AS a kid, my formative gaming years were spent playing a myriad of games on the original PlayStation. From iconic titles such as Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon, to lesser known treasures such as Bugs Bunny: Lost in Time and Muppet RaceMania had imprinted me with an unbridled love and reverence for the video games medium.
One of the most memorable experiences for myself on the PlayStation was my journey with Klonoa: Door to Phantomile, an exceedingly charming 2.5D platformer released in 1997 that is a criminally underrated and underplayed hidden gem.
In what is hopefully third time lucky for the dormant Klonoa franchise, Namco Bandai recently released Klonoa Phantasy Reverie Series, a remastered collection that not only brings Klonoa Door to Phantomile to modern consoles, but also its PS2 sequel Klonoa 2: Lunatea’s Veil.
Klonoa Door to Phantomile sees the titular hero awake in his home village of Breezegale, witnessing an airship crashing into a mountain nearby. Curious to see what has happened, he sets out to investigate the crash site alongside his best bud Huepow, a cutesy little spirit that resides within the Wing Ring, which serves as Klonoa’s trusty weapon throughout both games. Upon reaching the mountain, the duo are introduced to Ghadius, a menacing and otherworldly figure, and his wacky unhinged sidekick Joka.
As the world of Phantomile is powered by good dreams, the evil pair seek to instead see it fueled by nightmares. They kidnap the singing diva Lephise, whose singing helps keep the darkness away and are searching for the Moon Pendant, which will give them access to the Kingdom of Cress, where dream energy is stored. Desperate to protect his home village of Breezegale and Phantomile at large, Klonoa sets out to find the pendant and save the world from Ghadius and his nightmarish scheme.
While one could easily assume that the story of Klonoa Door to Phantomile serves merely to explain why Klonoa is going out on this globe trotting adventure, the narrative is actually quite entertaining and is constantly evolving throughout the game.
The whimsical platformer also gets exceedingly darker as the game goes on, both in terms of presentation and its narrative. There are some heartbreaking moments too, with the final moments of the journey particularly sad and memorable. The story present in Door to Phantomile isn’t huge by any stretch, but it’s undoubtedly impactful, and makes the roughly 3 hour experience a memorable one.
Klonoa 2: Lunatea’s Veil being a larger experience than its predecessor has a meatier narrative. The story it tells isn’t as impactful and magical as that of Door to Phantomile, but it’s an entertaining albeit tropey tale that sees Klonoa assist new friends Lolo and Popka in travelling throughout the various Kingdoms of Lunatea in search of powerful elemental orbs that will hold back the quickly approaching evil.
Side characters like the aforementioned Lolo get more time in the spotlight than side characters in Door to Phantomile, with far more cutscenes present to breathe further life into each character. Leorina, the games primary antagonist, and her cat buddy Tat are also both likeable foes, despite not being anywhere near as intimidating as Ghadius from the first game. In summary, the narrative of Klonoa 2: Lunatea’s Veil may be a tad more formulaic than its predecessor, but it still manages to keep you engaged with its charming narrative that again has its own fair share of emotional moments.
When it comes to presentation, both games in the collection look visually fantastic, and perform excellently on PS5, exhibiting a rock solid frame rate of 60fps at 4K without any noticeable dips in performance. Klonoa as a character in Door to Phantomile resembles his design in the original PS1 release, however the 2D character sprites on 3D backgrounds visual style that made the original so visually unique has been replaced with 3D polygons across the board, as it was in the Wii remake and Klonoa 2: Lunatea’s Veil.
It is sad in a way that the visuals in the original aren’t retained, however it makes the most sense in a remaster like this, and I don’t think it lessens the experience much if at all. Those keen to replicate the original visuals can make use of the pixel filter present in the options menu of both titles. It doesn’t quite manage the same visual look, but does a pretty neat job nonetheless.
On the gameplay front, both titles are excellent 2.5D platformers in their own right. What I mean by 2.5D is that despite the gameplay largely taking place as a 2D side scroller, the game’s world is 3D. Using the Wind Ring, Klonoa can pick up enemies and inflate them into balls which can be thrown not only left and right, but into the foreground and background of levels. Jumping with an inflated enemy also allows you to propel them at speed towards the floor, granting you a double jump in the process.
Klonoa Door to Phantomile has a dozen levels to run through, and will take you roughly 4-5 hours to complete. It’s a relatively basic affair, as your aim is to get Klonoa to the end of each stage. Levels contain Dream Stones, which are the coins equivalent throughout both games. Collecting 100 will grant you an additional life. Each level also has six residents of the area you’re in to collect, with an extra level unlocked if you collect each resident in the game.
Levels are largely linear, however some open up a bit more, giving you a slightly greater sense of freedom. Some levels also end in boss fights, which require you to throw inflated enemies into the weak spots of some intimidating enemies. It isn’t the most challenging experience, but it’s undeniably fun, and bolstered further by its emotional storytelling, striking visuals, and its brilliant soundtrack.
Klonoa 2: Lunatea’s Veil takes the learnings from the formula of the first game, and simply adds a little bit more variety to the existing mechanics, while adding a little bit more. For example, some levels see Klonoa riding a hoverboard, with the stage transitioning between side scroller and 3D platforming. Most levels however play as they do throughout Door to Phantomile, albeit levels are much longer.
Puzzles also feel more interesting and involved, with new enemy types granting new abilities. One enemy type for example can be grabbed and used to absorb enemies it is thrown at, causing it to change colour. If the colour of the enemy corresponds to the colour of the crystals blocking your path, they’ll shatter and leave you free to progress further. Another new enemy that constantly comes in handy are these lightning imbued purple creatures that when used to double jump grant you a sizable boost to reach otherwise unobtainable areas.
These aren’t the only examples, but they are proof of Klonoa 2 taking the enemy grabbing mechanics from its predecessor and adding a bit more depth to them. Despite movement feeling slightly slower than Door to Phantomile, Klonoa 2: Lunatea’s Veil is a great example of how to execute a sequel to an already working formula. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it does further expand on the gameplay of the original, with larger levels, greater puzzles and more enemy types.
Although my time with the Klonoa Phantasy Reverie Series was fantastic, I did have some minor gripes. Cutscenes, while awesome on the eye, run quite slow, which can test your patience in moments where you just want to jump into the next level or see the story unfold. To try and minimise these potential frustrations, the ability to entirely skip cutscenes or speed them by 5x is present.
The issue here is that 5x is way too fast, which often caused me to accidentally run through dialogue I actually wanted to read. Another problem I have is that the game is still ridiculously easy. Hard mode is unlocked after finishing either game, which is nice enough, but the experience still isn’t much of a challenge. Having Hard Mode unlocked from the get go would’ve been a better decision as well.
In summary, Klonoa Phantasy Reverie Series is a great game that packages two excellent platformers that have been unappreciated for decades. Whether you were one of the few that played Klonoa back when it originally released, or you’re a fan of platformers and want to give another game a try, I can’t recommend this game enough. Hopefully if enough people give Klonoa the respect it deserves, we may finally get a Klonoa 3.
Written by: @GrumpyGoron