Moon Hunters

words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by Kitfox Games for PC, Mac, Linux, PS4, and Vita, originally released in 2016.
In Moon Hunters, you take on the role of a set of legendary warriors whose tales have been passed down through the generations… only their stories have yet to be told. Your actions ultimately determine how you are remembered, and you’re not merely judged on your prowess in combat; you also earn a reputation depending on how you deal with situations that you encounter on your journey.

Each game begins with the mysterious disappearance of the moon goddess when the moon fails to rise at the end of the ceremonial Moon Feast, and you set out on a quest to determine what has happened. Opposing you are a number of wild creatures, as well as sun worshippers whose heliocentric beliefs put them at odds with you and your lunar-loving brethren.

When the game begins, you have but five days until King Mardokh and his band of Sun Cultists go to war with your people, and these five days pass quickly, allowing for only a cursory exploration of the world around you, and a handful of conversations with townsfolk.

The game is dungeon crawler and a roguelike, and each session comes in at under an hour in length, essentially amounting to five levels of gameplay through several randomly-generated environments before the player faces off against the final boss. Win or lose, the player is returned to the title screen to begin his quest anew, but he learns more about the world during each playthrough and slowly unlocks new locales, costumes, and character classes depending on his actions. Unlockables take the form of constellations that appear at the end of the game, as the people remember your deeds through their stories.

Players are able to choose between one of four character classes at the start of the game, with two additional classes to be unlocked, and players may go it alone or team up for 4P online or offline co-op. Each character plays differently, with some focused on ranged combat and others on melee, and each character has differing stats that may be levelled up during gameplay.

Characters have a regular attack that may be executed as many times as the player likes, as well as a special move that drains a secondary energy meter. In addition, they each have a mobility maneuver that allows them to advance quickly on enemies, or escape, which also drains a chunk of the energy meter each time it is used. The player is able to name the characters as he likes, but they come with preassigned names. The player may also select the color scheme for his chosen character, which impacts the color of the sprite and the character art during cutscenes, and each character has an unlockable scheme.

Duzumi is a Spellblade, well versed in melee combat but possessing a low intellect that makes him less adept at using magic. He is able to cut a wide swath in front of him with his sword, and perform a multi-hit combo resulting in a whirlwind that causes additional damage. His special ability is a shockwave that pushes enemies back, granting the player a bit of respite when he finds himself surrounded, which can happen quite often as most enemies hone in on the player’s position. His mobility maneuver allows him to perform a quick dash.

Heduanna is a Ritualist with above average intellect but very low strength, acting very much as Duzumi’s opposite. She has no melee abilities whatsoever and instead attacks with a Dark Orb, allowing her to fire off long-range purple projectiles. She cannot move while firing, but holding the ATTACK button allows her to emit a rapid-fire barrage of energy, and she can take out many enemies before they get close enough to strike. Her special ability is the Void Pull, which temporarily traps nearby enemies in a gravity well, giving her a chance to get away or strike them while they are immobile. Her mobility maneuver is also a dash, but this comes in the form of a teleport, allowing her to pass through enemies (but not solid objects).

Enkidu is a Druid, named for the classic character in the epic of Gilgamesh, and he has above average endurance, strength, and intellect, giving him higher maximum health and a balance between magic and physical attacks. His standard attack is a 3-way spray of leaves that has a medium range, and he can also fire continuously when the player holds the ATTACK button. His magic is not as powerful as Heduanna’s, so it’s harder for him to take down enemies before they close in on his position, although he can strike multiple targets simultaneously.

Enkidu’s special move causes vines to grow out of the ground, slowing the advancement of enemies, a technique that is often required due to his weaker attacks. Unlike the other characters who have dash-based mobility maneuver, Enkidu is able to transform into a wolf. The wolf moves much more quickly and is able to damage enemies with physical attacks by biting them, and it has a dash move of its own. While in wolf form, the energy meter drains continuously, and when it is completely drained, Enkidu transforms back. The player is able to change between these forms at will, provided he has enough energy remaining.

