A 15 Year Road to Release - The Project Zero: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse Story
On June 30th, 2008, the fourth game in the Zero series was released in Japan. Better known as Fatal Frame in North America and as Project Zero in the UK, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, the series had not been immensely popular. However, it was well known enough to be considered one of the mainstays of survival horror along with Silent Hill and Resident Evil, often making lists that featured the best survival horror games. Project Zero: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse shares nothing in common with Xenoblade Chronicles aside from the fact that they both appeared on the same system, but they’ll be forever linked in an odd way.
Project Zero, which most people would know as either Fatal Frame or “that game where you photograph ghosts”, at the time of writing has six games, including five games and one spin-off on the 3DS. The first three games create a trilogy, with one and two available on Xbox and Playstation 2. The third one, Project Zero: The Tormented, was available on Playstation 2 only. There have been three rereleases so far with upgraded graphics and mechanics, Project Zero 2: Crimson Butterfly on Wii, Project Zero 5: Maiden of Black Water on all current consoles. And now, thanks to the success of Maiden of Black Water’s rerelease, Mask of the Lunar Eclipse has finally been unleashed again, 15 years after its original release in 2008.
At the time, English-speaking fans were getting their information about Mask of the Lunar Eclipse from a host of websites, one of the foremost being Beyond the Camera’s Lens, a site dedicated to all things Project Zero. The key feature here was a forum where fans could confer about each piece of news that leaked. With each delectable piece of information that would drop (usually from Famitsu), the fans would discuss and dissect it endlessly. The big takeaway was that this was going to be the first Project Zero game on a Nintendo console, specifically the (at the time) world-conquering Wii. This meant that there would most likely be interesting new ways to play using the console’s famous (or infamous) motion controls. It would also be the first Project Zero game that would be developed by two different companies, Tecmo and Grasshopper manufacture, the same team behind hits like Killer7 and No More Heroes, with the latter being a celebrated Wii exclusive.
The founder of Grasshopper Manufacture, Gochida Suda, or as he was better known, Suda 51, was the one who approached Nintendo and Tecmo about creating Mask of the Lunar Eclipse. Despite disliking ghosts and horror games, the idea of the Wii being able to make the player feel fear through the game excited him. This excitement spread to fans of Project Zero and left them feeling like the series was in good hands. More so when it was revealed that Tecmo would oversee the atmosphere so it would still retain the feel of a Project Zero game. Unbeknownst to everyone, it would be the last Project Zero game that Tecmo would take complete charge of, as the company ended up defunct in 2010.
As fans awaited news of a translation, it leaked that there was a French company who was doing the localisation for the PAL release but no word on a North American, or NTSC, release. Shortly after that, fans’ worst fears were confirmed, the game would no longer be released outside of Japan. A wave of depression swept through the Beyond the Camera’s Lens forums and other fan sites. Speculation ran rife and fans of the game lamented what could have been. With an urge to do something to remedy the situation, an eager fan suggested that everyone on the forum should email their local Nintendo branch asking (aka. begging) for the game to be released outside of Japan. If this sounds familiar, it’s because two years later in 2010, fans used the same tactic with Operation Rainfall. Several members shared their letters to Nintendo USA and Nintendo Europe if they received interesting responses on the forum. Each response was different, but all had a similar message “Mask of the Lunar Eclipse will not be localised.” Being a keen fan myself, I even took the step of writing to Nintendo Australia, who disappointingly didn’t reply.
Three disappointed community members took it upon themselves to start creating a patch to localise the game, an epic task without a doubt. This was difficult work as it needed to first circumvent the Wii’s region lock, retain the translation data and apply it to the game. The patch ended up being quite large and it took them two years to complete it to a workable condition. I was desperate to play the game so I imported the game from Japan via Gametraders. It cost over $100 when most Wii games were $80 at most and it’s still probably one of my most expensive Wii purchases to date. I jumped through all the patch hoops and still couldn’t get it to work. Some reported success. Others didn’t. Some even used the Dolphin Emulator to try to get it to work. It seemed like luck of the draw, with no certainty that it would ever function correctly. It was around this time that Operation Rainfall came into existence. It wasn’t for the official Mask of the Lunar Eclipse release, but rather for a game that would end up being the beginning of an important Nintendo franchise, Xenoblade Chronicles.
Xenoblade Chronicles was released in Japan in 2010 coinciding with the Mask of the Lunar Eclipse patch completion. While there were plans to release Xenoblade Chronicles, and two other great JRPGs, The Last Story and Pandora’s Tower in the UK and Europe, North America wasn’t going to get any of these at all. Having seen the pain fans of the Project Zero series had gone through, North American fans of the Xenogears series petitioned their local Nintendo headquarters with emails and letters. Yes. Letters. It wasn’t isolated to just North America though, as fans from places that were getting a release anyway would contact either their local Nintendo branch or Nintendo of America, trying to show there was a demand for the game outside of Japan. And where Mask of the Lunar Eclipse failed, Operation Rainfall succeeded. Not only were Xenoblade Chronicles, the Last Story and Pandora’s Tower released worldwide, but they even released the collector’s editions in all regions. These exceeded expectations by selling out. Coming full circle, when Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water was released in Japan several years later, Operation Rainfall had a page dedicated to bringing it to the world. They worked closely with the newly formed Operation Zero, a group dedicated to the release of Project Zero games, especially as there were fans of both.
Luckily these days there isn’t really a need for things like Operation Rainfall. With the rise of digital markets and remakes, it’s easier than ever to play a game that may not have originally been released in a person’s region. Games that were once considered incredibly niche are being enjoyed by more players than ever. Companies seem less likely to confine games to where they knew they were successful and now are willing to take a risk. Thankfully this is due to the ease of releasing games. Those of us who had to live through that type of restriction, desperately hoping that the game we love would come to us are going to be ever grateful for this change in approach. Perhaps we have Operation Rainfall to thank for that? 15 years is a long time in the gaming world, and the difference between when Mask of the Lunar Eclipse was first released and now, when the remake finally made it to distant shores is worlds apart.