This new Retrospective is dedicated to a series that gets little attention; Klonoa – The Dream Traveler. The series is a fun puzzle/platformer franchise that blends 2D platforming with simple but inventive mechanics in addition to some impressive usage of the 3D plane. The game that started it all, is the original classic on the PlayStation One; Door to Phantomile. Lets take a trip to the land of dreams and explore one of the PlayStation 1’s most iconic platforming adventures.
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History & Development
The game started life as a project Hideo Yoshizawa, maker of the NES Ninja Gaiden games worked on for the PlayStation One. He pitched the project with a story about a serious adventure with robots and an ancient ruins motif, even the original character design for Klonoa was going to be ‘Shady’, having a shadowy appearance. But this serious concept was dropped, with many on the team wanting to make a more light hearted adventure focusing less on story.
Yoshizawa did not like this, and wanted to make a cinematic adventure. So the game had a tight gameplay system produced and planed by Tsuyoshi Kobayashi that allowed you to run and jump like any platforming hero but can grab foes to interact with the world. So, you could pick up a foe and toss them at another one, or use them to double jump and more depending on the enemy you picked up.
More information regarding Klonoa and the overall character design can be found in this quote from Wikipiedia.
Quote: "Klonoa and other characters were designed by Yoshihiko Arai. Arai’s first design, “Shady”, had a shadow-like appearance. However, he felt that the lack of color did not seem tasteful, and dropped the design. His next design was created with cat eyes and long ears, as Arai felt that a person’s eyes and silhouette are the features noticed when they are first met. He added a large hat and necklace to give the character a childlike and energetic quality. The design was kept and used for Klonoa. A running aspect of his designs is the Pac-Man design on his cap."
Namco had a lot of confidence in the project, with them citing its adventure elements and simple gameplay mechanics being easy for younger gamers to attach too but the deep story would make adults be interested in the game to. Yoshizawa used dreams as a major inspiration for the revamped story in this new version of the game, saying the following quote: “I was struck by the idea that when you wake up sometimes in the morning and you know you had a dream but you can’t remember what it was, obviously the dream went somewhere, at least in my way of thinking. I thought, ‘I wonder where these dreams go. What if all these dreams that are lost when people wake up but they can’t remember are carried away and collected somewhere like some sort of energy?’ We tried to imagine a dream world people could relate to from their own dreams and experiences.”
The game released in Japan on December 11, 1997 and on March 10th 1998 in North America, with a late release in Europe in June of that year. The game got high critical success and many called it one of the best platformers on the PlayStation One.
The game takes place in the Dreamworld of a place called ‘Phantomile’, a place where people don’t clearly remember there dreams. One being living in this world is a cat-rabbit….thing, named Klonoa. He travels in a forest before the game starts and finds a ring stuck into the ground.
After pulling it out of the ground, he finds that a special being named Huepow lives inside it. Him and Klonoa become best friends and both live a happy life. Then games events then take place, with Klonoa and Huepow investigating a crash hitting near there homes windmill. The game starts and the game is very clever with its story; it looks peaceful and very Kirby-esc; everyone bright and colorful, levels having a bright tone and the music starting out very innocent.
But things get darker over time, with an ending that…..really sucker punches you. Not going to spoil it for this Retrospective but you will feel bad for Klonoa by the end of the adventure. The story is also very well told, with dialog being very natural and its unique language that sounds very Banjo-Kazooie like that fits its setting well.
The story is powerful and you will be attached to many of the characters you meet across the game.
Gameplay & Level Design
This is where things get very interesting, as Klonoa at first glance feels like any old Nintendo platformer; you can run and jump, have colorful locations to visit and more. Even some of the games mechanics and gimmicks appear ‘borrowed’ from other games like the ability to use enemy abilities like Kirby or the simple controls of 2D Mario.
But the game flips them on their head, as the game is more of a puzzle platformer then one would expect. Klonoa has a special way of interacting with foes, rather then killing them outright, you can pick them up using his Wind Bullet ability (Square or Circle). You can then either throw them or use them to double jump. Sounds simple, right? It is, but it gets more complex then this.
You can also throw foes into and out of the screen, hitting objects in the background of levels. In addition, some foes have unique abilities, like some letting you hover in the air while you grab them until they vanish or some being out right bombs that tick down until they explode (giving you plenty of time to double jump or giving you a good length to aim you shot).
Level designs work with these mechanics beautifully, with it progressively getting harder as the game teaches you different ways the mechanics work and even new ones (like finding Keys for doors) over time. They also play with the perspectives a lot, with you get to go into and out of the screen often, with examples including things like riding a mine cart or fighting bosses forcing you to throw foes into the screen to damage them. Klonoa 2 plays with this far more and does a lot more with some of these concepts. Overall, the gameplay and level design is very strong and it does a lot right.
Lastly, we come to the design of the game for the core gameplay section. The game is broken up into six visions (and a final one with only one act to clear), each with two acts not unlike the Sonic series. Each vision has six villagers you are trying to save, as after the events of Vision 1 they get trapped in bubbles. You can free them with your Wind Bullet and they are mostly easy to find. It is one of the games few issues though, as you can’t replay stages until you beat the game. Thankfully, when you beat the main story, you can go back to older stages to save the ones you missed. Saving all of them even unlocks bonus level to complete too, so there is an incentive to save them all.
The game looks great on the PS1, with the characters being DKC-like Sprites but the levels being fully 3D. This allows the game to age gracefully on the PS1 and to this day the worlds look great. Great usage of color and dream-like atmosphere helps the world come alive. The only 3D models that are characters are the boss characters you fight at the end of each set of visions.
Musically, Klonoa succeeds on this front too, with catchy melodies and great themes that match the games worlds and setting.
Here is a link to the entire soundtrack, as its really great stuff.
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Klonoa: Door to Phantomile is a utter classic that while having the small issues of being too easy at times for more seasoned platforming gamers and not letting you replay older stages until you beat the game, still is a fantastic time throughout.
The game can be played on PlayStation Ones if you have the retail disk, but you can also buy the game on Sony’s PSN Store and play it on the PS3, PSP or PS Vita. The game also got a complete remake on the Nintendo Wii, with updated visuals, an English-Language Voice Track and some extra features when you clear the game (plus fixing the issue of back-tracking; you move on a map in the Wii version from the start).
Highly recommend the game if you love action platformers!