Pros: Great music and sprite effects. Fun elemental and weather systems keep it fresh compared to most other vampire-slaying action games.
Cons: Less-than-desirable voice acting. Dungeon crawling can get boring sometimes. Space sequences are ruined by bad controls.
The sun is no longer in your hands
Lunar Knights is the follow-up to the three (two in America) Boktai games for the GBA. You remember, those quirky games that had a sunlight sensor built into the cart? Well, Lunar Knights is a whole new entry to the series, only without the sun sensor.
To be quite honest, the sun was never in my hands in the first place. I missed out on the Boktai games when they came out, and simply haven't had much free time to go back, pick them up and play them. However, when I found out that Lunar Knights (despite technically being in the same series as and bearing a lot of gameplay similarities to the Boktai games) had no major connection to Boktai, I thought what better way to acquaint myself with this series? I couldn't think of one when this arrived on my doorstep.
Lunar Knights, right off the bat, feels like an isometric Castlevania game. It takes place in a time where vampires control the world, and humans are essentially cattle. Also under the vampires' control is the paraSOL, a weather manipulation system they use to blot out the sun so they are always free to frolic about and feed off humans. You start off as Lucian, a vampire-slaying swordsman who can harness the power of moonlight. Much like Castlevania, you will hack and slash your way through the early parts of the game, paying special attention to your health and energy meters. However, the similarities end here, as the combat system goes a bit deeper. You are also introduced to Aaron, a rookie gunslinger who works for the Guild (a rebel organization which is trying to fight back against the vampires) and can control the power of sunlight. At first, you will play as the two individually in their own missions, but you will eventually have the chance to swap between the two at will during the game.
Most of this game takes place within a myriad of sprawling dungeons, where you will fight your way through legions of monsters to reach each dungeon's boss. The thing that sets this apart from most other Action-RPGs, however, is that you can equip your characters with Terrenials, creatures that each have some sort of elemental power, such as light, dark, fire, ice, wind or earth. When you equip one of these, they will add an elemental-based power to your attacks, which you must use to exploit the weaknesses of your enemies. The catch here is that each attack made while a Terrenial is equipped saps your Energy meter bit by bit. And while Lucian can use his sword without the aid of a Terrenial to deliver a weaker neutral attack, Aaron is not able to use his gun at all without one. Furthermore, Lucian and Aaron can fuse with their Terrenials to temporarily transform into wicked-strong beings and wreak all sorts of havoc. However, this power can only be used sparingly, as it quickly saps your Trance meter, which is restored by fighting enemies normally.
There is also a slew of other RPG elements, such as the ability to level up and distribute status points to up your characters vitality (max HP), spirit (max energy) and skill (duh). You can also upgrade your weapons by picking up “junk parts,” which you can bring to the local Alchemist who will use them to make sweet weapon upgrades for you. There's also an in-game weather and day/night system, which has an effect on how much moon/sunlight your guys can absorb to replenish their energy. Later on, you'll also have the ability to control the weather, which comes into play to solve puzzles.
Further setting Lunar Knights apart is the space shooter sequences: When you defeat a boss, it is not fully taken care of. You must take him into space and use a satellite to finish him off with a massive amount of solar energy. This means going through sequences of 3D space shooting to get there, controlled exclusively with the stylus. To move your ship, you drag it with the stylus, and to attack enemy ships you simply tap on them. Sadly, the controls are very clumsy, as you often are stuck between going on the offensive, or dodging enemy fire. It would have been a lot nicer if you could control your ship with the D-pad, and aim/fire with the stylus, but alas, that is not the case. And it hurts, not only because of how clumsy the result is, but because of how awesome it could have been with some simple control tweaking.
Graphically, the game is nice, and proof that 2D is not yet dead. The sprites and levels are detailed and colorful, though the space-shooting sequences don't have nearly the same amount of luster. There are some decent animated cutscenes now and then - not amazing by any standards, but they don't harm things any. In terms of sound, Lunar Knights has some great jazzy background music and sound effects, but the voice acting (thankfully rare) leaves a bit to be desired.
Overall, Lunar Knights is a solid action game, with plenty of (but not too many) RPG elements thrown in for good measure. While the action itself can get boring at times, the only things that really drag this game down are the clumsy space sequences and less-than-impressive voice acting. Boktai fans may miss the omission of the light sensor (though Boktai owners can use a copy of the game and its light sensor in conjunction with Lunar Knights) but it is something I never had in the first place, so I'm not complaining here.
One group of people in particular I'd like to recommend this game to, however, is fans of the 2D Castlevania who feel their series has gotten a bit too formulaic. If that is you, Lunar Knights bares some good similarities, but stirs things up enough to make it a truly different and pretty fun game.