In today’s fast-paced, sequel-oriented gaming industry, it’s common to see entire franchises dropped in our laps. As each new intellectual property quickly becomes a series – with more than a few sporting yearly updates – it becomes a welcome nicety to witness the occasional one-off with intentions only to deliver a pleasant and unique game experience. Well, one of those initially refreshing games has received a sequel; yet somehow Musashi: Samurai Legend, sequel to Square’s PS1 action RPG Brave Fencer Musashi, retains the distinctive attitude and spirit successfully established by the original back in 1998.
As the protagonist you assume the role of Musashi, the legendary Japanese swordsman, before he becomes a famous warrior. Of course, as with the first game, certain liberties have been taken with historical fact (and by certain liberties, of course, that means everything is made up). In the game, Princess Mycella of the Mystics summons Musashi across the boundaries of time and space to combat the evil Gandrake Enterprises – a heartless company set on exploiting the Mystics for their Nebulite fuel. During Musashi’s ensuing quest he’ll battle ninja robots, giant sea monsters, and other abominations in his bid to rescue Mycella from the sinister President Gandrake.
However, before you can snatch the princess back, there’s the small problem of mobility. The main hub that Musashi is transported to is also the city of Antheum, which lies on the back of a mystical air-whale creature called an Anthedon. Musashi must recover the legendary Five Swords to restore power to the Anthedon, since its abilities have decreased by their absence and because the Mystics have gone into hiding following Gandrake’s unleashed reign of terror.
The storyline is all new and has nothing in common with the original game; in fact, if you’re one of the few who played the original Musashi you might not recognize the hero this time around – especially as the game’s formerly super-deformed preteen is now a lean teenager with an enormous zig-zag of trailing hair. Remaining true to the series’ irreverent sensibilities, the graphics have been given the cel-shading (or ?manga-shading’) treatment, as well as a brighter, more stylized core aesthetic. With its new comic-book aesthetic and speech bubbles that are simultaneously voiced, Musashi: Samurai Legend truly feels like a manga brought to life, with a hearty 60fps increasing the immersion factor. Of course, all this would be for naught if it didn’t play well.
For all the changes, the original game’s basic mechanics remain mostly intact. Musashi dual wields his trusty katana along with a variety of heavy swords, mapped to the square and triangle buttons respectively. The katana is quick and useful for executing blistering combos while the secondary sword is used for special attacks, creating a unique style of play. Musashi can still steal his enemies’ abilities for his own use – a returning mechanic that is presented in a new way. Once an enemy with a new skill enters the fray the player can hold R1 to charge the ?focus’ meter. With the meter full, the player waits for the enemy to attack, then presses square as prompted. Combat is then halted, and a text box explaining the new move appears. Successfully pressing the correct move sequence means the new ability is then added to Musashi’s arsenal. While a little lengthy to explain, the process works well, and when the focus-dependent ?counter-attack’ ability is learned, charging up the focus meter becomes more integral to the combat experience.
Unlike the first game, which took more of a Kirby approach by letting players borrow enemy abilities for a limited time, once a technique is learned in Samurai Legend it stays with Musashi for the remainder of the game. There’s a wide variety of techniques, grouped into appropriate categories: Fundamentals, for basic combos and maneuvers, Secret Techniques, offensive techniques that consume MP, Defensive Techniques, which defend Musashi and use up MP, and Ascetic Techniques that temporarily boost stats or heal via MP. The healthy variety of abilities keeps combat fresh and contributes to the game’s ?RPG-lite’ appeal.
While not particularly deep or strategic, Musashi’s straightforward sword action is not without its appeal. All of these wrinkles enrich combat and prevent it from becoming the mindless leveling-up chore so common in many RPGs. Holding R2 opens a ?quick menu’ that lets the player select different secondary swords and techniques, preventing annoying trips to the main menu. The death animations for each foe have an especially stylish reek, as the final slash of Musashi’s sword slices enemies in half depending on the direction of the fatal stroke. Silly as it is, gleefully witnessing enemies perish in such an uber-stylized manner considerably boosts the appeal of combat. One technique chops enemies into cubes that then fall to the ground – it’s the subtle touches that really count. Unfortunately, the game’s simplicity renders it a little too easy on the whole. Hardcore RPG enthusiasts shouldn’t have a problem plowing through the adventure with only occasional (stubborn) opposition.
Musashi: Samurai Legend keeps the original game’s irrepressible spirit of fun and adventure alive, in contrast to Square’s moody and sweeping Final Fantasy series, and most other RPGs on today’s market. The music embodies this light-heartedness, with catchy melodies spread over the duration of the game. Voiceovers rise a little above average, but even the poorer performances manage to add to the sense of goofy adventure.
There’s always something to do, be it battling in the arena, commissioning inventions made from spare parts, having mysterious objects appraised for value, and collecting ImagiCards, Musashi’s addictively collectable card series. The available activities increase once you rescue more citizens and they return to work, with the main hub becoming livelier with every person rescued. Vehicle missions break up long stretches of combat, providing moderately entertaining distractions. Musashi will steer a motorcycle or hovercraft through narrow tunnels, avoiding obstacles and smashing enemies in mid-race.
Musashi will also be given the occasional escort task, but with a slight twist – people that need rescuing can be picked up and carried out, and even used in combat. Curiously, hitting an enemy with an unconscious maiden early in the game does way more damage then a good shot with the katana. While it is interesting to see the act of rescuing integrated alongside the combat, the bulk of Musashi’s chivalrous deeds concern freeing citizens of Antheum from their crystalline hiding places, a well-integrated collection aspect that reaps tangible rewards.
Although Musashi: Samurai Legend does many things right, a few curiosities stand out against the accumulated successes. While not a difficult game, enemies tend to respawn immediately after they’re slain, occasionally bogging down this reviewer to the point of verbal profanity. The camera, perfectly adequate for most of the game, tends to crop up too close in boss battles, making them more difficult opponents than they actually are, which may steam a few players.
Musashi: Samurai Legend’s most interesting aspect is how it manages to retain the easy-going, spirited nature and feel of the first game despite changing so much through chronological evolution. Replay value is somewhat low due to the strictly linear nature of the narrative, but with some distracting side-quests thrown in, as well as the ImagiCards, inventions to discover, and mysterious objects to collect, players aren’t ever bereft of activities. Overall, Musashi: Samurai Legend is an entertaining, easy-going action-oriented RPG that doesn’t reinvent the gaming wheel – but rather cel-shades it beautifully.