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DS  header logo

Lunar Knights

For: DS

Full moon rising

Product: Lunar Knights | Developer: Kojima Productions | Publisher: Konami | Format: DS | Genre: Action, RPG | Players: 1-4 | Networking: wireless (adhoc) | Version: US
Lunar Knights DS, thumbnail 1
Vampirism is a bad deal. Sure, you get to sleep all day, party all night, and never grow old, but the immortality bit is riddled with conditions. Live forever – as long as you don't touch the pointy ends of picket fences, avoid French cuisine, and wear a life jacket whenever you're near running water. Oh, and never go out in the sunlight. It's the End User License Agreement from hell. Literally.

But vampires have improved their lot in Lunar Knights, an action role-playing game from the people responsible for the Metal Gear Solid series (in fact, Lunar Knights is spiritual heir to the GBA Boktai titles – see PG Tips below). These vampires have acquired 'casket armour' that protects them from perils such as sunlight and sharpened stakes. Brandish garlic at these guys and they'll just thank you for bringing your own seasoning.

With the added power of control over the climate and the passage of day and night, they're lording it up over the human race in world of perpetual darkness. Humanity is reduced to cattle-like servility, and only a small band of solar gunslingers are left to carry on the fight. That is, until a stranger blows into town.

And this is where the game starts, as you take control of lunar swordsman Lucian, a newcomer who teams up with sunny shooter Aaron. The brief is simple: kill the vampires, free the planet's elemental spirits – 'terrennials' – that are powering the bloodsuckers' armour, and save the world.

This effectively boils down to slaying your way through hordes of creatures in richly detailed, isometric dungeons, as you make your way to the boss vamp's lair, meeting traps, chimera-like sub-bosses, puzzles and treasure hunts on the way. There are even sneaking missions. They're hardly Metal Gear Solid but are entertaining and well executed. In one lovely refinement, whistling into the DS's microphone diverts patrolling enemies.

It all sounds rather straightforward, doesn't it?

Think again. As we start to explain Lunar Knights' various gameplay mechanics, it should quickly become obvious this is one hardcore game.

For example, each of the two playable characters has their own aptitudes. Aaron is good at ranged battles while Lucian is a melee fighter. Another contrast are their elemental polarities. Aaron draws the energy to fuel his attacks from the sun, while Lucien powers up from moonlight. This energy is vital, so the game's constant day/night cycle means only one character can draw on his energy source at any time.

After the first couple of levels, you get to choose which character you want to play as by toggling with the select button. But whichever way you play it, killing enemies provides revenue that can be spent on armour and restorative items, as well as status points to augment your character traits, boosting life and energy gauges and increasing the power of your attacks. Combat also fills your 'trance gauge'. When it's full, you can execute powerful, terrennial-assisted attacks, which are invaluable for dealing with bosses.

The complexity doesn't end there, either. Freed terrennials can be equipped, and so add their powers to your attacks. This process works via a system of paired opposites (light and dark, frost and flame, cloud and wind), and as enemies are mostly aligned with one element, you must use the opposite for maximum results.

Equally, there are obstacles blocking some routes through the dungeons that can't be destroyed until you return with the right elemental power. Terrennials also give you the ability to change the weather, revealing still more new routes and areas – for instance, pools of water will evaporate under arid conditions. Revisiting levels to fully explore them is amply rewarded, sometimes with unique weapons.

In fact, as Lunar Knights is on the short side for an RPG, backtracking to complete the sidequests and find everything you've missed makes up a large part of the game. And it's testament to its overall quality this is a pleasure and not a chore.

But we haven't even got to explaining what happens at the end of each level yet. Get there and you'll meet a condescending, undead overlord. After a neat anime cut-scene, you'll get the chance to wipe that smug smile off their face. Then you have to purify their soul, by exposing them to the solar cannon of the Sunflower girl who lives in a space station (no, we're not joking). Cue an on-rails 3D shooter mini-game, which is controlled entirely with your stylus. It's remarkable that these too are enjoyable additions, rather than the annoying bolt-ons they tend to be in other titles.

Indeed, it really is hard to fault Lunar Knights. Certainly any fan of role-playing games should prepare to snap it up. Some might find the isometric graphical style a little disconcerting, while the deep gameplay will certainly put off others, but overall this is one special game, which demonstrates incredibly polished production values as well as plenty of intelligent challenges. Getting to grips with the living dead has seldom been so inviting.
Lunar Knights
Reviewer photo
Gavin MacDonald | 15 March 2007
Dazzingly deep, Lunar Knights is a complex and satisfying game with some nice tricks up its sleeve, although it is short by role-playing standards
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