Published on April 23rd, 2023 | by Gareth Newnham
Project Zero: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse Review
Summary: Project Zero: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is bound to delight series fans, though newcomers not used to traditional survival horror tropes and controls may find it a tougher sell.
So scary you might Wii yourself
It’s odd to think it’s taken 15 years for Project Zero: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse to make its way from Japan to Western shores. Initially released for the Wii, and published by Nintendo, it was a victim of that awful period where NOA decided that the Wii should only cater to the casual market, and it’s not like anyone in the West wanted a new horror game co-directed by Suda 51. (We really did)
It’s a crying shame too, because not only was Mask of the Lunar Eclipse one of the few games to fully realise the potential of the Wiimote for more traditional gaming experiences (Much like No More Heroes) but it is also one of the best games in the series.
Unlike say Silent Hill or Resident Evil, which take their inspirations from Western horror canon, Project Zero has its roots firmly planted in Japanese folklore and ghost stories. If you are a fan of films like Ju-On or Ringu you should certainly give the series a spin, and Mask of the Luna Eclipse is a great place to start.
Players are transported to Rogetsu Island, a remote community just off the coast of Japan, where five schoolgirls were forced to participate in a strange ritual during a lunar eclipse. Only remembering glimpses of what happened to them in their dreams, having seemingly blocked out the whole experience, years later two of the girls return to the island, determined to fill in the gaps in their broken memory and uncover the truth of what happened to them that fateful night.
On returning to the island though, they find it is a literal ghost town. The once close nit community is gone. All that is left is a decaying town full of angry ghosts, and maybe some answers.
Venturing into the labyrinthine structures like an abandoned psychiatric hospital, a crumbling lighthouse and unsettling locales, the pair are beset on all sides by the angry spirits of the dead, armed only with the Camera Obscura – a strange device that allows its bearer to drive back, and eventually capture the twisted souls in photographs.
But like every good photographer there’s a lot to think about when you’re trying to capture a vengeful wraith. Is the ghost properly in the frame, are you using the right film and lens, is it close enough to strangle you? Each encounter is a tense affair that rewards proper preparation and quick reflexes.
Unfortunately, your characters do not possess them. And although the first-person view of the battles does help to make life a little easier as long as you keep your camera raised, more often than not the crafty creeps can easily get the jump on you which isn’t ideal.
It’s worth noting though that, unlike Capcom’s recent Resident Evil, remakes, Project Zero: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is very much a remaster, there have been some small tweaks to the graphics and the controls have been remapped from the Wiimote to a conventional pad, but it remains a distinctly old school survival horror experience, that felt a little worn out in even in 2008.
I am of course talking about sparse resources, fixed camera angles, and player characters that move like a truck. It also means there are plenty of locked doors, and puzzles involving all manner of masks, passcodes, safes and very specific lines of logic. Personally, I love that kind of thing, but I can understand why the adventure part of action /adventure fell out of vogue.
On the flip side though, what the game lacks in modernity it more than makes up for in atmosphere, back in 2008 it was one of the most unsettling games I had ever played, and some 15 years later it’s still just as tense.
Much of this is thanks to the soundscapes created by the game’s audio lead Masafumi Takada. With every step it feels like something is there just round the next corner, you are assaulted by bangs, whistles, and random crackles of radio static was that crying I just heard, no it couldn’t be right. All of these small aggressions wear you down as you plod through the winding corridors of an abandoned hospital.
For those that clamour for the modern world of over-the-shoulder shooting and action horror, Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is a hard sell. Your character moves at a glacial pace and the small bursts of action are broken up by a lot of backtracking, puzzles and hunting for shiny objects in dark rooms. Ghost fights can also become an exercise in tedium, especially on higher-difficulty settings.
However, if you’re a fan of Project Zero, you’ve probably already downloaded it, so god knows why you are reading this review. But if you are in the market for a survival horror game with a great winding narrative, bags of atmosphere and a distinctly old-school flavour you could do a lot worse than to take a trip to Rogetsu Island.