Lunar Knights Updated Hands-On
You too can harness the powers of the moon and the sun by reading our updated look at the vampire-hunting game from Kojima Productions.
Lunar Knights for the Nintendo DS is an action role-playing game that follows the adventures of Lucian and Aaron, two young warriors on the warpath against a league of vampires known as the Dark Tribe. The game, being developed by Kojima Productions, combines elements of RPG character building, outlandish characters to fight with and against, and anime-influenced character designs, all wrapped in a setting that is one part gothic dungeon crawler and one part sci-fi space shooter.
The game begins with some obligatory exposition, setting up the universe in which Aaron and Lucian find themselves. It's a world overrun by vampires, and, worse yet, these are vampires with a plan. Using a weather-controlling doohickey known as the paraSOL, the vampire horde plans on permanently blotting out the sun, allowing the light-fearing bloodsuckers to roam freely outdoors at all hours. Enter our two heroes, both of whom have different personalities and abilities, which you discover in the opening chapters of the game.
Chapter one focuses on the vampire hunter Lucian. Armed with a mighty dark sword and accompanied by a talking cat named Nero, Lucian has just one thing on his mind: offing vampires with extreme prejudice. After overhearing a conversation in a local bar, Lucian gets a bead on a particularly bad vampire boss, known as Margrave, holed up somewhere in a mansion. A quick ride in his spaceship is all it takes before Lucian is storming the mansion gates, with Nero and his trusty dark sword at his side. Early foes you face include gelatinous blobs, tiny bats, and red-skinned monsters, and most of them can be defeated with a swipe or two of Lucian's sword, which you swing by pressing the Y button. Pressing and holding the button will allow a single strike, while tapping the Y button will let loose chain attacks that can cause major damage.
However, that's not the only weapon in Lucian's arsenal. After all, Nero is there for more than just helpful advice. Nero is known as a terrennial, and both Lucian and Aaron can harness the power of terrenials like Nero to upgrade their weapons. To do so, you hold down the left trigger and then scroll through the available terrenials (listed on the upper screen of the DS) with the D pad. Terrennial elements are more effective on certain foes than others, so you'll want to make sure you're always equipping the correct one.
The downside of using terrennials is that they sap your energy level. Lucian and Aaron both have life and energy meters you'll want to keep an eye on as you play the game. If you deplete your life meter, you're dead; if you run out of energy, you won't be able to access your terrennial powers. As you progress through the levels, you'll find various items to replenish your life and energy meters, as well as specific stations where you can recharge your batteries. Lucian's powers are tied to the moon, so he can replenish his energies by standing in direct moonlight (or underneath a skylight that allows moonlight in), while Aaron's sun-based powers mean his energy is always regenerating on a sunny day. As a result of this, the weather in Lunar Knights will play a big role in determining how quickly Lucian and Aaron can recoup from fights or what powers they can access.
A third meter, known as the trance gauge, is another big part of gameplay. You fill up your trance gauge by landing blows on enemies. Once it's filled up, a small "TRC" icon appears in the lower left-hand corner of the bottom screen. If you tap it with your stylus, you'll transform Lucian or Aaron into an extremely powerful form, with attacks that are incredibly powerful. However, you can only stay in the trance state for so long, so you'll want to make sure you devastate as much as possible while you can.
To protect Lucian from enemy attacks, you can raise Lucian's shield by pressing the B button. However, the timing is a bit tricky, and there's a slight delay between getting your attack off and Lucian raising his shield. As a result, you'll have to quickly adjust to anticipating an enemy attack to block effectively. The shield will protect Lucian from damage, but not forever. The more he uses his shield, the more his block meter depletes. If it's emptied, Lucian will be temporarily vulnerable to all attacks.
As Lucian slices his way through the first chapter, he meets up with a mysterious woman, who we later learn to be a gunslinger named Bea. Bea is on a similar mission as Lucian and is impressed by the vampire hunter's ruthlessness and dedication to his mission. Lucian and Bea converge several times in Margrave's mansion, culminating in a boss battle against the evil vampire. To keep the story moving forward in Lunar Knights, you'll be treated to several anime-styled movies detailing plotlines and character interaction. Before the showdown with Margrave, one movie shows Lucian saving Bea from the vampire's attacks before fighting the monster himself.
But beating Margrave down is only half of the fight for Lucian. After you've defeated a boss vampire in the game, you still have to purify his body by transporting it to a spot where it can be bathed in a pure light that is not affected by paraSOL. To do so, you have to fly the casket rocket, which adds an entirely different spin on the more traditional RPG aspects of Lunar Knights' gameplay. While flying through space in the rocket, you can maneuver the craft by tapping on it in the lower screen and moving it in any direction. To fire at oncoming enemies, you simply tap the enemy. Some enemies are tougher than others and require multiple shots to take down. In some cases, you'll be dodging enemy fire, setting up for a few shots, then dodging some more. In addition, there are life and energy pickups you can grab along the way. Oh, and the Japanese RPG guitar rock soundtrack during the casket rocket scenes is just plain rad.
Once we reached our destination in the casket rocket, the first chapter ended, and we moved on to the other main character in the game: Aaron. Like Bea, Aaron is a gunslinger. But because he's merely an apprentice, the solar gun he carries doesn't even fire. Early on, this is an important point in Aaron's gameplay because unlike Lucian, who mows down monsters left and right, Aaron must stay away from enemies to stay alive.
When his gunslinger guild is invaded by vampires, Aaron is tasked with the mission of rescuing all the remaining guild members in the headquarters, which has somehow become overrun with huge, demonic dogs. While Aaron does have a shield to protect him, he can't fire his gun, so you'll need to be stealthy. You'll guide Aaron through the halls, looking for fellow guild members and keeping out of the way of dogs that in typical Kojima fashion sport exclamation marks over their heads. If a dog spots you, the exclamation mark turns red, which means you'll have to run away as quickly as possible and use your shield if the dog gets too close. To throw the dogs off the trail, you can use the whistle feature in the game by blowing into the microphone on the DS, which will set the dogs running and give you a chance to sneak by them.
Once Aaron has rescued all of the guild members, he runs outside and encounters a terrennial of his own in the form of a talking sunflower named Toasty . With his terrennial armed, Aaron can now fire his solar gun, which drains his energy bar. But because Aaron's energies are powered by the sun's rays, and you can speed it up by holding down the A button.
You've got to hand it to the developers at Kojima Productions that Lunar Knights throws a ton of different things at you--from traditional hack-and-slash dungeon-crawling to cool space-faring side missions and a little bit of stealth action thrown in for good measure. And that's just in the first two chapters. Expect to see a full review of the game when it's released next week.