Moon Hunters bills itself as a co-operative personality test RPG that encourages multiple playthroughs. But is this an adventure worth going on again and again (and again)?
At first glance, Moon Hunters looks like any other retro RPG, but it distinguishes itself through a unique approach to storytelling. Each playthrough lasts just five in-game days, which essentially amounts to clearing five of its levels, as well as being able to explore the odd town or two and chat with its residents. Most of the areas are randomly generated, but major plot points are always the same. Essentially the destructive Sun Cult is trying to take over the land of Issaria, and it's your job to stop them. Throughout each playthrough (which lasts around an hour or so, depending on how much exploring you do), you'll be able to define your character's attributes and personality depending on your dialogue choices and approach to combat. The path you choose will help shape the game's ending as well as your legend in the world of Issaria which is recorded in the form of your own constellation in the heavens.
Then it begins again. Choose another of Moon Hunters' four base characters and a different starting location, and your story will change. You'll come across most of the same NPCs, but their reactions to you will vary depending on your acquired traits and affiliations. While all of your stats and abilities are reset, some aspects do carry over to subsequent playthroughs such as unlockable characters, different starting locations, and cooking ingredients that can be combined to improve your attributes.
Moon Hunters' initial roster of four heroes showcases an impressive amount of variation in their abilities. Each has a regular attack, a special move and a dodge, but they are all markedly different from one another. "Spellblade" Dumuzi can whip up a whirlwind from his sword swings; Heduanna the ritualist uses magical attacks from range; and Enkidu, the most original of the four, can entangle enemies in vines and transform himself into a wolf. The best choice, however, is the witch Kubele, whose combination of strong stun and ranged attacks makes her the most powerful by far. In fact, she's so strong that she feels way overpowered, making the others effete in comparison.
Despite having such a varied arsenal at your disposal, combat in Moon Hunters can be a little janky. The AI is pretty woeful as enemies frequently get stuck behind objects making them easy to pick off. Occasionally, you'll stumble across an arena in which you're walled in and must defeat a certain number of monsters before you can continue. If you're playing on your own as one of the weaker characters, these can be a bit of a slog to get through. You can upgrade your attacks with opals you acquire from killing enemies, but as your progress is reset at the start of your next game, this soon starts to feel like a wasted effort. Another annoyance of playing solo is that you'll often not be able to interact with a person or scenario because you lack a necessary trait, effectively walling off certain parts of the game unless you start again and sculpt a different character.
But Moon Hunters isn't designed to be played alone, of course. It offers up to four player local co-op in which everyone takes control of a different hero. Players can disagree on dialogue choices and end up with different attributes and story outcomes based on how they play. The campaign can be breezed through much easier like this, but only if you have one or more friends on hand to sit down and play with you. Moon Hunters has no online mode which is a massive missed opportunity in a fairly niche game that's all about cooperation. Playing solo still has its appeal, but you'll often feel like you're missing out on something because you probably are. Moon Hunters also doesn't reward guest players with trophies on PS4 which is a bit disappointing in a game all about local co-op.
In terms of its presentation, Moon Hunters is a mixed bag. It has a beautiful soundtrack and its graphics are diverse and colourful despite their limitations. On the other hand, its cut scenes end rather abruptly, being interrupted by loading screens and far worse, it has a persistent freezing problem similar to that in Dex (another game I reviewed recently). This involves the action stopping momentarily then lurching you across the screen, sometimes into an enemy's attack. After having played on PS4 for nearly two years, these are the only two games in which I've experienced this issue. Hopefully it isn't going to become commonplace among indie games ported to PS4.
Although Moon Hunters can be beaten very quickly, you'll have to complete it many times - and in many different ways - to find all of its secrets. It's cool to see new things happen in subsequent playthroughs, but the amount of repetition needed to trigger them all will put some players off. Even if you only play a few times, though, it's still a journey worth taking.
- + Good variety of locations, story and endings
- + Playable characters differ significantly in their abilities
- + Beautiful, plaintive soundtrack
- - No online play means you'll need three friends to get the most out of it
- - Frequent momentary freezing issue
- - Poor enemy AI