The deep, underpinning connection that Moon Hunters makes between video games and myths is that they are both about repetition. Most video games have a core loop that you repeat over and over again and if it’s a good enough loop, you almost never get tired of it, whether it’s catching Pokémon or leveling up your Night Elf Druid. A story only becomes a myth when it’s been told thousands and thousands of times over generations so that it becomes ingrained in the society in such a way that it doesn’t matter if it ever happened; the power and connection of the story stays with people regardless.Moon Hunters, a video game I played on the PS4, is a game that captures both of these things, wraps it all up a in a pretty package that delivers a short, repeatable experience that is so much better than the sum of its parts that it truly is remarkable.
The game boots up and you are greeted to a very pretty, SNES looking game only with several modern embellishments that make for a truly beautiful game. You pick your hero, each which play very distinctly and you start the game by going to your tribes yearly(?) festival for the moon. Only, the moon doesn’t show up. A sun cult has done something to it and it is your job to find out what is going on. From there you explore a slightly pre-historic world over a three-day period. The combat is very similar to something like Link to the Past only a bit faster and smoother. Overall, I found the combat to be pretty fun, though some heroes are quite a bit more overpowered than others (Druids can turn into leaf throwing demigods). Besides combat, you can engage with various NPC’s and either help them, hinder them or just ignore them. These interactions are key because they bestow on you one of many traits, such as ‘joyful’ or ‘generous’ or ‘honest’ that effect your reputation and change how the end game plays out and how your story is remembered as it becomes a myth. These encounters and thus your ability to obtain these traits is random as far as I can tell and thus encourage replay, but are also a tad frustrating because if you get 75% of the way through a side quest and the game simply doesn’t give you the rest of the quest before the three days is up, there is nothing you can do about it.
At the end of your three-day journey, you confront the sun cult leader, King Mardokh, and can finish the game in a variety of ways; you can lose, which tells a story, you can win, which tells another story, and you can even convince him, through romance or otherwise, to give up his goals and walk away from everything as well as some other endings I won’t get into. Afterwards, the game recaps your playthrough and shows you how that specific game spins a unique and different myth through the coming generations. The endings are diverse and don’t play out how you would think in a lot of ways, which is something I appreciated and makes a lot of sense for this game; myths don’t always play out like you think they would after all. The game also gives a nice rundown of how your hero lives the rest of their life and what they are known for. The summary almost always doesn’t make perfect sense, and while I don’t know if this is done on purpose by the game developers, it only adds to the overall theme of myth. I mean, go read Greek or German myths; they are great stories, but they really don’t make a lot of sense. Zeus is loving and wise just as much as he is capricious and vindictive.
Unless it’s Super Mario World, I don’t often replay video games; that sense of fun and discovery just is not there like it needs to be for me to really be enjoying myself after I played through. But I found myself replaying this one quite a few times because the game unlocks and progresses in such a fun way through each playthrough; I unlocked new towns and new locations that persisted into the next playthrough that opened up the world and possibilities to me each time I played. This is not a new gaming mechanic by any means, but here it’s not limited by the time sink of each play through. Because each run of the game only takes about an hour, the game is allowed to be more aggressive in rewarding the player each time the game is complete. I can afford to replay Moon Hunters many, many times more than I can Final Fantasy or Mass Effect and the game rewards you not only with more endings, but more to do in the game overall. You basically have to play the game several times to get even a hint of what it’s trying to do.
Everything about this game connects mythology with video games, and the two are much more complementary than I might have thought before playing Moon Hunters. The three-day structure, the simplicity of the side quests and world at large, the ability to pick different heroes and give them runs of the game that can be as similar or as divergent as I want, all of these are classic gaming tropes but are also even more classic mythology and storytelling tropes. In many ways, Moon Hunters is not doing anything new or revolutionary, but I found the structure and storytelling to be so engaging and rewarding that it didn’t matter and the game stayed with me long after I stopped playing it. After all, a well told story is a well told story regardless of how many times we have heard it.