March is a month that feels inexorably linked to mythology. The old mantra of "March comes in like a lion and out like a lamb" personifies an entire month into some kind of deific creature, capable of changing its entire being during the course of its annual incarnation. Legends and mythical heroes are born during the collegiate NCAA tournament, where March Madness sweeps the nation. Money is bet, winners are praised, and tales of upsets are told throughout the years.
Perhaps then, it's only fitting that a little indie game called Moon Hunters released just a few days ago. The game -- a sophomore effort from Kitfox Studios -- revolves around the nature of mythology and the creation of legends as important as the stars themselves.
Billed as a co-op action game (though it can be played solo), Moon Hunters asks players how they will be remembered in a world where the occult blends with civilization on an intimate level. Moon Hunters is something of an exploration of choices, where you -- the player -- take up a champion and are left to uncover the death of a god.
What makes Moon Hunters interesting is its emphasis on choice, action, and legend. The game keeps a record of your actions, ensuring that after you finish a session, you deeds -- be they ballad worthy and just or malicious and devious -- are immortalized. The end of your session is the end of your story, but the mythos of your very being can live forever.
The concept of immortality through folklore is something that has existed for as long as the oral tradition has been practiced. Over centuries, heroes and villains have been remembered, shifting from mere mortals to legends that personify entire ideologies. Moon Hunters attempt to translate this tradition into a video game format. It's a smaller scale than the evolution of spoken myths, but it's a novel concept to see at work.
In this regard though, Moon Hunters' conceit is its own downfall. Despite having a premise that is quite literally larger than life, every choice and action is binary. If I kill the legions of wild beasts that assail me at every mountain pass, I am remembered as a brutal combatant whose bloodlust precedes any other identifier. It doesn't matter that simply attempting to avoid the majority of combat would surely mean an untimely death, the legend is written in such a way that there is little room for deep interpretation. Similarly, the decision to spend an evening flirting with a widow ensures that my tale is one marked by romantic urges. A single charming retort means that even if I were to rebuff any other person, my past transgressions -- if you can even call a simple flirt that -- if all that matters to the generation that follow.
By having a relatively minute scope when it comes to your actions and their lasting impact, Moon Hunters feels a bit thin. Because the game's entire hook revolves around building a legacy, it's disappointing that many scenarios can repeat themselves and that the journey is over as quickly as it starts. It only takes about 45 minutes to finish a single session, which feels quite short compared to the heraldic air that the game wants to create.
Similarly, just knowing that your actions are recorded and eulogized after finishing undermines what makes heroes so important to storytelling. The best legends are often the ones about a champion who rose from nothing only to have every important moment of their life immortalized throughout the eons. By knowing that your choices carry weight, it's all too easy to start a character with the determined purposed of being a good guy or an antihero, or a flirt just by only making those decisions.
No matter the decisions that you make in Moon Hunters, it's hard not to be taken by the game's overall melancholy tone. For all of the blood and all of the tragedy that can found in its fantasy world, the actual narration of Moon Hunters is well aware of the fact that no matter what happens to the player's hero, it's all just a story at this point. The game's world is one where the moon itself has disappeared because of a push by sun worshiping cultists. No matter the outcome of your sojourn, Moon Hunters always comments on the fact that your own legend is just a small ripple in a larger chain. Whether intended or not, it's commendable that Moon Hunters sort of comments on the perplexing nature of becoming a legend. What does it really matter, after all, when you're dead and gone?
Moon Hunters is a game that is a bit more interesting in concept than it is in practice. Even with its grand designs and efforts to make players feel as though their reputation carries on throughout the years, actually playing through the game is nothing special. Even with a decent selection of playable classes -- ranging from a crafty swordsman to blood mage and nature-communing druid -- the end result never feels as varied as they should be. And though Moon Hunters actively encourages multiple jaunts, the experience is too transitory to feel impactful.
Although later generations will be swept up by countless new games with different stories to tell, I think that it's safe to say that a small group will remember Moon Hunters fondly for what it tried to do. And really, isn't that how legends are made?