Review: Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight

Reverie Under the Moonlight is the fourth entry in the Momodora series, a fast-paced action game which clearly draws from games such as Metroid, Cave Story and Dark Souls. Within a genre that the developers have been working on for the past years, the question that I asked myself when I first went into the game – having only played Momodora III before – was how much of an identity it managed to have. Here’s what I found out.

The first thing that I have to mention are the aesthetics of the game: from the detailed pixel art and varied animations given to each interaction and creature in the game, to the lush backgrounds and appropriately haunting soundtrack, there’s much to praise in both the game’s style and the cohesion of its elements. Nothing feels out of place, and the bizarre characters you’ll find – from speaking skeletons to rude imps and talking cats – all add up to contribute toward the worldbuilding and lore of the series.

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The creatures you find and the locations you visit gave me the impression that the game drew inspiration for its lore from both western fables and Japanese folk tales.

In terms of gameplay, Momodora contrasts with most of its genre brethren – if you were to classify it as a MetroidVania – due to its inherent simplicity. There are two types of attack – a melee attack with your sacred maple leaf, which you can chain up to three times; and a ranged attack, with a bow, that you can charge to shoot in multiple directions or to fire rapid volleys of arrows. Combat is slick and unforgiving, with Kaho unable to take more than a few hits before dying, and the boss fights were particularly entertaining, as I had to switch between bow and leaf regularly, dodging projectiles all the while, with the added incentive of bosses dropping special items if you defeat them without getting hit. You start the game with the ability to double jump and dash, which grants you invulnerability frames, and in terms of navigational capacity you won’t unlock much: only a cat form, which allows you to access smaller places; and an aerial dash, which makes platforming and fighting easier without actually opening up any new areas.

The other items and collectibles you can find are either generic, such as slight increases to your health pool, ivory bugs you can exchange for items or additional bellflowers (the game’s potion, or estus flask given it replenishes at save points), or non-game-changing – from active items that allow you to summon damaging winds and protective spheres to passive ones that make your arrows poisonous or increase your leaf’s damage. Since they don’t open new locations or drastically change the way you play the game, going after these is entirely optional. This makes Reverie Under the Moonlight a game light on backtracking – it took me just under twelve hours to 100% the map, find all the items and collect all the ivory bugs, done in two playthroughs, and you can expect your first, regular playthrough to last anywhere between four and six hours.

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If this isn’t the cutest version of Samus’ ball form, I don’t know what is.

Aside from finding everything in the game, beating it on hard mode unlocks the insane difficulty, which makes everything kill you in one hit. Conversely, if you’re not fond of challenges you can turn it down from normal to easy. While the game itself is rather lean, it encourages multiple playthroughs by means of different endings and the higher difficulties.

In terms of story, Reverie Under the Moonlight is a patchwork of different tales and stories – told by the world’s inhabitants you meet – and never does it get any clearer than cryptic. A curse has settled in the city and its surrounding areas, and because of it many people are suffering – including those of your village – and as the High Priestess of Lun it’s your job to seek out the Queen and find a way to seal this curse. I found it borrowed a lot from Dark Souls’ way of storytelling, with little explicitly told to you but much to find out in the item descriptions and optional dialogues. There’s also a huge bell you can hit at the top of a tower.

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For a Pardonner she was quick to dole out punishment.

It’s by merit of the mysterious, dark world and its no filler design that Reverie Under the Moonlight carves out a spot in a genre that’s known for lengthy affairs and complex, backtracking-intensive maps. This is also the fourth game in the series, and it shows: gone are the clearly Cave Story-inspired graphics and designs, replaced by a new, exclusive artstyle that’s great to look at, specially when in motion, and as good looking as the series has ever been. It’s short enough that it doesn’t lose momentum, but by the time I had finished it twice I felt like it had content in just the right measure, and enough of a challenge in its core gameplay that I enjoyed the process of learning each section and boss fight until I knew it by heart. For those fond of Cave Story, Metroid or Castlevania games and even Dark Souls, Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight is a game I absolutely urge you to play.

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