In Search of Fatal Frame 4: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse

As I've mentioned before in other posts, being a geeky fan means more than just picking up the latest novel, movie, or collectible from the genre and/or franchise of your preference--anyone can do that. A true fan occasionally goes above and beyond the routine call of geekdom to locate and acquire rare items, items that either didn't sell well upon their initial release or were sold exclusively in another country. This post is about my recent effort to purchase one of my many, many white whales: Fatal Frame 4: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse, a 2008 Wii game that was only released in Japan.

Fatal Frame 4 (or FF4) holds a special significance for a numbers of reasons. Not only was it designed exclusively with Wii's motion controls in mind, but a group of devoted fans got together to release an English subtitle patch for it back in 2010. If you're an avid survival horror fan who owns a Wii and isn't fluent in Japanese, now is the ideal time to pick up a copy of FF4. Read on ...

I've been keeping an eye on FF4 ever since it was first announced for the Wii back in 2007. I had heard about the Fatal Frame series (which is known as Project Zero in Japan) as far back as 2001, but the original trilogy was only released PlayStation 2. I was excited to hear that this series was finally coming to Nintendo through the Wii--a console that I actually owned--but I was crushed to learn that the release of FF4 was limited to Japan. A remake of Fatal Frame 2: Crimson Butterfly was released for the Wii in 2012, but that was released in Japan and Europe and not in the United States. Thankfully, that game had an English language track and more copies were produced due to its European release, so it wasn't difficult to find, purchase and play. (Read my review of Crimson Butterfly here.)

I monitored eBay since 2008 to see if and when copies of FF4 would appear. Sadly, unopened copies of the game that were posted on eBay ranged from $80 to $100 in price. I refused to spend that much on a game, but I kept checking back anyway to see when used copies would be posted and if they would sell for a cheaper price. With Nintendo moving on to the Wii U after the Wii in 2012, I figured that it was only a matter of time before the game's price would go down due to Nintendo's dwindling support of the console for which FF4 was made.

This year, the price finally dropped this year for used copies, almost eight years after the game's debut in Japan. I got my used copy for around the same price as a used copy of Metroid Prime: Trilogy, which still isn't cheap but is much closer to the standard price of a video game. As far as I can tell, though, the price of new FF4 games on eBay hasn’t changed at all.

The loading screen for the FF4 English language patch.

With FF4 finally in hand, I proceeded to get the English patch so that I could play the game. The site that hosts the patch is still online (see here), but no one actively maintains it and the instructions it provides for installing the patch aren't entirely clear. After spending some time with the patch site, the patch zip files and a few FF4 discussion groups, I finally got the patch to work.

Of the patches provided on the site, I downloaded the patch that is labeled as "HBC", which stands for "Homebrew Channel". Through the Homebrew Channel, I downloaded a patch loader program called Riivolution, which is also required to get the English patch to run. Once Riivolution is set up on the Wii menu, FF4 and the English patch can be loaded through there without going through the Homebrew Channel.

I have the Homebrew Channel installed on both my Wii and Wii U, so FF4 plays on both consoles. However, the English patch ONLY works on the Wii. I suppose someone who doesn't understand Japanese could enjoy this game without the English patch. On the other hand, FF4 relies heavily on dialog and text to set its mood and move the game along, so removing the dialog and text renders the game incomplete.

So far, I've made it to the third chapter in FF4. Based on what I’ve seen, I think that it's one of the best survival horror games ever made for the Wii and the English patch does a fantastic job at translating the game's original Japanese dialog and text. (Hopefully, I'll have a full review ready in a few weeks.) I don't know whether the price for used copies of FF4 will drop any lower, but I highly recommend that Wii owners in the U.S. who are interested in the Fatal Frame series buy their copies now. The hardware and software are currently available to make the game accessible to an English-speaking audience and with the next Nintendo console on the horizon--the NX--it's anyone's guess as to how long this window of opportunity will remain open.


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