As you all know, I’m a huge sucker for the Soulsborne series and the soulslikes genre. We can’t even go ten game reviews without me gushing on about how influential and well designed these games are. How intriguing the universes are and wondering how you got from one location to the next. How satisfying it is to master the flow of combat and come out of each fight alive. The lore, the characters, and how they manage to explore the themes of death and persevering despite all that is trying to hold you back. Bloodborne this and Dark Souls that. Hollow Knight this and Nioh that. Can’t take a break from soulslikes, and honestly I’m starting to get fatigued from the genre. Salt and Sacrifice was my breaking point last year where I realized while it tried to blend a bunch of ideas together it seemed to have forgotten what made its predecessor and Dark Souls good in the first place. I passed on playing Thymesia and Steelrising, not because I they look bad but because I just wasn’t interested in them. However, the soulslikes I’ll never skip are the 2D ones.
Some of their universes do a bit more to separate themselves from the standards of Dark Souls, and they feel much closer to the metroidvania genre than soulslike. Which if you don’t know, is also a genre I’m a sucker for. The more I think about it, Dark Souls takes quite a bit of influence from Castlevania: Symphony of The Night. The interconnected world design, the many ferocious monsters you fight along your journey, the darker tone, art direction, etc. Bloodborne, personally, is probably a better modern Castelvania adaptation than the Lord of Shadows entries they tried doing before the franchise as a whole got canceled. Castlevania influenced Darks Souls, and then a bunch of other games drew inspiration from Dark Souls. Games drew inspiration from another game that drew inspiration! Who would have known? Also my head hurts right now. Anyways, I always preferred 2D soulslikes more than the 3D ones. Maybe it’s because I always enjoyed the exploration elements of Dark Souls more than the combat, and half the 3D soulslikes seem to be all combat but shallow exploration. Nioh and Remnant are amazing, but their level design could be a lot better. That and trying to find games similar to Hollow Knight, another game that took heavy inspiration from Dark Souls and is another one of my favorite games ever made.
Bloodborne and Hollow Knight, two absolute masterpieces. I can imagine seeing the hunter hold the knight in their hands, or maybe tuck them away in their coat like a cat. Enough fantasizing, let’s talk about the 2D soulslike I managed to dabble into this time. Moonscars, a dark action metroidvania which takes heavy inspiration from Bloodborne and you guessed it, Castlevania. Filled with bloody horrors beyond your comprehension and plot devices that’ll make you say, “What the hell was all of that?” A friend recommended this and said it sorta reminded them of Blasphemous. If you don’t know, Blasphemous was another 2D soulslike that placed an emphasis on a macabre tone similar to that of Castlevania and Bloodborne. It was also freaking stellar and one of the best 2D soulslikes since Hollow Knight. It’s not perfect. It wasn’t until an update that the healing system got fixed and some of the bosses aren’t great, but I really enjoyed its world and how it delved into facing an all powerful holy order. Moonscars plopped right onto my radar after my friend recommended it and I managed to pick it up during the holidays. Finished the game yesterday and can safely confirm it’s alright. Most of the coverage for this game hasn’t been great. Players are complaining about the high difficulty spikes, terrible boss encounters, the feel of combat, the bugs, and the many rough edges. If the game had spent a few more months in the oven then maybe some of these problems wouldn’t be, but right now Moonscars is getting a bit of backlash. Which is a shame, because I actually think this game is quite great. The criticisms are valid and I do think this is one of the weaker entries in the 2D soulslike sub-subgenre, but I wouldn’t say it’s terrible. There’s a good handful of neat ideas on display and my time with it overall was good. In fact, I recommend it and defend it from all the bullsh*t that’s being thrown at it. Moonscars is great, and today I’ll be explaining what went wrong and what went pretty right.
