Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight Review: A Classic Symphony
Ben Sheene / Mar 24th, 2017 No Comments
There has always been a certain joy in turning on an old Nintendo or PlayStation console and diving into the classics. These are games you’ve probably beaten countless times, but they remain entertaining because of the high bar of quality they set years ago.
Over the past decade, the indie scene has become a warm nest for developers to foster an idea based on the classics and craft it into a game. I’ve never looked at the pixels and sprites of these games as anything more than a labor of love, using those classics both me and the developers grew up with as a jumping off point for inspiration. By wearing its inspirations on its sleeve, Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight is an instantly enjoyable title.
A Song About a Castle
“Reverie Under the Moonlight” is instantly evocative of Symphony of the Night, that single Castlevania game that changed standards, infused Metroid into its DNA and spawned similar music-themed titles. If you’re looking for those notes in a game, Reverie will surely appease on a base level. But for me, the game didn’t truly conjure up those feelings until I had broken through the introductory area.
Reverie Under the Moonlight is actually the fourth entry in the Momodora series, which may seem daunting for first timers. However, this game serves as a prequel, establishing the lore and inspiration for latter games. As the priestess Kaho, players are on a quest to cleanse the world of a curse. What started in the eastern city of Karst is spreading to her village, and she must cut the infection off at the source before it claims more people.
Plot, while not razor thin, is moderately bare in Reverie. Similar to Castlevania 2 or Zelda 2, Kaho explores the dangerous world and occasionally interacts with other characters. A small text bubble appears offering conversation or veiled advice to digest as story and world-building or simple guidance on where to go next. Kaho is initially told to seek the advice of the Queen, only to soon be told the Queen may not be of help as Karst is too far gone.
The restraint used by Reverie in its story allows the game to be expressive while not buckling under the weight of excessive exposition. Rather than having dozens of rooms where characters will steal your ear for several seconds, a few key narrative voices are sprinkled throughout to add enough mystery and intrigue to the world. A third into the game and most players can see where things will end up while still wanting to know more about the lore itself.
Leaf Me Alone
Kaho’s preferred method of monster disposal is through the use of a red leaf that slashes through enemies like the sharp steel of a blade. She also has a bow and arrow, which can be charged to unleash a multi-directional volley and a dodge roll. Though most combat boils down to simple hacking and slashing, there are several encounters that benefit from using arrows and rolling behind an enemy to attack their back.
In the first section of the game, players meet a variety of enemies that employ ranged and melee attacks. It’s not overwhelming but it can be challenging, a sentiment that can be applied to most of Reverie. I never found myself completely bamboozled by the amount or difficulty of foes on screen. Most opponents only have one or two moves that need to be avoided, but on a 2D plane, more complexity would be chaos.
Stronger enemies won’t be stunlocked with your combos, so it becomes necessary to time dodges to avoid damage. Arrows allow breathing room, but are a lot weaker and mostly helpful to kill an enemy hurtling bombs so you can close the distance to a melee foe.
Karst holds many secrets, including a number of useful items and spells that can be collected or purchased. Killing enemies nets Kaho currency that she can use to buy passive item buffs or consumables. Because most of these items aren’t cheap, players are prevented from becoming overpowered. Having only two passive slots and three active slots means you need to be judicious with item usage. However, by simply pausing the game, players can go into their equipment and substitute items on the fly, even mid combat.
Being able to do this mitigates having to make inventory sacrifices, but it can also dampen the value of some items. For example, I rarely used piercing arrows or the item that restored my health when poisoned except when I knew I would absolutely need them to survive. It is worth saying that on the hardest difficulty when enemies are especially brutal, juggling the benefits of these items becomes more crucial to survival.
Similar to Dark Souls, Reverie uses Bellflowers to heal which, like Estus Flasks, are consumable and can only be refilled at save points. Even more similar to Dark Souls is the game’s excellently designed bosses. Players will come across a little under a dozen boss characters, which showcase the game’s superb character and level design. Each boss not only looks intimidating, but has a set of moves requiring a good amount of memorization and skill to tackle. But if the bosses have one flaw it would be that, like a boss in Mega Man, they can get stuck in an AI loop and do the same attack two or three times in a row. This happened to me once in a boss near the end and believe me, I took advantage (even though I still died).
Regardless of how strong I felt and how many times I expanded my health bar, a boss encounter would always leave me drained of Bellflowers and spell uses. It’s a testament to Reverie’s environmental design and mood that the bosses feel appropriate to the sections of the map and a further testament to the gameplay that they require all the tools in your toolbelt.
Reverie’s inspiration and devotion to classic Metroidvanias is apparent minutes into the game when players encounter a narrow passageway that obviously can’t be accessed without some sort of power. About halfway into the game, Kaho gains the ability to turn into a cat and finally traverse these paths.
I love the backtracking aspect of games like this. Reverie plays with the idea of featuring hidden paths and out of the way secrets but, because of its length, can’t really expand on this as much games like Axiom Verge.
Coming in at about five hours for experienced players, Reverie delivers a tight, focused journey that cuts out a lot of the fat seen in Metroidvanias. If you want a short game that delivers a solid challenge, the length is perfect. Soon after being able to turn into a cat and warp between save spots, I began to lament the fact that Reverie wasn’t a few hours longer. For one thing, I love the clean up at the end of similar games where you use your new powers and items to finally get to out of reach secrets. There are only a couple traversal items that enable players to zoom and zip around enemies and the environment.
The first time walking into Karst and seeing a castle drenched in purples and blacks with a bright red moon in the sky is breathtaking. Character sprites are emotive and full of animation, giving the impression they were crafted with care and great attention to detail. This is a game obviously built on a love of the past and an admiration of classic and current gameplay.
A few dozen more rooms could make the game feel less concise, but they could also give players more of Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight’s gloomy charm. Reverie may have a few bumps, but the great level of polish, potential for new runs with different loadouts, and a new game plus option begs a return journey.
Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight was reviewed on a PS4 Pro using a code for the game provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
tags: Bombservice , Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight , Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight Review , review