Knight of the Living Dead
It seems like every time you catch the news on TV, something depressing is happening. Wars are being fought, the polar ice caps are melting, even young women are tragically losing their glorious locks. Well, the next time you find yourself under a dark cloud, think about this silver lining: at least you don’t live in the world of Lunar Knights.
[image1]You think you’ve got problems? In this futuristic Earth, the world has been taken over by intergalactic vampires who hunt down humans, imprison them, and suck them dry. As if that wasn’t enough, the undead scientific community has invented a nefarious device called the paraSOL, which blots out the sun to ensure a permanent night of terror. That story and more, right after Anna Nicole Smith!
Fortunately, there’s hope, in the form of the two characters you play: Lucian, a crabby, mega-goth vampire hunter who’s taken it upon himself to wipe out every single vampire in existence by himself, and Aaron, an eager Solar Guild recruit who wants to save innocents from the nightmare of vampire manhunts. These two dudes are the only thing standing between an endless horde of bats, skeletons, and goblins, and the defenseless masses of humanity. Yikes.
At its most basic level, Lunar Knights is a dungeon crawler, with occasional forays out of the dark realms to rest and stock up in town. The individual levels themselves aren’t terribly challenging or puzzling. Basically, you wander through each manor and crypt, button mashing your way through anything that moves. But while the core of the game is nothing new, Lunar Knights adds lots of clever nuances and unexpected twists that breathe life into what otherwise might be a dull title.
One example is the use of weather in the game. Both characters’ weapons are influenced by their proximity to the sky – Lucian’s dark sword requires moonlight for its most powerful attacks, and Aaron’s Solar Gun needs access to sunlight to work at all. As the game progresses and you begin to wrest control of the sky-deadening paraSOL away from the vamps, you can influence the weather before entering a level, based on your strategy for which character you want to use and what kinds of attacks you think will be most effective. You also need to choose which Terrenial, a Pokemon-like elemental critter, you want to equip into your weapon. If you’re likely to be facing a lot of monsters vulnerable to darkness, or ice, or whatever, equipping that Terrenial to your weapon will cause you to do more damage.
[image2]As you defeat baddies, the experience you earn can be translated into Status points, which are used to boost your hit points, energy, or ability to damage your opponents. The flexibility you have here means that you can focus one character on defense and the other on offense – or experiment with different combinations until you find one that works.
The game is action-packed, with one level leading straight into the next without a pause. Usually, when you defeat a boss, you collect your reward and rest up before tackling the next level. Not so in Lunar Knights. Since your enemies are vampires, they can resurrect themselves when under the endless dark of the paraSOL. To make sure that each meanie stays dead, you have to immediately load up his corpse onto your ship and fight your way past the legions of vampiric fighters to find the sun.
This portion of the game is wholly different and very difficult at first. Whereas the rest of the game doesn’t really use the touch screen capabilities, this section uses only the stylus, so that you’re trying to click-drag your ship to move it from one are of the screen to another, and at the same time clicking on enemy ships to shoot at them. Once you pass plenty of those guys – including another mini-boss – you finally reach the sunlight, where your team can blow that undead sucker up for good. Phew! Whatever happened to the good old days when a stake through the heart made those guys vanish in a puff of smoke?
While the game mechanics have their pros and cons, it’s clear that the development team put a lot of emphasis on the look and feel of the game. The animation itself is in-line with DS standards, but where Lunar Knights shines is in the cut scenes. When you reach critical points in the story, you are treated to anime-quality short movies which are cinematically engaging, action-packed, and just plain cool to watch. At first I thought they were stealing clips from an existing anime series, but as far as I can tell, all the artwork is original. Yes, it’s that good. It’s been a long time since sitting through a cut scene felt like a reward instead of a chore.
[image3]I also thought they did a great job with the sound and voices. The key is that they used enough voice to evoke the right feeling, but not so much that you could hear the always-crappy acting and repeated use of the same five people. Most of the dialogue in Lunar Knights is text, but punctuated by a voiced word or a sound that’s perfectly appropriate for what you’re reading. In an early level, you run through a dungeon filled with trapped citizens, each of whom has a different reaction to their imprisonment, and a voicing to match. Hopeful Man greets you with a desperate-sounding “Hey…”, Confident Woman gives you a decisive “Hi!”, and Cynical Man just lets out a bitter laugh. Likewise, When your character unexpectedly triggers a spiderweb trap, he says “What the?” in exactly the way I would if it had happened to me. Perfect.
The fact that Lunar Knights was developed by the same team who created the excellent Metal Gear series should tell you something. And that something is: “It’s good.” Lunar Knights is definitely worth checking out. And I’d rather spend my time fighting intergalactic vampires than watching TV news any day of the week.