This is a review for Kitfox Game’s story-driven indie adventure RPG, Moon Hunters. Before we get started I would like to mention that the developers provided me with a free Steam Key to play Moon Hunters and write this review. Moon Hunters will be available for purchase from the Steam store on March 10th, 2016, for $14.99 USD.
I played Moon Hunters alongside fellow angry gamer Ethan, to test out the multiplayer function and how the story changed with another player interacting with the story, so I will include a tad bit of his thoughts as well since he played with me. However, I played close to 10 hours on my own to see what else the game had to offer, so majority of this review will be my own opinion.
I want to say that this review was a bit hard to write because my expectations for this game were entirely different from what the game was actually like. I went into it thinking it would be like classic RPG titles like Secret Of Mana or the SNES dungeon crawler Crystal Beans, with a single story arc you played through as you adventured and developed your character over the course of 5 to 10 hours until you finished the game. Although Moon Hunters is similar to both games to a certain degree, it is also very different.
Introduction and Getting Started
I originally was going to just play about two to four hours and then write the review based on what I thought, but I am so glad that I didn’t do that. I indeed “conquered” the game in about an hour and a half to two hours (the main story is rather short), but this game is VERY complex and has a lot of little elements to it that you simply can’t find within two through five hours of play time. And because of that, my opinion has drastically changed from when I started until now. There is so much content crammed into Moon Hunters that I wasn’t sure how much to include in my review, because part of the fun is discovering everything for yourself and I feel that talking about some of the elements could possibly be considered as spoilers.
I will go in detail, but first, I need to tell a bit about the story and what starts your quest in Moon Hunters. You first pick from one of four characters: a Swordsman, a Ritualist, a Druid, and a Witch. However there are an additional two characters you can unlock, giving you a total of six playable characters, each with their own skills and abilities.
There are two towns you start with that you can choose from- the Wolf clan and the Desert clan, but you can also unlock an additional two towns as you play along, giving you a total of four starting towns, each with their own lore, stories, and adventures for you to discover. There are other areas as well that connects the four clans, giving you hundreds of different places that you can travel to and interact with.
Moon Hunters- The Story, The Myths, And The Legends
The story is a mix of Pagan, Aztec, Native American, and Celtic mythology all combined together to make a unique story about adventure, wisdom, knowledge, and lore. As you start the game, the towns and villages were at peace and almost everyone was happy within the four moon tribes. Your group of heroes were simply trying to find their way home because your village was preparing for a big feast to celebrate the Goddess moon during their festival. But then, everything changed when the Sun cult attacked. The moon has vanished, and you are threatened with being murdered by the King of the flaming Sun nation.
Now, your main hero and your group of friends — as well as the many descendants that will follow — must solve the mystery of why the moon has vanished, save your home, and defeat the evil Sun nation to bring peace to the land.
However, it isn’t that simple. Part of me wants to write this review and just tell of my many adventures, misadventures and exploits, but I don’t think that will properly tell you what the game is like, so I will save my more comical adventure review for Steam. First, let’s talk about starting the game.
You choose your character, watch the intro movie, and then BAM! Straight into the butt kicking. There is no tutorial or anything to teach you how to play, we just had to figure it out. You can press your character stat button to review your controls, stats, Opals, and personality traits, but other than that, you just learn as you go along. At first I was annoyed by this, but I later learned to except it because one of the main elements about this game is learning and understanding the world, nature, and how each of the four moon tribes work.
As for leveling up, you don’t earn EXP in this game like most RPGs, instead, after completing a level you earn more stats at your camp where you can choose to sleep, stargaze, cook a meal, hunt, or keep watch. Each choice affects your stats in some way, and sometimes special events will trigger based on what you did earlier in your adventure. You can also get stronger by collecting Opals, this is the game’s currency and also a bit like EXP, which you gain by killing monsters, cutting grass, or breaking things. You can also gain a few by completing quests as a reward. You use the Opals to buy skill upgrades to augment your base attacks in different ways, with the more powerful augments costing more Opals. The last way you earn stats is through the game’s very unique character and personality system.
Personalities and Events
Based on the actions you choose and the words you speak will help to determine what type of hero you are… or in some cases, villain. All of these elements combine together to determine your stats and build your character. For example, Ethan became the leader of the group after cooking some food during one campfire, and then resting in the next, which gave him more Charisma and leadership skills. While I had a conversation with a wolf girl when I went hunting, and helped defend the camp in the next segment. Giving both of our characters two different interactions in the same night, which altered our stats based on our choices. That was when Commander sunshine came and declared he took our moonlight, and that is what sparked our journey to get stronger to defend ourselves.
Combat And Exploration
As for combat, you have three buttons, each character is different in how they operate, but to sum it up, you have your main attack, your special attack, and then a dash attack. Gameplay wise it plays out like a hack and slash adventure game, similar to the Legend Of Zelda or the YS series. You can change your controls to either use the keyboard, the keyboard and mouse, or a joystick.
