Some of my fondest memories from childhood were the 5:00 am wakeup call with my best friend to get up and play TMNT Arcade. Side scrolling hack 'n slash games certainly have a special place in my heart, so when I heard that I was going to be reviewing then new PSN title from Square-Enix, Moon Diver, I was quite pumped. But, did Moon Diver dive its way into my heart or did it plunge to Earth like an unfortunate mess?
It's no secret that Square-Enix has what can only be described as a fetish for strange story lines, but Moon Diver is especially"¦well"¦special. The plot revolves around a boy (no idea how old) named Faust who holds the power of Mephistopheles, a weapon that can bring inanimate objects to life. Faust seems hell bent on purging earth of all human life and begins to wreak havoc on human society. That's where you enter. You choose one of four different ninjas known as the Moondivers, and you go to war to defend humanity. Now, that concept may not sound all that strange, hardly any of this will be fresh in your memory after playing through the game.
However, SE never boasted that Moon Diver had an amazing story line, instead it was all about the gameplay. This is, straight up, a hack 'n slash to the extreme. Players can jump, climb, and cling onto surfaces of all kind. You can deal out the damage with your physical attack weapon or can bring the pain with magical spells. The game is incredibly fast paced and your twitch reflexes had best be ready to get a work out. Moon Diver also features some rather fun RPG elements as well. By killing enemies, you gain experience, and with this experience comes raising your level. Each level provides you with a skill point to assign either to you HP, MP, or attack power. For those of you out there who feel that magic is underused in these types of games, rest assured, you will have your finger on the magic button most of the time. You'll find spells scattered throughout each level and can assign up to four different abilities at a time.
Moon Diver also has a rather brutal learning curve. Don't be surprised to die shortly after starting the game. It's not all that bad, unless you factor in that a death makes you have to start from the beginning of the level - there's no checkpoint system. Grinding to get your level up is an absolute necessity, and again, there's nothing wrong with that. But it's the amount of grinding that's required that's the problem. Usually people grind so that the game becomes more of a cakewalk, but with Moon Diver it was a necessity to even barely scrape through a level.
There were numerous times where I would fight tooth and nail to get to the stage boss only to die while fighting it and then to be sent back all the way to the beginning again. Like I said: brutal!To finish this game in single-player mode requires an annoying amount of time, because with the amount of grinding required, it becomes unbearably repetitive. Length is ok, but it has to actually have substance. The game was really meant for multiplayer though and it's possible via local and online. Once you get into a party of four who know what they're doing, you'll move through each level as a well-oiled machine. However, if you get in with a group who people who're quite clueless, your sessions will go back to being frustrating once again - you'll spend most of your time reviving your fallen comrades. If you desire to make any kind of progress in the game, playing online really is an absolute must.
While some might see this a big plus, it can also be seen as a bone-crushing fault. Here's why: Moon Diver is a PSN title that reaches out to a very niche audience. The player base is limited at best and it's a game that could very easily fall into the abyss of forgotten titles in a relatively short amount of time. If that were to happen, multiplayer would be nonexistent, and as already stated, going at it alone will cause massive amounts of grief. Now, I fully recognize that it could be a huge success with millions of players, but I honestly just don't see that happening given the nature of the game.
The game's cut scenes are basic still images that have a small amount of movement to them with text narrating the obtuse story. Not the most effective story telling method. On the flip side, the art style is nice; the textures are crisp, the backgrounds can be fairly dynamic, and the colors are bold without over doing it. The sound design is strong and works well for this type of game to be sure. The music is your standard electro genre to help keep the energy up. However, after playing a level for the twentieth time, it can get a touch annoying.
There is one artistic decision that's rather baffling though, in many ways it was a complete failure. As gamers, we associate the color green to be in correlation to our Health. Likewise, when we see the color blue, we assume that it is the visual representation of our MP. Well, the designers saw fit to take that concept, and reverse it. When I thought I was picking up health at a crucial time, I was in fact picking up Mana, which I was already full on. This may seem like something trivial, but this design choice was poorly executed and makes the game itself seem silly and amateurish. There was no reason for this to even be the case.
Moon Diver is a hack 'n slash game with an extremely steep difficultly curve, but it still has some decent gameplay fundamentals. There's a big reliance on multiplayer though and the community just isn't there - it's really not the kind of game you'll want to play alone. It's not a terrible game, but it's not one that can be easily recommend to everyone.