A couple months ago I was invited to try out Moonrise, a text based urban fantasy interactive novel by Natalie Cannon. Although I usually stick to visual novels, since I had played and enjoyed other choice of games before, I decided to give Moonrise a try and write a review for it.
While the game had an interesting premise with smooth, enjoyable prose and witty modern humor, my overall experience has been a rather mixed bag, probably because I don’t appear to fall into the specific audience for the game. I’ll give a vague outline of the plot and share my impressions while trying to not give too much away. In order to prevent constantly switching between “the player”/“you”/“us” etc, when referring to the character we are playing I’m going to use “Heather” (a name from the list of choices available, you can also type in whatever you wish) and “she”.
The basic gameplay of Moonrise is the same as most games on the choice of games platform, all text with no graphics and only stat based choices. The game offers the option to choose between she/her and they/them pronouns at the very start, but as per the basic game premise (supernatural celebration of queer femininity), player cannot identify as male in this game so no he/his pronouns. Choosing between cis/trans/other/not saying is also available, though I felt that there was an assumption that the player is not cis or at least is someone who is pretty invested in using specific pronouns (early game it’s mentioned that “you” talked to Alice about your pronouns).
While the game description claims that the main character may be asexual and there are dialogue choices which allow you to refuse romantic advances saying you are asexual, I felt that the narration didn’t really reflect that since there were many parts in the common scenes (regardless of route or picked choices) where you express strong attraction towards beautiful women. The 3 love interests were pretty likable and varied in their backstories and personality, although I wish all of them got equal amount of screentime (your roommate inevitably gets more scenes than the otherworldly goddess you meet in the last chapter). You can date just a single person or multiple people at once.
The players also get to choose between being “Fierce” (20% initial boost to Bloodthirst, Uncanny, Defense attributes) or “Civilized” (20% boost to Empathy, Responsibility, Snark attributes). The choices throughout the game either raise these attributes further or improve your relationship with the love interests.
For those who are concerned about homophobia, Moonrise very briefly mentions the existence of homophobic people but for the most part all the characters treat LGBTQA+ people as very normal (example: Heather finds Alice’s puppy love for a girl in her class very cute), so no need to worry on that account.
The pace of the game is pretty fast right from the start, we begin with “Heather” directly being thrown into a situation where the player has just transformed into a wolf. Another werewolf called “Alice” soon finds us while Heather is confusedly struggling between canine instincts and human reason. I really liked the part where “you” still are convinced that you are a 100% pure wolf and are completely operating under that impression, lol. All the wolf related terms also are rather endearing, time to refer to all my close friends as my packmates ❤
At first I was a little bit wary of Alice, who is revealed (within 5 minutes of playing) to be the one to have turned Heather into a werewolf, but she grew on me very quickly, especially with her youthful admiration of Heather and the open vulnerability she shows to us. I’m also grateful to her for helping Heather turn back human, the idea of getting stuck as a wolf forever (which Alice mentioned happening to some people) sounded pretty disturbing. (I did giggle at how Heather was like “bleh, wolves have it better, no student loans”)
Alice returns together with Heather to Heather’s home which she shares with her best friend and roommate Rosario, the first LI we run into. I liked Rosario’s character and sense of humor a lot (random: I bust a lung laughing when the narration mentioned them lightly smelling of weed), though I wish the narration used less jargon when explaining Rosario’s lifestyle as an adventurous and dynamic queer person (this issue popped up a couple of times later in the game too, though not frequently enough to be a deal breaker). The below paragraph made me stare for a solid minute before I managed to comprehend everything.
Rosario is super relieved to see Heather safe and quickly warms up to Alice, and in order to develop a relationship with Rosario (also if you’re interested in building up your empathy stat, very useful for diplomatic options) we must be friendly towards Alice and let her stay in our home. To be honest it’s hard to be an asshole to Alice, she’s a cutie. I liked it when Alice was described during this scene to have corkscrew hair and dark skin, yay for varied designs!
Anyway, around this time we learn that Heather is a doctor-in-training working for their residency. I laughed at the part where after picking a choice, the prose apologized to me for doubting that I’d call work to inform my circumstances.This is the point where the free part ends.
Regardless of whether we go to our job, meet our coworkers and interact with patients, or go all SCREW U to your job and hang around in a park (irresponsible, imo, you’ve been missing for a day because of this whole wolf business), you run into the second LI, Chika, a seemingly cold and quiet young doctor who works in the same place as Heather and is actually also a werewolf.
She also seems to have harbored a strong crush on Heather for quite a while, even during routes where I’ve acted very distant towards her so far she pretty much immediately confesses and we get the option to kiss her. Personally I prefer more buildup in romantic relationships in my stories, but I guess this isn’t surprising considering that we have already spent about 2 chapters on the prologue and this is a short game consisting of only 8 chapters.