The singing Bard character however is a bit more unique though, so not all of the characters really follow the above example, but you use the three buttons to either attack, stun, or dodge to overcome your enemies. The very first time I played, and I do mean within the first three minutes of playing, I died and was sent to camp because I was trying to figure out my character’s skills. I should point out that if you are playing co-op mode, your teammate can go over and revive you back to health. If everyone dies however, the only thing you lose is Opals, which wouldn’t be such a bad thing if it weren’t for the fact of how the exploration system works.
After each stage you are taken to the world map to choose your next location. The map will randomize once at the start of every playthrough, making every game unique and special, because the events connected to the map also randomize, so every character’s story will always be different to a certain degree because you will never know what your current playthrough will have to offer.
Things get complicated though because you can only visit a single map location once per playthrough, even if you die. So if you don’t clear that area in one try, you lose out on discovering whatever that map location had to offer, which forces you to move down the road or go backwards to another location. Sometimes, the real world player knowledge of talking to a specific NPC could be the difference between completing or failing a quest for your next playthrough.
Furthermore, certain events are locked by personality traits that you need to move forward or unlock the next event. For example, I had a Ritualist character that found a half naked man in the woods that jumped out of the bushes and yeld at me, I stood my ground and yelled back as loud as I could to scare him away, and as a result, I gained the bravery trait. For another playthrough I came across a lion that was tall and strong and roared at me, my character wasn’t very brave, but he was proud and compassionate, and so I was forced to run away. As a result, the proud character failed to find the moon, and his legacy was one of kindness, strength and arrogance.
When I came across that same lion with my Brave Ritualist, I had a very different outcome and she was known for her cunning, courage, and bravery by the end of her story arc. Another character I played was very wise and had infinite wisdom, I came across a strange looking house that didn’t look safe, but I wasn’t foolish enough to barge in and enter and so I was forced to move on. Last but not least, I had one character that ignored the story altogether and just danced with wild animals and acted like a foolish child.
I found that building a character based on stats isn’t really the case for this game, you can’t always win by making your swordsman strong with a lot of life because he might miss out on special events. Sometimes he needs to be wise and cunning to survive the world he was born into, so you have to build a specific personality and then stick with it for the best results for that specific playthrough, which makes Moon Hunters a very unique gameplay experience because every character has their own personality and story to tell.
In order to actually solve the story and officially conquer the game, you literally have to playthrough the game dozens, or even hundreds of times to unlock everything and solve the mystery of the moon. I found myself becoming obsessed as I created character after character to try to piece together all the puzzles so that I could find out what happened to the moon, and thus, I became a Moon Hunter myself.
Building A Legacy
A single playthrough only lasts about two hours depending on how your adventure plays out, this can be a good or a bad thing, because just as you are getting started and you are starting to feel and care about your character and you have collected a healthy supply of Opals, the game is suddenly coming to an end and you have to start all over again. But it can be a good thing if you just want a quick fun role play session to pass the time.
Certain events from your previous playthrough will however carry through into your next, so you might come across a statue that was made in honor of your previous character, and all of your recipes and the food you discover carries over, as well as any towns or characters you unlock. On top of this, you keep all of your real world knowledge of how events work, giving your next character an advantage to develop and grow and discover something new that your past ancestor may have missed.
All of your playthroughs will contribute to the game’s Star Chart in the main menu which forms constellations and stories within the stars. This allows you to read about your past adventures and personality types and what your characters were like. The game takes all of your actions and events and patches them together to form one coherent story and legacy of what type of person that character was, and then locks them in the stars for you to view later.
Music and Graphics
Graphically, Moon Hunters has pixel art style graphics, but it isn’t cheap or ugly by any means. The sprites and animations are simple, but they have just enough detail to immerse you into the game. Moon Hunters‘ events also have detailed art pictures that pop up during story events to help carry the story or fill in gaps in the narration so that you can visually see what is going on.
Most of the cut scenes have voice over narration and detailed art work, so everything is always clear to follow along with what is happening story wise. The music in the game is absolutely amazing, it is a mix of Celtic folk tunes and simple guitar and lute songs. Originally I thought the game’s soundtrack was too small and they needed more songs, but as you adventure you find that the soundtrack slowly grows and changes based on events and locations.
I did find that the vocals for certain songs are in reverse (I actually used Audacity to record and reverse the audio so I could hear it clearly), this gives the songs a mystical sound to them, but I honestly wouldn’t mind hearing the original vocals of the songs play as well to give us a bit of context, but I suppose the developers wanted the world to feel mysterious and magical, and so they convey that feeling through the backwards singing music.
Regardless, the music is a lot of fun to listen to. Oh yeah, I almost forgot to mention, you have two additional buttons to cheer and another to dance. They don’t really have any real purpose (there is a small thing that requires them but I won’t give it away), but for the most part it is just there for fun. We don’t really need the fun dancing, but I am glad they added it. There are probably about a hundred different events and story interactions you will come across, and due to the nature of the random world changing, there are dozens of things hidden that you won’t come across after playing the game for close to ten hours.
