Against the Moon feels like a game that’s split in two. On one hand, there’s the tactical deckbuilder with roguelite mechanics. On the other, there’s the diegetic world of the game and the characters who inhabit it. Much of the time, these feel like separate aspects of the same whole, barely interacting with one another. And yet, there are certain moments where the two halves converge.
This convergence is easily when Against the Moon is at its most interesting. Furthermore, both the narrative and the gameplay share a common dynamic: they have solid, workable cores with numerous little issues weighing them down.
Zoom In: Specs
- What is Against the Moon? It’s a turn-based strategy deckbuilder with roguelite elements. Take on the role of the Ultori, protectors of humanity, as they battle the Furos, vicious servants of the Corrupted Moon bent on destroying all that the Ultori hold dear.
- Reviewed On: PC
- Developer: Code Heretic
- Publisher: Black Tower
- Release Date: September 24, 2020
- Website: www.againstmoon.com
Lost in Translation
Against the Moon’s first flirtations with narrative and storytelling are somewhat clunky. Early exposition is heavily laden with in-universe proper nouns, presumably to intrigue the player about these mysterious-sounding concepts and making the world seem developed. However, lacking any hook, and with characters who feel like the broadest sci-fi/fantasy archetypes imaginable, there’s very little to invest the player in this world, robbing its mysteries of any allure or interest.
That said, once the basic mechanics of the world are laid out, it’s easier to start digging into the characters and trying to understand them. Without spoiling too much, the most exciting culmination of narrative and gameplay in Against the Moon features a “mental battle” within the mind of Ghaldir (one of the protagonists). While this scenario has a lot of cliché dialogue, it provides enough nuance to invoke your curiosity. And, using the game’s mechanics as a metaphor for Ghaldir’s loyalty, resolve, and reverence for figures of the past, it makes for a genuinely engaging narrative beat. Sadly, no other character within the game manages to convey that sort of depth and complexity.
The scenarios have many blank slots marked “Coming Soon,” so one can infer that moments like this are currently in the works for other characters (hopefully, anyway). As it stands, no one else truly steps outside of the broad archetypes they embody. While the game’s Steam page doesn’t indicate that this is its release path, Against the Moon seems like the perfect title for Early Access. It has a solid core concept (with proof of that in the story scenarios), but it has many little issues that could stand to be resolved.
One issue is that of localization. While by no means a game-killing flaw, it is harmful to a game whose story is conveyed almost entirely through text to have so many typos and awkward translations. Right when you should be able to sink into this world and familiarize yourself with it, another bout of lousy grammar pulls you out of the experience. What’s more, it’s a problem that seems to get progressively worse over time. Perhaps this indicates an effort to clean up the translations that’s still ongoing. But this would just be another justification for hitting Early Access as opposed to moving ahead with a full release.
LOL, So Random
On the gameplay front, Against the Moon has a solid infrastructure that is fun, functional, and full of interesting tactical puzzling and combo-building. This shines the most in the constructed story scenarios, wherein enemies and bosses are predetermined, and everything progresses on a well-paced, varied narrative path. While not exceptionally replayable, these story scenarios are where the game delivers on its premise with the greatest degree of consistency.
Then you start the Luma Runs.
Luma Runs, while following a similar structure to the scenarios, are heavily randomized. One would assume that this would lead to a more varied, interesting experience. And on the map, that’s certainly the case. You have more agency and ability to take risks and reap greater rewards. Since death in battle means the end of the run (you can restart battles in the scenarios, which is a smart choice on the part of the developers), individual matches carry a lot more weight and consequence. However, the battles themselves suffer considerably from untamed randomness.
Randomness in games can rarely be purely random. There needs to be checks and balances to avoid irritating repetition and wildly difficulty fluctuations, and to create a clear sense of progression during play. Against the Moon struggles with this notion. The most egregious example of the game’s randomness problem came after defeating a sector boss, only to go to the next sector and discover what was essentially the same exact encounter, down to the enemies, Furos leader, and background.
The result, emotionally, was deflation.
One of the most meaningful aspects of many roguelites is a sense of progression and escalation. As it stands, the randomly-generated content in Against the Moon too frequently threatens to sabotage that feeling. Moments like the one described need to be curtailed. Moments like the last boss fight of a successful Luma Run coming down to the wire — victory and defeat being separated by a single turn — need to be effectively built upon and emphasized.
Zoom Out: Verdict
Against the Moon shows a lot of potential, both with its interplay between story and gameplay mechanics and with its robust core deckbuilding framework. That said, it needs a lot of work to realize that potential, and issues with randomization, localization, and clunky worldbuilding could stand to be resolved.
- Some great fights
- Solid combat system
- Ghaldir’s mental battle
- Clunky worldbuilding
- Uneven randomization elements
- Localization issues, unfinished content
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