When discussing Role-playing games, the Metroidvania genre might not seem to have a great degree of crossover. However, the “-vania” portion of the title, popularized by Koji Igarashi with the 1997 release Symphony of the Night, does feature two-dimensional, side-scrolling action combat, leveling, and equipment. Momodora really only features half of those elements, but it does have a number of morality-based choices and satisfying exploration elements. Should this Metroidvania be the next one on your list?
Non-linear platforming is the name of Momodora’s game, as players will be tasked with clambering through dense forests, tranquil gardens, and disturbed, corrupted towns in order to gain an audience with the Queen of Karst. The protagonist, a priestess named Kaho, has an impressive array of abilities right off the bat- using her sacred… maple leaf… as a melee weapon against the various denizens of Karst. It’s weird, but it works, and it’s also noted to be rather unconventional in-game. In addition, she has a more sensible bow and arrow, a dodge-roll, and a double jump. There’s not much in the way of difficult platforming in Momodora, rather, the player must use these resources in order to circumvent any and all of the enemy forces, of which there are many.
Most of Momodora’s enemies are very predictable, with some requiring a dodge roll in order to get past their shield, or a number of attacks before falling. As players push further towards Karst, however, they’ll find a greater variety of them, with many featuring different kinds of attack patterns and enhanced accuracy. For the most part, it’s best to stay slow and methodical, as many enemies can be defeated from far away with Kaho’s bow. Upon destruction, these creatures will drop pretty little orbs, the currency of the game, which can be traded to the various static shopkeepers who camp out by each bell checkpoint. Players can purchase two types of equipment- active and passive abilities. The player can equip three of the former, which require activation in combat and includes healing items, offensive spells, and one other ability that we’ll cover in a bit. Only two passive abilities can be equipped, but since they are essentially buffs, altering attacks and drop rates in different ways, this sort of balance makes sense. Players will need to be wary, for if Kaho should fall, all progress up until the last save will be lost, including mapping. This means stopping at these checkpoints in order to keep your wallet filled and healing items stocked is paramount, especially if you plan on playing hard mode.
I should note that Hard Mode decreases starting health and the boost from health pickups, as well as boosting enemy damage and spawning more enemies. With this is mind, having returned to the start of the game on an easier difficulty, I was a bit underwhelmed by the challenge. While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend starting on Hard Mode unless you are a glutton for punishment, I do feel that the game was much more challenging and rewarding because of this. So whether I was feeling particularly delirious when I first started the game or not, I chose to play through Momodora for the first time on its hard difficulty. Seeing as the game’s platforming isn’t particularly complex and the combat basically amounts to “hit and enemy, they enter hitstun, they dead,” I was curious to see how the game would be balanced for a greater challenge. And boy, Momodora did not disappoint. Well, I shouldn’t say that- it disappointed me with the amount of one-hit kill moves the entire cast of enemies possesses. On Hard Mode, any and all corridors in Momodora have the potential to kill you, simply due to the massive amounts of damage every enemy attack can deal. While this becomes slightly more manageable due to the various health enhancements that can be found throughout the world, you can expect to die in one hit throughout the entirety of the game, especially if you have less than full health. I was somewhat taken aback by this at the start of the game, but I gradually grew accustomed to it once learning the attack patterns of the enemies in each area.
Bosses are a bit of a mixed bag that lean more towards the positive side. Although they have randomized behavior, their startup animations are very brief. The player truly only has about a split second to react to whatever their anticipatory animation is before one of their attacks can- and likely will- kill them. The majority of these bosses are actually fabulous- a number possess attacks that increase in complexity as their fights progress, and there are barely any that utilize the same mechanics- but a few are extremely brutal, possessing immunities to certain attacks and very fast and claustrophobic animations. While a dedicated player will adapt to them, they do not read particularly well on the Switch handheld screen, which can lead to some frustrating deaths. Most of the game’s playtime will be spent figuring out strategies and familiarizing oneself with the animations in order to defeat these titanic enemies, whether on hard or easy difficulty. The game actively rewards players with rare equipment if they are able to perform no-damage boss runs, and its additional insane difficulty is truly a terrible sight to behold. Long story short: get to practicing.