So even though the game is short, it is packed with hours upon hours of content.
Bugs and gameplay faults
Nevertheless, Moon Hunters isn’t completely perfect, so let’s talk about a few flaws that we came across while playing. This is a bit of what Ethan had to say about the game based on what he played with me.
“Ethan: There needed to be a distinction in enemies for which ones were hard and which were easy. Because they don’t have a distinction you don’t know what is what. Little small creatures were sometimes really powerful. But it really did act like a virtual table top game. It had a lot of segments that acted like a table top game with how it played out. As for problems, I think it was mainly just the combat. It needed to have an indicator for what was weak and what was strong.”
I agree with this, because when I started the first time I died from a little grasshopper looking thing that beat me up because I thought it would be easy. As the game progressed, I once had an easier time killing a giant hippo thing in comparison to a strange looking mushroom beetle that was way smaller and a lot harder. But there is something I want to say about that in regards to characters, but I’ll get to that soon. I also agree that Moon Hunters really does act like a table top RPG. When you normally play a role playing video game they normally don’t actually act like role playing games, but that isn’t the case here. Your actions and choices impact both your character and the world, and sometimes being the good guy isn’t always the right choice, certain events weren’t always black and white.
I was surprised that sometimes attempting to do the right thing could have consequences. Or taking the time to explore the far corner of the map just because you could was actually quite rewarding because the developers took the time to fill it in and add some type of content to reward you for your curiosity.
As for faults, the game has a lot of bugs. First, the optimization is a bit weird. I would get random lag stutters, freezes and long loading times for no reason, and sometimes the game would crash altogether. I would send bug reports and the developers would patch the problem out quickly (from the time I played), but I still ran into quite a few bugs that ranged from sprites getting stuck, to random text changing languages, to crashing, to my controls randomly stopping for no reason with no way to quit the game or move around, so I had to force close the game and restart. A lot of these problems weren’t game breaking, but they were a bit annoying. I did report every single bug I came across, so hopefully future versions of the game will no longer have that problem.
I also found that certain characters weren’t really balanced right when playing, making some characters really strong, and others harder to play and quite weak. The Ritualist is way over powered because she has a gravity orb for one ability that sucks in enemies and traps them there while it is active which keeps them from moving forward. As long as you don’t get close to them, they can’t attack and hurt you, and she can shoot multiple Gravity Orbs at once. Furthermore, she can upgrade it to make the Gravity Orb bigger and faster, this makes it where she is practically untouchable by using a single skill.
The Ritualist also gains another ability where her main smaller attack orbs can cut through enemies, so that instead of dispersing upon impact, they now cut through enemies and hit the next one in line. You know that beetle bug mushroom monster I was talking about earlier? It has a shield on the front of its head so you can only kill it by reaching it’s back and attacking its weak spot, for certain characters this can be quite the challenge as you have to fight it like a raging bull to lure it and then rush to its back to kill it. The Ritualist doesn’t have this problem though because she can Gravity Orb it and then use her main attack orbs to cut through its shielded head to hit its weak spot to kill it with ease. Because you earn Opals by killing monsters, this gave her a clear advantage for any story events that required Opals, and it also made it a lot easier for her to buy more skill upgrades.
By the time I reached the final boss, her main attack orbs were able to kill him in about thirty seconds or less. When I played the Pale-Dancer Swordsman, he had a much harder time surviving. By end game he was quite strong and I could kill the boss with no problem, but no where near as fast or efficient as the Ritualist. I suppose it doesn’t matter too much because it is a co-op game and you aren’t doing PVP, but I did notice a clear difference with how easy it was for certain characters to dispatch enemies over others.
Speaking of Multiplayer, I would also like if the developers added a list of currently active online multiplayer games so that players can quickly and easily join a random/active game session and play along with other Moon Hunters, as it stands now you can only play with friends locally, or with ones that have your IP address. Alternatively, you have to use a third party service to connect to play with your friends.
Overall, I really enjoyed playing Moon Hunters and think it is an amazing game. I finally saved the moon and discovered that the game does in fact have multiple endings, which was quite fun to play through. Regardless, even if you don’t find all the endings, there is so much to discover that I learned that playing this game wasn’t about the destination or finishing the game, but the journey and adventure of just getting there. All the little secrets, events, and encounters is what made this so enjoyable for me. Moon Hunters is the type of nostalgic adventure game that makes you feel like you’re a kid all over again, and I loved every second of it.
When I asked Ethan what he thought about the game and if he had to rate it out of 10 points, he responded saying-
“Ethan: I guess I would rate the game a 7.”
I would put it a bit higher, but only because I put in more hours and discovered more for what Moon Hunters had to offer. So I would rate Moon Hunters a solid 8 out of 10 for fun factor, gameplay, story, and originality. It will lose 2 points for the bugs and glitches. I really do love this game though, so it will probably go on my list of favorite indie games for 2016, and I expect to play a lot more of it to discover everything it has to offer. For more information you can visit the official Moon Hunters website for additional details, as well as the Steam Store page.