A little over six years ago, Squaresoft released a Final Fantasy VIII demo disk with one of their newest games, Brave Fencer Musashi. That small endorsement prompted gamers to purchase the game and brought the otherwise unassuming Brave Fencer Musashi into a small bit of limelight where it achieved a measure of popularity away from the mainstream. With the surprise announcement of a sequel during 2004's E3, Square Enix is now ready to release the second adventure of the big-haired, dual-sworded samurai--Musashi: Samurai Legend.
The hero of the story, Musashi (who has gotten taller, and even bigger hair, courtesy of Tetsuya Nomura), is not just any sword-wielding teen. He is the samurai-in-training who will grow up to become Miyamoto Musashi, a famous Japanese samurai. Unfortunately, his training is interrupted when he is summoned from Japan into a distant world via a desperate spell cast by Mycella, a Mystic princess. Mycella was attempting to save her people from the head of a hi-tech corporation, a man named Gandrake, but was captured just as she invoked her spell. Now Musashi must rescue Mycella and the other Mystics, uncover the mystery behind the Nebulite mineral powering the corporation's machines, and stop Gandrake himself. However, he will encounter both friends and foes in the form of elemental Maidens and the Directors respectively.
"The ability to duplicate the skills of your foes has returned."
To fight Gandrake, Musashi needs some effective weaponry, and that's where the battle system comes into play. Constantly armed with a light, swift katana in his right hand, Musashi can acquire Great Swords such as the Great Oar, or elemental-themed blades, and wield them in his left. Great Swords are very powerful hitters but are also heavy and more difficult to swing, thus slower. This allows players to create combos by attacking with both swords, timing and executing differently powered swings as the occasion demands. The swords have alternate purposes as well--elemental Great Swords can be used to execute strong magical skills, and the katana is used for blocking and other quick defensive moves. All of these combat elements combined with advanced striking techniques and jumping abilities create a free-form action battle system. Also, some strategic elements have crept into the battle system. For example, the ability to duplicate the skills of your foes has returned allowing for dozens of enemy skills to be copied and utilized inside combat and out. A new ability enables Musashi to pick up enemies--who do not like being picked up--and hurl them forwards, backwards, or even into the air, creating some interesting methods of dealing damage or getting pesky foes out of your hair. Even innocent NPCs can be picked up and hurled at enemies.
These combat abilities will often be required for use in puzzle solving and other unusual situations throughout the game. The aforementioned carrying skill must be used in those cases when rescued characters may not have the strength to escape on their own. These characters must be picked up, action-movie style, and carried to safety. Elemental Great Swords, in addition to being powerful fighting tools, have latent magical powers that must be used to manipulate certain environments; for example, the sword of Water can be used to put out flames and harden lava, and the sword of Earth can be used to split large and inconvenient boulders. Added to the methods of exploration are vehicles, such as a motorcycle, that will most likely be used for quick escapes, crossing uncrossable obstacles, and mini-games.
Aside from thwarting Gandrake, one of the main quests in the game involves freeing the Mystics and returning them to their peaceful city of Anthelm. Once players free the Mystics from their Pods, they can return to Anthelm and visit the rescued Mystics who usually have services to offer in return for the help. The repopulating city will come to have a variety of facilities and occupations including ice cream stands, barbecues, juice bars, libraries, blacksmiths and news reporters. Other sidequests are available via the world map when players select the area they wish to visit.
Naturally, the graphics and music for Musashi: Samurai Legend will show a distinct upgrade from their predecessor, due to the obvious hardware improvements of the PlayStation 2 over the PlayStation. 3D environments for players to roam around in are paired with "manga-shaded" character models (designed by the aforementioned Tetsuya Nomura), stressing heavy outlines and smoothly blended colors. Animated cutscenes will also punctuate the gameplay. Meanwhile, players' ears will be greeted by a main theme created by the band "Surf Coasters."
Because of the six year gap between the two games, Musashi: Samurai Legend should catch the eye of players both familiar and unaware of the game that started it all, Brave Fencer Musashi. Any gamer searching for an Action RPG will be able to find Musashi: Samurai Legend on store shelves fairly easily, come March 15--the teen samurai's hair will be visible for miles.