Does every story have just one interpretation? Or does one learn something new with each telling? The answers to these questions form the crux of the story in Moon Hunters: The Personality RPG.
This beautiful pixel art based RPG is deceptively short and sweet, veiling a deeper story and exploration-based unlockables behind multiple play-throughs. In fact, this game is intended for lots of play-throughs, which on the surface seems tedious, but actually is quite fun the more you play. Fans of The Legend of Zelda will find a lot to love here.
In the land of Issara the four-faced goddess of the Moon holds preeminence among the scattered tribes. The multi-faceted nature of her cult affords multiple tellings and interpretations of her desires and teachings, with each tribe drawing out a different aspect of her nature.
The Sun Cult, however, despises the polyvalence of moon-worship and desires to unite the tribes under one banner and one king and one way of understanding the world in the illumination of truth as revealed in the light of the sun. To this end they mark our heroes as doomed for oblivion, pronouncing their death as heralded on the light of the third day.
Like most RPG’s you can choose different classes of characters, from a sword-bearing mountain man to a sun-cult traitor whose special attack is to call down flaming rocks from heaven onto himself and his enemies, consuming them in the purifying radiance of the sun. You can also choose a starting tribe, which will determine the type of starting terrain (and thus starting enemies).
Each character ends up being very different to control, and some are honestly easier than others to use. For example, the short range characters have to get in very close to the enemies, but there are many ranged enemies that can pick you off if you don’t rush in. Oftentimes it seems the ranged characters have a decided advantage.
However, part of the fun here is trying out each character (eventually a total of 7) and learning their abilities. This mechanic helps to keep the gameplay fresh, and opens up different unlockables and other story opportunities. As you progress through the various areas you will have the chance to shop at a merchant, which is definitely helpful since it’s the only way to gain new abilities or upgrade existing ones.
On each play-through you have a brief five days to explore and upgrade your character. Your inevitable conflict with the Sun Cult looms nearer with each passing day as you attempt to find the moon goddess and restore her to her empyrean glory.
Each day begins with choosing an area to explore on the map. Some areas can be explored and left without consuming the day, but most essentially expend a day, meaning that there are only about 3-4 areas that can be explored in each play-through, as the final day is truncated due to an encounter with the final boss.
There are different sorts of areas delineated by type of terrain: forest, mountain, snowfield, swamp, desert, etc. Most areas have their own types of enemies, and some special areas have upgrades that carry on throughout subsequent play-throughs. It is not immediately obvious which ones these are, which encourages exploration.
After completing an area, the player spends the night in camp, during which you can choose one activity to do, which will boost different stats depending on the decision, assuming the activity is successful. There are also often encounter scenarios in camp where you have to choose between some options for each scenario. These choices will generally affect one’s stats and reputation.
Attacks and Abilities
Each character is distinct in their abilities and attacks, but all are mapped according to the same control scheme. On Xbox, the X button attack is the normal attack. It costs nothing to use and is your bread-and-butter attack. The Y button attack is a special attack, which varies but always expends some amount of Energy. This energy always regenerates, but can take some time to do so, although certain camping actions can increase this rate. The O button action is usually some sort of agility related ability. In the swordsman it is a dodge, whereas for the ranged mage it is a teleport (also useful for dodging). Over the course of the five days these attacks and abilities can be upgraded, and often even abilities like a dodge can become an attack.
Personality and Reputation
Each character also develops a certain personality based upon the choices you make or the actions you perform. Choosing to help or empathize with characters you interact with might boost your Compassion, while vowing to avenge a desecrated statue might gain a reputation for Vengeance. There are some interactions within certain areas that require a certain level of an attribute to allow them to be performed, and so the decisions you make can affect play-through.
New With Each Telling
One of the most fascinating aspects of Moon Hunters is how it is intended for multiple play-throughs. Because of how the game is structured, there is no way to “beat” or “unlock” everything on the first play-through, or probably even on three or four. Part of this game is in figuring out how you need to respond in different situations, and how to mold your character into a certain type of character.
For example, there is a lion that growls at you in a desert area, but only a character with a sufficient level of bravery can interact with it. Thus, if you are going to journey through the desert later on, you might decide to steer your character towards bravery for that interaction.
Fortunately, things that get unlocked on one play-through carry through into all that come after. You begin each play-through in some sort of constellation temple, where you can see the characters you’ve played with before and how they turned out, as well as the various things you’ve unlocked along the way. It’s kind of neat to be able to look back on what you’ve done so far. Better yet, you eventually get to re-assume those characters if you want.
Moon Hunters is a pixel art love letter, and fans of this style will find a lot to love in this game. The characters and enemies are well rendered and animated, and the levels and regions themselves are beautifully crafted, each with its own personality and charm and beauty. These procedurally generated regions don’t suffer for that, but help to give the gameplay a fresh bit of life with every play-through.
Even the interaction character sequences are nicely hand-drawn; it’s clear that a lot of time and effort and care went into creating the visuals for this game.
The soundtrack of Moon Hunters is outstanding, brilliantly filling out the areas that the visuals so masterfully construct. At times there is a haunting melody wafting through the forest and its trees, while other times a snowy mountain pass echoes with a soaring theme. There is an old-school feel to the music in this game, but without feeling dated.
The sound effects also reflect the art style, with a lot of expected sounds for the types of visuals and animations presented here. Lots of nice chip sounds for everything from footsteps to attacks to enemy deaths.
The biggest misstep on the audio would have to be the voiceovers. For the most part they just feel over-done, which isn’t exactly helped by how badly mixed it often feels with the music. It’s not necessarily bad, but it just felt like it lacked some of the polish that rest of the game exhibits.
As much as I am in love with the visuals in this game, I felt like they still could have been taken just a bit further. For example, there was this really nice moment in one of the levels where I was in a forest at night, just about to reach my campsite. Right in front of the campsite was a little pond, and around the pond where these little subtle floating blips of light, meant to evoke fireflies. It was a nice little detail that just helped to fill out the immersion of the world, and one that made me smile.
Unfortunately, those types of details are not as abundant as I would have liked. The areas are beautifully created and often striking in appearance, but I often found myself thinking they felt a little static overall. There end up being these big areas that are just sitting there, whereas nice little touches like the fireflies around the pond sprinkled throughout would have just taken the visuals over the top to be something really special.
Similarly, each area is nice and big, but going through in single-player mode it felt almost too big, in the sense of barrenness. When I played through a couple times with Megan it definitely felt a bit better, but overall I would have liked to have seen either more enemies or more interactions or both.
Lastly, it seemed to me that the story didn’t really deepen as much as it could have. Instead it seemed to just broaden out as I discovered more. This isn’t bad, but I wouldn’t have minded a more complex web woven between the different play-throughs.
So far I have had an absolute blast with Moon Hunters. I am a sucker for pixel-art based games, but this one brings some new ideas to the table and largely succeeds. I’m somewhat dubious as to calling it a Personality RPG, as you end up largely trying to game the RPG aspect to create a specific personality, but that doesn’t affect my opinion of its playability in any way,
At any rate, it’s a beautiful game with an engaging game mechanic and lots of replay-ability (which is in fact built into it by design!).