dorchadas: (Cherry Blossoms)
dorchadas ([personal profile] dorchadas) wrote2017-05-28 10:39 am

Game Review: MOMODORA:月下のレクイエム

I heard about Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight on Bonfireside Chat, as a game that was similar to some aspects of the Souls games that they really liked. Then I heard it was a metroidvania game. Well, that's all I need to hear. Sign me up.

I bought it, loaded it up, and took in the beautiful pixel art and moody music. And then I moved forward and was brutally murdered by a chibi with a shield.

A deadly ambush.

This game looks anime as hell. The main character Kaho is a priestess (司祭 shisai) who wears red and white like a miko and fights with a magical leaf, and a lot of the enemies are round and blobby. And then you die.

That's where the Dark Souls comparisons come on. Or maybe Bloodborne, at least aesthetically. The kingdom of Karst is under a curse caused by its queen after she contacted the netherworld and got more than she bargained for. Most of the areas are decayed, filled with demons and ghosts, or both. There are few humans remaining and most of those who do remain are in hiding to avoid the effects of the curse. And the curse is spreading--Kaho originally comes to Karst from the east to seek the queen's aid to lift the curse from her own village, only to learn that the queen is its ultimate source.

There are crumbling battlements under a blood-red moon, flooded corridors underneath the last monastery where a few uncursed humans cower to avoid the terrors outside, overgrown gardens filled with maddened plant monsters, secret passages and hidden doors galore, and a lone man, clearly suffering from the curse and doomed to become a monster, looking for his wife even though he's sure she's already dead.

I suppose it's actually quite a lot like Castlevania, with the queen equivalent to Dracula's presence corrupting everything and having to enter the castle and put an end to it.

"Talking about this city's glory feels like it's a story of the distant past."

But since I heard about this on a Dark Souls podcast, and since I've seen it compared to Dark Souls on the internet, I'll say that I don't really think the comparisons hold. Yes, it's hard. So is Castlevania. Yes, there's a healing item that recharges its uses on saving, and let me tell you how happy I was to finally realize what the bellflower did after reading the item description and assuming it was a limited-use item and I'd need to save it for the final boss battle.

But that's it, really. One of the central design elements of Dark Souls is the risk-reward element of souls dropping on death and bonfires. Dark Souls always provides a temptation to the player--do you save at this bonfire and spend souls, knowing that this will respawn all the enemies you've cleared through? Do you keep going and risk respawning even farther back? If you die, how important is recovering your lost souls? These are fundamental questions that are always in the forefront of any Dark Souls game.

Momodora doesn't have any of that. Enemies respawn when leaving the screen like any NES platformer and the money you get is constant based on how much you had when you last saved, just like any other game with save points. It's hard, but so were NES platformers.

Of course there are spikes.

It's definitely a metroidvania, though. I was pretty skeptical for the first hour or so of the game, which was extremely linear, but I started noticing narrow passages that seemed to lead somewhere that I definitely couldn't fit into and blocked-off doors that I had no way to open. Once I got to the monastery, there were several different ways to go and I started finding ways to open shortcuts into places I had already been. Then I beat the Witch of Decay and got cat form and all those secret passages opened up.

That makes it even more like Castlevania, now that I think about it. Specifically like Symphony of the Night and its mist and bat transformations. Even the subtitles are similar--月下のレクイエム ("Requiem in the Moonlight") and 月下の夜想曲 ("Nocturne in the Moonlight").

Using cat form means that it's possible to find the last of the four seals to the queen's palace, the seal that allows its bearer to teleport between the bells that serve as save points. Using that and the accessory that rings a bell when you enter a screen that contains a secret, I spent a while going back through areas I had already been to and collection everything I had missed. The map isn't particularly large, but it folds back in on itself, and areas with secret exits always have a clearly-marked open border on the main map, so searching for that last 1% for full exploration doesn't involve crawling around everywhere and punching every wall like it would in Doom. That's not to say it's obvious--the last 1% took me a while until I tried pressing down and jump like I was on a platform and fell through a seemingly-solid floor--but at least I knew I was in the right room.

