Incoming excessively-verbose essay getting way too deep into the flaws of a remake of a game for children:
I first played Klonoa 2: Lunatea's Veil when I was around 11 or 12 and happened to rent it from Blockbuster. I hadn't played the first game and knew nothing about the series (though do two games and a couple spinoffs of questionable canonicity actually qualify as a series?) but I wanted something to play and it looked interesting. The story ended up affecting me on such a deep level, having such a huge impact on me, that to this day it's one of my favorite games of all time. I got my own copy secondhand a little while after and it honestly still bugs me that I don't have the original case or manual. Played the first game too, once I was able to do so.
Anyway I bring this up because I recently played Klonoa Phantasy Reverie Series, a remake of both games (played via Steam). The version of Klonoa 1 here is pretty solid, based primarily on the Wii remake but reverting some changes so it's closer to the Playstation original. The first game is good, but I wouldn't rate it much higher than that. It's a well-made 2.5D puzzle-platformer aimed at children, with a greater focus on storytelling than that description would tend to evoke, but the story isn't that deep despite some surprisingly dark moments, and the gameplay suffers a bit from some obnoxious difficulty spikes.
Where I take issue with this remake is the handling of Klonoa 2. It was not nearly as commercially successful as its predecessor but it is by far the better game. The difficulty curve is ironed out a bit, new enemies, tools, and level gimmicks add a lot of variety, and the narrative has a lot of interesting themes handled in an unexpectedly mature manner, albeit presented in a way that even a child can understand (as one might expect from how I reacted to it when I was young). This is where the Klonoa games really figured out what they wanted to be and it still crushes my spirit that this game sold so poorly that they never made a third one.
The remake... what can I call it except frustratingly unpolished? Klonoa 2 had such a distinct visual style and it's badly watered down here. For a cutesy mascot platformer, Lunatea's Veil had an unusually muted color palette with a lot of dark or desaturated textures and stark, moody shading. A lot of this was likely due to the specific hardware of the Playstation 2—multiplatform games of that generation did tend to have muddier textures and more washed-out colors on PS2 compared to Xbox or Gamecube versions—but Klonoa 2 has a much more melancholy tone than the first game and most of its ilk, which the original look complemented and enhanced beautifully. Whether intended or not, it really worked for the game.
The remake looks like Klonoa 1. They more or less unified the aesthetic, to 2's detriment. It's extremely bright, all the colors are highly-saturated, the sharp angles in the character and environment models are all rounded out, and the shading... So the PS2 was technically capable of real-time dynamic lighting, but it was a very new technology for consoles at the time and put such a strain on the hardware that games using it were forced to cut back elsewhere and tended to suffer in other places visually. Klonoa 2 was a very early PS2 game, released only about a year after the console itself, and dynamic lights were kept to a relative minimum. The characters were cel-shaded, and the shadows in most environments were pre-baked by hand, creating the very stark look that I mentioned. The remake uses modern dynamic lighting tech and paradoxically it makes the game look a lot more flat and lifeless. All of the atmosphere is lost. I'll attach a comparison image of the same cutscene from both versions so y'all can see for yourselves just how much of a downgrade it is: the original shot is ominous and imposing where the remake's... exists.
That's not even getting into the other places where the Phantasy Reverie version has a really noticeable lack of polish overall. The presentation of dialogue is a big one: both Klonoa games use a conlang for their voice acting (many characters in the first game use canned voice grunts, but in the sequel it's full voice acting in this fictional language with multiple dialects for different characters, and you can even pick up on some consistent words and phrases and use of proper nouns) and the PS2 version of the second game had the subtitles within its dialogue boxes appear gradually, in sync with the voices, even changing pace or pausing at the same times that the characters do. It was a little thing but it made the text feel properly tied to the spoken dialogue, gave you this sense that you were following the conversation just the same as if they were speaking in plain English. The remake doesn't do that, preferring to have all of the text appear at once, but it still doesn't give you the button prompt to move on to the next line until the voice actor is done speaking. That connection is lost completely, and while it's not something you'd miss if you didn't know about how the original did it, it is unquestionably a loss, and it really speaks to how little care obviously went into this remake.
At its core, this is still the same game I fell in love with most of a lifetime ago. The tight platforming, clever puzzles, appealing characters, and creative environments are all intact. The narrative of grappling with grief and self-doubt, and the ways we self-harm by denying our own feelings, the necessity of accepting and living with even the negative experiences in our lives, is as moving and powerful as it has always been. But the game here is by far a lesser version of itself. I am glad that it exists, because copies of the PS2 version aren't the easiest thing to find anymore and last I checked it had some issues running in emulation, so having a version, even a lesser one, that's widely available is definitely a net positive. And everything I talked about probably would not bother someone who is not familiar with the original and is just playing it now for the first time via this remake (in fact I know this for certain because a friend did just that recently and loved it). But as for me, I have gone back and replayed this game every 2-3 years for the past two decades. I know it intimately. Klonoa 2 is one of those works of media that helped to make me who I am. And every moment I spent playing this remake made me wish I had dusted off my old PS2 and was playing that version instead. And that really isn't a good place for a remake to be.
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