By Drew D. / July 4th, 2019
|Original Release Date||August 25th, 2012|
Over my course of exploring and reviewing games from Aldorlea, I’ve developed a bit of a fondness for this independent developer. This is a small group of developers doing what they love. As such, I genuinely want to see them succeed, so much so that I continue to find myself drawn to them. They’re not perfect, in fact, I’ve been critical of most of the games I’ve reviewed by them. Yet, they continually produce games with enough charm and satisfaction that I can’t help returning to Aldorlea for more. Most recently I played Moonchild, one of their stand-alone RPGs, in the hopes of discovering a hidden gem and finding new reason for persisting in my fascination with this group.
Moonchild tells the story of Calypso, the Queen of New Haven, and the epic quest she is about to undertake. Having risen against and successfully seceded from the tyrannical Fallensword, she, her people, and her relatively new kingdom live in peace. However, a sinister plot by an unknown organization begins to unfold, necessitating in the kidnapping of Calypso’s daughter, Moonchild. Determined to rescue her only reason for living, Calypso dawns her sword and armor once more, ready to sacrifice anything to get her precious daughter back, even if it means facing off against Fallensword once more.
The story of Moonchild takes players on a journey alongside Calypso where she meets new people, visits new lands, and confronts past struggles, all for the sake of rescuing her daughter. During her campaign, we see the emotional turmoil of our heroine, as well as the thoughts and actions of our cast as they explore, investigate, and discuss their courses of action. The main conflict of Calypso rescuing her daughter frames the adventure, yet it’s the personal feelings and interactions between characters that drives the narrative. This narrative is fairly strong, as it successfully delivers the plethora of emotions the cast is exhibiting. Calypso’s sadness is clearly evident, but the strength she demonstrates throughout her pursuit of her daughter is equally evident. Her strong feelings are palpable to us players and it helps immerse us and we come to care for both her and her missing daughter. And fortunately, this level of emotional depth isn’t limited to Calypso, as we see this from her many companions. Although less consistent than our main heroine, the supporting characters have their moments to shine too, ranging from quick bouts of sarcasm, to banter between each other and outside characters, to the feelings that come with attraction and budding relationships. There is easily enough here to immerse players and provide a worthwhile experience. One complaint I would mention is those relationships fail to pan out in any meaningful way. Now, I understand relationships may not be a priority given the plot, but I would have liked to have seen proper resolutions on that front. A more prominent flaw in regards to the narrative or storyline is how abruptly everything comes to an end. To have had development throughout and then to have it all come to a screeching halt with a completely rushed epilogue, if you can even call it that, stands out negatively against what had properly been built up to that point. It’s such a disservice to the accomplishments of the narrative to that point. Yet as they say, it’s not the destination, it’s the journey.
Though the narrative is fairly strong, the actual character development is less so. Calypso is the only character that has genuine dimension. Her motherly side, including her fierce love for her daughter and her devotion to her rescue and safety, are on full display. We also see her sheer strength, ready to go anywhere and face down whomever she needs, which includes past enemies. She is a strong, capable, determined woman and it is a pleasure to witness all of her. Unfortunately, none of the supporting cast receives similar treatment. Although every character has a clearly defined character type, it is never given the depth of dimension Calypso receives, nor do they ever grow in any way. Essentially, they all remain the same from beginning to end. That’s not to say they are unappealing, on the contrary, I enjoy having many of these characters on this campaign. Stardust, Calypso’s longtime friend, is a jovial, outgoing ball of energy. Susanna is as sarcastic and blunt as they come. Whenever either of them speaks, I’m instantly drawn in because usually a funny moment or two are soon to follow. But for every Stardust or Susanna is a Gabriel or Rupert. Gabriel is your typical protective type and Rupert is an academic who obsesses over Stardust. They lack the same depth and, as a result, lack the emotional impact these few other characters pull off. And again, there is hardly any growth or further development to their established personalities. Overall, the quality of the narrative achieved through their interactions is impressive, yet I would have liked to have seen stronger character development complement this.