The last of the starting characters is Kubele, a Witch with high endurance, giving her the greatest starting health, but she is average in all other categories. Kubele is also a melee fighter, but her moveset is different than Duzumi’s. Her attacks are slower and narrower but extend outward farther, allowing her to jab enemies in front of her rather than swiping through multiple foes around her. Her special attack is the Blood Beam, which is exactly what it sounds like… she emits a solid blast of blood across the screen causing heavy damage to enemies within its range, and it drains the energy meter as long as the button is held. Her mobility maneuver is also a dash, but her dash pushes enemies back and causes some damage to them.

Each character’s starting statistics helps to support their basic combat techniques, but all of these stats are upgradeable. Upgrade opportunities happen with great frequency over the short span of the game, but they only apply to the current session.

There are two ways to upgrade your stats. The first is by camping, which occurs when you reach the end of the level, or when you are killed during a level. Here, you are able to select between one of five options: rest, cook, strategize, hunt, or keep watch. With the exception of cooking – which has different effects depending on the ingredients mixed – each action has a defined statistic that is upgraded, although there is some randomness…

For instance, you may opt to stargaze, which is great for magic-based characters as is this increases their intellect (magic damage) and faith (maximum energy). When selecting this action, you may find your character fully engaged, struggling to comprehend, or dozing off during the observation, with each resulting in an ever-decreasing stat bonus.

The second method for upgrading your stats is interacting with people or encountering situations that give you a choice in how to respond. Some of these encounters are optional, but many occur during the night as you are in camp, forcing you to make a decision one way or the other.

There are no right or wrong choices, and you may find yourself responding to these situations differently on future playthroughs, depending on which character you are playing. For instance, when the player encounters a pair arguing over the best way to care for an infant child, you listen to both sides of the argument. Afterward, they ask you which is most important in life: happiness or purpose.

Whichever choice you make, your character’s stats are impacted. Making choices that suggest action may increase your strength or health, while selecting more thoughtful answers may increase your magic or energy. In addition, any choice you make may impact your reputation as well, marking you as being brave, compassionate, vengeful, foolish, etc.

Your reputation not only impacts your legacy but may open up new gameplay avenues as certain conversations and special areas are only accessible to characters with a particular reputation. For instance, a pile of bones from a giant creature may only be destroyed by someone who is vengeful, and joining in a conversation with grandparents who are boasting about their grandchildren may only be done by someone who is prideful. This also means that it is impossible to experience every variation of gameplay on your first attempt, but there’s also not much in the way of a reward for players who seek out every possible NPC variation.

At the start of each session, the player is able to select his starting location, two of which are available from the beginning and two must be unlocked. This determines the player character’s home village and the NPC’s that he or she will encounter leading up to the Moon Feast.

Once you depart the village, you enter an illustrated world map that has a number of possible destinations, as well as a very brief description of what you will find there, including merchants, items, monuments, or dangerous creatures that offer a greater challenge with greater rewards. The player may select any location from the map and instantly warp there, and each newly selected location counts as the passing of a single day, even if the player is killed and fails to make it through the area. Each location appears in a specific region, with deserts forests, rivers, etc., but some regions must be unlocked for them to become available in future sessions.

There are also special areas – usually villages or monuments – that the player may visit without using up a day, and these areas often offer additional exposition, and may have options for levelling up stats or making purchases from merchants. It is also important to note that the player is not able to return to any previously-visited location, including his home village, so passing up on the opportunity to make a purchase from a merchant may mean that it will not be possible to do so again.

Merchants sell character-specific upgrades that apply to the current session, and these can make a big difference in combat. The better upgrades can be very expensive, often weighing in at 200 opals, which can be hard to come by when most foes and breakable objects only drop a single opal.

