Review #1 by Michael Motoda
- Edmond de Goncourt, 1859.
Unfortunately, that's what a lot of people will think of Kaze no Klonoa (Klonoa of the Wind) ~Door to Phantomile~, from Namco Hometek, a Japanese developer that has been at the forefront of arcade and home console development for years. Those looking for violence, gore, or scantily-clad lead characters will see this game's sprite-based characters wandering happily through a cartoon-like world, and pass it off as nothing more than a kid's version of Pandemonium. However, striving to set their own levels of technical and gameplay excellence, Namco's drive to create exciting new games has earned them high status in both the industry and consumer opinion. Excitement always surrounds a new Namco release, and while Namco's best may be hard at work on the highly anticipated PlayStation conversion of Tekken 3, they've managed to bring out a very magical and thoroughly enjoyable platformer for the 1997-1998 holiday season. As the game's cover states:
The dreams I can't remember
when I wake in the morning -
where in the world did they go?
And so begin the wonderful adventures of Kaze no Klonoa, a game that will delight your senses and give you a fresh breath of old-school platform gaming mixed in with some extremely impressive modern refinements.
The game starts with a short, yet beautiful preview CG FMV that sets the tone of the game. But like Panzer Dragoon Zwei for the Sega Saturn, the true opening CG FMV doesn't begin until you start a new game. The CG work in Klonoa is nothing short of astounding. It won't blow you away like the first time you saw the Soul Edge opening movie, but it's on the same level of technical excellence. Plus, where else will you find anime-style animals running around in a fully-realized and gorgeously-colored CG world? Remember the valleys and cities you got to see in Soul Edge's intro? Klonoa's world is that good, and then some. Realizing that companies can create environments like this makes your appreciation of this art rise that much more.
Graphically, if you were comparing this game side-by-side with Crystal Dynamics' Pandemonium or Pandemonium 2, you'd start to see Klonoa's superiority almost instantly. The game runs at a silky-smooth 60 frames per second, and hardly ever stutters below that rate. Additionally, color usage and special effects, such as whirlwinds and flowing water, are vibrant, beautifully animated, and interactive. The biggest difference between the look of this game and Pandemonium would be in the main characters and enemies. In Klonoa, the creatures and items are sprite-based, while in Pandemonium, most of them are polygonal. However, since it is so difficult to capture emotion when you are limited to few polygons, it's almost better that they are sprites in Klonoa. They are animated beautifully and for their size, are quite detailed. At times, some creatures can becomes pixellated (especially the larger versions of some enemies), but it's a minor point that won't detract from your enjoyment of the title.
Gameplay is simple to learn, yet it takes time and skill to master. There are only two buttons you need to worry about in this game: shoot & jump. Klonoa, along with his sidekick Hyupo, attack enemies in a way that is similar to Treasure/Enix's Nintendo 64 title, Yuke Yuke!! Troublemakers: you grab enemies and manipulate them in various ways. Once you grab an enemy, you can throw them forwards, backwards, down, into the background, and towards you. Additionally, if you jump and then press jump again (while holding an enemy), you'll do a double-jump, which allows you to grab hard-to-reach items and access areas that you couldn't get to prior. And similar to Yoshi's Island for the Super Famicom, Klonoa can momentarily 'float' in the air if you hold down the jump button while in the air. This will allow you to clear large gaps that you'd otherwise fall into. And that's about it. Most of the game tests your puzzle-solving ability and hand-eye coordination to get through various areas in the game. None of the puzzles are overly difficult, but they do take some time to figure out and successfully overcome. Overall control of your character is what you'd expect from a good platformer: tight and responsive. Your character tends to slide slightly at some rather unappropriate times, but it's easy to overcome and compensate for and plus, it doesn't happen that often.
In the sound department, Namco's created a very atmospheric and melodic soundtrack. It feels similar to Sega's Astal in that it utilizes a lot of instruments and lends a very magical feel to the game environment. If you're in a jewel mine, the music sounds like the music is coming from the gems themselves. Sound effects are effective and standard Namco fare. However, one of the most innovative audio features that Namco's implemented into this title is what is known as the "Puppet DISP System". What this does is basically display text and voice in a synchronized fashion. Now, this may not sound like a big deal, as it's been done to a high degree of success in Sega/Red's Sakura Taisen, but the thing that makes this stand out is that the language that the characters in this game speak is not Japanese. It's a completely different set of languages that Namco has brilliantly created. Yes, all of the characters speak in a different dialect, and they are all original and appropriate to their personality. I'm not for certain if the dialogue they are speaking is done in real-time or not, but it is highly original and really makes you believe that what you're experiencing are the lives of those that exist in another world. The only downside to this feature is that the quality of their voices is fairly bad (think of Sakura's voice in the Saturn version of Street Fighter Zero 2). The amount of speech that is in this game is quite high, and since the game is streaming CD audio from the CD, holding all of the voices in memory would be quite an undertaking. Otherwise, the audio in this game is high-quality, which is to be expected from Namco.
Level design is brilliant, and the later levels are nothing short of huge, but the truth is that, like Sega's Astal, this game is quite short. There are only about 13-15 areas that you can visit, and while each level is stunningly beautiful, most people will finish this game in 1-3 days. But as any true gamer knows, you haven't really beaten the game until you've found all the secrets and completed certain tasks. There are quite a few secrets and difficult-to-reach items that will take almost perfect platforming skills to acquire, and after you beat the game, an extra level appears, provided you have fulfilled certain criteria. Additionally, the game will then encourage you to play through the game again and collect all 150 gems from each level (no easy task, believe me).
However, while this game is short, it possesses something that is missing from almost every other platform game (or any game for that matter) ever created: an emotional and endearing story that will bring a tear to most players' eyes. Yes, I'm being completely serious here. No other game in recent history has stirred those emotions in me quite like this one did. While apparently a happy and optimistic game, it deals with some serious issues and events in life that I wouldn't dare spoil for you. And finally, the game possesses one of the most emotionally charged endings to a game that I've ever seen. And all this in a platform title! I feel that Namco should be commended for putting so much time into the planning of this game's story.
All in all, Kaze no Klonoa is one of those rare gems that probably won't sell very well, but will be treasured by those who experience its lush and magical environment, story, and wonderful gameplay. Platform fans and lovers of anime won't be disappointed. Enjoy the dream for your phantomile.
+ Gorgeous and vibrant environment running at 60 frames per second. + Beautiful Namco-quality CG FMV. + Stunning polygonal landscapes and interactive backgrounds. + The world animations make the game feel alive. + Well-animated sprite-based characters. + Effective real-time cut scenes. - Some pixellization occurs on characters during zooms. - Map screen in-between levels looks rushed.
+ Stunning soundtrack with lush instrumentation. + Ambient and normal sound effects are effective. + Highly-original Puppet DISP System. - Muffled speech.
+ Tight and responsive control, just as a platformer should be. + A wondrous story that will leave you aching for a sequel. + Puzzle/exploration-based gameplay hearkens back to the old, classic days of platform gaming. + Simple controls and techniques that take time to master. + Several bonus features open up upon completing title. - Relatively low quantity of levels (fewer than Yoshi's Story on the Nintendo 64). - No real power-up items involved in the game.
Much like the import version of Astal for the Sega Saturn (the US version never existed, IMHO), Klonoa is a little short on gameplay, yet it excels when it comes to aesthetics, music, originality, good control and storytelling. It's not often that we get to experience a game with this much personality and magic.
Review Copyright © 1998 by Michael Motoda. Please feel free to email me with your comments, questions, and/or criticisms. Thank you very much for your time.