After a long wait, the fourth installment of the horror franchise from Tecmo, Project Zero, has finally made its way to Europe… 15 years after its initial release on the Wii in Japan.
While the most devoted fans of Project Zero had already imported and played the fourth installment on Wii back in 2008, the vast majority of players know little about this episode… except that it is one of the most highly recommended chapters in the series.
But waiting for 15 years for a game we were unfairly deprived of at the time is a very long time. So the idea of finally being able to play it in a remastered version fully localized and adapted to current machines is a chance that fans of the franchise won’t miss out on. The question is whether the formula will also appeal to others.
Project Zero 4, fifteen years later!
Project Zero: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse benefits from a complete translation in our language and retains its original Japanese dubbing, a fundamental element to ensure credible immersion in its universe. Given that the narrative threads of this dark story are mainly untangled through the notebook entries collected throughout the progression. Because, if the adventure still includes its share of chilling cinematic scenes, the notes collected here and there remain essential to help us understand the past of the different characters that we embody throughout the chapters.
Several playable individuals will thus pass the baton in this fourth installment, which also does not forget to summon several temporal references in order to thicken its mystery around disturbing disappearances related to the history of our protagonists.
The remaster of an episode previously unseen outside of Japan
In addition to its impeccable English translation, the remaster of this fourth installment has undergone a major visual overhaul. We will come back a little later on the few evolutions concerning gameplay, but let’s already see how the graphical aspect of the title has been modernized.
Taking into account the technical capabilities specific to each platform, Project Zero: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse compensates for the 15-year gap by offering updated cinematic scenes and character models. A particular effort has been made on the rendering of shadows and light effects to reinforce the oppressive and gloomy atmosphere that has characterized the series since its beginnings.
The beam of the spiritual torch, for example, has been improved, and one can say that the immersion is immediate on both the sound and visual level. Despite everything, the graphical evolution compared to the original version is not as significant as one might have hoped with 15 years apart.
The realistic yet supernatural atmosphere of the franchise remains as effective as ever in this latest installment, and fear is present throughout the entire adventure. A new Snapshot mode has been implemented, allowing players to capture and customize scenes of their choice at any time during the game. Additional costumes can also be unlocked, with some modifications from the original version.
Selenite syndrome and other atrocities
In Project Zero: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse, the strength of the game lies in its atmosphere and direction rather than its storyline, which plays with multiple distinct timelines. The choice of locations involved in the story sets the tone immediately, with a children’s psychiatric clinic for those with strange sensory abilities and a mysterious illness related to the phases of the moon, and a pavilion that is the extension of this hell and hides sordid affairs. As players uncover the morbid discoveries made by different characters, they delve deeper into horror.
Against the backdrop of an ancient Japanese festival, the story follows teenage girls returning to the island of Rogetsu, the site of mysterious disappearances linked to a forgotten past.
A private detective, already involved in solving a case of strange murders, will also try to uncover what is really happening on Rogetsu. It is this combination of interwoven narrative threads that makes this episode so compelling, demanding the player’s full attention.
Fear according to Project Zero
In the early 2000s, when survival horror games offered only a few alternatives to Resident Evil and Silent Hill, Tecmo’s series carved out a prominent place among genre fans by relying on the extreme vulnerability of its characters. With a camera as their only weapon, players discovered a new way to experience fear in a video game, forsaking action for pure immersion. “Fear” in Project Zero isn’t just about the jump scares that sometimes jump out at players.
It is omnipresent in fleeting visions of psychologically tortured individuals and in the creaking sounds that seem to come from nowhere (or from something unknown)… At other times, the unease stems from the grainy image that suddenly thickens and darkens as a real danger approaches, or from a hand that’s always ready to grab you when you try to pick up an object… at the risk of losing it forever.
An outdated formula?
While the series’ signature, based on Japanese horror references (such as Ring), hasn’t lost its effectiveness, it remains horribly rooted in the past.
In 2023, only die-hard fans of the franchise will overlook its outdated gameplay, which is tied to a time when slow movement could artificially thicken the anxiety in a survival horror game. But seeing this remastered title, originally designed in 2008 and released in the same month as the ambitious remake of Resident Evil 4, leaves a bitter taste as to what a truly modernized Project Zero could have been.
Despite the fact that the series’ vulnerability-based gameplay, where protagonists are armed only with a camera and ghosts can emerge from anywhere, even passing through walls, is intentional, players can’t help but regret the excessive sluggishness in movement, which now contrasts with current standards. Even when playing with the camera’s sensitivity and gyroscopic functions (this review was conducted on the Switch version), the overall lack of responsiveness can be frustrating in narrow environments.
Characters almost stand still when running, and the alarm indicator isn’t always enough to anticipate where the ghosts will appear, especially when there are multiple ones, with players already having so few means to defend themselves.
The dream of walking through walls
The series’ logic remains unchanged, with players having to save the most effective film for the “boss” fights and distribute the Camera Obscura’s upgrade stones carefully to optimize its effectiveness. Thus, players move forward cautiously, making sure not to leave anything behind, including the various lenses (or objectives) with their valuable effects that can be equipped on the camera.
The same goes for the spiritual torch that replaces the Camera Obscura at certain points in the game but functions similarly. Everything is done to make players feel their extreme vulnerability constantly, even if it’s mainly due to the exaggerated slowness of their movements.
Unfortunately, too often the game traps players in rooms or corridors that are so narrow that they don’t leave us even three meters of space to move around, while the ghosts don’t care about the physical barriers of our environment. All of this inevitably takes us out of the experience and undermines the efforts made to create a truly immersive atmosphere.
Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Wii, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Series S, Microsoft Windows
Considering that the game takes about twelve hours to complete, this could discourage some players. These constraints should be known and accepted before embarking on the adventure, as well as the absence of checkpoints and other basic elements that could have significantly modernized the experience offered by this old-fashioned survival horror game, calibrated only for nostalgic fans.
The unexpected arrival of an unpublished episode of Project Zero, 15 years after its debut in Japan, in a reworked and translated version in English, is certainly a cause for joy. However, it also highlights the urgency of modernizing the series’ gameplay. As it stands, this remaster is aimed solely at die-hard fans of the franchise who have been waiting for an opportunity to discover this fourth installment.
- A major episode finally available outside of Japan
- Significant visual improvements
- The omnipresent sensation of fear and vulnerability
- An authentic gaming experience that still has its fans
- The optional but welcome gyroscopic function (tested on Switch)
- Untangling the threads of the past by controlling multiple characters
- Alternating between the Camera Obscura and the spiritual torch
- Impeccable localization (English texts, Japanese voices)
- The addition of a Snapshot mode for taking photos
- New costumes available
- It’s time to consider making the gameplay more flexible and modern
- The progression logic also seems outdated
- Excessive slowness of movement and rigid controls
- An imbalanced power dynamic against ghosts that can pass through walls in 360 degrees
- Still no checkpoints in case of failure