The next few chapters are a mix of slice of life situations where Alice, Rosario and Heather blossom into a pretty cute makeshift family, with optional scenes of bonding in wolf form with Alice. Alice also gives us a lot of information about the vampire and werewolf lore of this world, and informs Heather about the 2 opposing factions of the supernatural society: the masquerade, who prefer to keep the human and supernatural worlds separate and operate as an organization under strict rules of secrecy, and the rogues, who prefer a wild and free approach in life and wish to go public about the existence of supernatural creatures.
Not gonna lie, the masquerade sounds amazing on paper, being their part apparently means getting your university tuition paid and guaranteed jobs after graduation, that sounds like a dream lol. However they are a bit to stuck up for Alice’s tastes, especially because of her foster parent who is someone high up in the Masquerade and pretty unpleasant. Rogues sound rather bad at this point since Alice mentions being “hunted” early game and they are supposed to be the ones “after” her.
In Chapter 6 we run into Cassandra, a vampire and the foster parent mentioned above, who pretty much kidnaps us to her place. Over the course of a very tense and threatening conversation, she gives us plenty of reasons to NOT consider signing up for the masquerade, though I think that was the opposite of her intention. The game’s description of Cassandra’s attitude towards young people like they were “particularly ugly vase that begs to be shattered” sounds so accurate to how some old people act lol. We have to escape Cassandra by choosing either diplomacy or violence, and choosing the wrong option that you don’t have enough attributes for can get you killed.
(Random: Cassandra being portrayed positively in some future scenes after claiming to eat her servants is unnerving. I hope that was a joke ;;;;)
If chapter 6 was the one familiarizing us with the masquerade, chapter 7 is the equivalent part for rogues. We meet up with Chika who is relieved to see Heather safe (even out of her route she acts way too familiar when it comes to physical distance with Heather, her cold queen settings vanish when it involves the person she likes, lol), and reveals herself as the leader of the rogues. We get a bunch of information about the rogues’ motivations and plans, and the misunderstanding that they want to harm Alice is cleared up. (It’s also possible to get some more explanation earlier in the game if you acted all wolf-y right from the start and went on a solo wandering trip which Chika joins)
After the conversation Chika springs a sudden offer for a date on Heather, which made me giggle during the walkthroughs where I rejected her hard. It was extra funny because we had been talking about serious stuff™ right until that point. It is possible to go on a date with her and have a sexual encounter afterwards. All dates in this game can end in sex, but it is optional.
There is a scene with Rosario where we hang out and have some heart-to-heart talk soon after the encounter with Chika, and this can end up being a date depending on our choices, regardless of whether we are already dating Chika or not. I think there is a malfunctioning romance flag here because Rosario talks as if I’m dating Chika even if I have refrained from ALL romantic choices with Chika.
At the start of chapter 8 we are forced to choose between the masquerade and the rogues, though considering the way the representatives from these groups (Cassandra and Chika) have treated us until this point, choosing the masquerade seems like madness.
If we choose the Masquerade, Alice and Heather visit Cassandra again to join the society. We meet people other than Cassandra who thankfully are pleasant enough, and suddenly a masquerade member came to seek Cassandra’s help and we ended up being asked to help perform some ritual to teleport somewhere and rescue/steal Dracula’s brides??? What? I was very confused during this part because the story flow suddenly became very fast and I was having difficulty keeping up.
During this mission there is a possible dead end (ironic, the people who we went to rescue end up accidentally killing Heather), but as long as things go smoothly, we encounter Ishara, the last LI who a special werewolf from some other far away place (planet? dimension?) and treated like a goddess by the supernatural community because of her special powers and JAW DROPPING BEAUTY. She likes the way Heather treats her casually unlike everyone else, and there is another sudden date offer.
After the rescuing of Dracula brides, we get a slice of life-ish scene with them, Cassandra, Ishara and Rosario in a coffee shop. This is where we finally get some backstory on Cassandra and learn about some of her positive points, being a lesbian Robin Hood of sorts isn’t something I expected from her XD
Although I don’t think it’s possible to keep your relationship with Chika intact in this path, you can talk with your other 2 love interests about the nature of your relationship (open/closed, romantic/queerplatonic). There was one playthrough when I somehow found Ishara sitting on Heather’s lap and kissing Rosario, wild.
Before the final fight, there is a brief scene where Chika meets up with Heather and is quite heartbroken over her choosing the masquerade. Soon after that the day comes where we face off against the Rogues who have decided on a kill or get killed approach.
If we choose the Rogues instead, there is no falling out with Chika (she’s ecstatic to have Heather join them) and we visit the Rogues’ hangout instead. After some socialization we embark on a journey to find Alice’s biological dad who is a powerful but loner werewolf and a possible valuable ally for our fight against the masquerade. This course of option made a lot more sense to me than the Dracula bride thing in the masquerade route.
