Compared to the likes of Xenoblade Chronicles 3 and the Mario Kart 8 Deluxe DLC, the announcement of Klonoa: Phantasy Reverie Series at the recent Nintendo Direct was probably little more than a blip on some peoples’ radars. For Klonoa fans, however, this news brought pure joy and excitement. Despite barely being over 30 seconds long, the mere acknowledgement of the series’ existence was enough: Klonoa is back, and just in time for his 25th anniversary too, a milestone easily overlooked considering 2022 is also an anniversary year for the likes of Kingdom Hearts and Pokémon.
For anyone unfamiliar with the series, the intense reaction to the announcement might be a tad confusing. A quick YouTube search will reveal plenty of videos of people outright screaming, sometimes crying, with delight. At the time of writing, the reveal trailer on Nintendo’s Twitter account has more likes than even the Xenoblade Chronicles 3 trailer (23.8k to 22k). There has been an intense awakening within the Klonoa fan community, and rightly so because they have been starving for new content for over 10 years.
What Even Is a Klonoa?
The first Klonoa, Door to Phantomile, released for the PlayStation in 1997. A 2D side-scroller with 3D environments, it’s commonly referred to as a 2.5D platformer since you didn’t just go right like in Super Mario Bros. Paths could twist round, and you could see later parts of a level in the background. Rather than jump on or spin into enemies, Klonoa would instead use his magic ring to grab an enemy and inflate them like a balloon, using them as a projectile attack or as a double jump. You could even throw enemies into the foreground and background to obtain out-of-reach collectibles or solve puzzles.
In the grand scheme of mascot platformers, Klonoa did a lot to stand out and be unique, and it did partly pay off. Most reviews praised it for its controls, gameplay, and visuals -- the latter being particularly impressive at the time. Klonoa himself boasted an appealing design, bearing cat- and rabbit-like traits while still being a completely original creature, and despite its colorful, seemingly kid-friendly nature, Door to Phantomile’s story could be surprisingly mature at points. Its ending, in particular, gained a reputation for being shockingly tragic for a game that’s mostly sunshine and rainbows.
Unfortunately, despite having all the hallmarks of becoming a new mascot for Namco (this was before it merged with Bandai), the game didn’t sell super well and went on to become a cult classic, something not many played but those who did swore by as one of their favorites growing up. Things sadly didn’t really pick up afterwards.
Following a Japan-only Wonderswan game, Klonoa: Moonlight Museum (which was a traditional 2D side-scroller), a PlayStation 2 sequel, Klonoa 2: Lunatea’s Veil, launched in 2001 and, much like its predecessor, received glowing reviews across the board. The core gameplay wasn’t any different, but it offered new enemy types that gave Klonoa more options for platforming challenges and puzzles, new surfboarding levels, a new world and characters, and updated graphics and presentation that saw many describe it as one of the best-looking games on the console. It even won several accolades from some outlets, with it just managing to break into IGN’s top 10 PS2 games of 2001.
But, as if doomed to repeat a cycle, the praise didn’t translate into sales. Defiant, the series persisted, although a Klonoa 3 never came to be. Instead, Namco offered slightly smaller fare in the form of a volleyball spin-off that, bizarrely, released for the PS1 even though it came one year after Klonoa 2. It also released two 2D platformers -- Klonoa: Empire of Dreams and Klonoa 2: Dream Champ Tournament -- and an action-RPG spin-off called Klonoa Heroes for the Game Boy Advance. But there were signs to suggest that Namco was losing any faith it had in its would-be mascot.
Dream Champ Tournament released in Japan in 2002, but North America wouldn’t see it until 2005 and the rest of the world never got it. As for Klonoa Heroes, it too launched in 2002 and remained exclusive to Japan. The series proceeded to go dormant, possibly never to return, until Bandai Namco saw an opportunity to revive it for its 10th anniversary.
Enter Klonoa, a complete remake of the first game exclusive to the Nintendo Wii in 2008 for Japan and 2009 for the West with updated visuals, full English and Japanese voice acting (characters in the original spoke in a made-up language), new unlockables, and extra modes. And just like the original, it failed to yield strong sales. Branded a commercial failure, Bandai Namco cancelled all further efforts to revive the series, including a Wii remake of Klonoa 2.
10+ Years of Silence
It has now been roughly 13 years since then, and there has not been a single piece of official new Klonoa content. Barring a few cameos in other games, there was a 2012 webcomic titled Klonoa: Dream Traveller of Noctis Sol that was published by ShiftyLook, a Bandai Namco subsidiary dedicated to reviving older gaming franchises like Klonoa, Bravoman, and Wonder Momo through other mediums. But that too was short-lived, with ShiftyLook as a whole being shut down in 2014, only two years after the website launched. The Klonoa webcomic’s efforts to give fans a new adventure were rendered null and void (although there now exists a fan-made continuation). There was an attempt to get a movie adaptation off the ground at one point, but the project was cancelled in 2019.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, the gaming industry’s poor preservation efforts mean the series is near impossible to re-experience. The first game was only ever re-released digitally on the PlayStation 3’s storefront and has since been de-listed in the U.K., while the two GBA platformers were added to the Wii U eShop (Dream Champ Tournament is still North America only), but that will be shutting down next year.
This is why fans are so thrilled to see Klonoa escape platformer mascot limbo with Phantasy Reverie Series. Aside from making his two home console adventures properly available for modern audiences, it proves that he hasn’t been forgotten, and the remasters offer another chance to see him actually succeed for once. And with the remasters coming to every major platform, the odds of new fans discovering these beloved titles are far greater than they would be if they were Nintendo Switch exclusives. Considering how loud Klonoa fans are being now, this may hopefully help shine the spotlight on the series and get people to see just what all the fuss is about.
At the end of the day, some may still question why there’s so much fanfare surrounding a couple of cartoony platformers for children that don’t appear to have had any meaningful impact on the genre. Maybe it’s simple nostalgia, or maybe these games came at an important time in peoples’ lives. Maybe fans resonated with the gameplay or the character himself in a special way. Unlike other forgotten mascots such as Bubsy and Gex, Klonoa never attempted to be cool or funny or relevant, making wisecracks as he winked at the camera. He and his series are genuinely sincere, unafraid to be whimsical and bright yet also dark and foreboding.
There’s always a chance history will repeat itself once more and the series will fall back into obscurity. But for the first time in years, Klonoa fans have something tangible to look forward to. And as long as they keep that love for the series alive, there may always be a chance of another game. Even if he goes away for another 10 years or so, Klonoa will still have a passionate audience waiting for him, ready to tearily welcome him back.