The MoeGamer Awards are a series of “alternative” awards that I’ve devised in collaboration with the community as an excuse to celebrate the games, experiences and fanbases that have left a particular impression on me in 2018. Find out more here, but you’re out of time to leave suggestions, I’m afraid!
Any time you have experience with an entire series of something and people are aware of your experience with said series, someone, somewhere is going to ask you the dreaded question: “which [insert series name here] is best?”
Given my recent coverage of Tecmo’s consistently excellent survival horror series Project Zero (not to mention the presently ongoing video series playing through its postgame!), I thought I’d pre-empt that question and attempt to give a definitive answer.
Well, definitive insofar as “this one was my favourite” anyway. You do not have to agree. But this was my favourite Project Zero game this year.
And the winner is…
Mask of the Lunar Eclipse
Common wisdom has it that Project Zero 2: Crimson Butterfly is the “best” Project Zero game — or at the very least the most commonly cited “favourite” Project Zero game — but for my money, fourth game Mask of the Lunar Eclipse offered the most consistently atmospheric, interesting and enjoyable gameplay experience of the whole series.
Which makes it even more of a shame that this is the one installment that never got a Western release at all. Thankfully, the Project Zero community online decided that this simply would not do, and set about producing a fan translation for it. And not just any old fan translation: this was an extensive job that could be applied to both softmodded and stock Wiis, and allowed players to not only boot a Japanese Wii disc on the otherwise region-locked platform, but also to enjoy the whole game with all of its text, including cutscene subtitles, fully translated into English. The original source of this patch is no longer available online, but thankfully archive.org holds an up-to-date backup of it, which you can find here.
I originally wasn’t planning to cover Mask of the Lunar Eclipse in my Project Zero coverage as I thought it would be tough to get hold of and even tougher to get running. However, a generous donation from MoeGamer Patron Ken — himself a big Project Zero fan, and his suggestion being the main reason I decided to cover the series in the first place — put me in a good position to acquire a copy, and from there I was delighted to discover that applying the patch wasn’t nearly as much of a faff as I thought it was going to be. And so I decided to make some time for it.
I was extremely pleased that I did. While the poor old Wii occasionally struggles under the weight of the impressive, atmospherically lit environments and beautiful character models in the game, it’s an absolute delight to play through, with one of the series’ biggest overall “worlds” to explore, offering plenty of variety and things to discover.
I found the basic gameplay of the game to be the most satisfying in the series, possibly due to Grasshopper Manufacture’s input. The combat felt a lot snappier than in previous installments, and even felt superior to the subsequent Wii remake of Crimson Butterfly, which followed a couple of years after Mask of the Lunar Eclipse. There were some nice tweaks to the formula — including being able to restock film and healing items at save points — that streamlined the experience without lessening the impact of its creepier, more horrific elements, and the whole thing just “felt” good to play.
The narrative was one of the series’ most interesting, too, taking in not just the usual Shinto and Buddhism-inspired spirituality of the other games in the series, but also a significant dash of medical horror, too. Medical horror is… I hesitate to say my “favourite” type of horror because it legitimately freaks me out so much I’m actually scared of real hospitals… but it’s definitely the subgenre that I find to be most effective and emotionally engaging. Mask of the Lunar Eclipse manages to pull off engaging medical horror without resorting to gory shock tactics or anything like that; since by the game’s very nature you’re coming to things long after they happened, much of the most gruesome stuff has already happened, leaving the imagination to do a lot of the work.
And on top of this solid gameplay and narrative, there’s probably the most “extra” content in the series, too. The completely optional “doll” sidequest becomes a thoroughly compelling scavenger hunt once you’ve realised it’s something you can actually do — because the game certainly doesn’t explicitly point it out to you — and through engaging with it you can unlock a variety of cool stuff to enjoy in the postgame, such as additional costumes and accessories for the characters to wear in subsequent playthroughs.
I commented on our horror-themed podcast that one of my favourite things about Japanese horror games is how they don’t forget to be video games as well as spooky haunted houses. Mask of the Lunar Eclipse follows this mould perfectly, with the series’ usual single-player campaign followed up by mission-based score attack setpieces, the ability to replay on a harder difficulty level and a ton of hidden ghosts to discover to unlock even more extensive background lore on the setting and characters.
Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is absolutely one of my favourite games I played in 2018, so I not only encourage you to seek out a copy if you have a Wii, I’d also like to extend an enormous and heartfelt “thank you” to Ken for making me aware of the game in the first place, and for making my coverage of the game possible at all. Your generosity will not be forgotten, sir!
Thanks for reading; I hope you enjoyed this article. I’ve been writing about games in one form or another since the days of the old Atari computers, with work published in Page 6/New Atari User, PC Zone, the UK Official Nintendo Magazine, GamePro, IGN, USgamer, Glixel and more over the years, and I love what I do.
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