January 21, 2016 7:30 AM | Joel Couture
Moon Hunters is a game of personal player stories, although you might not think that when you're surrounded by huge beasts. Your actions in combat and in speaking with strangers are all leading up to a story about your life and what kind of person you were, factoring in everything you do. What's most important is that the game weaves this tale without ever infringing on the gameplay, letting players naturally create their own narratives as they carve their way across the countryside, fighting to bring back the moon.
Moon Hunters puts you in the shoes of a handful of heroes, all of whom play a lot differently. The selection screen makes it sound like they just fall into the old ranged/strong/fast categories, but the characters all have abilities that make that change up how you play the game. The fast character is quick, sure, but his special attacks creates a short-ranged burst, forcing players to play recklessly to get their foes close enough. The ranged type flings magic spells, sure, but her spells create gravity wells that suck up enemies and drag them to a focal point.
These special abilities made choosing a character interesting, especially after you've had a few runs through the game. The special abilities drastically change how combat works, making it so that some characters are obviously better suited for certain combat situations. Enemies in the game tend to stick to certain types of area, so if you dread the armored creatures that live in the grassland-type stages (and you SHOULD), then you're better off bringing someone who can specifically deal with them. Mind you, their abilities might not be all that useful against enemies in other areas, so choosing your character plays into what route you plan to take through the game. Then again, you could just take part in the game's four-player co-op and take advantage of everyone's sweet abilities.
You can't just whittle enemies down until you gain enough experience points to get a little stronger, either. You can get a little cash from enemies to buy upgrades to your abilities, but the game is on a time limit, so returning to a shop isn't always the best idea. Stores can be several areas back on the world map, and you only have three in-game days to find the final boss and beat him (and maybe do a few more things). It may help you to beat the game if you're stronger, but you may not leave yourself with enough time if you spend too much time going back for upgrades.
Instead, it's better to grow stronger by crafting your personal story. Moon Hunters using a unique stat-boosting system that is tied into what kind of hero you are and how you help the people. This doesn't mean going out to kill thirty orcs for someone in town, but rather talking to them and helping them through conversation. Maybe they don't know how to make a decision or maybe they just need someone to lean on. If you talk them through their problems, you'll gain stat boosts to certain traits that could help you. Even if you brush them off, you'll just gain different stats. The developers want you to tell your own story through your actions.
Much of the game is focused on combat and exploring, but these stat boosts give story an interesting power in the game. It encourages players to create a narrative around their character, telling a story in a way that it helps them during the action sequences. Being gruff and brash will strengthen you in combat, but also lead to the people viewing your character in a certain light. You can still make yourself into a different kind of tough hero by being compassionate and wise, though, which creates some wiggle room in each character's strengths. Through your actions, you can make changes on how to best play your hero, using story to change the gameplay.
Your stats also change when you rest for the night. The game will let you meditate, make some food, stand guard, or just sleep when you break camp at the end of an area. Many of these will result in story events or personal moments as well, which change your tale and strengthen you at the same time and in unexpected ways. The first time I made a character stand guard for the night, he fell asleep and earned a reputation for being foolish along with his stat increases.
Should you get strong, you might not know exactly what to do with that strength, as the game only offers hints to guide you. If you're the type of person who doesn't pay much attention to townsfolk, you may have a rough time for a bit with Moon Hunters. There are many routes in several directions at any given time, and choosing the right one can be difficult if you don't listen to the people. Even if you do, you might not get enough clues on any given run (each world is generated anew when the game starts), so you may need to find some more towns to figure out what to do. Wandering aimlessly won't get you far.
While the world is generated each time, some facts about it seem to stay the same on each run. You might not be able to keep the abilities you unlocked previously, but at least you'll have a clue on how some magical item or place works in the world, giving you a little leg up on future runs. It rewards the multiple, short playthroughs it takes to beat the game, but only so long as you pay attention and have a good memory.
Whether you figure out what to do or not, or if you survive against the final boss or not, your tale will be told. The game provides a bit of final storyline based on how you played each time, cataloguing your character's actions throughout and creating a folk tale. Even in failure, your life is still interesting enough to tell stories about, softening the blow a bit when you lose permanently. Considering the game can be played through in a short amount of time, though, you don't really mind that you only have a bit of story to show for your efforts. It's also nice to have all your actions laid out in the hushed tones of the people you met along the way, too.
Moon Hunters turns your actions into a folk tale as you play, creating a personal narrative that feels important even if you don't care about the story. How you behave to other characters is rarely given such a direct impact on how you play games, with a single kind word or enraged insult directly changing your character's strengths. It doesn't hurt that Moon Hunters is already a good action game filled with tense combat, so adding this neat system just makes a great game even better.
And its February release is coming very soon...