Lunar Knights - Staff Review  

Of Rocket Spears and Nuclear-Powered Pigs
by Michael "CactuarJoe" Beckett

Easy to Moderate
15 to 20 hours


Rating definitions 

   The Boktai series owes a great deal of its notoriety to its use of a solar sensor, which requires players to journey out of doors in order to find sunlight with which to purify the evil vampires. Lunar Knights, the third game in the series to see a release on North American shores, takes the bold step of doing away with the solar sensor. Instead, it is replaced with a cycle of weather depicted on the top screen of the DS - the player no longer need leave the comfort of the couch in order to seek sunlight. While this does remove the unique interaction between the game world and the real world which was one of the more interesting aspects of the Boktai series, it also makes it a less demanding and restricting game to play. Despite some minor cutscene-quality and length of story issues, Lunar Knights's smooth animation, challenging gameplay, and good use of the varied DS features makes it an enjoyable if short romp through a world covered in darkness.

   Lunar Knights follows two primary protagonists, Lucian, a seasoned Vampire Hunter and wielder of Dark Swords, and Aaron, a novice Solar Gunslinger and son of the greatest Vampire Hunter in history. The Vampires of this tale have created a weather-control system called the ParaSOL, which allows them to blot out the sun at a whim. The ParaSOL system, combined with elementally-enhanced mechanical suits known as Casket Armor, grants them nearly complete immunity to the purifying effects of sunlight. The only solution, therefore, is to drag the Vampires into outer space where pure sunlight can be focused, breaking through the Casket Armor and purifying the monster within. Of course, in order to do this, Lucian and Aaron will have to put aside their differences and agree to work together to free their world from the grip of the Immortals. Despite the natural incongruities between the Gothic fantasy and sci-fi ideas contained in the story, Lunar Knights actually does a reasonable job of tying all of the disparate elements together neatly. The game handles character development amongst the main cast reasonably well, though the story as a whole develops along somewhat predictable lines. Still, the quality of the story isn't a real issue, while the length of it is. It feels as though the game ends just as things start to get interesting, leaving a number of plot threads unresolved. Besides basic length, Lunar Knights relies a bit too heavily on a tired, hastily-constructed environmental message that most gamers have heard in more than one form before. All in all, the story is interesting and its flaws don't really damage Lunar Knights much overall, but there are certainly areas in which it could have improved.

The shooter sections are surprisingly solid. The shooter sections are surprisingly solid.

   The combat system uses a unique combination of traditional action-RPG combat with some rudimentary aspects of the stealth gameplay that producer Hideo Kojima is known for. Basically, the player is not required to defeat all of the enemies in a given area in order to progress, with silently sneaking past the foe frequently being the better idea. While this does make for some intriguing situations, it isn't always immediately clear which opponents will be too powerful to defeat easily, meaning that it is quite likely that the player will stumble onto enemies capable of quickly draining the HP bar without much trouble. The ability to instantaneously switch between Aaron and Lucian makes things a bit easier, but it takes some delicacy to avoid frequent, serious damage.

   With the solar sensor gone, the light-based combat of Lunar Knights relies entirely on weather generated by game conditions, which gradually become controllable by the player as Lucian and Aaron disable parts of the ParaSOL system. The computer-generated weather of the DS makes the game much easier to play for extended sessions, which is definitely a good thing, but losing the solar sensor means losing a lot of what made the Boktai series so unusual. Lunar Knights compensates for this by including humidity, temperature, and wind speed in addition to sunlight, which affect everything from the amount of clouds or rain in the sky, to elemental damage, and the effectiveness of certain accessories. Besides the weather manipulation, Lunar Knights introduces a number of new systems, such as weapon upgrading and a variety of weather-based puzzles. It also introduces a unique touch-screen based Star Fox-esque minigame, which is a surprisingly competent and enjoyable space shooter. These changes to the Boktai formula help make it less vulnerable to random changes in real-world weather, and although the loss of the solar sensor is regrettable, the end result is a more playable game.

   Lunar Knights has some clever visual design and an unusual sense of humor for such dark subject material. A world under the heel of undead oppressors doesn't often have such fanciful things as round, bouncing golems, nuclear-powered pigs, or adorable, squeaky zombies. The game creates a solid contrast between night and day, washing outdoor areas with bright reds and oranges for day, blue and purple for night. The bright colors of the daytime also serve to create a contrast between the outdoors, where regenerating lost energy is easy, with the darker indoor areas, where conserving solar energy is a must. The overall visual style of Lunar Knights is heavily influenced by anime, which is most apparent during the game's cel-animated cutscenes. These cutscenes tend to be well animated and solidly directed, though the quality isn't as good as it could be. The unusual combination of visual elements, combined with a unique 90-degree isometric perspective, gives Lunar Knights a pleasantly different style.

All hail the solar flamethrower! All hail the solar flamethrower!

   While the isometric view does wonderful things for the game's visuals, it does make control a bit unreliable at times. Aaron and Lucian can dash by double-tapping a directional button, a maneuver that drains solar energy from the meter. With the controls set to default, attempting to move on the diagonal can sometimes result in accidental dashing, and a slight but significant loss in energy. The game does allow for most controls to be reset, but certain areas lend themselves better to certain control settings, which can make precise maneuvering a bother at times. Other than that, Lunar Knights's control scheme is reasonably solid, and the game uses the unique abilities of the DS in interesting and unexpected ways. For instance, the player can use the touch-screen to drag the overworld map around, or blow into the microphone to whistle and distract foes. The game also uses shortcuts to quickly switch weapons and elementals, and both characters can lock onto enemies using the R button, though this is far more useful with Aaron's Solar Guns than with Lucian's Dark Blades. Despite a few hiccups, the game's interface is effective and streamlined.

   Generally speaking, a Big Band sound, with lots of brass and upbeat melodies, is not normally associated with hunting down the undead. This sort of disconnect between the title's theme and aspects meant to set the tone of the game would be a serious problem for most games. However, the plot is lighthearted enough and the visuals cheerful enough that the upbeat theme music does seem to fit. At times, it's enough to make one forget that the main antagonists of the game are bloodthirsty vampires. The game also takes the unexpected step of including extensive voice acting, used both in animated cutscenes and for emphasis on certain lines of dialogue during gameplay. The voice acting is fairly solid, with the only minor complaint being that lines spoken in animated cutscenes feel a little rushed or at odds with lip movement.

   With some very powerful and dangerous enemies to be found wandering the halls of just about every dungeon, Lunar Knights requires a willingness to use a bit of stealth, rather than brute force, to overcome certain challenges. Of course, the danger can also be mitigated fairly easily by completing a number of sidequests, locating and leveling up any of the game's hidden weapons, or by simple levelbuilding. Even taking the time out for these activities, though, Lunar Knights ends up being only 15 to 20 hours long.

   Lunar Knights manages to pull together a collection of incongruous design elements and, surprisingly enough, manages to make them work together. It's fitting, given that the idea of complete opposites working together is what Lunar Knights is all about. Despite a few issues in control and plot, Lunar Knights manages to pull together elements of sci-fi and Gothic fantasy, the end result being an eclectic, enjoyable game with a very original feel. Though the game's short length and focus on stealth over combat may turn some off, its smooth animation, creative visual design, and unique approach to weather and elemental tactics makes it a solid choice for action RPG and series fans alike.

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