Since E3 I have heard literally nothing about Musashi: Samurai Legend and I was starting to get a little worried. Had Square-Enix put the game on hold? Or perhaps cancel it completely? These were things I needed to know since I actually enjoyed the first Musashi, with its quirky characters and fun game play, and its challenge, how I loved a good challenge. Well out of the blue and into my PS2 has come and gone the new tales of Musashi, and where as the Musashi of legend and lore was constantly evolving and looking for the perfect path in life, this title is nothing more than a quiet retread of the previous game, only it looks better, plays about the same, and has a learning curve, or rather a learning spike that can turn off a number of players, both old and new.
Musashi’s new look is the first thing people are going to notice right out of the box. He went from being a pudgy little blue haired samurai to a mish mash of Kingdom Hearts meets Final Fantasy designs from Tetsuya Nomura. On one hand you can say this works, because really if you want to create a franchise you’ve got to create a noticeable character. Unfortunately all the bad-ittude in the world couldn’t save Musashi from being completely unlikable and grating. If there some things I have to pin point it would be first, the voice work. Musashi’s voice ranged from sounding like Nelson Muntz from the Simpsons to just a monotonous droning individual, kind of like one of my past math teachers. Everyone else in the game is reasonably well acted, though some ham it up a notch, and have designs that are not as needlessly over the top like Musashi. This is the second issue, his overall design smacks of something I’ve seen from random deviantart.com users, it seems like Musashi got out of bed and threw on everything that was present in the room, including the obligatory ab-showing low cut shirt.
Getting past the initial aesthetics of the game, you’ll see that this is one of the best looking cel-shaded games ever made. Probably second to Jet Set Radio Future, Musashi has a lot of fluid movement and colorful graphics. It’s a shame that the frame-rate and aliasing issues of the game also make it a pain in the ass to stare at. The frame rate is never consistent and will at times dip into the single digit range. This is particularly noticeable in the Roquefort Mine area which has a wide open area loaded with enemies and rife with slowdown. I haven’t seen it get this bad since Skygunner from Atlus, but at least there was a mode that locked down the frame rate, in Musashi’s world you’re just going to have to suck it up and deal.
Musically the game is very pleasant; everything seems to have a Yoko Shimamura quality to it, so a lot of the tracks don’t sound far off from what was heard in Kingdom Hearts. This is a soundtrack I wouldn’t mind having in my collection. However there are always two sides of the coin and this one comes in the form as like I’ve said before, Musashi’s voice acting. His stands out as the blandest from the entire cast. Sure the rest of the cast may not be perfect, bad accents abound and quite a bit of over-acting had my finger poised on the mute button. But the music, a-okay with me, very ambient and flowing music that never seems to grate on the nerves and just fits the overall situation. The surf rock track; Samurai Struck provided by fittingly, The Surf Coasters does a good job complementing the new Musashi style, and is a definite stand out track whether you like it or not.
There’s a story buried in here somewhere and I’m getting to it. Ah yes… remember the first Musashi? Summon a hero to save the day from an encroaching evil spreading its wings across the land, a town full of people whisked away in protective orbs when their town is in danger? It’s a definite retread of that which is a tad on the disappointing side making this feel a lot more like a remake than a completely separate tale. The only difference is the character names and a little bit of the mythos of Musashi’s legend. Remember Ganryu? He’ll be present in the game, in a very fitting manner. But a very large portion of the game is spent interacting with the maidens of the various forces of earth that power the magical whale called the Anthedon that the mystics you’re trying to save live on. If it sounds a bit out there it’s probably because it is. A twist on the rescuing the princess bit is nice but this may have been a little far out there even for me.
Getting down to what makes this game fun and a chore in one is the game play mechanics, or rather the very rudimentary levels at which they are applied. Proceeding through the various stages Musashi can learn a large variety of techniques from the enemies he encounters by studying them and watching their moves. When the opportune moment arises he can learn their skills in an instant and turn them against his would be attackers. The only problem is the level of ease at which one can learn skills. It’s simply hitting square at the proper moment and then pressing a specific button combination required to pull off the move. A lot of the time it will simply be the circle button as that is how all these skills are learned.
