Back in the late '90s, the platforming genre was going through a bit of an identity crisis. The technological heft of consoles like the original PlayStation meant that, for pretty much the first time, our gaming worlds could be expanded into true three-dimensional spaces. However, this meant there was a whole new dimension of problems for developers, and design choices to be made that had never been considered up until that point.
If you look at a game like Super Mario 64, you can see that the game features large, explorable levels but those levels are quite sparsely populated. Naughty Dog's approach with Crash Bandicoot was to create a graphically impressive playground to bounce around in, but the action had to be contained within corridors. Games like Pandemonium! and Klonoa: Door to Phantomile went for a different option: full, 3D worlds and characters, but with gameplay restricted to movement on a two-dimensional plane, like the platformers we already knew and loved.
The reason we're having this little trip down memory lane right now is because Klonoa is more interesting as a curio — a strange little game of some slight historical significance — than it is as an actual game for you to play. As a snapshot into the past, playing Klonoa alongside Super Mario 64 or Crash Bandicoot — themselves both recently re-released — is an interesting experience in seeing how different developers tackled the same problem. It's for that reason more than any other that we're giving Klonoa Phantasy Reverie Series a thumbs up.
The collection here consists of two games. There's Klonoa: Door to Phantomile, originally released on the PS1 in 1997, and Klonoa 2: Lunatea's Veil which was a 2001 PS2 game. Of the two titles, Lunatea's Veil is the better looking and more mechanically sound game, but both are of a similar quality. Each game can be beaten within six or seven hours, with Klonoa 2 being a mite longer, and each features secrets and collectibles that can extend that playtime by another couple of hours on top.
The storytelling of the two titles is excessively saccharine and the cutscenes perhaps run a little too long considering how slight the material is. If you loved these games as a child, or you have a child that you're playing the games with, either nostalgia or vicarious enjoyment might make the storylines worth persevering with. If you're a 30-something newcomer to the series looking for some platforming fun then the skip button might quickly become second nature.
Gameplay involves controlling Klonoa — a sort of weird looking cat child with hand-wings for ears — through multiple fantastical, dreamlike settings. Other than running and jumping, Klonoa's main skill is the ability to grab an enemy and use them as either a tool or a weapon. Tapping the jump button twice after grabbing a baddie will let Klonoa use them as a springboard for a double jump, destroying the creature in the process, and tapping circle will let him throw the enemy as a missile to kill another opponent.
You work your way through each level collecting gems, jumping over deadly pits, taking care of enemies via any of the aforementioned methods, rescuing captive villagers, and eventually reaching the end goal and moving onto the next stage. Periodically you'll battle a boss character. There's nothing here that you haven't seen in a dozen other, better games, but if you're a big fan of 2D platformers then these two games should probably be on your radar.
Both games are mostly fun, entirely inoffensive platforming romps that don't do anything particularly revolutionary but do effuse a certain charm. These are titles that harken back to a time long ago when mascot platformers were about cutesy animals who saved the world while we sat cheering them along with giddy childish glee, and you can't really hate on that. The biggest qualm we have here is that the games — both of them — get a little finicky toward the end after relatively easy beginnings, with some occasional spikes along the way.
Door to Phantomile has been remastered from the 2008 Wii remake rather than the 1997 original, but otherwise both titles are just shinier, more colourful versions of the games you remember. There's a pixel filter so you can make the games look a little more old school if you so desire. There's also a new easy mode that gives you infinite lives, so after dying you can continue from your last checkpoint as many times as you need instead of using a continue and replaying the whole level. And you can also play in co-op, but the second player acts in a support role to help Klonoa on their journey rather than as another character proper.
As is often the case with remasters of this nature, we assume there'll be some consternation among Klonoa aficionados regarding the look of Door to Phantomile. While the visuals are now 4K and so they're better on a technical level than they've ever been, artistically, some of the levels and textures look a little flat, and Klonoa's character model is slightly different. We actually prefer the look of Door to Phantomile with the pixel filter turned on, but there's not a right or wrong here — whether you like how the game looks or not will depend almost entirely upon your own preferences.
Phantasy Reverie Series is a relatively no-frills remaster collection. There's a couple of quality of life improvements and the games have a fresh lick of high definition paint, but if you didn't like Klonoa back in the day then you're not going to like it now. If you didn't play Klonoa at the time then you won't have the prerequisite nostalgia goggles necessary to gaze upon these games and see them for anything more than what they are — a couple of pretty good platformers and little else, and that's fine.