Project Zero is horror as it should be. At least if you ask me. In general, I don’t like zombies or excesses of violence. But the fear of being followed by a nasty face… just stop! That’s why I found Ring-branded Japanese horror so terrifying, and Project Zero captured that kind of horror very well.
Two things are responsible for this. For one thing, there’s that slightly disturbing soundtrack when you walk through an old mansion – always with the fear in your back that one of those whining and damn belligerent silhouettes groans into the picture from somewhere.
On the other hand, the combat system already did something in 2001 that would later become one of the most important cornerstones in horror: it shifted the view from the shoulder view, which was common at the time, to the first-person perspective. As if I didn’t already have enough to do with the fear of the grimaces, I also had to face them face to face in order to let them get as close as possible to make matters worse. Well, thank you!
This is the only way to fight them as effectively as possible. The weapon of choice isn’t a crappy piece of shit. Rather, following Japanese folklore, the faces of the ghosts are captured in photos in order to harm them and finally grant them the long-awaited rest. The developers called the fictitious camera used for this purpose Camera Obscura, based on the first attempts to capture the real world on a projection surface.
That’s how it was from the first part of the series to the last one, which is now also almost ten years old. With Project Zero: The Mask of the Lunar Eclipse, an episode appeared in 2008 that was once only published in Japan. Apart from the translation developed by a fan for Wii consoles with custom firmware, the remaster here is the first opportunity to experience the game not only in Europe and North America, but also on Switch, PC and the four current PlayStation and Xbox systems . Unfortunately, only Steam Deck users get the short end of the stick. The game can run decently on the handheld in full-screen mode, but it usually crashes reproducibly when loading a save.
But is it even worth it? After all, the series showed clear signs of fatigue long before this fourth part, because after the strong debut it was unable to provide any interesting impulses in terms of content or gameplay. In fact, the only reason I barely played The Mask of the Lunar Eclipse on Wii was that I was a bit fed up with Project Zero even then. I had therefore given the console the corresponding mod in the first place.
And the memory of this tiredness quickly came back when I took my first steps on an island called Rougetsu. Another old property. Another girl stumbling cross-legged through his hallways. More of those familiar camera cuts, showing a gaping face every now and then.
From today’s perspective at the latest, this is a weakness anyway: With a few exceptions, you don’t discover a single danger directly from the game. The ghosts almost all disappear with a sudden change of perspective and a loud tataaa! presented so that you see what is happening more from the outside, instead of feeling right in the middle.
I’m not even saying it’s not effective. Despite everything, these damned grimaces often enough send a shiver down my spine. Especially when a face slowly pushes its way through a door, it can be frightening. The atmosphere is pleasantly scary anyway. The film grain in the picture, the much more intense shadows compared to the 2008 original, the constantly smoldering terror in the music and the creaking wood of the backdrops… Whether it’s the game itself or the longer break: my (dis)comfort this locale is a lot bigger than I expected.
For a quick context, The Mask of the Lunar Eclipse takes place in 1980, when digital recording as we know it today wasn’t invented yet, and follows the story of five girls who had been to Rougetsu ten years earlier but didn’t bother can remember. Therefore, after two of them died, the other three set out in search of their past and the reason for their forgetfulness.
But the horror has now moved on after the marriage of Project Zero and is now much further, especially in the first-person perspective. In contrast, such classic survival horror seems pretty brittle. The actual photography, i.e. the combat system, has survived the best. At least it’s still exciting to let the ghosts approach you for as long as possible so that you only press the trigger at the moment of their attack.
This is the only way to succeed in creating a fatal frame (!): an image that not only causes a great deal of damage, but also enables subsequent photos, i.e. combos, to “strike” even more. If you time it right, you can string multiple images together, which feels pretty cool. In addition, you will find upgrades and special lenses for special snapshots, with which you can slow down ghosts, for example, and last but not least, different types of film that drain the bad guys more energy than the regular, infinitely long film roll.
But that’s also a part of the series that has spoiled my shivers a bit since the second part: the powerful combos feel more like arcade overkill than horror. They are also easy to execute over long distances, since you can lock targets. Then the camera automatically follows them, making it easy to wait for the Fatal Frame. The fact that attackers who have been activated are sometimes not photographed at all, even though they are still in the picture when the picture is taken, makes fighting more difficult, but of course it doesn’t make it any better.
What is uncanny, of course, is that the apparitions are not tied to the physical world and therefore often fly through walls. One never knows where the ghosts are actually coming from, creating a unique sense of panic in the many narrow hallways.
Project Zero: The Mask of the Lunar Eclipse are only available digitally in the stores of the respective platform providers and of course on Steam:
Or grabbing for items that restore health or unrolling the grisly past in one of (too) many notes: This is a relatively slow movement that requires you to continuously press the necessary button. Why so complicated? Because occasionally a ghost will grab your hand and steal part of your inventory – if you don’t withdraw it in time. This happens so rarely that one tends to reach for it inadvertently – a clever detail that sent shivers down my spine far more times than logic would allow.
However, the controls in particular are one of those old-fashioned elements that haven’t aged well in the past 15 years. On the one hand, the quickest way to turn the camera is to move the character, while the right stick drags the flashlight’s cone of light around extremely sluggishly. On the other hand, it is sometimes frustratingly fiddly to target interaction points in such a way that you can actually use them. There are a few more little things. The symbols for the active lens are still only labeled in Japanese, and switching from the shoulder view to the first-person perspective is often accidentally triggered due to the idiosyncratic key assignment, which is not exactly helpful in the middle of a fight.
Review of Project Zero: The Mask of the Lunar Eclipse – Conclusion
So there’s a lot of light, but also some shadow to contend with if you’re going to enjoy this remaster. I have to say that I still enjoyed the nostalgic trip to the time of Japanese noble horror. In any case, I really like the creaking wooden doors and the strange acoustics with their borrowings from Ring and other films. Even photographing the ghosts has lost little of its original charm – if only it didn’t feel so bulky and instead did justice to a modern staging! And if the confrontation with the ghosts were more about survival than cool combo snaps. All in all, I’m really glad I finally played The Mask of the Lunar Eclipse. But you should know that it’s still the same old-fashioned box that couldn’t quite keep up even back then.
Project Zero: The Mask of the Eclipse Review – Rating: 6/10
Pros and cons
- Convincingly captures the oppressive atmosphere of Japanese horror films
- Exciting combat system in which you have to let ghosts get close to you
- Motivating improvement of the camera
- Nice photo mode with manually placing ghosts
- Sluggish, often cumbersome and sometimes inaccurate “tank control”
- Frequent switching of perspective pulls out of the experience
- Many fights are more about cool combo photos than exciting survival
- For connoisseurs of the series, the story seems very familiar, for which you have to read a relatively large number of short texts
Developer: Koei Tecmo – Publishers: Koei Tecmo – Platforms: PC, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch – release: 03/09/2023 – Genre: survival horror Price (RRP): almost 50 euros