Inside Pulse 12

Review: Momodora III (PC)

Momodora III
Developer: rdein
Publisher: rdein
Genre: Action
Release Date: 07/01/2014

Momodora III is the first in the series to make it onto Steam after it was Greenlit. It’s also the first in the series to not be free to download, and bears a strong visual resemblance to . Let’s see if it’s worth the money or if it’s better to stick to its predecessors (and Cave Story).

As far as the plot goes, it’s fairly light, and the only times it shows up are through brief sprinkles of dialogue with a few characters scattered around the stages, narration at the end of the game, and a couple of boss dialogues. The gist is that you’re playing as a priestess (either Momo or Dora – hello portmanteau and title drop all in one) from the village of KoHo, sent to investigate strange apparitions that have been appearing. The two protagonists share names and appearances (kind of) with the protagonists of the first two games, though it states right in the game description that playing the first two games is not required to play this game, and the plot is easy to follow even if you haven’t played them.

The most likely comparison people will draw upon seeing screenshots of Momodora III will be to Cave Story. In this case, that’s not a bad thing, as the adorable, colorful pixel art works well here. The character sprites are short and chibi sized, but are still reasonably detailed for their size – they even have different expressions, with Dora frowning (which matches the official art) and Momo having a more neutral expression. The character portraits are expressive, but given that you don’t talk to any one person, you don’t see a lot of different expressions, which isn’t much of a problem given the nature of this game. The enemy sprites tend to be larger and more detailed, especially some of the big boss sprites. Animations are smooth, and no two attacks look alike (except those of the player character, since they use the same attacks). Each stage looks distinct, and the backgrounds are varied, with the outdoor area feeling expansive. The soundtrack is pleasant to listen to, with more subdued tunes accompanying your explorations and more uptempo tracks serving as a backdrop for boss fights, though no one track really stayed stuck in my head for long. One character has her own theme song that plays whenever you talk to her. No other character has their own leitmotif, not even the one you can get an achievement for saving, interestingly enough.

I played using a wired Xbox 360 controller, which worked right away, though you can also use the keyboard. You can remap the keys if you wish, but I found the default configuration comfortable enough to use. Press S (or B on the 360 controller) for a melee attack, or hold it down and release for a ranged attack. A (X) jumps and confirms options, shift (Y) lets you toggle inventory items, and Enter (Start) pauses. The arrow keys (and analog stick or d-pad) move your character. Holding up interacts with characters and objects. Holding down while jumping lets you go through thin floors. The game starts in windowed mode, though you can make it fullscreen by pressing F4 if you want a bigger playing screen. To exit the game, you hit Escape, then F1, which seems like one step too many, but still doesn’t take long to do if you’re done playing. It would be nice if there was an option to go to the main menu without dying or exiting and reentering the game. The controls are pretty responsive, which is a good thing given the amount of platforming in this game, some of which requires a bit of timing.

Momodora III is divided into six stages (plus one bonus area), and once you beat an area’s boss and move on to the next area, you can warp to the beginning of other stages you’ve completed. You can only save at certain points (which look like bells), though they’re generously dispersed around the stages such that you won’t lose too much progress if you die. It would be nice if you could warp to those points, but the stages aren’t so big that traversing to a certain point is overly onerous. Backtracking isn’t really required anyway, unless you want to buy an item you couldn’t afford before or if you’re achievement hunting.

Enemies follow a strict attack pattern, regardless of how much of their life bar is remaining. The only exception is the final boss, which has different forms with corresponding different attack patterns. However, even those patterns are still easy to follow. The main challenge in boss fights lies less with figuring out what to do and more with being able to actually do it. Charging in with reckless abandon can quickly lead to a game over screen. At the same time, killing the boss faster means they have less chance to kill you first, so hacking them with your sword-leaf (looks like a leaf, cuts like a sword) accomplishes that faster than shooting them from a distance. It’s mainly a matter of knowing when to go in for the attack and when to back off to avoid one.

While your moveset stays the same through the game, there are relics you can buy to add some effects to help tip things in your favor. You collect money enemies drop when killed to buy items from vendors scattered through the stages. These can do things like summon a ghost helper who moves semi-independently and will follow you and even charge ahead and attack enemies (my favorite item), double the amount of money dropped, or heal you when your life is low. They’re generally helpful and make things a bit easier.

One playthrough isn’t very long – I ended up at just under an hour and a half the first time through, though that was with me trying to check every nook and cranny and dying a fair amount, mostly due to carelessness and not knowing what I was doing; it’s possible to complete the game much faster once you’re familiar with all the stages and bosses. But the game does offer some incentives for replays. There are two difficulties, Momo (hard) and Dora (easy). Both characters play the exact same way, and bosses and stages don’t change, though there are a few differences. In hard mode you don’t start with the ring that halves damage and doubles invincibility time after being hit (though you find it later). There’s no vendor before the first save point, and I ended up with less hearts at the end of the game (three with Momo as opposed to five with Dora). I didn’t find the game much harder in hard mode than easy mode, though both do provide a challenge. There’s also a new game plus mode if you choose to save after beating the game and continue that save, wherein you gain an extra item slot and start with the items and money you had at end of last game. Note that if you’re achievement hunting, the speed run and save Mariel ones require you to play with a fresh save file rather than new game plus.

The first two Momodora games are available as free downloads on the developer’s site if you want to get a feel for the game before spending the money on this game. They’re both worth playing in their own right (and hey, they’re free anyway), but you’re not required to finish them before going on to the third (just know that they don’t officially support controllers and you can’t rebind the keyboard controls). Momodora III doesn’t play exactly like its predecessors, however, instead striking a balance between the completely linear stage progression of the first game and the open ended exploration in the second game. If you’re looking for something more like Cave Story, the second game comes closer to being similar to that. However, this game has some refinements from its predecessors that make it worth putting down some money for.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Momodora III may look like a clone of Cave Story at first glance, but it has its own merits that let it stand on its own. The graphics and music are generally well done, and the stages are varied and distinct. While the game doesn’t quite reach Dark Souls difficulty (how many do?), it is challenging in its own right, even on easy. It’s on the short side and not as open ended as Momodora II or the aforementioned Cave Story, but it has enough secrets waiting to be found to merit more than one playthrough.