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Moon Hunters (PC) artwork

Moon Hunters (PC) review

"I would recommend the experience of Moon Hunter, not the game itself."

The value of Moon Hunter is learning from its mistakes of trying to develop a narrative through mechanics. As someone who likes rogue-lite games yet craves for more storytelling, the idea of uncovering/shaping the story through replay-value is a novelty I can admire. It's no masterpiece nor a new benchmark for rogue-lites; it's something of a failed experiment. That's how I'd explain my appreciation for the game. So if you're looking for the next Binding of Isaac, FTL or a cooperative rogue-lite with lots of complexities, then this game is definitely not for you. And even if you like the idea behind MH you may not enjoy it for its flaws.

The 5-Day Adventure

A single game of Moon Hunter can last you anywhere from 20 mins to just over an hour (alone). There are several contributions to the game's length: Exploring new areas/towns for the first time, combat, the game's structure and backtracking. Each game of Moon Hunter gives you five days before the final boss. The map is procedurally generated with special events. (Some have to be unlocked beforehand.) You'll never explore the full map because you can only visit one region per day. However, exploring towns or unique locales will not take a day away. You can also go in any direction.

The strangest thing about this system is you'll wonder how much padding is there in such a short game.

Some areas may be very small with several interactions. Others will have you in these huge empty regions with one or two interactions at most, littered with enemies. Some interacted characters/objects will tell you the solution--"You need to be more PATIENT!"-- while others won't give you a clue on how to access them. Unfortunately, the result is you'll need a mental checklist. Even with almost seven hours done, I know I have not unlocked everything--such as being able to talk to animals or ghosts--and I've only played 5/6 characters. (Sargon is horrid for single-player.)

This structure may sound reminiscent to Majora's Mask fans. In that game you would have three-days to stop the end of the world, and you couldn't accomplish every side-story within that time-frame. So you would reset time and all the events. You would then have to plan out which side-story you wanted to discover by memorization. The difference between Majora’s Mask and Moon Hunter is that Moon Hunter relies on RNG to shape how and when you experience these side-stories. You may not have the "Wise" rating to do a Wise action; you may not have enough money to buy something special; you may not have--you get the idea.

While it may be a unique quality, I think most would find this system tedious. If every single story/character was as interesting as another special event, then maybe this system could work. However, some interactions are only flavor text and others have zero connection to how you develop your character.

Bare-Bones Development

The store-page boasts that MH is a "cooperative personality test", which is outright false. Even in the core gameplay, there is very little customizable options to shape your character. This is an issue where I think the gameplay is at odds with the game's ideas of character development. Your personalities are determined by the accumulation of your actions--but only the options you can unlock due to your history. Instead of, for example, levelling up an attribute in an RPG to get a special result (like speech for wise-asses), the system is reversed; your actions define who you are. So you can't have a wise person do something foolish, or a fool stumble upon wisdom.

Now that sounds like a good idea on paper. However, because of how short of a time-frame you have to play and how many of those choices are binary (be a douche or be a good-guy), you don't really make a character. You just stumble into it. What I think was a mistake was where the rest of the game was spent, the combat system. The rest of the game is a simplified Gauntlet. Each character has three abilities for a specific role. Upgrades give you stat boosts to those abilities, but none change how you play or is shaped by your character traits. (You don't even use all the buttons on a standard controller.)

Enemies all basically charge at you in masse, and bosses spam basic attacks or use the same tactic with large HP bars. They aren't interesting to fight nor rewarding to win against when the combat can feel broken for some characters. And with six characters total and with so short of a game, I don't think the combat will keep you interested more than it needs to. In fact, after a while, you'll often run to the nearest exit to avoid the combat system.

I would say that this system is harmless but because it's the main focus of the gameplay outside of your choices I can't help but think how much better the game would be if it the combat was taken away. The gameplay needed something to shape around the choices you made to make the characterization of your choices matter.

Needs More Gameplay Storytelling, Less Expository Writing

If I had to point to an example for Moon Hunters to learn on how to make its RNG Storytelling better, I would point to the Civilization games. Or for something more simple (for a game around 60 to 90 mins), Armello. Both of these games utilized the player's choices as well as limitations on each playable character to create the stories from the gameplay itself. Stat-increases or debuffs would push the player to tailor their play style one way while the other gameplay systems would offer the freedom to define the player through their actions. (Ex. You could make a communist America or a Democratic China in Civ. You could succumb to the Plague as Zorro or find some other means for victory in Armello.)

The most important part about these games is that the gameplay does not interfere with shaping the narrative. In fact, it makes it feel like the player's actions are the result of their story rather than being told who they are. In contrast to these ideas are Moon Hunter's epilogues/constellations. They have almost zero bearing on the characters you create or they are outright false. (Unless they're supposed to be outright lies told as myths.) For example, if you die at the final boss, the epilogue says you lived to be much older. Or a single-action you made at the end of the game redefined your character into something completely different. Or some actions will have no bearing on your legacy.

As mentioned before, nothing of the combat system develops or shapes your character in the epilogue. You would think learning a buff called Blood Magic might be a tabooish-thing that would influence your character. (Consequences are something that is absent in Moon Hunter besides denying you content to access on your run. Even praying as sacrilege at the Sun altar gives you something good.) That is just one idea for how to make the gameplay matter more to the player's created story. The point is the entirety of Moon Hunter's gameplay should be ultized in shaping the characters if it wants to strives for better RNG storytelling, and I think that’s its biggest untapped potential.

Another Story Etched in the Stars

I realize I've been solely pointing out flaws and missed opportunities with this game. All of it is said with fondness for the devs trying something different while I don't think it has succeeded with any one of its ideas.

While I may not find anything superb in its writing or narrative, there is a lot of dedication put into the art-style, the music and the overall world of Moon Hunters. I would be lying if I did not say I enjoyed the discovery aspect of the game. Sometimes it's games with the most flaws that we have the most love toward, which speaks highly of what was created when we desire something greater.


Brian's avatar
Community review by Brian (August 25, 2016)

Current interests: Strategy/Turn-Based Games, CRPGs, Immersive Sims, Survival Solo Games, etc.

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