The mainline Klonoa games have always been held in high regard by enthusiasts and collectors as cult classic platformers—hidden gems of their respective console’s libraries. This is a shame since the Klonoa series has all the ingredients to be a full-fledged franchise: simple but engaging mechanics, a vibrant visual style, an instantly recognizable main character, and stories that sit with you long after the final credit rolls. One would think that Klonoa wouldn’t have just succeeded but soared in the halcyon days of the late nineties and early aughts era of mascot platformers. Unfortunately, despite a number of handheld spin-off titles and a short-lived revival on Wii, Klonoa never found its footing as a financially viable franchise.
Klonoa Phantasy Reverie Series is Bandai Namco’s latest attempt to give the Dream Traveler a new lease on life. This package contains remasters of the PlayStation original Klonoa: Door to Phantomile (based on the Wii remake) and the PlayStation 2 sequel Klonoa 2: Lunatea’s Veil. Two incredible games that are absolutely worth the price of admission, even if the shell they come in is a little undercooked.
Door to Phantomile’s gameplay is a tried-and-true platforming joy. As one of the pioneers in the 2.5D platformer genre, you move left or right on a 2D plane in a 3D environment, jump to clear gaps or overcome obstacles, and use a flutter to help with longer distances and repositioning. The main wrinkle in gameplay is Klonoa’s handy wind bullet that acts as a short-distance grab with many uses, chief of which is to snag baddies and inflate them like balloons above your head. Klonoa can then toss them straight ahead as an attack or boost himself off them for one of the best feeling double jumps in all of video games. It’s such a simple idea that is so easy to grasp and yet the superb level design expands on this one mechanic for platforming and puzzle-solving in ways that keep it fresh throughout.
Early visions (levels in the Klonoa nomenclature) tend to be straightforward point-A-to-point-B affairs as they guide new players through the base mechanics. It’s the later visions that realize the full potential of both Klonoa’s wind bullet and the 2.5D world. These stages take advantage of the 3D environment by incorporating detours, split routes, and creative backtracking otherwise impossible to portray in a completely flat world. Oftentimes your path will fork into multiple routes or twist into knots around a bend or follow a corkscrew course up a column in ways that, in conjunction with the visuals, roots the environments that Klonoa travels in with a real sense of place. Door to Phantomile is a classic and holds up incredibly well even after two decades.
Klonoa 2: Lunatea’s Veil is one of those rare perfect sequels. It carries over the solid platforming and visual flourish that made Door to Phantomile great and then builds on those concepts with a grander world and a more cinematic presentation. Visions are paced exceptionally well, hitting a sweet spot of length, visual variety, platforming, and puzzles. The first game also had light puzzle elements strewn about the levels but they take a larger focus in the sequel and were the highlight in most levels. My personal favorite vision was the mind-bending Maze of Memories, which places puzzle-platforming challenges front and center and is just one of the many examples of the creative locales that you will visit in Lunatea. Another highlight are the various hoverboard levels dotted throughout the adventure. Standard Klonoa levels have always been leisurely paced jaunts so the faster reaction-based hoverboard sections are a welcome addition.
I won’t be digging too deeply into the stories of these games, partially because the plots are so straightforward. The cliff notes summary of both Door to Phantomile and Lunatea’s Veil can be described as globetrotting adventures in fantastical settings where Klonoa and his friends must seek out important people and/or gather McGuffins in an attempt to save the world from malicious forces. The other reason why I won’t divulge further is that both these stories carry something deeper just below the whimsical fairytale surface. All I’ll say is that there are just enough poignant moments that I still think about and that grant both games an unexpected emotional heft. It is hard to choose which narrative was my favorite, but there is a clear step up in presentation in the sequel. Klonoa 2 is very cinematic with much more time and effort spent on worldbuilding, dialogue, and characters making it the more substantial narrative of the two.
But enough about the individual games. How does Phantasy Reverie Series fare as a package? Developer MonkeyCraft has delivered a solid product, albeit an unambitious one. It’s a light touch remaster, more of a refresh than an overhaul. The visual upgrade is true to the spirit of the series, leaning into a style that is bright, cheery and saturated. It’s a pleasant enough looking port but performance is subpar for what is ultimately a Wii and a PS2 game with an HD makeover. Framerate was well above 30fps for the vast majority of my playthrough but there is still an odd jitteriness from the game not quite being able to consistently hit 60fps. And with no way to lock the framerate to 30fps, that slight choppiness was something I had to get used to. There are even steeper drops during cutscenes and some bosses but these were few and far between enough to not bother me. These ports are still absolutely playable and run well enough in both docked and handheld mode, but this is coming from someone who plays primarily on Switch and is willing to sacrifice picture and performance for portability.
Another letdown is the music, both soundtracks have been left unchanged; this is not a huge loss considering they were great to begin with but I can’t help but wish that Bandai Namco shelled out the resources to revamp the music to match the visual upgrade. Beyond that, there are some peripheral changes like expanded tutorials, tweaked translations, and difficulty options. Easy and Normal difficulties are both available at the start with the Hard difficulty unlocking after completing a playthrough. The two main differences in these difficulties are how much health you have per life and how far your wind bullet reaches. Easy is the only difficulty to feature the extended range wind bullet, which feels much better than the shorter reach on Normal and Hard. But Easy mode also has a massive health gauge and infinite lives so it becomes a choice between gutting the difficulty or playing with worse controls. Thankfully you can swap between difficulties whenever you want so I suggest you find the one that feels best to you early on and then stick to that one for the remainder of your playthrough.
It’s apparent that Phantasy Reverie Series was a budget job, but it stays in its lane and delivers two excellent games in one okay package. And yet this so-so port is maybe one of the greatest gaming gifts of the year. Thanks to it, I was able to reconnect with the simple pleasure of Door to Phantomile and also be introduced to the wonder that was Lunatea’s Veil for the very first time. After about eight hours spent across both titles, I’m reminded of how special these games are, in the whole grand pantheon of platforming icons there is still nothing quite like Klonoa. Thoughtful, intricate levels built around simple gratifying mechanics wrapped in a world that is dreamy and whimsical, yet with an undercurrent of melancholy. That’s why I wish Phantasy Reverie Series gave me just a little more or ran a little better. When something beloved has been lost for so long, it’s hard to not cling to any and every bit you can get in fear that it will be torn away from you yet again. Ultimately I’m just thankful for the chance that we have now to wipe the decades-old dust from these hidden gems. Maybe, if only for a moment, not so hidden anymore.