I was left with a middling impression of Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight after the five hours it took me to complete it. While I don’t necessarily have the palate for retro-inspired indie games, that doesn’t mean I didn’t have fun with Momodora. I wanted to like the game; but I felt it failed to capture and synthesize the more beloved idiosyncrasies of the games it took inspiration from, and left nary a lingering memory as a result. If nothing else, I believe Momodora to be a suitable substitute for any craving for a metroidvania anyone could have, but nothing more if not just that.
As pervasive as Dark Souls and its feats in storytelling are, I honestly find it a tad tiresome that so many games have tried to emulate it as of late. There are a slew of indie developers who’ve taken inspiration from the Souls’ series and tried to capitalize on many of its strengths in order to sell their game, or maybe even make it a bit more intriguing otherwise — marketed as a “Souls-like”.
Momodora is guilty of said persuasion (though, not as blatant as its contemporaries), and I find it ultimately failed to spark my intrigue throughout its very fragmented, poorly narrated story, much unlike the Souls’ games. While story is usually not a contributing factor to what makes a metroidvania a good game, I can’t help but criticize it for what I found to be a rather pretentious, vain attempt at a striking narrative as a result of its inspirations and haphazard execution. The various, sprinkled-in NPCs offered very little impactful dialogue and while their contributions to the puzzle I was building in my head were crucial and fitting, a lot of it felt uninvolved to me, the player, or the protagonist. Coupled with a very lackluster, supposed villain who really only shows up once or twice throughout those five hours, and never serves their role as an antagonist outside of one of the more infuriating, poorly designed fights in the game, and I really can’t place a finger on what Momodora was trying to invoke in its audience. What I am certain about, however, is that it ultimately fell flat either due to its length, or because of its lack of character and emotion.
I initially thought Momodora’s combo-based combat should’ve been the benchmark for more metroidvania games. I enjoyed how much more involved and evolved it felt in comparison to the likes of Symphony of the Night’s relatively lackluster careful stabs. But as I ventured further into the forest and the castle town, and more enemies began to be introduced did the cracks in the game’s system start to become more apparent.
For starters, what is initially meant to be a visceral tell that you’ve defeated an enemy, a slight pause in your attacking animation coupled with the sound of contact and slaughter, is actually a big detriment to the player. While this would’ve been fine if intentional and the game reflected careful decision, earlier parts of my experience don’t support the outcome and it led to me often taking damage when in crowded rooms (and the developers laid the enemies on thick in later parts).
Secondly, I felt a lot of the areas and environments the game placed you in to be far too claustrophobic, and not so conducive to the dodge-rolling mechanic. Oftentimes enemies were placed on very thin platforms, or hugging a wall, or before a dastardly ledge before a bottomless pit or insta-kill spikes. This made it very difficult to use the already floaty dodge as a viable means of evasion lest I misevaluate its distance and meet my maker and have to retread my progress from the last save bell (a la Dark Souls’ bonfire). And a perfect example of how poorly implemented it is, is this one particular boss fight where, as the fight progresses, the ends of the stage begin to deteriorate and fall. Now, the boss is already incredibly sporadic in its patterns, I only had a very small window to attack and lower its hefty health bar; but in my attempts to evade the continuously falling projectiles, I often found myself, again, miscalculating the distance traveled whenever I rolled, and I would fall off and die because the dodge mechanic was seemingly an afterthought during the design process for the fight. Of course, I naturally,
eventually put an end to the boss after a number of attempts, but I failed to feel rewarded as a result of the game’s poor design and lack of actual reward for defeating said (rather, any) boss.
On a final note, in regards to the exploration, I find it really disappointing that the game’s platforming sections finally became interesting in the final fifth of the game. And this may come as a result of the aforementioned lack of reward — how the game strews power-ups, not behind milestones like defeating a boss, but through arbitrary exploration. I’m sure it was hard to design the areas around newer mechanics or abilities when they can (somewhat) be found at any given time, but with Metroid as a base (or my earlier grievance in mind), they could have easily worked around the issue by locking areas behind the given power-ups and it would’ve only served to add to the sense of exploration.
Momodora is a very beautiful game, boasting a generally colorful palette, finely-detailed pixel art, and remarkable environments that are really the only aspects that are memorable; but in regards to the character and enemy design, I have to say that I’m very conflicted. For as much as Momodora seems to want to tell a dark story about a crumbling kingdom and its faith, I don’t believe a “chibi” (for lack of a better term) art style lends itself well to the style of narrative or pseudo-Victorian setting. Not all of the designs are guilty of this, but there are the few, odd standouts that can’t help but lose me from even remotely engaging in the setting.
During my time playing Momodora, I only noticed about two or three actual songs amongst its very ambiatic BGMs; and as a result, I have to say that the soundtrack is very lackluster and very much forgettable. The most memorable track from my experience comes from early on when you first set foot in the kingdom and there’s this looming, ominous atmosphere followed by not haunting tones or notes, but the sound of a bell and its reverb, followed by silence until the bell would ring again; and I have to say that it’s very telling when the most memorable song in a game is the most minimalistic and the least rhythmical. It does a good job of conveying tone, but it speaks volumes of the lack of musical sense in regards to the rest of the soundtrack.
Momodora is another game that I’m going to effectively add to my list of promising, never fully realized potential. What could’ve been a distinctive metroidvania to fill the void and linger in the mind will forever be remembered as a missed opportunity if ever remembered at all. I hope the developers learn from the game’s faults and handcraft something greater next time, because I wanted to like Reverie Under the Moonlight. It just fell short of “good”.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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