I'm very glad that Klonoa 2: Lunatea's Veil was released. Heck, forget released how about the fact that it was even developed? Its a good game, but my reasons for being so glad to see it run deeper than that. It's all about platforms, really. Embracing newer technology and fresh design concepts are wonderful adventures of experience for any gameplayer, but remembering the roots of gaming and the paths we have already traveled is integral. Keeping the memory of games gone by is not only important in order to avoid repeating mistakes already made, but also to savor, refine, and build upon things in the past that have stood the test of time. In my opinion, a game that brings fun and enjoyment is always welcome no matter how old the design philosophy behind it may be. I'm glad that publishers, designers, and players can still sit down with a game that incorporates the time-honored tradition of jumping platforms and still find it worthwhile in spite of all the new directions games have taken over the years. Platformers will always be a solid choice, and a genre that can easily stay in style no matter what hardware its on.
Lunatea's Veil is a game with a classic heart at its core. Released by Namco, its a sequel to one of the PlayStation's best-kept secrets: the virtually unknown Klonoa: Door To Phantomile. Like its predecessor, gameplay takes place in a 2.5D world, meaning that the main character Klonoa is limited to traditional platformer movement of up, down, forward, and back on a restricted 2D plane. To explain it in the simplest terms possible, imagine the original Super Mario Brothers with movable camera views and you'll get the picture. However, it does take place in fully-realized and utterly convincing 3D world thanks to the amazing graphics work done by the development team and the horsepower of the PlayStation 2.
The bulk of play technique revolves around a lot of well-timed jumping as well as using Klonoa's ring, which can grapple onto items or capture enemies. Additionally, its possible (ok, its necessary) to use captured enemies as a way to double-jump in tricky areas or as projectiles to solve various puzzles in order to progress. Its a simple, proven, and pleasant formula that hasn't been as popular with developers since the advent of 3D. Besides the platforming, there are also a handful of snowboarding stages incorporated into the game that help to add variety.
Looking at what the game has to offer, anyone who plays Lunatea's Veil will be immediately brought to their knees by the incredible graphics. Without overstating the case one single iota, its absolutely gorgeous in every respect. The lushness of the graphics is truly remarkable, utilizing a form of cel-shading that fits the game perfectly. Every stage features sweeping vistas, gut-dropping vertiginous freefalls, and cannons that launch Klonoa into and out of the various planes of play. While rocketing through the air after being shot out of these cannons, you are treated to dizzying perspectives and a viewpoint that seems miles above the game world at times. The entire affair is rendered at a rock-solid 60 FPS (frames per second) in spite of the huge environments and without a single instance of slowdown to be seen. The psychedelic Maze of Memories level was a personal favorite of mine with the convoluted pathways and mushroom-induced color scheme.
The 2.5D engine works extremely well, and the control is as tight as a player could possibly hope for. With movement limited to a strict plane, there's never any question or difficulty in gauging jumps or reaching platforms. Jumping is spot-on, and you always feel completely in control of Klonoa no matter what maneuver you attempt. In a game of this nature, control is king and the programmers did not disappoint. Its also worth noting that many of the stages are fully modeled in 3D, with Lunatea's Veil's flat-plane path traveling various parts of one huge, cohesive level. Most of the backgrounds you see are actually different parts of the same stage, which connect together and can be traveled to and from.
People who don't consider themselves to be masters of hand-eye coordination will find that the games difficulty level is very mild. I'd even go so far as to say that its highly kid-friendly overall. While there are a few areas that might teach a brief lesson in repetition, in general I doubt that most players will have any trouble with completing the game. It's pretty clear that the game is geared towards non-hardcore players especially since there are a plentiful amount of save points scattered throughout, and even the boss encounters aren't as tough I'd expect from a game of this kind. Its nice to have an option that offers a lower level of difficulty for newer or younger players that also exudes such a high level of quality. This is a perfect game to use for breaking in an inexperienced significant other, or for kids who are smart enough to avoid most of the inane pap some publishers try to pass off as software for families or young ones.
