Lunar Knights
Platform: Nintendo DS
Publisher: Konami
Developer: Kojima Productions
Genre: Action-RPG
Format: Cartridge
Released: US 02/06/07
Official Website: English Site

Graphics: 88%
Sound: 85%
Gameplay: 83%
Control: 75%
Story: 72%
Overall: 83%
Reviews Grading Scale
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Fancy weaponry at your disposal.
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Burst attacks are painful.
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Flying through space.
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Dennis Rubinshteyn
Lunar Knights
Dennis Rubinshteyn

In the midst of the GBA's life, there was a game called Boktai: The Sun is in Your Hand. It was created by legendary game developer Hideo Kojima, famous for his Metal Gear Solid franchise, as well as cult hits such as Snatcher and Zone of the Enders. The concept for Boktai was unusual because the game itself has a built-in solar sensor that required players to play under the actual sun and obtain sunlight in order to power-up the protagonist and defeat vampires. The concept had limited appeal and it was difficult to play in mostly overcast areas or if the player's only free gaming time was at night. These were likely factors in Boktai's and Boktai 2's slow sales .

Years later, another Boktai game was made and was released in the United States this year under the name of Lunar Knights. The game changed a lot of character names that were used in Boktai, perhaps to give the game a fresher appeal. There is no Solar Sensor this time so players have no restrictions as to when to play it. Despite some changes, it still has the charm and fun of a cult classic.

For a long time, creatures known as vampires have taken over the planet, spreading fear and terror onto the hearts of mankind. They managed to create a weather manipulation device called a paraSOL to banish the light. To make matters worse, Vampires were given Casket Armor by the mysterious Immortals. This special armor completely nullifies their ultimate weakness, sunlight. With a weather-controlling satellite and sunlight-proof armor, hope for humanity seems bleak. But of course, two heroes have emerged who fight the vampires and save the world. Their names are…

Lucian: An enigmatic vampire hunter, who wields a dark sword and favors the power of darkness. He prefers to fight alone, save for his terrennial (elemental creature) partner, Nero. He hunts down vampires only to find and defeat a certain vampire with horns.

Aaron: An apprentice solar gunslinger who has the power of light on his side. He is a member of a resistance group who plot to take down the vampires' reign of terror. He was unable to shoot his solar gun "Knight" until he managed to awake the light terrennial Toasty and save a little girl. He is not the brightest bulb, but his heart is in the right place.

The premise itself was pretty interesting, but unfortunately the execution wasn't so great. At an early point in the game, the two protagonists decided to use each other's strengths and team up to defeat the vampires despite Lucian's reluctance. It's your standard "save the world" plot without any uniqueness. A lot of the plot involved much rambling as to why vampires fancied themselves the superior race whilst badmouthing the weakness of humans. Of course, humans argued back about vampiric flaws. terrennials also found humans flawed, but they also know that humans can grow and change; hence, terrennials help out humans rather than vampires. The story also questions Lucian's and especially Aaron's reason for fighting, but those are easily predictable. There was occasional, and very enjoyable comic relief. The humor never felt forced or overdone, and I wished there were more moments like that.

As for the characters themselves, they were likable, but I felt no attachment to anyone nor cared much on what happened to them. The main characters received the lion's share of development (especially Lucian who learned to like his new comrade), but other characters were quite forgettable, save for a few recurring ones.

I also thought that the ending was too abrupt. I defeated the final boss, and the credits rolled immediately, only showing the immediate aftermath of the events that occurred. Some foreshadowing was thrown in too, but that was it. I did like the plot to an extent, but it could've been done a lot better. Kojima and crew are clearly more capable of a better script.

The first two Boktai games had a lot of emphasis on puzzle solving and stealth rather than combat. In Lunar Knights, those elements have been mostly abandoned in favor of a much more action-oriented grindfest. With two playable characters, each favoring different fighting styles and weaponry, you slash (Lucian) and shoot (Aaron) countless enemies, and gain experience points to level up. You are able to switch between both with the press of a button and receive experience if they are alive. When you level, you are given certain amount of points to spend between three stats. The three stats are Vitality for boosting life (HP), Spirit for boosting energy and Skill to boost attack power.

You will definitely need those stats to defeat the myriad monsters in the game. There are plenty of enemies who hit hard and are not shy about using cheap attacks. Status effects can mean life or death as well, and if you get a Game Over, you pay a fine. There are occasional stealth missions too, but nothing like in the previous Boktai games.

While it is an Action-RPG at its core, there are a lot of little twists to make the game a little more interesting. The game is very driven by the climate, which factors into a lot of things. During the day or night, switching during fixed time intervals, either character can gather energy from his respective element and depending how cloudy or clear the sky is, the recharge rate varies. Thanks to the GBA slot of the game, you can put in a copy of Boktai to power up the heroes using the Solar Sensor too.

