Developed by Kojima Productions
Released by Konami
Format: Nintendo DS
Vampires in space. It’s a theme that’s been around for a long long time. Not as long as vampires themselves, but certainly since the sixties. Planet of the Vampires is probably the oldest example I know of, but barely a year goes by without another example of this sub genre popping up.
It’s surprising, then, that when it comes to videogames it’s a mostly untapped area. Vampires in space sounds like such fertile ground, and indeed, Lunar Knights proves that there’s a lot that can be done with the idea.
Lunar Knights is… well I’ll be honest and say that it’s a game that I had zero passing interest in. Despite coming from one of the most heralded development studios, Kojima Productions, the studio behind the Metal Gear Solid series, the style of the game was for me off putting. Goth sci-fi anime would be the best description I could come up with to describe it; A weird mixture of dark and cute that just didn’t do it for me.
I should have known better than to try and judge a game from its graphics.
Lunar Knights is actually kind of a spiritual successor to the Boktai series. I’m not sure if you’ve heard of Boktai, but it was a clever idea that didn’t quite work out. The cartridge came with a sun sensor and a built in clock, so that the time of day and indeed level of light in the game reflected reality. This was all well and good near the equator, but elsewhere, the lack of strong sunlight made the game relatively unpopular despite its sound gameplay and unique ideas.
Lunar Knights drops the sun sensor and real time clock, but carries over a lot of the gameplay that made Boktai a hit in sunny climates for everyone to enjoy without the previous frustrations.
So how does the game play?
If you need to hear a genre, I’d call it an action RPG. There’s certainly plenty of action and a good deal of item management and leveling up that you’d expect from an RPG.
Vampires have taken over the planet thanks to their use of a network of weather controlling satellite that ensures the world is constantly enshrouded in darkness. Naturally this isn’t a good thing for the people that live there. There are a group of vampire hunters armed with solar guns capable of killing most of them, and one of the two main characters you’ll have control of is a member of this group.
Aaron (though you can name him whatever you want) uses his solar gun, and a variety of other weapons that you acquire during the game. Firing his weapons costs you energy. The energy gauge (separate to life) is filled up either by collecting appropriate items, or while in sunlight.
The other main character is a mysterious vampire hunter named Lucian, who uses a number of melee weapons. Using his weapons doesn’t use up energy, but his energy gauge is filled up with moonlight.
Time passes in the game at an accelerated rate and for the most part you can hit a button to have your character jump off the screen switching places with the other vampire slayer. Who you’ll want to be controlling will depend on the weather, the time of day, and the enemies being faced.
Each hero is accompanied by a ‘terrenial’ at the beginning of the game, which are mostly elemental in nature; Lucian has a dark elemental and Aaron a light elemental. You can highlight these terrenials to add an elemental nature to your attacks, though this uses up energy. Also, as you kill enemies you fill your trance gauge. Once that is full you can combine with an elemental for a kind of super powered mode that lasts for a few seconds.
Other terrenials are acquired through killing vampires that have terrenial armour. These vampires are partially protected from sunlight by their casket armour and after defeating one, you have to take them through the atmosphere up into space where an array of satellites can focus sunlight onto the casket armour, killing the vampire for good and freeing whichever terrenial was powering it. More on that later.
The on-foot gameplay is a lot of fun, whether wielding guns as Aaron or swords as Lucien. Aiming is handled by using the L button to lock onto an enemy, though this isn’t nearly as important when playing as Lucien. Over all, I preferred playing as Lucien, but there’s something to be said for both main characters.
Generally you’ll be exploring through a relatively large dungeon trying to get to the boss fight at the end. The boss fights in general are a highlight, making good use of both characters and all their available tools, and they really are on a scale I wasn’t quite expecting.
Once you put them down its time to get them up into space. This is achieved through a rather fun touch screen based 3D shooting game that has you dragging your ship around to dodge things and tapping the screen to fire. Getting used to not being able to move and shoot at the same time takes some time, but works just fine given the level design.
Mostly, though, you’ll be exploring levels on foot, fighting your way through the hordes to try and reach the next boss. Many enemies in the game have a weakness to a given element, and by switching which terrenial you have highlighted cleverly, you can really speed up how quickly they can be taken down.
Your weapons can be upgraded and various armour and items can be bought. Weapons are upgraded using resources that enemies will drop as you kill them, and money is acquired in much the same way.
This does mean that the game has a degree of grinding. But it also helps with the difficulty. Facing a boss you can’t beat? Go back to an earlier area and collect enough resources and money to come back tougher.
One thing I would say is a shame is that the game has a pretty cool stealth system to it that goes mostly unused. Blowing into the microphone will get your character to whistle, attracting enemies, as you run off in the opposite direction unseen, but given the increasing difficulty and the eternal hunt for more resources with which to buy equipment and upgrade your weapons, killing enemies is almost always encouraged as you strive to level up.
It’s an age-old aspect of RPGs but that hasn’t stopped it being rewarding, or fun, to breeze through an area that initially gave you a lot of problems. You’ll often find an area that was inaccessible before due to you not having the correct terrenial to progress giving further incentive for backtracking. Furthermore, once you have defeated the head vampire of an area, you gain control of that area’s weather satellite, which allows you to choose the weather for that area.
This will not only likely change the dominant element of the enemies in that area, but it can have further effects, such as drying out or flooding areas of water… again often allowing you access to new areas. Sometimes setting the right weather for an area is necessary to proceed, and while it’s not much of a puzzle element it is nice to have it there to add a bit a variety from the generally action focused dungeoneering.
Despite what I might think about its looks, Lunar Knights is a surprisingly deep, lengthy and challenging game, certainly for myself who hadn’t played any of its precursors. I wouldn’t say it was scary and it certainly isn’t gory, but the story is more mature than you’d think and the gameplay and presentation for the most part shine through. I am ashamed to admit it at times it does get just the tiniest bit creepy.
There. I said it.
4 out of 5
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