Welcome to another installment of Retro Weekend, the recurring feature where I play a classic game and write whatever I want about it! This week, I played Klonoa: Door to Phantomile and the Nintendo Wii remake, Klonoa. These two games are so similar I thought it would be fun to highlight some of the small changes between the two considering there just aren’t that many. And please excuse the off-screen photos, I’m having capture device woes.
Klonoa: Door to Phantomile was produced and developed by Namco back in 1997. Directed by Hideo Yoshizawa of Ninja Gaiden fame, Klonoa was also an action platformer made with an emphasis on storytelling. Where Ninja Gaiden told its story through still cutscenes before and after each level, Klonoa’s plot played out mostly through the use of in-engine scenes with the occasional CGI movie. While the storyline itself doesn’t have that much depth to it, the game does take the occasional dark turn and ultimately ends on bittersweet plot twist that certainly goes against the “happily-ever-after” conclusions most anthropomorphic heroes found themselves in during the ’90s. After playing Klonoa over the past couple weeks, the games ending will surely live on in my memory for many years to come.
As a side-scrolling platformer, Klonoa used the power of the Playstation to combine sprite-based characters with polygonal environments that players would navigate through as they would twist and turn on their 2D path. Though you could only run left and right, Klonoa provides many examples of running around statues and giving you the illusion that you’re really navigating through these 3D worlds with more than just cardinal controls. This is partially thanks to the fact that the game recognizes depth. With Klonoa’s Wind Bullet power, players can grab enemies and throw them not only left and right, but into the foreground and background as well, sometimes triggering switches or unlocking collectibles.
Though the series has seen a number of releases that span the PS1, PS2, and GBA, the Klonoa series never became the heavy hitter I’m sure Namco was hoping for. In 2008, Namco and developer Paon, teamed up for what would seem like Klonoa’s last shot at success before being shelved forever. Instead of creating a whole new experience, they decided to recreate the original PS1 game, Door to Phantomile (critically the best game in the series) on the Nintendo Wii. With Nintendo’s console at the height of its popularity in 2008, it’s sad to say that Klonoa didn’t make any waves in any region it was released. I guess people were just too busy playing party games to make time for a fun, solid, single-player platformer.
I find the remake of Klonoa incredibly interesting because of just how similar it is to the original. In all honesty, it’s basically the exact same game as its 1997 counterpart only with a brand new, shiny coat of paint. The story line, the level design, and the gameplay are all about 99% – scientifically speaking – the same. After 11 years had passed, with so many possibilities in front of the Namco and developers, I would love to know who fought for this game to be so faithful to the original because I don’t see how it was made without a fight.
Though the content and gameplay remain nearly identical, the small differences here and there become all the more apparent when you compare the two games. Looking at these differences, you can tell the game was tweaked just enough to skew towards a younger audience with many small changes resulting in a slightly easier experience. What are some of these changes? Let’s take a look.
The first thing that’s clear is just how much cleaner the UI is on the Wii version. In the original, an entire bar fills the bottom of your screen showing off your lives, your gem count, your collectibles for that level, and your health. While it doesn’t take away from the visual design of the PS1 game, I can’t help but enjoy the clean, open design in the Wii version. Instead of your hearts at the bottom of the screen, they hang in the top left corner of the screen and all of your other information disappears until you collect more of it. If you want to take a look at your lives of how many collectibles you need you can easily pause the game and see that information there. So basically, the only obstruction to the game in the Wii version is your health, letting the visuals become even more pleasing to look at and get pulled into. The PS1 version almost feels like you’re looking through a window to play the game.
Despite that UI improvement, I still can’t help but enjoy the sprites and the slightly more abstract polygonal world of Playstation’s Klonoa. Maybe I’m just a stickler for sprites? Maybe I’m unapologetically nostalgic for the blocky polygons of the PS1? I don’t know. But there’s an undeniable charm to the original Klonoa and how it blends its sprites with the 3D backgrounds, scaling those sprites depending where they are in the world. Even by today’s standards, I think the original holds up as one of the best looking PS1 games, especially by 1997 standards. That’s not to say the Wii game looks bad. On the contrary, the game pops with gorgeous use of color, the characters move and animate well, and the worlds are a joy to run through. It just, for me, doesn’t compare to the look of the original.
Differences in the plot are hard to pin down unless I had each games full dialogue in my hands but I do believe that the Wii version adds just enough extra lines of dialogue here and there to make it a more comprehensive and cohesive tale. None of the major plot points are changed though. Each game follows the Klonoa on the exact same journey with an identical cast of characters. The biggest difference here is that the Wii version comes complete with voice acting which, all in all, is totally fine. The cast certainly feels like it’s ripped from a Saturday morning cartoon with its mix of bubbly and goofy voices. Again, it’s not bad, but the original’s use of on screen text with strange mumbling sounds as the character voices just works better for me.
In terms of how the game plays, there are a few tweaks that absolutely make the Wii version easier. First up is the life bar. In the original game you get three hearts and each time you get hit you lose half of a heart, meaning you have to get hit six times before Klonoa loses a life and has to restart at the last checkpoint. On the Wii, you’re given five hearts for a total of 10 hits before you lose a life, nearly double the amount of damage needed compared to the original. On top of that, Klonoa’s main attack, the Wind Bullet has a vastly longer reach in the Wii version, making it much easier to grab enemies from a distance without as much risk as the Playstation version. This doesn’t seem like a big deal at first, but combined with the extra hearts, I started to notice a huge gap in difficultly towards the later levels. Where I needed to be more precise and careful in the original, I could be a lot more daring in the remake without dying. On top of all that, the Wii version allows you to stun all enemies on screen with by shaking the remote and causing a wind storm on screen. I’m going to be honest, I didn’t even know this was added in the game until I accidentally did it when I put my controllers down after I had already finished the game. It was of no use to me, but I can certainly see it making the game even more of a breeze.
Other small changes involve the secret unlocks after rescuing all 6 Phantomilians in each level. In the original, you’ll unlock an extra vision and a music player, but the Wii version also unlocks a movie viewer, character viewer, and a costume select screen. They’re all nice added touches and keeping the music player is awesome because the soundtracks to both games are amazing. I honestly can’t say which I prefer.
Klonoa is a pretty straightforward platformer. It’s not the most challenging and it’s not very long, but there’s something special about it. It’s courage to commit to a less-than-happy ending is one of the most endearing and memorable moments in the game, but the level to level play is also incredibly solid and the level design is superb. Even today, I can’t think of many games that twist and turn on top of each other like Klonoa, ultimately a 2D game, but making the use of 3D polygons and spacial depth meaningful instead of simply a visual trick. Klonoa may have not made many waves in his time, but the guy still deserves another shot. Or at the very least, he deserves the same as a fond, once in a lifetime dream: to be remembered.