Lunar Knights

The release of Konami’s Bokura no Taiyou (Boktai) in Japan and North America caused mixed reactions in the gaming world: some hailed the unique sun-sensing gameplay mechanism, while others decried the need to play the game constantly in the sun, which effectively limited the times gamers could play it. While the second installment saw a North American release, the third installment would remain in Japan. Eventually, Konami announced a fourth installment of the series for the Nintendo DS, Lunar Knights, which disposed of the solar-sensing mechanism, apparently hoping to appeal to the mainstream gaming crowd. Though the game shows great promise, it unfortunately falls a bit short in execution.

Being an action RPG, Lunar Knights naturally features a real-time battle system, with two playable characters, Aaron and Lucian. Aaron can use a variety of guns to shoot at enemies, while Lucian can hack away with his sword. After both characters have crossed paths, the player can swap them out at any time as long as both are alive. Eventually, various elements will come into play, with the player able to swap the current element of a character’s weapon any time to exploit enemy weaknesses. Elemental attacks, alongside dashing, will gradually deplete a character’s energy gauge, although depending upon whether it’s day or night, Aaron and Lucian can respectively restore their energy from the sun or the moon (most dungeons are cut off from the sky, although they do have the occasional skylight where each character can restore their energy).

Lucian and Aaron each also have a Trance gauge that gradually fills as they take damage from enemies, which, when full, allows them to perform various limit-break-esque attacks until the Trance gauge has depleted; these attacks differ depending upon each character’s current element. Each character can also defend against enemy attacks, with a guard counter depleting with each enemy attack, and gradually recovering afterward. Sometimes timing guards correctly is essential to defeating enemies more easily, as doing so can temporarily stun them. Moreover, after defeating certain bosses, the player must fly a ship into space to purify its soul, enduring a few space-shooter-esque levels before doing so, controlled entirely by the stylus and touch-screen. Players also ultimately gain the ability to change the game world’s climate, which supposedly affects combat (although climate seems to more affect the environs, and is in fact necessary to advance to certain areas in a few dungeons).

The battle system works decently enough on paper, although it somewhat falls flat in execution. Combat can often feel clumsy when Aaron or Lucian face more than one enemy or fight in cramped areas, and consequently, either character can easily take massive damage. Still, there are items that players can use from the inventory, although a few items have an annoying tendency to “decay” if they sit in the inventory long enough and thus become useless. Despite this, boss fights, which typically require a deal of strategy, as well as the space shooter sequences, do provide a decent diversion from normal combat. In the end, the battle system shows nice potential, but somewhat loses its appeal when the player faces multiple foes.

Interaction is acceptable, with easy menus, a good indication on how to advance the game, and automaps providing decent direction through dungeons, although there are some complaints such as limited inventory space, which can constantly force the player to discard items to acquire enemy loot and the contents of treasure chests, the somewhat-clumsy battle control, and the fact there’s no turning back or saving the game after entering the last dungeon. Overall, interaction isn’t terrible, but isn’t great, either.

Being part of the Boktai series, Lunar Knights naturally drives some mechanisms from its predecessors (and the climate system is somewhat reminiscent of the season system from Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons), although it does have some unique elements such as the space shooter sequences and the role elements play in combat that help keep it mildly inventive.

The story, though, isn’t much to write home about, with none of the main characters or villains seeming particularly interesting or well developed, and very little suspense or excitement throughout the game. There are also few evident connections to previous Boktai games, and the name changes of some of the characters in the English version don’t help, either. The ending, furthermore, is rather rushed (the credits roll right after you defeat the last boss), and overall, the plot isn’t much of a reason to play the game or a driving factor throughout it.

The soundtrack isn’t much to crow about either, with few standout tracks and no central theme tying many tunes together, although there are certainly a few okay pieces. There’s some voice acting, as well, though unfortunately, it isn’t all that good. The graphics, though, are actually the game’s high point, with some anime cutscenes, nice environs, and decent character sprites and art, although there are plenty of palette-swapped enemies. All in all, while the graphics are nice, the sound could’ve certainly been better.

Finally, Lunar Knights is fairly short, taking somewhere from ten to fifteen hours to complete, with a replay mode allowing for additional playthroughs and even access to an extra dungeon. In the end, Lunar Knights is a bit of a disappointment, with its gameplay and especially its story falling flat, and only the graphics standing out the most. The game is certainly more accessible to players than its sun-driven predecessors, although that doesn’t compensate for its shortcomings.

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