Genre: Action RPG
Release Date: March 15, 2005
The original Brave Fencer Musashi for the PSOne was never one of Square's biggest hits, but inspired a devoted generation of fans with its unique sense of humor and distinct approach to action RPG gameplay. Musashi's style became the foundation for Square's later action RPG titles, like Kingdom Hearts, Drakengard, and the recently released Full Metal Alchemist, but it seemed Musashi himself was destined to be forgotten.
But after playing a bit of Musashi: Samurai Legend, it becomes obvious that Square loved this plucky little hero too much to let him slide into obscurity. Samurai Legend proudly carries on the spirit of the original in this new adventure, which connects to the original primarily by starring a young sword-wielding hero named Musashi whose design involves a deeply improbable hairstyle. The rest of the title's gameplay, story, and graphics have been entirely updated to reflect current trends and advanced in the gaming industry, and the result is sure to please anyone who has a taste for action RPGs.
Samurai Legend has a plot that aggressively resembles the simpler days of 8-Bit gaming. In a magical world named Antheum, young Princess Mycelia prays in the mystic Chamber of Rites to summon a hero who will save her world from a growing evil. However, bad guys interrupt the ritual, which causes the summoned hero – Musashi – to land just a bit off course. He's found by old martial artist Master Mew (who just happens to be an anthropomorphic cat), who immediately hides Musashi from the bad guys and teaches him some rather Jackie Chan-style fighting moves. Once Musashi's ready, Master Mew sends him into the heart of the evil Gandrake Corporation to rescue the captured Princess and thereby save the world.
Unfortunately for Musashi, there's an arch-villain named Gandrake standing in his way. Gandrake kidnapped the princess to further the plots of his evil corporation, and isn't about to let just any hero waltz in and ruin things. Finding the power to overcome Gandrake will ultimately send Musashi questing for five Maidens and the five magic swords they guard. Along the way, he'll have to smash his way through the Gandrake Corporation's endless swarms of killer robots and giant bosses, as well as monstrosities native to Antheum. There's also innocents to be rescued and beautiful heroines who need Musashi's help, so he'll often have to face Gandrake's armies while carrying someone else along for the ride.
You spend the game controlling Musashi, who is a humble but powerful young man. He's an archetypal hero through and through, always willing to help out someone in need, and this good nature goes a long way toward complicating his quest to save the Princess. His supporting cast could have escaped from any of the manga serialized in Viz's Shounen Jump, a wild assortment of humorous sidekicks, pretty young girls, and menacing monsters. The main villain, Gandrake, is a sort of 21st century Sephiroth, with the addition of a very cool and calculating attitude. Like all truly good anime master villains, he's served by a group of five evil generals, each of whom has their own a gimmick and a design that's slightly less cool than Gandrake's. Musashi is the odd protagonist who also has a posse watchin' his back, in the form of the five elemental Maidens and the sacred Swords they control. Of course, all the actual fighting is up to Musashi, but… well, he's the main character, that's what he does.
Samurai Legend features a wide range of limited voice acting, mostly during major cut scenes and in combat. The voice work is only in English, and appropriately on par with Cartoon Network's dubbed anime in terms of quality. The advance information about the game made much of it having a surf rock soundtrack by a band called the Surf Coasters, but the only surf rock that showed in this early run through the game was in the short anime clip that serves as the game's opening sequence. The in-game music is quite good, very anime-style ambient techno that doesn't distract from the action, but it's definitely not surf rock.
Graphically, there's a striking sense of design to Samurai Legend that's unlike anything from Square's other titles. The opening demo anime, produced by world-famous production studio GAINAX, emphasizes what a crazy ride the player's in for with this game. Animated in a manga-like, thick-line style, the entire movie is Musashi flipping and slashing his way through an impossible swarm of enemies, culminating in a classically cheesy swordfight with Gandrake. The thick-line style echoes the major special graphic technique Square-Enix used for Samurai Legend's graphics, which they called "manga shading". It basically allows the artists to exert control over how the vector shading places lines in the game graphics, and achieve a more manga-like look with the final product. And everything in Samurai Legend seems to have emerged from some impossibly bright and colorful manga, with thick lines outlining the characters and their anti-gravity hair.
Gameplay for Musashi is fast and furious. Movement makes standard use of the analog sticks – left to move, right for camera controls. Musashi himself wields two swords, a light katana that you can swipe with the square button, and a heavy blade called the "Great Oar" (in reference to a weapon used by the Miyamoto Musashi of Japanese folklore) you can swing with the triangle button. The cross button will let Musashi jump or pick up another character to carry him or her (usually her). While carrying someone else, you can use the circle button to toss her in the air, and then do a quick slash in place with the square button. If your timing is right, you'll catch her, but if you get hit you'll end up dumping her on the ground. There's no real penalty for this, but it does make Musashi look like a pretty poor excuse for a hero.
The L1 button will let you defend against attacks, even when carrying someone, and R1 button will let you target an enemy and fill your "Focus" gauge. When your Focus gauge is full, you can learn new attack techniques from enemies by getting hit, and then quickly entering whatever commands the game instructs you to. These new combos make Musashi significantly more powerful and dangerous, so it's worth learning every one you can. Musashi also has an HP gauge that works the way you'd expect, and an MP gauge. Some especially powerful attack techniques will drain MP, such as the Maelstrom attack you learn at the beginning of the game. Fortunately, the enemies Musashi brutalizes in combat drop money, HP recharges, and MP recharges, so you won't have to totally hold back with your best attacks. Every kill increases Musashi's XP, and when he levels, you'll get to choose from a variety of options for how Musashi's stats improve.
Square-Enix has been releasing a lot of action RPGs lately, and if you liked them, then you'll definitely enjoy Musashi: Samurai Legend. Fans of action manga will probably get a kick out of the way Samurai Legend interprets that genre in video game form, too. But most of all, fans of Brave Fencer Musashi will probably be very happy to see their hero updated for the new century.
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