In the ancient land of Issaria, where generations old customs and legends still drive civilization, something is amiss. What that is is unclear, because even those who live there are unsure. It’s up to you, brave hero, to scour the land and discover clues as to what, exactly, is going on.
Such is the premise of Moon Hunters, a formerly PC-exclusive RPG that has now made its way to the PlayStation 4. A short, but memorable game that combines traits of old-school RPGs with both hack ‘n slash gameplay and more mordernized takes on the genre. The result is a thirty to forty-five minute-long experience, which acts as both a personality test and a game.
Originally released back in March, Moon Hunters is the love child of Montreal-based indie developer, Kitfox Games, who deserve credit for creating something interesting and different. Although it’s short, their game begs you to come back for more, by presenting a strange world where answers are a luxury. In fact, even if you go through it seven times — like our PC reviewer did — it’s still possible that you’ll miss this story’s true ending, because you have to work for your discoveries.
That isn’t to say that Moon Hunters isn’t fun, because it is. The title strikes a good balance between being complex and accessible, offering gameplay that will suit both the hardcore and those who are looking for a unique narrative experience. Those who want to see, find and learn everything can do just that, and their efforts will be rewarded with things (like different food types and related recipes) that carry over from one playthrough to another. However, folks who would prefer to just play through the campaign once or twice before moving on can do so as well.
As you’ve likely already guessed, this game is like an onion, which reveals a new layer each time you go through it. At first, you’ll have no idea of what to do, but as you keep playing you’ll become accustomed to how things work in the pixel-art world of Issaria. This is, at its core, a choose your own adventure, wherein each decision will affect the world around you.
After choosing a hero — based on familiar classes that include close, ranged and magical combat styles — you’ll find yourself in the outskirts, where you’ll need to fight natural beasts in order to survive. You’ll need to camp, and also attend the Moon Festival at your chosen tribe’s home base. I say chosen because, as part of the choose your own adventure construct, players get to choose both who their character is and where he hails from, be it a quiet mountain tribe or one that has made a home out of brush. There are even unlockable characters and skins to look forward to using.
The general premise at play here begins with the fact that, following the Moon Festival’s ceremonial prayer, nothing happened. Instead of appearing, the Moon Goddess was a no-show, sending those who worship her (including your tribe mates) into a tizzy. They’re distraught, concerned and scared, because this way of life is all they know.
Surely, it can’t be a coincidence that a new threat has recently emerged in the land. Right? By this I mean King Mardokh and his legion of Sun Cultists, who’ve decided to declare war on the peaceful tribes that inhabit Issaria. They’ve all promised to attack in five days, and it’s up to you — the hero — to either stop them or discover what happened to the Goddess above.
Needless to say, Moon Hunters is a very open ended game, and it’s one that doesn’t give you a lot of direction. Playable by up to four players, it’s a unique and guideline-free take on both RPGs and the hack ‘n slash genre. One that has a decent amount of combat, but doesn’t make it its main focus. As such, the system is kind of basic (with characters having one default attack, a special move like an earthquake or falling fireball and the ability to dash), though it gets the job done.
The main focus is, of course, choice. Where you choose to go (based on the choices presented by location markers that appear on the overworld map), what you do (search for clues, focus on getting through areas as quickly as possible or die trying) and how you interact with others will help decide what happens. The same is true of the choices you make while camping each night, as you’re only able to do one of several things, including hunting, cooking, stargazing, resting or keeping watch. Your choice each night will dictate what kind of stat boosts your character is bestowed with.
As you can imagine, failure to discover the whereabouts of the Moon Goddess during your five day time limit will result in the Sun Cultists’ threat coming true. This means a large-scale boss battle, albeit a rather bland one that could have used more variety in its mechanics. This isn’t the only boss battle in the game, though, and you’ll be rewarded with trophies for dispatching of the other(s).
Although I’ve gone through Moon Hunters a few times, I’ve yet to discover the true ending and expect doing so to be difficult. I have, however, encountered unique dialogue, special scenarios and characters who’ve noted the fact that I’ve used the same hero twice. Needless to say, it’s an interesting world, and one that I look forward to revisiting.
Unfortunately, this PlayStation 4 port of the game leaves something to be desired, due to a lack of polish. It looks good — with neat-looking pixel art — and sounds great, thanks to some really impressive music, but it doesn’t run perfectly well. Although they’re not incredibly common, brief frame freezes do present themselves, and their timing can sometimes lead to frustration. This isn’t a game breaking issue, but it is an annoyance that Kitfox should look into patching as soon as possible, because it mars an otherwise good game.
At the end of the day, Moon Hunters is an impressive indie. While it’s not perfect, and can become both frustrating and repetitive, it’s a neat little game that deserves attention. Give it a chance if you’re looking for something interesting — especially if you plan to play with friends — and look forward to a unique experience.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game, which we were provided with.