Lunar Knights (DS) review
"After centuries of getting their asses kicked, vampires have learned one important thing: Dracula is overrated. No longer must the creatures of the night rely on some dark lord to suddenly appear. Instead, the bloodthirsty villains have taken over the world with a blend of magic, technology, and brute strength. To ensure their success, the vampires have created the paraSOL system, a satellite that blocks out the sun and envelops Earth in perpetual darkness. Without their precious sunlight, regul..."
After centuries of getting their asses kicked, vampires have learned one important thing: Dracula is overrated. No longer must the creatures of the night rely on some dark lord to suddenly appear. Instead, the bloodthirsty villains have taken over the world with a blend of magic, technology, and brute strength. To ensure their success, the vampires have created the paraSOL system, a satellite that blocks out the sun and envelops Earth in perpetual darkness. Without their precious sunlight, regular people have become easy prey for their demonic overlords. Society has crumbled into a shell of its former self, leaving only pathetic bands of resistance fighters to save the mankind. With the size of the vampire population growing by the hour, it seems as if the human race is truly on the verge of extinction.
In the middle of all this turmoil, a lone swordsman named Lucian is trying to take down the vampires single-handedly. He’s not doing it for the sake of mankind, however. Instead, he’s trying to become the most cliched RPG antihero in existence; Lucian is a dark, brooding, and arrogant one-man army. He’s packing a magical blade that has yet to show off its true potential, a massive chip on his shoulder, and a thirst for some non-specific revenge. Clad in his flowing trenchcoat and eyepatch, this wannabe badass looks like the bastard lovechild of Metal Gear Solid’s Big Boss and Castlevania’s Alucard. Then there’s Aaron, the second hero of Lunar Knights and Lucian’s unwitting partner in heroism. Given his use of solar-powered guns and flowing scarf, it’s obvious that this vampire hunter trainee is a homage to Django, the hero of the previous titles in the Boktai series. Don’t be fooled by Aaron’s appearance, though. Lunar Knights is not a continuation of Django’s story, but a complete reboot for the series itself. With the fate of the planet hanging by a thread, these two utterly unoriginal characters make up an unwitting (but surprisingly lethal) tag team.
The duo’s misadventures will involve them dungeon crawling through various locales. These aren’t just decrepit castles and fortresses, either; since vampires are in control of everything, even passing down a city street or wandering through a train station can mean certain death. Upon entering one of these areas, you’ll find yourself immediately surrounded by zombies, ghouls, slimy blobs, and plenty of other overpowered enemies. Unlike previous Boktai titles, the gameplay of Lunar Knights does not revolve around stealth tactics. The DS’s microphone can be used to perform an in-game whistle that can distract foes, but it isn’t a necessary feature. Instead of relying on such gimmicks, the heroes can charge straight into battle. Considering their preferences in weapons, it shouldn’t be too hard to you to choose which character is better suited to your own gaming style. Unfortunately, the heroes’ combat abilities are unevenly balanced. Aaron’s guns have amazing range, but his weapons work solely on a limited amount of solar energy. Since you’ll be using Lucian throughout the initial stages of the game, he’ll prove a far more potent vampire slayer by the time his partner shows up. Not even the upgradeable weapons can save his partner; there’s nothing quite as annoying as trying to slaughter a zombie with Aaron’s dual revolvers, only to run out of energy mere seconds later.
The Django wannabe isn’t completely useless, though. The game addresses his flaws by using the gimmick that made the previous Boktai games stand out: the weather. As the two heroes hack and blast their way through evil on the bottom screen, the top screen will display the current weather patterns. Though the game simply shifts from day to night at the start, you’ll eventually get to play God and change Earth’s atmospheric conditions to include rain, frost, and other abnormalities. When Aaron inevitably runs out of ammo (usually after killing a single enemy), he can raise his gloved fist into the air, and absorb the sunlight above. If he’s inside a building, he’ll have to track down a skylight to make himself useful again. The same applies to Lucian’s magical powers during nighttime; though he doesn’t need to store energy to use his sword, he can absorb darkness for more powerful attacks. The game takes this a step further with the Terrenials, beings that wield the powers of earth, fire, and a few other elemental attributes. With these things in tow, you’ll be able to charge up their energy and eventually let loose with an incredibly broken super-move that varies depending on the element used. Considering that the effectiveness of these creatures revolve around their strengths and weakness against enemies of opposing types, they amount to nothing more than glorified Pokemon rejects.
Such aspects make dungeon crawling both interesting and frustrating at the same time. Given the sheer amount of highly powered enemies, issues with the weather, and Aaron’s questionable reliability, slaying even a few enemies can prove daunting. Ironically, the game’s bosses are utterly pathetic; between getting various hints via cutscenes and predictable attack patterns, you’ll find that the dreaded vampire overlords are complete wimps compared to their underlings. The game tried to make up for these shortcomings by tacking on a Touch Screen gimmick. After kicking a boss’s ass, you’ll get to haul it onto a Gundam-esque mecha and launch into space. Along the way, you’ll have to shoot and weave your way through the vampire’s interstellar armada. This will involve you hastily dragging your stylus across the Touch Screen to move your giant robot and tapping enemies to blast them into scrap metal. Needless to say, this is seemingly random space shooter is no Zone of the Enders.
After enduring this mediocre (and thankfully brief) excuse of a rail shooter, you’ll get to watch a few well-crafted anime cutscenes that feature the boss’s demise. Unfortunately, some these moments are used multiple tomes and ultimately kills the appeal of the presentation. The game is littered with plenty of other anime scenes, but the predictable story and cheesy dialogue doesn’t do them much justice. Veterans of the previous Boktai games, however, will easily recognize the game’s isometric camera angles and foreboding levels. City streets are decorated with high archways, crumbling walls, and a slew of gruesome monstrosities. When the heroes start kicking ass, you’ll get to see them smash through enemy lines in a flurry of flapping cloaks, bloody slashes and fiery explosions. Between Lucian’s ferocious bloodsucking attack and Aaron’s desperate barrages of bullets, these guys have enough onscreen personality to make up for their cliched designs. As the bloody crusade runs its course, the subtle changes in the color scheme mark out the passing of day and night. Combined with some pulse-pounding jazz and wonderfully depicted levels, Lunar Knights is an experience to behold.
Given the failure of Boktai series in America, it’s little wonder why Hideo Kojima used Lunar Knights to renew the franchise. This game takes the tried and true gameplay of the previous games and expands upon them. Implementing an in-game weather system is the best improvement fans could have asked for; gamers can now sit in the comfort of their own homes instead of trying to absorb solar rays outside. We are given two vastly different heroes with the same goal working through a decent story. Despite the game being a dungeon crawler, the majority of the combat is fluid and fast-paced. Aaron may be a flawed clone of Django, but his awesome arsenal makes him a decent foil for Lucian’s badass swordsmanship. Few poorly-implemented gimmicks aside, the game is a solid enough title for DS owners to look into. The game is far from perfect, but it works.
Community review by disco (February 25, 2007)
Disco is a San Francisco Bay Area native, whose gaming repertoire spans nearly three decades and hundreds of titles. He loves fighting games, traveling the world, learning new things, writing, photography, and tea. Not necessarily in that order.
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