LACKS FOCUS: All you and Lucian want to do is slash away at the undead minions.
My Zelda jones is reaching epic proportions. We were supposed to have a new Zelda title for the Nintendo DS six months ago. But here it is, May 2007, and we’re still Zelda-less, with no official release date in sight. So we have to look elsewhere to get our adventure-RPG fix on the handheld.
Lunar Knights has all the makings of such a game. Lucian is a vampire hunter whose only companions are a big sword and a flying cat named Nero. Lucian’s goal is to rid a cursed area of vampires by first defeating them in battle and then launching them into the sun on a spaceship. The usual.
The action is pretty standard: hack your way through a dungeon, kill zombies and skeletons, throw some switches, beat a boss, build up your abilities. Also, you have to find those areas where the moon shines through so you can recharge your energy. The pint-sized Lucian works as the classic loner anti-hero — Hideo Kojima and his staff are, after all, the same people who brought us Solid Snake of the Metal Gear Solid franchise. The space component is where the DS’s touchscreen comes in, since these missions are standard shoot-’em-ups — you touch an enemy to fire at him. It’s a little forced and tacked on, but these sequences actually provide a nice diversion. Also, there are legit cinema sequences, with vocal dialogue and a reasonable approximation of anime on the DS. Such touches enable this dungeon crawler to live up to its pedigree.
Or at least they would if the game had focused on Lucian slashing away at the undead minions. Unfortunately, Kojima Productions had to throw in the bungling young novice warrior, a bubbly, overeager gunslinger named Aaron who travels with an angry floating sunflower. Just as Lucian gets energy from the moon, so Aaron gets his powers from the rays of the sun, and that sets up a dark/light metaphor. On top of being an unnecessary Scrappy-Doo, Aaron is not very good in action when he first shows up; his long-range weapons are slow and don’t get the job done. Once you get control of both characters, it’s easy enough to use just Lucian and ignore Aaron, but — wouldn’t you know it? — there are sections where you have to switch back and forth.
Building up Aaron (or Lucian, for that matter) requires experience. But to power your characters to a point where they can do actual damage means almost mandatory sessions of blowing through the same dungeon over and over again. This wouldn’t feel like such a chore if the characters didn’t move and attack at a three-toed-sloth pace. The level design also could have used a few tweaks — the dungeons don’t have puzzles or item grabs or much of anything else, just wave after wave of monsters. Smaller features of traditional RPGs that have been integrated into the gameplay — like managing your limited inventory spaces — annoy rather than entertain. These wrinkles may have been added to provide more depth to Lunar Knights, but they make what could have been a breezy, fun distraction into a grind. For a game that flashes such intriguing potential, this one doesn’t do much to keep you engaged.