Musashi: Samurai Legend - Staff Retroview  

Better than Nothing
by Michael "CactuarJoe" Beckett

15 to 20 hours


Rating definitions 

   At one point or another in our lives, most of us have fantasized about being a sword-wielding hero, saving the downtrodden and oppressed, rescuing fair maidens, and just generally being awesome with a blade. Musashi: Samurai Legend may not be the best or most stylish of the video games catering to this particular fantasy, but it keeps things moving fast enough to be interesting. Musashi has more than its fair share of ups and downs, with most positives being counterbalanced by some sort of negative. The visual style is interesting and well-executed, but the game has some irritating problems with slowdown and camera control. The combat system is entertaining, but about as deep as a puddle, and the plot, though unique in its setting, labors under a similar lack of depth. Overall, Musashi: Samurai Legend is a short, entertaining game that stays very close to its action RPG roots, but it suffers from a serious problem of style-over-substance.

   The plot of Musashi: Samurai Legend is mostly background to combat, but it provides an acceptable setup for the sword-wielding slashfests. The basic idea is that Musashi, an oar-wielding samurai with a very heavy surfer-dude accent from another world, has been summoned by the Princess of the Anthedon to save her world from the evil corporation known as Gandrake Enterprises. Musashi will have to save the five Sword Maidens of the Anthedon, retrieve their Elemental Swords, and somehow convince the Maidens to unlock the power of the Swords. The plot is exceptionally predictable and offers very little in the way of character development, message, or theme, instead opting for a story which mostly revolves around shuttling Musashi to the next thinly-veiled excuse to acquire a new sword, ability, or Maiden. Musashi himself, for all his spikey hair and surfer rock theme music, seems pretty complacent, willing to go along with whatever the people of the Anthedon tell him to do. His lack of concern or apparent surprise at the idea of being suddenly dropped into a world full of magic swords, evil ninja robots, and flying, mystical whales is almost disheartening - it pegs Musashi as almost terminally dense, an idea the plot does nothing to dispel. The cast is full of easily recognizable character archetypes, from the Bookish Librarian, to the Maiden with a Heart of Gold. Though the visual style, soundtrack and character design all peg the world of Musashi: Samurai Legend as a strange, mystical land, the story completely fails to capitalize on it, instead settling for an entirely predictable tale.

   Using a fairly normal action RPG base, Musashi: Samurai Legend's combat system is pretty much what RPGamers have come to expect from action slashfests. Musashi does have a few tricks up his sleeve to make combat more interesting, though. By locking onto an opponent, Musashi begins to fill a Focus Meter, which, when full, will allow Musashi to duplicate an enemy's technique. Duplication takes a little bit of timing, as the player is required to hit the square button just before Musashi is hit, and may take multiple attempts, especially during the first hour or two of gameplay. Additionally, Musashi must be hit with the right move - most enemies have only one attack that can be duplicated, and being hit with any other move will break the target lock and empty the Focus Meter. Musashi's repertoire of moves will eventually become very extensive, but for the most part, gamers will only have to rely on one or two powerful attacks to see them through the game.

Lots of foes makes combat more fun, but it also kicks the framerate in the shins. Lots of foes makes combat more fun, but it also kicks the framerate in the shins.

   Aside from basic hack-and-slash, Musashi: Samurai Legend throws in a lot of fun, but gimmicky combat scenarios. Musashi will occasionally be required to ride a motorbike, fly a mine pod, do battle on a moving train, and perform a variety of other unusual tasks. These sections add much needed variety to the game, and keep it from getting too boring or predictable. However, one recurring game mechanic which the game should have done more with are the sections where Musashi is required to pick up and carry defenseless maidens, to protect them from enemies and generally just move them about. Never mind that most of these "defenseless maidens" are elemental sword-guardians, infused with so much power that Gandrake itself is salivating for the chance to get their hands on 'em. For one reason or another, every last Maiden that Musashi comes across will hurt their legs and/or feet, and require a lift from our transdimensional samurai friend. In a gameplay sense, these sections slow down the action and can threaten to dull what edge combat manages to achieve. Carrying a Maiden means Musashi can't use his sword, and must either toss the hapless lady into the air for just long enough to execute a single spinning attack, or use the Maiden herself as a weapon, bouncing her off the enemy's head, incurring damage to both enemy and Samurai. Why the Maiden herself takes no damage is not immediately apparent. Of course, there's nothing preventing Musashi from simply putting the girl down somewhere, finishing the foes off, and then coming back for her, but the sudden shift from running around cutting enemies in two to plodding about, having to drop the girl and then come back for her later gets tired after a while. Overall, the combat system is entertaining, if unoriginal, and although it has a few hiccups here and there, it keeps the game interesting enough to warrant further play.