We manage to locate the man and he joins our cause (I laughed at Alice and his naked reunion, the side effect of transforming between wolf and human forms), not only because he’s annoyed by the masquerade’s way of doing things but also because he suspects them being involved in the death of Alice’s mother and Alice becoming a werewolf (werewolf genes aren’t hereditary). In the Masquerade route Cassandra claims to not have done it, so I’m curious what exactly happened.
We also run into Ishara while on this mission (I’m curious how she is here instead of wherever she was during the other route, how exactly did the butterfly effect work?), and similar to the Masquerade route, get the chances to flirt with her and go on a date. It was interesting how Ishara sex scene has a little more detail than others, and extra text about being trans if your character is trans too (If you are cis she just mentions it during the date).
After the mission there is a party where we can do a lot of socializing, and similar to the masquerade route, confirm with your love interest(s) about the nature of your relationship. Then once again it is the time for the final fight, only this time it’s the Masquerade attacking us.
I must admit that I was somewhat disappointed with how brief the final fight was. The few paragraphs leading up to the fight are pretty much the same in the Masquerade and the Rogues version, then we simply get to choose between persuading for peace, fighting to kill or to defend. Every one of these choices only have one paragraph explaining the result. During my first playthrough this caught me by surprise as I was expecting to actually read a tear jerking speech about living together in peace, not just a super concise summary. The epilogue is also basically just that, a sentence each about the final fate of the characters who stayed with you until the end.
Writing: The prose is where the game shines. The usage of uncommon (but not unknown) vocabulary in the more metaphorical imagery was lovely.
However, there are places where some unfamiliar LGBT terms or custom pronouns caught me off guard and made me pause to look stuff up. Personally I believe using too many technical terms in stories makes dialogue sound a bit forced and disrupts narration, but thankfully such instances weren’t very common in moonrise.
The humor was great, me frequently laughing over random things while describing the plot should be proof enough of that. The worldbuilding was done with a lot of care and the flow of plot was pretty logical for the most part, but towards the end I couldn’t comprehend the logic behind some events and even after multiple playthroughs I haven’t found any explanations for a couple of things, like the real mystery surrounding Alice’s mother’s death.
Characterization: Characterization was good but varying in quantity- Rosario and Alice were pretty well rounded character development wise and I loved their cute family-like interactions. I was all AWWW when Heather called the place with them her home ;v;
Compared to that Chika felt more of an enigma, but her date and the optional running off into the woods scene still gave her some chances to develop (though it mostly confirmed that she was a good person wishing for freedom and we didn’t really learn much about her personal emotions aside from liking Heather). Poor Ishara got even less chances, so all I managed to grasp was her loneliness. All three of the romance interests shared the issue of overly rapid romantic developments though, though in varying extents (repeat: poor Ishara).
Some side characters like Cassandra got detailed backstories, but it’s hard to grow to like her after experiencing ends where we got killed at her hand over something small. Because this story is only available in the masquerade path and there is no foreshadowing about her positive qualities before the route split, a lot of people might simply never play this path.
Player customization: I also wish the game description didn’t imply that the player character can be customized a lot. Considering how it was implied that the player had an abusive family and is trying to become a doctor because she wants to do and be “better’, imo the already present backstory is too defined for story to be immersive. I personally don’t seek to self insert so it’s not a problem for me (I PREFER this to a blank slate), but it may be for others who came into the game with wrong expectations.
One more thing I would like to see implemented in future versions is choosing if I was polyromantic/polysexual or not at the start of the game. Regardless of whether the player has locked into a romance route or not, “you” still keep thirsting after the beautiful possible LIs that cross your path. I found that rather distracting during my first playthrough since I was playing the game while planning to develop a monogamist cis lesbian character and I felt a disconnect whenever it happened.
Ending: Lastly, the ending. I don’t mind the short epilogues, but the description of the “final fight” was simply so short that it felt anticlimactic, so I will just hope that the ending will be more extended with detailed scenes in a later version.
In summary? Good prose, interesting worldbuilding but too-short romance and rushed ending. Worth a read if you like modern fiction with fantasy supernatural elements involving lots of queer characters and aren’t overly critical in your evaluation of the flow and logic in a story. The game is really cheap though, the amount of content you get is definitely worth $1.99, so if the game sounds like your cup of tea go ahead and try it out!
P/S: A short guide on maxing out the relationship points: being nice to the LI is a given, go on dates with them, and pick the following choices which might not seem obvious (I might be missing some choices that seem obvious to me but actually aren’t orz):
Chika: Ask Naoki to move but politely, Hold her hand (during date), Ask to come up for “coffee” (sex/literal coffee), Don’t choose the masquerade (duh)
Rosario: Embrace her, We let her (Alice) live here, Yes, spar without hurting
Ishara: Compliment, Flirt Back