Bring it Back | Klonoa
It’s Sunday and that means it’s time for another Bring it Back retrospective. Last week, we got groovy with Jet Set Radio, and before that, we took a detour in the Prince of Persia franchise. This week, we dive into a long running Bandai Namco franchise from the classic mascot days. Of course, we’re talking about the Klonoa series. A franchise that shares similar tones with Nintendo’s Kirby series, this was seemingly Namco’s answer to platformers in the late 90s. With no game releases since 2008, it’s definitely due for a comeback.
Klonoa started out in 1997 with PlayStation’s Door to Phantomile, a 2D platformer with occasional 3D segments. It was also notable for using 2D sprites on 3D backdrops that would change perspective as the level scrolled. The game was directed by Hideo Yoshizawa, best known for directing and producing the NES Ninja Gaiden games. Interestingly enough, the game had a much darker tone in concept, being more futuristic and featuring robots. The main character himself was a robotic hero, but overall, this idea was scrapped for a story focusing on dreams. Yoshizawa wanted story to take center stage, and that was part of the key concept of making this platformer.
Klonoa himself was a rather interesting design as well. Rather than a hedgehog, a bobcat, or a bandicoot, Klonoa was his own creature, with traits of various animals fused together. Designed by Yoshihiko Arai, he originally had a darker appearance and was known as Shady. When Arai felt the character should be more colorful, the design underwent a change that gave a more innocent aesthetic. This design also included an extra Namco touch with a Pac-Man symbol on his hat. This was how Klonoa the Dream Traveler became such an iconic design for the publisher.
When it came to the gameplay, Klonoa really was similar to a Kirby game, at least in the simplest ways. Klonoa would be able to grab enemies with his Wind Ring and throw them forward, attacking enemies and item orbs. Interestingly enough, this mechanic was also useful for hitting things in the background. He could also throw enemies downward to gain momentum for extra height in a jump. To make things a bit easier, Klonoa could even briefly float using his ears, much like Yoshi’s flutter jump. This all made Klonoa a simple yet effective platformer, and it was all using only two buttons for everything.
Despite the focus on the story, the premise was rather simple. A dark spirit known as Ghadius aims to turn Phantomile into a nightmare realm with the magic of the moon pendant. Klonoa and his buddy Huepow set off on a journey to save the land of dreams. Despite the simple narrative, it did have some dialogue, and even slight voice acting. Door to Phantomile received a lot of praise for the time, and with that success, the series would obviously spawn a lot of spin-offs and sequels. Before we would even get a full sequel though, we would get the 1999 WonderSwan prequel with Klonoa: Moonlight Museum. Focusing more on puzzles, this would set the foundation for future handheld titles in the series.
In 2001, the official sequel would release for the PlayStation 2 from a different development team. Klonoa 2: Lunatea’s Veil continues the story and gameplay, but with heavy improvements to the visuals. Klonoa himself even sports a new update to his looks. He appears much taller and even cooler, much like the Sonic Adventure transformation for the infamous hedgehog. The sequel was also notable for expanding the roster of characters, introducing several to the franchise. Now setting off to save the realm of Lunatea, Klonoa gets help from new friends Lolo and Popka to gather the elements from the each bell of the kingdom.
As mentioned before, the gameplay doesn’t really change much here. The biggest addition is the boarding stages, which put Klonoa on a crash course to reach the goal. Lunatea’s Veil also gets a bit more creative with the enemy usage. Certain enemies provide abilities like explosions or flight. Some of these enemies even come in handy for certain puzzles in the game. Like the original game, this sequel was subject to critical acclaim, though the series went portable from then on.
Klonoa: Empire of Dreams would also arrive in 2001, this time for the Game Boy Advance. Using Moonlight Museum as a foundation, this game would continue the puzzling platforming in a more colorful title. Taking place between the first and second game, this title sees Klonoa wake up in the land of Jillius. In this kingdom, it’s illegal to dream, and Klonoa is guilty for this crime. To earn his freedom, he has to defeat the four great monsters to bring peace to the land. It should be pretty obvious by now that dreams are a pretty big element in this series.
Of course, by this time, the Klonoa series had reached a point where a spin-off was possible. What does that mean for our Dream Traveler? Beach volleyball of course. In 2002, Japan and Europe got their spin-off with Klonoa Beach Volleyball for the PlayStation. Interestingly enough, it was the only game in the series to contain a multiplayer mode. Perhaps it was Namco’s answer to the various Mario sports titles, but it obviously wasn’t big enough.
The third portable Klonoa title was oddly given a number to it with 2002’s Klonoa 2: Dream Champ Tournament. Taking place after Lunatea’s Veil, this title continues the staple gameplay, but with a few additions. There’s new hoverboard stages that take players through pseudo-3D segments. You also have boss battles that take place during a foot race as Klonoa is competing with others in a tournament to become the ultimate hero. Even more characters like Guntz and are introduced here, which are ultimately resources for the villain’s fortress.
The series also got an alternate universe take on the character, making a Japan-only Game Boy Advance title. Klonoa Heroes: Densetsu no Star Medal turns the platformer into an action RPG. Instead of the Wind Ring bring used to throw enemies, it’s given a simpler use by acting as a typical weapon. Klonoa would run around and defeat enemies to level up and improve his stats as he works with his allies to defeat old foes. Of course, this wouldn’t be Klonoa’s only RPG experience. He was a main factor of the 2005 Monolith Soft title, Namco X Capcom, working with Guntz as his partner. This game takes a more strategic gameplay approach, but also uses real-time inputs for combat.
Klonoa Heroes would technically be the last new game in the series, though fans did get one more title since then. 2008’s Klonoa for the Wii presents a remake of the original Door to Phantomile. With many of the original team returning to work on it, they were able to use the Wii hardware to improve the visuals significantly. This also allowed for a much cleaner presentation overall. Unfortunately, despite good critical reception, it didn’t sell very well. This ultimately led to Bandai Namco to cancel plans for a remake of Lunatea’s Veil. It also was the nail in the coffin for the series, keeping it dormant for well over a decade. The character didn’t quite live up to his potential, and we think that he’s a prime candidate for a return, which is why we want Bandai Namco to Bring it Back!
Interestingly enough, in late 2019, Bandai Namco did file a trademark for the character. Not much is known about Klonoa of the Wind Encore, but speculation leads fans to think it would be a remake of a compilation. It’s now 2021, and Bandai Namco remains silent on the matter. While a remake or collection makes sense in this generation, there needs to be a bigger plan. This is a series that never truly continued after Lunatea’s Veil. While there were the Game Boy Advance games, it’s been nearly 20 years since Klonoa’s last new console adventure. With platformers utilizing more interesting gameplay mechanics, there’s a lot of options that Klonoa can take. Perhaps Bandai Namco can even bring back some of the original developers again for a new iteration? Or maybe even a new presentation from a team like WayForward?
Whatever happens with Klanoa of the Wind Encore, it leaves us hopeful that Klonoa won’t be dormant for much longer. What do you think? Are you a fan of this classic platforming series and would like to see it come back? Let us know in the comments below! You’re also welcome to stay tuned for next week as we feature a surprise franchise. Think you can guess the series? Give is a shot in the comments, and we’ll see you next time.