ones and when it turned out that the solution was always right under my nose I muttered to myself, "well played game, well played."

Project Zero: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse
The atmosphere is lovely all the way through.

I'm glad I finally got the opportunity to indulge in the fourth installment of this beloved game series even though it really feels like it's old at its core, with the problems from that era of messy game mechanics and frustrating backtracking clearly shining through. However, with a nuanced gameplay - where I play as several different characters, innovative problem solving, a gripping story and at the risk of sounding tedious, a great atmosphere, the positives outweigh the negatives and for fans of the genre in general and the series in particular, Project Zero: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is most likely a welcome addition to your gaming library.

06 Gamereactor UK
6 / 10
Great atmosphere, strong story, engaging puzzles
Clunky controls, lots of backtracking, many unnecessary cutscenes
overall score
is our network score. What's yours? The network score is the average of every country's score

Related texts

Loading next content