In modern days, most major and AAA developers engage in a never ending, money draining process of making their games’ graphics as eye bleedingly detailed and realistic as technologically possible. Millions going into making video games as expensively pretty as diamond coated, solid gold toilets, with wiping paper made of lemon scented hundred dollar bills. So, it is often left to the indie developers to create video games with more creative and artistic vision than a copy machine. Thankfully, video games of such nature are both plentiful, and varied. And so we are given one such piece, Moonfall, a 2D action-RPG by Fishcow Studios, whose primary selling points are its engaging hack ‘n’ Slash combat, and beautiful hand drawn art style.
Developed by: Fishcow Studio
Published by: Fishcow Studio
Release date: April 12th, 2017
Price at time of review: 9.99 USD
- Beautifully hand-painted 2D graphics full of details and dark atmosphere.
- 3 classes with unique active and passive abilities. Gaining experience points by killing monsters and completing main and side quests.
- Action-packed combat system using different skills to provide a diverse choice of dealing with battle clashes. A suitable strategy is the key to success as lingering for too long among some enemies can lead to a premature death.
- 13 open-ended and fully explorable levels with elements of the Metroidvania genre, variable content of quests, boss fights and notes expanding the lore.
- Over 80 unique items consisting of swords, axes, daggers, armors, helmets, boots, rings and so on with their own attributes.
Story & Setting
Moonfall takes place in an industrial Gothic world of Terra Nihill, where a small kingdom known as “The Empire”, lead by Lorand III, developed a valuable and powerful resource, dubbed Lunarium. With this new substance, The Empire grew into a wealthy super power among its neighbors, despite the kingdom’s own hazardous and hostile lands. You play as a member of the kingdom’s military force, whose purpose through the game is to maintain order through the lands by combating the many barbaric enemies to the kingdom, known only as Savages, comprised of primitive tribesman, skeleton-like beings, and brutish but inventive goblins.
This is the basic info for the story, explained in the very beginning. As you progress through the game, completing quests, and discovering the many notes scattered across levels, more of the world’s story will open up, and give a better idea as to what exactly is going on. Despite that, the story remains simple and minimal, and doesn’t grow far from the basic explanation it begins with, so it’s often taking the backseat to the gameplay.
For some gamers, this won’t be a problem, but, for those looking for a deep, predominate narrative for the main attraction of their RPGs, Moonfall likely won’t satisfy, at least in the game itself. It is in writing this review I found out there is a large page of lore on the Game’s official website here. Shame it’s not in the actual game, as the information on the page gives far greater insight into Moonfall’s world, history, society, and significant characters, as well as explaining the nature of Lunarium. I can’t help but be reminded of Destiny and its lore cards. The Story here is actually engaging, and I would be very interested to see how it develops, but its absence in the video game itself makes it feel separate from what I’m playing.
The core gameplay of Moonfall is primarily 2D hack ‘n’ Slash, involving exploring various non-linear levels, killing, slaying, and slaughtering all enemies present in each area, and completing the specific goal(s) set for each mission.
Exploration, while simple, is for the most part enjoyable. Levels aren’t too big and complex to truly get lost in as long as you use the map (most of the time), but aren’t too small and straightforward to be a bore to explore. While each section and level isn’t wholly unique, level design, both functionally and visually, is varied enough per level that it doesn’t feel overly redundant or tedious to play though. You’ll be running through boggy marshes, fallen ruins, underground caverns, and industrial factories, with levels offering layouts requiring some navigating to get though to your objective, and some rewards for the especially curious.
As for the real meat of the gameplay, the combat is, for those who are accustomed to more complex action games, basic, and this is where Moonfall’s tedium lies. In combat, you have one weapon attack, four unlockable abilities, and block. Aside from crossbows (the only ranged weapons), all weapons function the same when used, from daggers to swords to two-handed warhammers. Each one does a standard strike, and if you get three hits in a row, a critical attack, all of which have a very similar speed, so the main difference will be in the weapon’s stats and effects.
When it comes to the enemies, while they do evolve to some extent as the game progresses, they largely remain the same, and thus, so does the combat. You have the base enemy units, who run toward you for melee combat, heavier variants that do the exact same but stronger, archers who hang back to shoot, shamans who buff/heal allies while casting debuff/damage spells at you, and the rare (and I mean rare) goliath-like enemy, who uses a giant weapon for staggering slam attacks with an AoE and soaks up large amounts of damage. There are special enemy types that belong to certain factions, like the flamethrower or bomb using goblins, or skeletal shamblers that root you in the ground, but even these enemies don’t standout significantly in combat, and typically can be taken down the same way as other enemies to the point where I might not even notice they’re different from the rest of the hoard. This, compounded with the limited means of attack at your disposal, makes combat feel samey through the entire game, with only bosses making for a different experience, and even then, not by much as their array of attacks are limited to about 3-4 offensive moves, which are not much different from those of regular enemies.
Now, this isn’t just a Hack ‘n’ Slash game. Moonfall puts itself in the action-RPG genre. However, for an action-RPG, the RPG aspects are quite shallow. You have three classes, each with four abilities, a skill tree, a unique combat mechanic, and their own equipment limitations.
There’s the Vanguard (warrior), who specializes in melee combat, wielding all forms of swords, axes, hammers, and shields, with abilities and skills gauged for tanking and heavy melee offense, and a mechanic that increases health regen the more he fights.
The elementalist (Mage) who wields one handed weapons and the powers of fire and ice at his fingertips, with skills specializing in offensive spellcasting and elemental damage, and a mechanic that causes his weapon to gain the same elemental buff as the spells he uses.