In order for the player to earn enough money to make high-end purchases, he must seek out opportunities to battle tough foes or enter arenas that unleash wave after wave of enemies. This is somewhat risky, as falling in battle means the player not only misses out on the reward for completing the objective; he is also sent directly to camp, preventing him from further exploring the area, and penalizing him with the removal of some of his opals.

The less expensive upgrades – coming in at 15 opals – let you do things like stun enemies for a longer duration or dash over longer distances. The 100-200 opal upgrades allow for more damaging attacks, wider areas of effect for spells, and special enhancements like the ability for your projectiles to penetrate enemies, allowing you to strike multiple enemies simultaneously and deal head-on damage to shielded foes.

The player can also find animal companions along his journey, such as a bird or lion, which follow the player and attack enemies. These companions have their own life meters and can be killed if they take enough damage.

Many encounters and story elements are entirely optional, leaving the player to explore and interact with the world as he likes, and stat increases await those with more adventurous playstyles. Each procedurally generated area offers many branching paths, and the location of the exit/camp is not known to the player until he discovers it on his own. There is no overall map of any area, but a minimap appears in the lower right corner of the screen, which is filled in as the player explores the landscape.

There are a handful of enemy types, but they all tend to act in the same way, moving directly toward the player’s position when he comes in range, with a few pausing to spit projectiles along the way. This can make combat a bit of a slog, which is exacerbated by the fact that player must fight his way through the same enemies and the same themed areas again and again in order to make overall progress.

The player is often surrounded by three or more enemies, requiring frequent use of secondary magic to slow down groups of baddies before he is overwhelmed. The Druid in particular has a difficult time meting out enough damage to stop his enemies before they reach him, resulting in a continuous casting of his vine spell to trap enemies while firing and retreating.

Players are given minimal feedback when taking damage from enemies, and health restoratives are infrequent, meaning that it’s possible for players to lose a healthy chunk of their life bar without taking notice, often with no way to restore it. This makes melee fighters tougher to use, as they must get up close to their enemies and it's easy to take damage when fighting a group of them.

Since there is no ability to block, players must often deal a few blows and then dash away quickly to avoid being overrun. Shielded enemies are even tougher as players must dodge their attacks and move in from behind, and there is a narrow window for dealing damage before these enemies turn to face the player once more, further slowing the repetitive combat.

As in many dungeon crawlers, things become somewhat more engaging when the player brings along some companions. With up to four players, teams of adventurers can balance things out a bit by mixing in melee and projectile-based fighters and working together to take down more troublesome foes, rather than hacking away at hordes of enemies on their own.

Moon Hunters was developed by Kitfox Games, based in Montreal, Canada. The studio was founded by designer Tanya Short, artist Xin Ran Liu, and programmers Mike Ditchburn and Jongwoo Kim. Tanya’s previous credits include The Secret World, Age of Conan, Dungeons of Fayte, and Aetolia: The Midnight Age. Music and sound for the game were composed by Ryan Roth, who also composed for The Beginner's Guide, The Yawhg, Electronic Super Joy, Sokobond, and Starseed Pilgrim. The game was originally announced as part of the Square Enix Collective in 2014, and later in that year, the studio completed a very successful Kickstarter campaign, and also received additional funding via Canadian Media Fund.

Prior to Moon Hunters, Kitfox Games developed Shattered Planet, which was released in 2014. This is a roguelike SRPG which takes place from an isometric overhead perspective in a procedurally generated environment. Missions begin from a space station and the player descends to the (shattered) planet below to combat enemies and gather resources, as he tries to outrun an ever-spreading blight… and hopefully find a cure for it.

Rather than direct control, the player places a cursor on the desired location to command his avatar to that point, and all movement takes place on a grid. Combat is turn-based with players able to attack enemies in adjacent squares with melee weapons. As in Moon Hunters, players are able to unlock animal companions that follow them into battle and attack enemies alongside them, although these creatures are also upgradeable independent of the player character, and players can purchase a clone of the creature should it fall in battle.