   By and large, Musashi: Samurai Legend's control is very smooth and responsive, a definite blessing during some of the more difficult platforming sections. The camera is easily controllable most of the time, but once the player locks on to an opponent and loses control of the camera, it becomes very easy to lose track of Musashi behind obstacles or even just very large opponents. This complicates basic control as well, requiring the player to suddenly shift perspective from an over the shoulder view to whatever position the camera becomes stuck in once Musashi locks on to an opponent. Thankfully, Musashi isn't required to lock on to his enemies to home in on them, as he does a respectable job of accurately targeting his foes without it. Taken as a whole, the game's interface is reasonably solid, and helps keep the game moving along at a good clip despite a handful of issues.

Musashi's gonna have back problems with all the heavy lifting he does. Musashi's gonna have back problems with all the heavy lifting he does.

   Musashi: Samurai Legend's soundtrack is a collaboration between a number of composers, and it shows. The music is an eclectic mix of Masashi Hamauzu's more techno-ish action and combat themes, along with some very Final Fantasy X sounding work by Junya Nakano, none of which fits with the surf guitar opening theme by the Surf Coasters or the handful of almost atmospheric tracks by Yuki Iwai. Though the music doesn't fit the in-game world terribly well, that isn't the same as saying it isn't any good. On the contrary, the music is quite fun, swinging wildly from twangy guitar to electronica beeps to jungle rhythms, and the sheer energy and verve shown by most of the tracks helps to drown out the disconnect between the music and the setting. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the voice acting. While a few of the voices work decently enough with their respective characters, there is a definite sense of dislocation to most of the voice work. Many of the villagers get one or two voiced lines, obviously produced by one or two VAs desperately trying to make their voices less recognizable, leading to some absurd accents and pitches. Musashi himself sounds more brain damaged than a surfer, his voice taking bizarre swings in pitch and pacing. The Princess of the Anthedon's voice is that of an unsteady teenager, though she gets so little character development that it's hard to tell if this is accurate to her personality or not. Overall, the game's sound has a serious lack of consistency, though the voice acting suffers a lot worse than the soundtrack.

   With a colorful and unusual brand of cel-shading, coupled with some very angular and stylized character design, Musashi: Samurai Legend's visual style is one of the more appealing aspects of the game. The visuals produce a set of characters who appear built for speed, with pointed facial features and joints, with the overall design having a strong street-art or graffiti feel to it. Accented by psychedelic neon colors and strong, dark outlines, it's a visual style which works very well for character designer Tetsuya Nomura, and actually looks very similar to his work on the upcoming DS title, It's a Wonderful World. On a more technical note, there are a few problems with plummeting framerates when more than a few enemies are onscreen at the same time. The game can get very choppy at times, a serious issue during some of the game's more frantic battles.

   Musashi: Samurai Legend is a very quick, simple game that doesn't require a great deal of tactical planning to beat. Still, at only fifteen to twenty hours of gameplay, the game is short enough that this doesn't become a serious problem. There are a small number of sidequests to perform and items to retrieve, but the game is easy enough that a player could breeze through without bothering to complete them.

   In the end, though Musashi: Samurai Legend suffers from a number of flaws, the game's speed and sense of style goes a long way towards redeeming it. Eschewing more complex storytelling or tactically challenging gameplay in favor of what turns out to be a reasonably engaging hack-and-slash style of play, Musashi: Samurai Legend is both simple enough to get into easily, and short enough that its lack of depth doesn't become a serious issue. In the end, Musashi: Samurai Legend is for gamers looking for a short, sweet title to hold them over until something bigger comes along. Just don't expect too much of it.

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