Where Moonchild shines in its narrative, it does less so in its gameplay. Moonchild plays like your standard RPG Maker game, utilizing the pre-built cookie-cutter turn-based combat mechanic. Enemies are visible on the map, which I like and, as one would expect, touching them initiates the battle. From there, it’s your typical attack, skill/ spell, use an item or run. Up to four characters can be used at a time and my one recommendation would be that you level your characters evenly and high. As for the mechanic itself, no alterations have been made to this, so while the turn-based style functions perfectly, the devs fail to add anything new or unique to combat. Having said that, there is a bit of variance that comes from the differences in the types of weapons equippable and the spells learned for each character. Because each character will have their own spell sets and weapons available, there is a degree of strategy that comes into play. However, with this as the one bright spot in an all too familiar system, combat can become repetitive quickly.
Outside of combat, the game plays linearly, following the main storyline from one location to the next. Visiting towns and conquering dungeons is the game’s format and it works for the most part. There are also a number of sub-quests that help to add variation to the campaign. These reward players with stat boosts to every stat, so they are most definitely worth the effort. They’re also easy enough to complete, so at 15, I would have liked a few more. As for these towns and dungeons, they are packed with hidden items to find and, especially in the towns, opportunities to fill in some backstory, as well as better set the moods of the game. My one outstanding complaint against this game is with the dungeons, specifically their layouts. I feel they are poorly designed, leading to far more frustration and annoyance than I cared to endure. From overly long hallways that end in dead ends, to needlessly complex webs of halls and rooms that house nothing at all, I can’t help but think the devs sought to bloat gameplay time. Trying to disguise it as potential for exploration, too many of these atrocious design flaws end with zero rewards and the few hidden items or rooms present are simply not worth the time or effort to suffer such obnoxiousness. As if to add insult, the game tracks how many steps you take. It feels like a slap in the face.
Finally, a staple of Aldorlea’s games, the search mechanic also makes a return. Using your mouse pointer and running it over objects and suspicious areas of the map may just reveal a hidden item. A corresponding change to the pointer’s appearance from an arrow to a magnifying glass depicts the presence of an item. Using it in towns and areas in which the maps are open can yield easy item gains. Unfortunately, it does absolutely nothing to help the exploration of dungeons, but that’s the fault of weak layout and not this mechanic. The mechanic itself works well enough, but I soon found myself simply checking everything manually with my characters and the confirm button instead of reaching for my mouse.
Moving on to aesthetics, Moonchild looks and sounds like a game built with RPG Maker. Starting with its visuals, several characters have customized portrait and standing art, similarly seen in the Millennium series. Unfortunately, along with a CG or two, that’s all we really get. No customized sprites or tilesets, just that handful of portraits and standing poses. It’s a shame because that little glimmer of originality brings a wealth of charm and life to the game. Although the game itself is visually pleasing, it looks a bit too familiar if you play RPG Maker games often; more original work would have helped it stand out. As for audio, again, there is a heavy dependence on RPG Maker, utilizing its provided tracks. As least with the Millennium series and their newer stand-alone games, there is more of an effort to incorporate free-use music outside the Enterbrain music collection. Here, although none of the music is out of place, it’s just a bit too commonplace and fails to make a lasting impact. The aesthetics, while maintaining the classic 16-bit RPG style seen in most of Aldorlea’s offerings, fails to shine as brightly as other entries in their library of games.
Overall, Moonchild is an intriguing story driven by satisfactory depth and palpable emotions expressed through several memorable characters. The narrative is the high point, a feature most fans of RPGs will appreciate and the entire story will easily hold your attention and interest throughout. Familiar gameplay and commonplace aesthetics neither hurt nor help the experience, but again, I know Aldorlea is capable of more. A first playthrough will take you around 15 hours and fortunately most of those hours are an enjoyable time. Despite its flaws, Moonchild is a pleasure to play and regardless of whether you’re a casual player or true RPG enthusiast, Moonchild has plenty of charm for all.
aldorleaAldorlea GamesJRPGMoonchildRPGRPG Makerrpgmaker