As a final note, its worth mentioning that there's an extra set of challenges for those who find the main quest too easy, or for those who crave additional replay after saving the land of Lunatea. Nearly every stage has six hidden pieces of an item called a Momett doll, which can be used to unlock features in the Momett House after its been reassembled. On top of that, its possible to collect at least 150 gems in every area, which unlocks artwork to view. Fulfilling each of these tasks is far more difficult than it sounds, and will require some strong hand-eye skills in order to open all the secrets available. The addition of these goals is perfect since they aren't necessary to complete the game, yet provide a reasonable level of challenge for people who want a little more from their purchase.
After reading what I've just wrote, I'm sure you're wondering why I didnt score it higher. To be honest, it's a great title, a welcome addition, and a worthwhile buy for anyone who can appreciate this style of game. However, I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't a bit disappointed with the games shortfalls. While few in number, they do manage to lose the disc some points it should have easily scored.
For starters, with a story that has the potential to pull some emotional strings, the development and behavior of the characters is left unfulfilled. Between each stage, and often in the middle of a level, there are lengthy story scenes that elaborate on the land of Lunatea and give Klonoa's quest some depth. Doubly so, if you're familiar with the first installment. There's a lot more story here than in almost any other platform game available, which I definitely appreciate. Sadly, the feelings and reactions of the characters are simply too subtle and unexpressed during the games many interludes, and the programmers didn't take any extra steps to really bring the "heart" of the game home. Most of the dialogue is delivered flatly and without much impact. As a result, I never really felt as drawn in and connected as I did with the first Klonoa.
At the original game's ending, I nearly cried because it had such power, and the emotive qualities of the scene were extremely intense. I literally almost shed tears and I'm having a hard time thinking of a game that contained as much raw feeling as that ending did. At no point in Lunatea's Veil did I feel anywhere as emotionally invested as I could have or should have been. I think it would have helped to give the characters more exaggerated facial expressions, more enthusiastic voice work, or some other way of making it more vital and emotive. It just isn't enough to simply have a large amount of cutscenes (and there are a lot of them), they need to really touch the player since the potential is clearly there.
Secondly, and more significantly, the games pace rarely heats up or delivers any fast and frenetic action. I'm not talking about difficulty here, I'm talking about the actual speed and intensity of gameplay. With the exception of two particular scenes, the game had a pervasive feeling of being very sedate, leisurely, and calm—almost like touring a museum full of surreal paintings on a Sunday afternoon. The entire first half of the game basically follows this same pace. I can understand Namco's desire to keep the game accessible to a larger audience, but I can't help but feel that there should have been more areas that generated excitement and energy in order to keep the interest level up and to keep brains and hands buzzing. Adding more stages with drive or pressure would not necessarily have been at odds with the moody, introspective feeling the designers seemed to be going for with the games plot development. Certainly, I'm not suggesting that emotional games necessarily need intensity, but since, in this case, they failed to completely render the soulful side of the characters, the lack of fast-paced action stands out quite clearly. From where I'm standing, they should have spent a larger amount of time either making the story more touching or increasing the addiction level of the action. Failing to do either hurts the disc considerably, although I will be the first to admit that the first game is an incredibly hard act to follow.
Don't let me scare you away, though. Lunatea's Veil is a pleasant, worthwhile game that most players will find to be quite enjoyable and even a little charming. Its an artful, honest effort that the creators obviously have much love for, and really does have quite a bit of style. The moody story and strong thematic ties to the first game continue the precedent of combining platforming action with emotional exploration. It's an odd juxtaposition, but it generally works. While Namco could easily make a fortune regularly cashing in on their established franchises such as Tekken, Ridge Racer, or Ace Combat, I'm extremely glad to see them taking risks on smaller titles that deserve it. Lunatea's Veil is such a title and, despite my few complaints, I sincerely hope that it doesn't get lost in the shuffle and fade away into unappreciated obscurity like the first Klonoa did.