Moonscars takes place in a world where the moon gifted mankind almighty powers, and with all powerful godlike beings comes worship. Religion, followers, and zealots who worship the moon which looms over them all in hope that more blessings will be bestowed upon them. All was well until a terrible plague hit the land. It felt more like a curse to be honest as the plague prevented newborns from being born at all, killed a surplus of living children, and prevented women from being able to conceive in the future. The population was dwindling and chaos spread through the streets as humans did the best they could to avoid the plague. If that wasn’t enough, an army from outside the land soon invaded the kingdom and began pillaging houses door to door. Hell was let loose and there was nothing but blood on the ground and smoke in the sky. All hope felt lost, but the mighty leader of this land recruited a scholar to help with their cause. A scholar with the magical ability to create life by molding together clay. Filling clay bodies using Ichor, which was basically life as a physical substance, the sculptor Zoran created an army of clay soldiers to fight for the kingdom. They succeeded in pushing back the foreign forces, but the moon did not favor these clay beings whom and started to slowly reduce the amount of time they have to live.
We are Grey Irma, one of the many soldiers who fought in the war and was deemed a high rank Pristine. She believes she was originally human and at some point before asked Zoran to transfer her soul into a clay body so that she would be unaffected by the ever growing plague. However, she was knocked out during her latest battle and forgot everything. Her comrades are all either dead, missing, or reside somewhere else in the land. A talking clay cat tells Irma to find Zoran who will answer the questions flooding her head. Irma encounters a mirror which lets her enter the The Workshop, where she encounters a machine known as the Mold Maker. Allowing Irma to be resurrected from death from other magical teleporting mirrors using new clay bodies. This comes at a cost though as some mirrors fail the resurrection procedure and spawn in a clone of Irma. This creates confusion on who is the real Irma and whether the clones are their own beings with rights, but Irma pushes forward hoping to figure things out. Find her missing companions, locate Zoran, and get the missing pieces to the puzzle. The truth may not be as great as you think.
Alright time to explain how a soulslikes and metroidvania work, again, for lord knows what time it is already. Just gonna take my imaginary inhaler here. (Pretends to inhale) Okay, so you have a huge world to explore with enemies and traps lying around each corner. You fight, explore, die, and use that as a learning opportunity to get better and venture further into each area. You have lethal ways of defending yourself and each enemy will require specific strategies and skills to beat. When enemies are slain they drop experience points, but in this case it’s called Bone Dust. Use this at checkpoints to unlock new skills, but die before you can spend them and they are lost. There is a way to retrieve them though by backtracking to where you died last, but die again and they are gone forever. You have the ability to attack, perform a charged slash, dash which offers a few invincibility frames, and a parry. Unlike a majority of soulslikes you want to master parrying as it’s essential to beat later foes. Parry at the right time and you can deal critical damage.
Go to where you need to go, fight bosses with multiple phases, obtain new powers, and open up the way forward. Unlock checkpoints to respawn at and shortcuts to narrow down the amount of backtracking you have to do. Common standards if you have played a soulslike or metroidvania before. Moonscars does have a couple unique tricks up it’s sleeve. Healing is a crucial element to these games as they allow you to explore and fight on longer, and rather than have a consumable or flask Moonscars had an Ichor meter. Whenever you strike an enemy you gain Ichor, and it can be used to refill your health bar. Ichor is also used to perform powerful spells, but there’s another gimmick to it too. When the bar is gray it means you have an Ichor to perform spells and healing, but once you perform a spell the Ichor used for it leaves behind a purple transparent bar. This purple Ichor can still be used to heal, but cannot be used to perform spells. So not only do we have a healing system that encourages you to play risky and aggressively, but a way for them to balance out the overpowered spells you unlock overtime. You also have this secondary leveling system where whenever you slay a certain amount of enemies you are given a buff. These buffs range from improved healing, the chance of a critical hit happening more often, and much more. These buffs are lost upon death, but can be incredibly useful if you keep them.
There is one permanent buff you can keep upon death. Occasionally you’ll be given a secondary attack to use in the field and they are quite powerful. A hard hitting hammer, a spear that lunges forward, a buzzsaw you can whip out easily, this charged up throwing attack, etc. None of these require Ichor and can be quite useful when used right. When you choose a secondary weapon you are stuck with it until you are offered the choice to switch, and sometimes choosing a certain weapon will offer another buff like increased maximum health or Ichor. Very cool stuff. What’s not cool is Moonhunger. Die a certain amount of times and you gain Moonhunger. Enemy power is increased and this can transform basic baddies into devastating foes. One benefit is that if you deal with Moonhunger and slay the stronger foes you gain more Bone Dune to spend and level up with. Another cool risk-reward mechanic, and you can alleviate Moonhunger by either using Ichor Glands which you pick up during your travels or slay a powerful boss. Know when it’s time to lift it or when it’s worth keeping on if you can manage the enemies ahead. Final unique mechanic is the mold system. Occasionally there will be these corrupt mirrors and when you lift them from corruption you leave behind a mold. The mirror can be teleported to, but you’ll face a mold of yourself. They have the same skills as you, and will need to be slain so they don’t create further problems. Kill them and they’ll be gone for good. Die and… well actually I never found that out because killing your molds aren’t that hard. That’s about it. Hopefully you can free yourself of the moon.
