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Remembering Klonoa and the Door to Phantomile

It is a well-known fact that in the 90's every successful gaming company was looking to have their own mascot to represent their work. Though not many garnered the same attention as Mario or Sonic the Hedgehog, there were quite a few gaming mascots that also got their start roughly around the same time. Some with their own unique platforming games. Though they never quite made it as big, they still have a large fan following even years later. Some of these underrated games took risks by adding their own spin on the platforming genre such as Billy Hatcher's Eggs (Billy Hatcher being another Sega property) or Blinx's time-manipulating mechanic (an interesting Xbox character released in 2002).

However, if I had to pick a favorite gaming mascot, it would have to be the lop-eared Klonoa who first made his debut in 1997 featured as the main protagonist of Klonoa: Door to Phantomile.

And since the game recently celebrated its 20th anniversary on December 11, 2017, it's the perfect time to take another look at this long-lived classic.

I will mainly be talking about this very first game and not the remake since a that is where the first impression on the character comes from. Though I can't tell you how happy I was to see this game re-released for the Wii, I can't say I enjoyed all the changes it made. From the main character's redesign to the dubbing which really wasn't necessary (What on earth was wrong with just keeping the original audio?). But thankfully, the PlayStation Network still has the classic title in all its PS1 style glory.

So, what makes this game and character such an underrated classic?

First, let's talk about his first appearance, in Door to Phantomile.

One thing that immediately struck me from the very opening title, was the quality of the animated cutscenes. While this is clearly Playstation 1 level graphics, the animation acting follows all the right cues to make Klonoa as endearing through his actions instead of words. Though Klonoa does talk in the game, I love that initially, the game tries to sell us on this strange rabbit/cat boy from just the character design alone. The animation during the game itself has a strange almost storybook look to it. A look that surprisingly wasn't all that common back then. This helped to make the game distinctive and set it apart from icons like Sonic and Mario so there would be no way to confuse them.

Now I know what some of you might be thinking already. That this all well and good, but this game is clearly designed to be a kids game right? Well...it does have a lot of cute charm that young kids can play but there is a basic fantasy plot that can entertain gamers of any age. Going on a journey around a world of dreams, uniting its inhabitants in order to save a damsel in distress and prevent the world from becoming a nightmare? That sounds pretty awesome to me (And a bit like Sega's Nights but I had a lot more fun with Klonoa). And even that's just a bit of the story, there are actually quite a few surprising twists that not even an adult could see coming. Helping the Door to Phantomile hit that sweet spot between simplicity and complexity.

A key mechanic in the game using a wind bullet to pick up enemies, using them as projectiles 

Have you ever had a feeling when you play a classic platformer game that you used to play when you were a kid, where you get a warm fuzzy feeling in your gut and are having so much fun that the hours just fly by? Klonoa manages to accomplish just that from its game-play alone. In each area of the game, Klonoa runs on a two-dimensional plane in a three-dimensional world until reaching the end of the level. In order to reach it, Klonoa has to get through legions of enemies by jumping, grabbing and throwing them in order to proceed. While that doesn't sound like much, the level design does a fantastic job in making you use this to your advantage. For example, if there is an extra high jump you can grab a nearby enemy with Klonoa's wind bullet and use said enemy in order to double jump. Also, thanks to the three-dimensional levels, if there is a enemy attacking you from off the main path, you can grab the closest baddy, line up your shot and take them both out at once.

What is Klonoa? Cat or Rabbit? Doesn't matter, he is still cute.

As for Klonoa himself, his initial design was very simple but had all the right touches to pull in the viewer. Round face and big eyes? Check. A sideways baseball cap that conveniently has the Pac-man symbol on it to let the viewer know the character's brand? Check. Long loppy ears typically associated with cute rabbits? Check. Occasionally makes meowing noises while also apparently having the sharp teeth of a cat? Double check. A ridiculously large collar that is ten times bigger than the character's neck? Check? Not sure what the purpose of that last one was but it was definitely distinctive.

If I had to pick a word to describe the initial design and character traits, it would be innocence. Everything about him portrays an innocent soul that you see in most children stories. But Klonoa's games also expand on this idea to see how well innocence can persist in the face of adversity. Not in a naïve or denial sort of way, but in a way that shows the heart can be resilient enough to get through anything. Sorrow, death, or any manner of nightmare may make the heart wiser, but not change what it is at its core. Whether or not Klonoa was really meant to communicate this or not I have no idea, but that is how I chose to interpret it.

Along with the charming design of the characters and world, the soundtrack is impressive in its own right. The theme from the Windmill Village, “Playing in the Wind,” has been played in other Namco games such as Tales of Vesperia. Not only is the song extremely catchy but it does a decent job setting the theme of the adventure and even a little extra characterization of the game's hero.

If I could, I would sing this game's praises, and it's wonderful sequel till my throat is sore. But of course, the best way to understand what I'm talking about is to go out and play it. While it may be almost impossible to find a physical copy nowadays, the original game is available on PlayStation Network for a good price. Have a look and have some fun.