Momodora features some delightful sprite work, with environments using a swath of vibrant and moody colors in order to put together a very consistent aesthetic. The woods certainly feel like woods, the town is gothic and disturbed, the memorial garden, tranquil. Each area features some additional effects that truly sell the setting, such as the various puffs of steam in the cinder chambers, or beams of light in the memorial park. Some of the dark areas, such as the subterranean grave and forlorn monastery, are a bit too obscured for their own good, but once again, you can purchase a piece of equipment to circumvent this. There are some details that even an observant eye might miss out upon in the backgrounds, not because of any sort of clutter, but rather because the action of the game is so intense.
And because the game is so intense, you might think it would receive some suitably creepy or grotesque character designs. But, for the most part, Momodora errs on the side of cuteness. All of its characters are big-eyed and sausage-limbed, though the overall art direction is consistent, and more importantly, works. All of Kaho’s animations are very fluid, as are those of the many non-static enemies. There’s a couple of instances where details are less-than clean- two assets of a certain boss, in particular- but the game isn’t overly lurid or violent. The sound effects are also very adorable, in a sad sort of way- you’ll need to grow accustomed to hearing the chirpy wail of Kaho biting the dust, and you’ll likely tense up whenever you hear the pixelated cackle of the spell-casting witches. Momodora’s soundtrack is very subdued, only growing bombastic during its boss encounters. Most of the time, you’ll be exploring to tranquil, reflective tones throughout all of the areas of the game, which blends together quite well with the innocent character designs.
Impressions and Conclusion
For the most part, Metroidvanias are known for their level design and iconic enemy encounters, and if you’re looking for a title with good boss battles, this is definitely the game to play. The variety of difficulty levels and added challenge of no-damage runs makes for an enjoyable experience, and the resulting equipment combinations (such as poisoning oneself and healing from poison damage) can be very fun. However, the kind of player looking for a more laid back experience may find themselves hard pressed, unless they are planning on spending most of their time navigating the world. The level design in Momodora is a bit basic, with many of its vertical chambers being empty and possessing a number of jump pads. There are only two movement upgrades- a mid-air dash that does allow for a bit more variety, and the ability to turn into a cat, the game’s equivalent of a morph ball- so most traversal is very straightforward. There are a few places where the player will be tasked with executing a set of switches and a number of looping paths, but much of the level design is basic and a bit uninspired. Although the player can purchase a piece of equipment that alerts them to secrets, the tool is necessitated by the amount of hidden wall collectibles strewn throughout the environment- depending on your preference, this could either be a good or a bad thing.
In terms of story, there isn’t much to cover. Momodora is the fourth installment in a series and sequentially the first in the timeline, but there’s no lore to read up on before playing. This is a positive, in my opinion- with little to weigh the game down, it focuses narrowly on gameplay and doesn’t let up. Although alliances are made and a number of NPCs have side quests, the narrative doesn’t offer many twists or turns. A plague has spread throughout the land and Kaho has traveled to Karst in order to ask the Queen for assistance, though something is not right within the city walls. If you want to take a guess at what that might be, chances are, you’re right. A number of pieces of equipment possess some neat flavor text that sheds a bit more light on the bosses and world, but the overall amount of text is low, which can lead the player towards feeling a bit rudderless. There are alternate endings to the game depending on how much exploration you’ve performed throughout your playthrough, but the process of obtaining the best ending isn’t all that involved.
I’d personally recommend giving the lower difficulty a good try, but if you’re finding things a bit too easy within the first hour, it would be best to restart on the higher difficulty. The game’s Hard Mode does not pull punches, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. If you are looking for a more straightforward Metroidvania experience, Momodora achieves what it sets out to do very well. Despite a good half of its boss fights involving cute girls, they’re all varied and require different approaches. While it doesn’t break the mold with any of its abilities, battles, or narrative, it is a solid and enjoyable title that is well-worth a look.