The skull on the staff looks so shocked.

In terms of actual gameplay, Momodora is a lot of fun. Kaho starts off with her magical leaf, the ability to double jump, a dodge roll that renders her invincible, and a bow with infinite arrows and a charge attack that fires three arrows simultaneously, and that's the basis for the entirety of the gameplay. There isn't really any ability that radically changes how the game is played, though there are some small abilities that add up. Early on, the first seal to the castle gives Kaho the ability to do an air dash, allowing you to reach some areas that were previously inaccessible. The second seal adds an additional level of charge to her arrows that fires a barrage rather than a spread shot, which is good for bosses.

There are a number of additional small abilities to find that add minor benefits, but nothing else that fundamentally changes your approach. Adding fire or poison damage to Kaho's arrows is great, but it doesn't make you more or less likely to hide on the other side of the boss area and spam arrows. I was going to do that anyway.

There are items that can change gameplay around more if you're a better player than I was. Beating any of the bosses without getting damages causes them to drop an additional, more powerful item with special properties. Like the Torn Branch, which makes random enemies drop small amounts of health instead of money, or the Tainted Missive, which doubles attack power but damages Kaho slightly. I'm sure it's possible to build strategies around using these items...but since I spent the whole game with the Ring of Candor and the Magnet Stone equipped, so that I would always know where secrets were and I didn't have to chase down the money enemies dropped, I wouldn't know. It ws too much trouble to change them out for boss fights and I beat all the bosses anyway, so.

If I were going for a no-death or no-damage run, I can see how some of those items would have been extremely helpful, but I just wanted to try the game out. There's plenty of depth here for those willing to engage with it.


I read one review that was complaining about the enemy variety and the gameplay similarities, but none of that bothered me. There were a few unique enemies who appeared only in some places, and while the scythe or sorcerer ghosts were extremely common, and it's true that the beginning of the game is very linear, Momodora is about making the most of a limited skillset. Even the other items that allow additional spells are very limited, with only one or a few castings until you reach another save point. There's no playing the game as a sorceress with whirling leaves.

But in its defense, the original Castlevania was basically the same way. Simon Belmont could jump, and whip, and sometimes had enough hearts to use his items, but it was best to save those for boss battles. There were skeletons and medusa heads and ravens throughout the entire game, along with some enemies in certain areas like the fish men, matching Momodora's ghosts and skeletons with the occasional evil plant, animated statue, or the imps and whatever the blob-things are in the opening forest. The challenge isn't from a wide variety of enemies and learning new strategies. The challenge is from using Kaho's moveset to traverse the levels while dealing with the enemies you find along the way, applying old strategies to new situations, and occasionally dealing with an unexpected foe. That skeleton wizard with the skeleton staff pictured above is a unique enemy, for example, and there are a handful of others here and there, not to mention the bosses.

Also, I played on normal. There's a Hard difficulty with a much smaller life total, and an Insane difficulty where every hit is instant death. It's a cats are not dogs situation--the challenge is not focused on variety, but on mastery of specific situations. If you're a speedrunner, for example, you'll probably love this game. Also, you should watch this.

Under the moon(s)light.

In addition to all other benefits of Steam, like easy multiplayer and allowing old console-only JRPGs like Trails in the Sky to be easily played on my computer, it provides an outlet for indie devs from everywhere to get their games to a wide audience. I assumed that Momodora was created by a Japanese indie dev since it was published by Playism, but it turns out that's wrong. I'm not sure where Bombservice is from, but I don't regret playing in Japanese even though it wasn't the original language. With a game like this, starring what's effectively a battle miko, it just seems to fit.

I wish I had more time to devote to this game, to put in the effort to become better and win on Insane or with a no-death run, but the sheer length of my backlog presses down on me and so I must move on. But I'm glad of the hours I spent with Momodora and, if you like platformers or metroidvanias at all, I encourage you to play it. It's a gem.
schoolpsychnerd: (Default)

[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd 2017-05-28 06:49 pm (UTC)(link)
She's so cute and I want to cosplay her!