Then, there’s the shadow (Rogue), the only class that uses ranged weapons (crossbows) and daggers, and whose skills and abilities make for a silent killer and ranged specialist, and a mechanic emphasizing switching between ranged and melee combat for damage boosts.
But, with all this, Moonfall’s RPG elements rarely flesh out beyond a typical Hack ‘n’ Slash with classes and upgrades. While each class is indeed different in how they play, they don’t alter the core gameplay in a dynamic way, with the playstyle I use in the beginning being the one I use all the way through, as well as each class playing very similarly.
Most of the time, I would just run up to enemies and spam regular attack, occasionally using one of the abilities to stun, stagger, or weaken if necessary, or to make the fight end quicker and more easily. This was especially effective with the Vanguard, who specialized in such a playstyle. With the Elementalist and Shadow, it wasn’t much different, though I would also shoot spells/crossbow shots at enemies when at range. But regardless of class, the core gameplay remains the same. It’s a linear progression, where you only get more powerful, but there’s little to alter how you play.
To add to the gameplay, there are quests, but, just like with the combat, quests aren’t varied or complex. Almost all quests consist of some form of escort quest, fetch quest, rescue mission, and most often, the good ol’ fashion go here and kill/break these things quests, because come on, we don’t play hack ‘n’ slash games to have a nice chat.
Speaking of chats, don’t expect too much conversation from NPCs beyond quest exposition and the occasional small talk, all of which is one sided, as your vocabulary is apparently limited to grunts and groans. There’s only one notable NPC who is really worth talking to outside of quests givers and merchants, a woman in red, who offers her own perspective on the situation. For an action game, this can mean next to nothing, but, as with the story, for players looking for deep and engaging dialogue, you will likely be disappointed. It also might be worth mentioning that the game lacks any kind of character customization. You’re stuck as a nameless, faceless, male soldier.
There are two other things I must bring to light, two particularly bothersome aspects that I can see no reason to for a PC game. First, is the controls. For gameplay, key controls are oddly placed on the keyboard in such a way that they come off as awkward due to their separated positioning, and while I have gotten more used to them as I played, I never felt they were as comfortable as they could have been, at least for me. With no key mapping options, and only two keyboard control schemes that aren’t very different from one another, this will definitely be quite a problem for those who wouldn’t find the control schemes comfortable, and desire more control over their, well, controls.
This problem also extends to menus. Menu navigation, where the key controls are needed, is more awkward and complicated than it needs to be to use. Why can’t I just use a mouse, something built for this sort of thing? The devs even designed a unique mouse pointer just for the main menu of the game, so not making the in game menus usable with a mouse is beyond me. Instead, I must rely on the tab button to switch menu tabs, and a weird combination of the space bar, enter button, and arrow keys to select and equip items and abilities, as well as trade.
Second problem the text messages, which are just too small, making me have to lean in closer and strain just to read most of the print. While this is a problem that makes it hard to read almost every text, it is especially apparent when reading quest objectives in the map tab or the HUD. Just like with key mapping, there is no option to change it.
Visual & Audio
If hand drawn, 2D art styles are your fancy, then Moonfall won’t disappoint. The care, vision, and attention to detail are noticeable in every aspect of the visuals for Moonfall, from background to foreground, and all of the enemies and NPCs. The closest thing I could describe it to is an animated, layered painting, and a beautiful one at that. But, when it comes to visual arts, I often find that a picture speaks a thousand words, so instead of talking, let me just show you.
Of course, with a 2D hand drawn art style, it’s simply unrealistic to expect animation on par with that of a fully 3D modeled game, and while Moonfall’s character and creature animations do look more puppet-like than life-like, for what it is, it is done well, with the movements being smooth and lacking the janky, spazy motion that one would see in a cobbled together flash game.
Overall, Moonfall’s visuals are excellently done for its style. For gamers with a taste for hand drawn artwork and animation, Moonfall is a feast for the eyes.
Contrast to Moonfall’s visuals, the game’s general audio, while not in any way bad, doesn’t stand out nearly as much. There is the cling of metal against armor, the crackling of fire, the patter of footsteps, the sloshing of water and puddles, all par for the course, but nothing ear gripping. It doesn’t have to be though; just being good is enough, and for a game like this, vivid and realistic sound design isn’t necessary. Nothing sounds off beat except for maybe the occasional technical error, and the volume stays balanced, without situations of sudden irregular silence, or worse, eardrum bursting loudness.
Music for Moonfall falls into the category of whimsical high fantasy presented in an orchestral style, which later adds electronic instruments to the mix. While some may find it on the generic side of RPG music, I personally enjoyed it as both a tone setter for the game, and entertaining ambiance while playing. The music stays in tune with the situation, becoming heated and fast paced during battle, while easing off, and switching to a calm, peaceful melody while just exploring, or in the main HUB. Aside from personal taste, I find nothing wrong with Moonfall’s OST. Though it might not be anything unique or exceptional for its genre, it fits right in to the game’s world, and is a welcome sound for the ears while trekking through levels and killing anything that comes into sight.
As for voice, there’s really little to say about it. Aside from the first few words, the entirety of all dialogue is done through text. The grunts and groans of the character and enemies sound human, and come out clearly. What little voice acting there is for NPCs is, as well, perfectly fine given how short it is to barely make an impact on the dialogue. With such minimal voice work, there’s really no complaint I have for the actual work done other than, for those who would want more, that there isn’t much at all.
And that’s just it, the voices, the music, the sounds they’re all fine; not great, not bad, just fine. They get the job done without problem, but don’t strive to be something truly memorable or impactful. It is all pleasant to listen to, but nothing that is going to be playing in my head over and over after I shut the game down.