Fatal Frame IV: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse Review
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On 02/09/2010 at 10:03 AM by Chessa DiMola
After three solid entries into the series, I was expecting more.
For serious Fatal Frame fans only. Even devoted fans of the survival-horror genre may be turned off by the game's numerous flaws.
As a long-time Fatal Frame fan, I was deeply frustrated by Nintendo's decision to not bring the fourth title in the series overseas. Apparently Nintendo refused to bring it over due to some technical errors that Tecmo refused to fix. Having spent countless hours with each of the previous iterations it seemed ridiculous that Nintendo would bar an entire group of people from experiencing the game due to small issues, such as a sluggish framerate. Thankfully, a dedicated group of fans have pooled their efforts in order to create a fan translation of the game, affording us English speaking gamers the opportunity to play the title.
Within the first hour of Fatal Frame IV it seemed clear that the game had stuck true to its roots by immersing the player in a dark twisted world created by some tragic event based on a dark Shinto ritual. Everything seemed in place: the sweet young girl lured into a terrifying journey, environments that were wonderfully macabre, and a storyline that promised another great tale.
However, the first hour or so with the game was really the only point where my enjoyment level was at its peak. As my play experience continued, I took note of many differences between Fatal Frame IV and its predecessors. The most disheartening of which, and by far one of the worst aspects of the title, is its pacing.
In the previous games, players would find diaries, journal entries, newspaper clippings, and all sorts of pickups that would slowly unravel the mystery and purpose behind the protagonist's journey. In four, even though I found such items constantly, I never felt as if they revealed anything. Despite having an inventory chock full of all types of documents I was left fairly clueless about what was going on throughout the game.
This only becomes worse as the game switches protagonists with each new chapter. After around thirteen hours I had already starred as four different individuals, each at a different point in time. If the game didn't take place all in one location, this wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing. However, with each change of character, players will be subjected to running around the same locations several different times, and even fighting the same ghosts. This brings me to the worst aspect of Fatal Frame IV: combat.
When I initially learned that the next iteration of Fatal Frame would be on Wii, I immediately assumed that the Camera Obscura would be controlled with the Wii's pointer; a fairly logical assumption, no? Instead, the camera is controlled with both a combination of the motion controls and the nunchuk. The joystick moves the camera left and right, and tilting the Wii Remote up and down moves the camera in the corresponding direction.
While perhaps not as simple as merely pointing at an enemy on screen, the control scheme seemed, in theory, as if it would work well - that was until testing it in a real battle. The biggest problem is that the controls are slow: moving left to right takes forever, and to tilt the camera up and down requires exaggerated upward or downward motions with the Wii Remote. While this is not necessarily an issue at first, the ghosts later in the game become much quicker and more aggressive, and with such unresponsive controls players are in for some very tedious and annoying combat sessions. The aggravation with battling only becomes worse as Fatal Frame IV brings back a terrible feature of the original - forcing players to battle in extremely tight spaces.
As if that wasn't enough, Fatal Frame IV suffers from plenty of other issues. The largest being the framerate, which can only be described as inexcusable, as dips sometimes continue for almost thirty seconds after loading a new area.
Even the simple task of picking up objects has its flaws. Instead of merely tapping A to pick something up, players must now hold down the A button, and wait five seconds for a pre-scripted movie of the protagonist reaching out their hand to be over. The point of this: at certain points the game will randomly generate a ghost's hand grabbing the protagonist, resulting in a cheap thrill that will only make you jump the first time around.
Finally, one of the most aggravating and absolutely unnecessary additions (although being that it's on the Wii I should have expected it) is the waggle. This is used to perform arbitrary tasks, such as turning knobs or making a quick 180 degree turn. As one might expect, these controls add nothing to the experience but tedium and frustration.
One new addition that proves successful is the Spirit Stone Flashlight. Rather than holding the Camera Obscura’s frame-of-view over an enemy to charge, players can charge the flashlight to “shoot” multiple ghosts and exorcise them. The flashlight gives the game a more arcade-like feel and provides a nice departure from the helpless feeling players normally feel throughout the game.
As a whole, the entire Fatal Frame IV experience feels like a step back for the series. From Fatal Frame 1 to Fatal Frame 3 the series saw a vast improvement with each successive release. However, Fatal Frame IV manages to fall back into line with some of the older mistakes, while featuring plenty of new annoyances to drag the play experience way down. After my playthrough with this title, I can honestly say that if I was Nintendo, I wouldn't have brought it overseas either.
Regardless of its issues, Fatal Frame IV still remains faithful to the goals of the series: to provide an eerie play experience filled with cheap scares and a macabre storyline. Fans of the series will undoubtedly be willing to push through all of Fatal Frame IV's flaws, though those looking to experience the series for the first time would do well to choose a different title in the series.