Every person who grew up playing video games has this one game that may have caused them irreversible trauma. A game that scarred them so much to the point they avoided anything else related to it. While most would probably think the honor of traumatizing a kid would be reserved for horror games like Resident Evil or Silent Hill, the game which traumatized me as a kid is the farthest thing away from a scary game. That game is none other than Klonoa: Door to Phantomile for the PlayStation.
I should state that I love this game. I love this franchise. In fact, the reason I’m writing this article is that I’m excited about the remastered release of this game, and its excellent sequel. Klonoa is without a doubt one of my favorite game series of all time, and I’d even say one which is very important to me as a gamer. If you haven’t played these games before, then I would highly recommend you pick the new collection up. These are some quality platformers any fan of the genre should play.
That being said…the first game in the series, which debuted on the original PlayStation back in 1997 (and was also remade for the Wii in 2008), includes one of the most traumatizing endings to any game I have ever played in my life. And yes, we’re going to talk about it in this article.
Entering the Dream Realm
The story starts with the titular Klonoa, a young cat with very long ears, finding a mysterious ring while playing in the forest near his village. Upon pulling the ring from the ground, Klonoa meets the spirit living inside the ring, a blue spirit-like creature named Huepow. The two quickly become friends and spend their time playing together. One day, a ship crashes in the village, and Klonoa and Huepow investigate. The duo finds out that an evil creature named Ghadious and his clown sidekick Joka kidnapped the Songstress Lephise, who’s destined to purify the world from nightmares with the ‘Song of Rebirth’.
“Phantomile,” the world in which the game takes place, is made of people’s dreams. More specifically, those who dreamed these dreams do not remember anything about them. Ghadious’s plan is to make Phantomile a world constructed solely out of nightmares and in order to do that, he needs to awaken the ultimate nightmare named Nahatomb. Being the feisty and well-meaning kid that he is, Klonoa sets out with Huepow to stop Ghadious, save Lephise, and bring order to Phantomile.
I know that you’re all probably thinking this sounds like a standard plot to a cartoony platformer aimed at all ages; so did I. Halfway through the game, however, the gloves come right off.
The Terrible Twists
Joka, Ghadious’s sidekick, learns that Klonoa’s grandfather has the moon pendant belonging to Lephise and kills him by blasting him with a laser cannon. Now, a parent or mentor character dying in a story fitting for all ages isn’t anything new, especially not in 1997, but considering the game’s cutesy atmosphere, I wasn’t ready for it at all… and that was only the first twist to slap me in the face.
Near the end of the game, Klonoa and Huepow reach The Moon Kingdom, where we discover that Huepow is actually the prince while his mother is the queen. Klonoa is initially taken aback by this revelation but agrees to help Huepow out anyway because he still sees him as a friend.
While Klonoa is an awesome friend and he’s quite literally too good for this world, Huepow starts losing his goodwill with me here. Many times throughout the journey, we question if the Moon Kingdom is actually real and what exactly Ghadious is planning to do; at no point throughout the journey did it occur to Huepow that Klonoa should know about this? Considering the two see each other as best friends, this just comes out as too big of a secret to keep from Klonoa. Some might even see it as a lie.
Klonoa might be willing to help Huepow because they’ve come this far, but this young gamer right here? I started questioning a lot of things regarding this supposed “best friend”.
Shortly after, Klonoa ends up defeating Ghadius, but not before Nahatomb manages to come back. Huepow tells Klonoa that there’s no choice and that he’ll have to shoot Huepow into Nahatomb in order to be rid of him. Klonoa hesitates but does so anyway. It's kind of a sad moment, but we’ve seen those ‘fake sacrifices' scenes before. Huepow survives… only to deliver the most shocking plot twist in video game history.
Back in Klonoa’s village, Huepow is recovering from his wounds and our hero asks him if now that the threat has been defeated, Huepow would have to go back to The Moon Kingdom. The answer Klonoa receives shocks him… and it still sends shivers down my back years after…
Klonoa is actually not a part of this world.
A bit before the final fight there’s an implication that Klonoa might actually be a “strange dream” or a “Dream Traveler” who actually doesn’t belong in this world. The childhood memories he has of growing up in the village and meeting Huepow were actually fake memories created by Huepow in order to ensure Klonoa would help him defeat Nahatomb and save Lephise.
If all of that isn’t enough, as Lephise sings the Song of Rebirth, the song actually gets rid of everything which doesn’t exist in this world, Klonoa included. The game then ends with Klonoa being sucked away back to his world as he cries while expressing his unwillingness to leave.
This ending broke me as a kid. I think this may have been the first game that ever made me cry. The previous two plot twists may have been rough, but this one was just a gut-punch of the highest degree. After this entire journey, managing through the challenges, losing your grandfather, finding out your best friend used you, defeating the big nightmare, and thinking you lost the above-mentioned best friend…you were actually not real to any of the people you met in your adventure at all. I thought I earned my happy ending, but no. I was cheated out of it. I was tricked.
This ending is one of the main reasons I grew up having trust issues. It was THIS bad for me. So why do I love it? Why do I still love this game, and more so the depressing ending, to the point that I replayed and completed it many times after my initial shock?
Why Is This Ending Worth It?
Well, besides the fun and unique gameplay of Klonoa, it’s fascinating to look back at this story from an adult perspective. I may have just seen this ending as the saddest plot twist ever, and I still think it is, but I grew to appreciate how much it is open for interpretation. The main takeaway online is of course that Klonoa is an avatar of the player. Him not belonging in this world and being forced out of it is a metaphor for the player turning the game off, or waking up from a dream back in the real world as it were.
While it’s debatable if Klonoa does in fact have a home world (there is no official answer as of the time I’m writing this), his refusal to leave his fake home and friends behind even if he was manipulated signifies denial and unwillingness to accept reality.
Huepow also tries to keep Klonoa in his world, even though he knew all along that Klonoa would have to leave eventually. He did an awful thing but it is still shown he saw Klonoa as a true friend and the both of them did grow close throughout their adventure. In a way, Huepow carries a lot of guilt with him as he tells Klonoa the truth. His smile as the very last frame before the credits roll can also imply a lot of things. Is he glad he got to meet Klonoa at all? Is he smiling knowing his world is safe? Maybe he’s relieved Klonoa survived to go home safely.
None of these questions are answered and are left for the gamers to figure out.
Klonoa Is a Pain Worth Living
For a game with such a kiddy appearance that most gamers would write off as a game for babies, Klonoa: Door to Phantomile has one of the most adult and thought-provoking stories I’ve ever experienced in a video game. Is it the deepest game story ever written? Probably not, but it is up there.
I’ll never forget the emotional roller coaster Klonoa provided me, and I’m definitely looking forward to going through it again when Klonoa Phantasy Reverie Series hits very soon.
Trauma sucks whenever it hits you, but this is one trauma I came to appreciate as I grew older
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