You can switch skills on the fly but in this fast and dangerous world you’re going to wait until you’re alone to make the switch as doing so in battle completely immobilizes you making you a sitting duck. You can also switch between weapons in the same manner but once again you’re left open for a target and even once you select a weapon you have to wait momentarily while the game loads it in to place. See this would not be so bad if the game was a little bit more lenient on how it threw enemies at you, unfortunately there is a fine line from being out of view and spotted, and once spotted enemies have a hard time letting Musashi get away unpunished. Coupled with the problematic frame rate and you’ve got a recipe for frustration.
Another game play “gimmick” comes in the form of carrying people. There are going to be points in time where characters seem to conveniently manage to get themselves into a predicament and subsequently cannot walk around and follow Musashi, so what is a hero to do but carry this hapless victim of circumstance. This can be a real drag at times as your main mode of attack is substituted for a thrusting move where you slam the person you’re carrying into your enemies. Doesn’t sound very heroic to me, and to add a little variety and in an attempt to make Musashi look cool, you can toss the character in the air, do a circular slice to repel enemies and catch your cargo and be on your way. The timing on this is very unforgiving and will cause you to drop whomever you were carrying more often than not, so a lot of time will be wasted trying to pick up a person only to drop them again after taking a hit from enemies nearby.
Lastly there are the normal controls for the game. They are at best stuff and cumbersome, Musashi himself moves smoothly and fluidly outside of battle, but once you get into a fight then it’s really just a mashing of the square button. But to alleviate this there are a number of special attacks that you can insert anywhere into your combo which is a nice change of pace. Getting through the platform areas of this title can also be a tad on the frustrating side as Musashi simply does not jump high enough, this is especially true when he has some babes in arms. I reached a point where I did not think I could progress further but it turned out I was not doing the jumps close enough to the edges in order to make them, once again the frustration of poor platform designs rear their ugly heads.
As a final send off for the game let’s talk about the challenge, or lack of one, or somewhere in between that fails to satisfy. I remember the first Musashi title being reasonably challenging, it had it’s moments where the bosses would make you scratch your head, and you navigated through a massive dungeon fraught with enemies to get there. You needed to be well supplied to make it to that eventual end of the dungeon and would fight a boss that provided a reasonable challenge that matched with the skills you had thus far. That goes out the window for this new tale. Instead the game starts off incredibly hard and then tapers into the easy realm about midway through. A large number of the bosses were easy to fight once you learned to dodge one or two minor things. There was no need to continue, at least not in the later half of the game. But early on the checkpoints are so far and few between that it is easily a turn off to try and play this game. This game also has a bad habit of not providing you with any reprieve after besting a boss. Should you die on your way through to the next area or don’t make a save at some point then you’re going to be doing a lot of back tracking. This I can understand partway through a dungeon, but when I’ve slogged through a boss fight only to die from a weak minion shortly after, don’t make me do the boss fight again, it’s annoying and pointless.
At this point you’re probably thinking, where’s the redeeming bits to this game, it sounds like I’ve hated this game throughout. After a while once you start learning some of the better skills and have a little bit of a better grasp on the fighting system it becomes just a little bit more than your standard hack and slash. There are just so many other areas where there was not enough effort that I can’t rate this game higher, and that’s a real shame considering how long it has been since the last Musashi title. Hopefully if Square Enix decides that another Musashi is in order they will take the time and effort to make sure the flow of natural progression and character/player evolution is there. This title shows a great deal of promise, but until that sequel comes I’ll simply stick this one in my stack of games and go back to the old Musashi.
Musashi: Samurai Legend is certainly not the great game I was hoping for but there are a few decent moments in the game.