Fatal Frame 4 / Zero: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse

FF4_CoverI am utter crap at playing games in a timely fashion, and also pretty terrible at playing series in order.

Case in point: The Fatal Frame / Zero series.  I bought the second game in December of 2004, actually played it in 2008, played the first game in 2010, bought and started the third game shortly after finishing the first game, put it aside for a few months while I went to Japan, bought the fourth game while I was in Japan, never got back to the third game, and just finished the fourth, five years after buying it and seven years after it was released.

If you had trouble following that, I can’t say I blame you.

This is a series I claim to love, by the way.

And I do, really, clunky controls and weird premise and generally opaque plots aside.   They’re seriously creepy games, not gore-fests; they get their scares from unsettling environments, superb audio work, and stories that are like onions of awful, with each revelation serving to peel another layer of horrors back.

Wow, that was possibly the most pretentious writing I’ve ever inflicted on anyone reading this blog.  Sorry about that, moving on:

The first three Fatal Frame games make up a loose trilogy – 1 and 2 don’t have much in common, but 3 serves as a sequel to both games.  Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is a completely stand-alone game, and it’s my understanding that the upcoming WiiU game will likewise be its own thing.

As in previous entries, the basic gameplay revolves around exploring decaying and borderline ruined buildings, piecing together a mystery from journals and audio snippets, solving simple puzzles, and fighting off ghosts using a spiritual camera.  You also spend a fair bit of time fighting the control scheme, which is probably a deliberate design decision.

Case in point: When you are looking through the viewfinder of your camera, you aim left and right using the thumbstick on the Wii nunchuck.  Looking up and down is accomplished by tilting the Wii Remote – not pointing it at the screen, mind you, just tilting it up and down.  It’s no good pointing it at the screen to aim, and it’s actually better if you kind of think of it as a pedal rather than a pointer.

Oh, and once you’ve lined up a shot, remember not to pull the “trigger” button on the remote, as this lowers the camera and opens you up to attack.  The shutter release is actually the A button, on top of the remote.

The Wii Remote is also used in some infuriating musical puzzles, which I will touch on later.

The story hook is that, about a decade ago, five young girls were kidnapped.  Two of them have since died under mysterious circumstances, and the remaining three – and a private investigator who was a detective at the time of the kidnapping – are drawn back to the scene of the crime.  Over the game’s 13 chapters, you play as each of these four characters, each of whom has their own story and ending.  They never interact directly, but you’ll see their effects as you play – a puzzle box one girl solves will be open on a nightstand when another character enters the same room, for example.

In a very odd design decision, they have individual inventories, but share a couple of different sorts of currencies that are used to buy upgrades and items.  So, if you are willing to forgo upgrades to your camera on one character, the other characters can buy more upgrades when it’s their turn.

Since you only play one character in the final level, I elected to generally starve the others of upgrades.  This did make for some tense moments.

I can’t be objective about this series; I love it and I think everyone should play them.  Mind you, you’ll need to rig your Wii up to play homebrew software and download a translation patch, but there are plenty of resources online to walk you through the process.

The one fault I WILL admit with the game are those piano puzzles that I mentioned earlier.  In these, you need to follow along with highlighted keys on a piano keyboard using the Wii Remote, which is scarcely a precision device.  In the climactic moment of the game, you need to first beat the final boss and then do a musical puzzle correctly, or the boss pops right back up and you need to fight it again.

I hit one of these in a reasonably early chapter that very nearly had me giving the game up, because I could NOT get the timing right.

The trick was to set the TV to “Game” mode, which turned off image processing, and suddenly I could actually hit notes on time.  So… if you’ve stumbled across this in frustration with these terrible puzzles, give that a try.

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