Moonscars does quite a few things right and even though some aspects of the game frustrated me I had a good time overall. Yet again, this isn’t surprising as I always enjoy 2D soulslikes and a well made metroidvania. The story didn’t leave an outstanding impression at first. It retreads the aspects we all know from Dark Souls like a dying world, plague ravaging the land, and an ending that either concludes the dying world or has our main character performing a heroic sacrifice. It’s all still here, but it did eventually hook me. The lore is quite interesting and possesses the out of this mind aspects that made Bloodborne so interesting to me. Not everything will make sense by the end, but that’s up to the player’s imagination. There’s lovecraftian themes of godly beings, creation coming out of nowhere, and something else having control over the characters’ lives. The more elements and ideas they introduced into the world, the more I found it interesting to pick apart. The story of Irma kept me enticed, and the conflict between her and her mold copies posed an interesting question. What defines a living soul? Same question was brought up with stories such as SOMA or 13 Sentinels. Are you technically considered your own being even if you are composed of the memories of someone else? Do you have the right to choose? Are you yourself a clone and did breaking the rules separate the line between replica and self?
The story overall is pretty good and I love the universe they created here. Another strong aspect of Moonscars is its art direction. The game uses a lot of gray, black, white, and occasionally red. You may think it suffers from everything blending together and looks ugly, but where Moonscars shines is its stylization. You can take a limited color palette and make it look good if you have good art direction. The environments are beautiful, distinct from one another, and the lighting and different values help add a bit of gleam to this depressing world. There’s this one area later on called The Depths and it’s probably my favorite area in the game. Populated with plantlife and brightly colored white trees. Nothing but the outline of your character and enemies wander around on screen. The combat takes a bit of time to get used to. Your parry window is small and later on you encounter foes who slice you into oblivion unless you parry. This creates a trivial combat system where if you are good at parrying you cut every enemy down instantly. Combine this with some of the buffs you gain and charms which increase parry damage, you can forge a really overpowered build. However, it does become satisfying to master and it feels wonderful to overcome combat rooms that throw a wave of foes at you and somehow survive by the end.
Now I do have complaints with Moonscars. Spells range from being useful to useless. Some get the job done and others are basically “When am I ever going to use this?” Power-ups you gain across your journey act more like keys to open the way forward rather than an expansion of what Irma can do. The comet-like dash you obtain is performed awkwardly, and it’s odd how it rockets towards the ground rather than keeping you in the air. The boss fights are bad, like really bad. Every fight after the first major boss is terribly designed and more frustrating than fair. There’s this one boss that you have to face twice who has multiple arms attacking you and a head that does heavy damage from afar or up close. You have to hurt the floating head to expose the heart to deal actual damage, but the head can only be hurt using spells. Half your spells are projectiles or non-melee skills. This creates a fight that is a lot of hopping around and avoiding sh*t. Never once did I feel a fight was fair or felt satisfied when I finally got over it. Final complaint is that this game is really buggy. Framerate drops, clipping, actions not performing even when I pressed the button to do them, enemies bugging out, getting stuck in walls, physics issues, etc. This game really needs to get patched. It’s not unplayable, but it does hurt the experience. Moonscars is a flawed experience and I can see why a ton of players will get annoyed by it. This isn’t the best soulslike out there and is basically Blasphemous but not as great. However, I do recommend it because there is a well designed game here with unique ideas. The story, world, art direction, and will to move on does just enough for me to give it a thumbs up. I give Moonscars an 8.5/10 for being pretty good.
This critique was written by the single man at Review on. Stay tuned for more content and feel free to check more reviews out over at my site!