Reviewed on PC.
In Greek mythology, the sun God, Helios, is the brother to the Moon Goddess, Selene. Homer’s The Odyssey, a Greek epic poem, briefly features Helios and subtly mentions Selene. A sequel to his The Iliad, The Odyssey tells the tale of a man’s continuously plagued return trip home. Ten years have lapsed since the fall of Troy, and Odysseus (or Ulysses in Roman Mythology), a King of Ithaca, has yet to return from the Trojan War: interruption and distraction incessantly gnaw at Odysseus during his travels. Traditionally, Helios and Selene work together, creating the dynamic day-night cycle; as siblings of the Titan Hyperion, Selene and Helios—along with their sister, Eos, the goddess of Dawn—existed in harmony. Until Helios burned Selene and set Eos ablaze, attempting to rule Earth for himself. At least, that’s the reality Kitfox Games create in Moon Hunters.
The self-appointed King Mardokh of the Sun Tribe has plunged the world into a burgeoning chaos; his writings and teachings have constructed a false elitism in the Sun Tribe, believing they are superior to the other tribes. Because of his insolence and indulgence and hubris, Mardokh has made a deal; a deal that would relinquish his soul in exchange for unlimited power. In order to achieve this, however, the Moon must disappear. And so she does. The Moon is equated to all life and goodness, respected by every tribesman. One evening, the Moon does not rise, and heroes across the land head forth, hoping to uncover the truth before the Sun’s power grows uncontrollably. As the Witch, Spellblade, Occultist, Druid, or Songweaver—or all five—you venture out in search of the Moon, the Sun eagerly waits: in three days, the world will be obliterated if Mardokh isn’t stopped.
Three days. Seventy-two hours. That is not a lot of time to save Earth from impending doom. (The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask implemented a similar structure.) Still, you set out, prepared to either save the Earth or die trying. But with no information on the whereabouts of the Moon, your path is blurred, as you wander from one settlement to the next. During your travels you come across some colorful characters—a Priestess directly connected to the Moon, a Miner looking to strike the “perfect” mineral, a Husband afraid of his Wife leaving, a Seeker who knows you and your predestination—providing you information on where the Moon might have gone. So, in a desperate attempt to put the pieces together as swiftly as possible, you engage in light conversation. Perhaps you are invested, perhaps you are apathetic, or perhaps you are ambivalent; whatever the case, these characters will remember your actions, your choices, your decisions, your emotions.
You have three days to save the Earth from imminent destruction. No pressure.
Navigating this perilous, nebulous path in search of the Moon will eventually lead you to untamed woods and unknown territories. It is here you ought to arm yourself for battle, for you never know what may come from behind the shrubbery. It could be a pack of lions, a group of Cubones (they aren’t Cubone, but they certainly look like Cubone), a settlement of vicious cannibals, a horde of spiders, moving trees a la The Lord of the Rings, a Wolf Protector guarding a gate to a Spirit World—anything can happen in these untethered, amorphous regions. And there are plenty to explore; be sure you are ready to withstand all matters of climates and degrees of depth and challenge. As you and your fellow Hunters traverse these dangerous areas, combat is chaotic and frenetic; ranged and melee attacks will slay enemies, and dodging will allow you to escape harm, but monitor your stamina as to not run out and be incapable of executing helpful heavy and special attacks. You may feel trapped roaming through these locations, a certain exasperation budding within you, but keep trudging forward: before long, you’ll come across a camp where you can either cook, rest, keep watch for potential dangers, hunt for food and supplies, or gaze at the stars in the hopes of making everything make sense before continuing on your journey.
There are copious places to explore, each with their own breed of enemies, climates, and exploration depth.
Before the pieces can come together to create a coherent picture, three days lapse. It is time to do battle with King Mardokh and test your metal: are you strong enough to save the Earth from the Sun’s burning rays, or will you burn in a blaze of fire alongside the rest of the world? In a flurry of ranged and melee attacks, King Mardokh is swiftly taken down; the Sun’s attempted reign has been thwarted as he slowly burns and fizzles out. Though Mardokh has been defeated, the whereabouts of the Moon have not been illuminated; instead, constellations dedicated to your actions—or lack thereof—have shone brightly in the blackened sky. Edifices may have been constructed in your memory, statues may have been built in your honor, but none of the accolades soothe the pain of disappointment. So, you venture out again, you and your fellow Hunters, in search for the Moon. “This time,” you say with determination surging through you, “this time, I will find the Moon. I want to know what happened. I need to know where she went and why she suddenly and inexplicably left.”
And so you repeat the three day cycle again. This time giving different responses during conversations, battling some enemies and ignoring others, traveling to different locations than before, all in the hopes of uncovering the truth, of finding the pertinent information that will lead you in the right direction. (Think of Harold Ramis’ Groundhog Day.) And at the end of each three day cycle, you battle King Mardokh; and in each confrontation with this self-appointed king, the battle gets easier. And, again, at the end of each battle, King Mardokh burns out, but the Moon does not reappear; you repeat the three day cycle again, hoping to relinquish yourself of this agonizing disappointment and failure. Though frustration may graze at the back of your throat like an unsettling cough, keep trudging forth: you will, eventually, find the truth and truly save the Earth from the Sun. It is then you will be to passionately relish in the accolades and praise, but only then—you must keep trudging forth.
Moon Hunters is a beautifully short, captivating experience. Though easy in its overall gameplay, the combat is simple enough for anyone gamer to pick up, yet challenging enough to test even the most seasoned adventurers. The atmosphere Kitfox Games created here is alluring, inspiring awe in its design aesthetic and its spacious soundtrack. Described as “Legend of Zelda meets Castle Crashers,” or “King of Dragon Pass meets Gauntlet,” Moon Hunters elicits many visceral experiences and emotions, evoking a sense of existentialism and transcendentalism; that is to say, the game does a fantastic job of delivering an experience that is both thought-provoking and emotionally capturing. Procedural generation, intelligent AI (by way of remembrance), and a time-loop mechanic make Moon Hunters perfect to pick-up-and-play solo or co-op. And so the Moon Hunters beat on, boasts against the current, borne ceaselessly into the past.