The climate also effects the environment and majority of your equipment too. Certain weather types unearth new pathways to progress in the game or hunt for rare goodies. There are even certain equippable items that receive a boost depending on the weather. Speaking of equipment, both characters have a number of different weapons at their disposal, each with its own characteristics. A couple of them are hidden, but easy to obtain if players backtrack occasionally. Each weapon is upgradable by gathering certain materials you can buy or get from monster drops. One minor con is that materials are expensive, drops are uncommon and you never get much money throughout the game, thus making weapon grinding a tedious process.

There are six terrennials in the game, two of them being exclusive to each character. They add an elemental proficiency to the weapon to exploit enemy weakness or use against obstacles of opposite element. ENE slowly depletes when activating a terrennial with Lucian, but he can also fight with no element. Aaron cannot attack without a terrennial, but ENE only gets consumed when he shoots.

Aside from Life and ENE, there is also the trance meter that slowly fills up and once full, the game will indicate the button press to unleash it. Trance works in one of two ways and requires and active terrennial to use. If using Nero or Toasty, Lucian or Aaron can temporarily power up into a super being with new attacks. If using the other four terrennials, Trance turns into a burst attack where you use the touch screen for a few seconds to attack enemies.

There is also another gameplay mode that occurs after defeating a vampire. Because of their Casket Armor and the paraSOL, they have immunity to sunlight. Lucian puts the defeated vampire in a casket, summons a giant robot and goes onto outer space to nuke the vampire onto the sun… sort of. This part of the game is the rail-shooter. Each stage has three phases as you control your ship with a stylus while tapping on enemies to shoot them. Occasionally, a mini-boss pops up and there is a boss fight at the end of each level. Upon completing the level, you are treated to a nifty cut-scene where a solar satellite shoots the obliterates the vampire and you obtain a new terrennial.

There is still more after beating the game. You can start a new game, and are given the choice to have a higher difficulty whilst retaining all your levels, upgrades and money. There is also a massive bonus dungeon. There is a multiplayer mode as well, but I never got to try that out.

The in-game graphics are something that can be done pretty easily on a GBA, but overall, they do look great. If you never played the game, but at least seen a screenshot or two, it's very easy to tell that this is the style of Boktai. Lunar Knights even uses the isometric view of its predecessors. The only environments you can move around in are dungeons and they look great, each unique and distinctive in its own way along with a good level of detail for a 2D game. The animations for the weather effects and attacks are sharp and effective. As for character models, they look great too, especially how creative the boss sprites look. What also impressed me were the anime cutscenes peppered throughout the game. The animation quality was surprisingly good.

Of course, I do have a few qualms about the graphics department. My biggest gripe is with the character designs themselves when showing their cut-ins on the top screen. By all means, I am quite an anime fan, but I thought the characters looked generic and a bit too colorful. It's even worse for the bosses since they look more cute than menacing, thus losing the evil appeal. Something like how the cover art was done would've been a lot more suitable. I also thought the 3D in the shooting levels was a bit weak as well.

Initially, I was not too impressed by the music. The opening theme was pretty cool though, but the music for the first few levels was boring and the world map tune was dull. As I progressed, the better and more sinister music kicked in, and I became more fond of the game's music. The end-game tunes were especially impressive such as the epic castle songs.

There is voice acting in the game too. It's not fully voiced except for the anime scenes, but it usually occurs semi-frequently, such as when a character says an important line. The voice acting itself is quite decent, and the voices do fit the characters. The only character whose voice I disliked was Professor Sheridan's which sounds too goofy and annoying. There is also something about Aaron's "Leave it to me!" that rubbed me the wrong way. Overall, the voice acting is pretty good, and it always occurs at the right times.

Controls are a mixed bag. The shooting sequence controls work great, making good use of the stylus. You drag the stylus to steer the ship around, and you tap on the enemy to shoot. You can toggle between attacks with L and R when you pause. Very simple, but works well. For the main part of the game, however, it's not as impressive. While fighting is relatively simple, it felt sluggish and clunky, at least when controlling Lucian. This sometimes led to the fights being tougher than they should have been, especially with more agile or tricky foes. I did like how the game used both screens, though. The bottom screen showed all the action while the top showed the weather, climate type, temperature and such.

The game menu is relatively simple, and it's easy to organize your inventory. You can also switch the characters on the fly by touching their portraits. The map is helpful and being able to save any time always helps, especially for a handheld. My only beef is that it's very frustrating that items don't stack and you are given such a small inventory.

I had a good time with the game and it certainly has technical merits, but gameplay wise it's nothing more than a pretty cool action RPG. A weak story and semi-clunky controls prevented the game from being a lot more enjoyable. Regardless, it's a good game that has some great style and music with very interesting concepts. It's another one of Kojima's great games, but it's my least favorite out of all his games I've played.


© 2006 Konami. All Rights Reserved.

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