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Musashi: Samurai Legend

Platform(s): PlayStation 2
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: Square-Enix
Developer: Square-Enix

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PS2 Review - 'Musashi: Samurai Legend'

by Alicia on March 8, 2005 @ 1:10 a.m. PST

The second release of the Musashi series makes its debut on the PS2 featuring exhilarating, fast-paced, action-packed gameplay utilizing manga shaded graphics. Like a true samurai, Musashi's powers of observation will pay off in the heat of battle as he channels this energy to learn his opponents' techniques. A new mode of his protective services has also been employed, in which he literally carries his characters to safety.

Genre: Action RPG
Publisher: Square-Enix
Developer: Square-Enix
Release Date: March 15, 2005

Buy 'MUSASHI: Samurai Legend': PlayStation 2

WorthPlaying’s preview of Musashi: Samurai Legend back in February took an early look at the way the game was shaping up, and covered a lot of the basic concepts behind it. Now that Samurai Legend is about to be released, it’s time to go into more depth with Square-Enix’s latest action RPG offering.

Spending more time with Samurai Legend revealed a lot of new facets to the gameplay and the overall game design. While it’s definitely an action RPG, there’s a strong (and well-done) platforming element to the game. You’ll spend almost as much time avoiding environmental hazards like steam jets, giant fans, and pits and lava as you will shredding your enemies. There’s also intermittent “vehicle” modes, where Musashi races along in something like a jet or a motorcycle, and basically plays a smash-the-baddies minigame. The more bad guys you crush, the higher your score and ranking are when the sequence is over. The mini-games are quite fun, easy to get into, and a nice way to add variety to the levels.

The storyline plays out exactly the way one would think it would, with no real surprises behind it. Each level is based around the elemental Maiden and Sword that Musashi needs to acquire, and you’ll usually need to use the special abilities of whatever sword you earned in the previous level extensively. Sometimes you’ll also have to do some extra errands to appease the maiden of a particular level, such as fixing Fontina’s glasses.

Gandrake and his baddies get increasingly irked with each failure and try to up the ante, but they never really make things too hard to handle. The number of special moves and items at Musashi’s disposal increases a bit more quickly than the difficulty curve, although each level still has a few tricks to it. The difficulty level of the bosses also varies a lot, depending on what sort of environment the fight is in. The Drill Golem who is the midboss of level 2, for instance, is actually much more difficult than the Scarlet Kraken you have to face at the end of the level.

You’ll spend the bulk of the game looking for ways to power-up Musashi, and Samurai Legend gives you no shortage of options. However, you have to earn them all, which is where much of the game’s challenge lies. By rescuing citizens of Antheum, your home base, from the blue capsules scattered about, you’ll unlock new shops in Antheum itself. The most useful of them is Modena’s Emporium, but the Appraiser’s, the Blacksmith’s shop, Tunnbrod’s Bread, and Kiri’s Ice Cream stand will all turn out be very useful. The Appraiser can identify the strange items you find in the treasure chests and let you know if they’re actually valuable, while the Blacksmith can convert certain alloys you find into extra strength for your katana. Modena sells accessories, while Kiri’s and Tunnbrod’s wares just happen to restore MP and HP (respectively). Some rescued citizens don’t unlock anything new, of course, but leaving them to rot in their capsules wouldn’t be very heroic. After you’ve helped out each of the elemental Maidens, you’ll add a new sword with new special abilities to your weapons collection. While damage between the swords is really no different, they each have a different special ability that can make juggling between them worth your while.

Aside from unlocking new options in Antheum, you can also try to work on Musashi himself to make him tougher. Defeating enemies, as in every RPG, amasses experience points that will cause Musashi to level up every so often. When he levels, his stats will increase, and you can pick from a menu of different options to determine what traits will increase the most as he levels. You can also use your enemies to learn new skills with the Focus system. Every non-boss enemy has a special skill to teach you, and every skill in the game is particularly useful in some way or another. At the same time, if you happen to miss some skills, you’ll still be able to survive. Learning a new skill involves getting hit by an enemy’s special technique, tapping the square button at the indicated time, and then following whatever directions display on the screen. This sounds simple, but it can sometimes be a bit of a pain to set up. Many enemies use random attack patterns, so you’ll have to suck up a few useless hits before you get hit by the move you want. Others, who use defensive techniques, will only use them when you’re facing them as part of a larger group of enemies – and when you’re least likely to be able to focus in time. It’s easy to hemorrhage lots of health when trying to gain new techniques, which can leave you excessively weak when you go into a boss fight or force you to chew through a lot of items. How difficult it is to get a particular move doesn’t seem to have any particular relation to how powerful that move is.

Play control for Musashi is top-notch, aside from a few troubling flaws. Musashi himself controls like a dream, always doing what you want him to just when you want him to do it. The way he can turn on a dime, even in the middle of combos, makes surviving fights with multiple enemies more possible than it might be otherwise. Even the jumping puzzles, usually the bane of 3D platforming, are fun and engaging thanks to how well Musashi controls. This excellence makes the flaws a bit more noticeable than they might otherwise be in a game like this. Collision detection for the game is a little loose, which can make it hard to tell when Musashi will take damage and when he won’t. It’s not much of a problem in standard combats or boss fights, but becomes very troubling and obvious when dealing with atmospheric hazards like the steam jets. Camera movement for the game is usually decent, but there are far too many conditions under which the camera will leave your control or make decisions on its own to try and be ‘helpful’. In boss fights, this tends to make your camera view have seizures as it tries to fit the often-huge bosses and fast-moving Musashi in the frame together. It’s distracting to say the least, and can sometimes be the most lethal element of any given boss fight. Since most of the bosses are classic gigantic pattern bosses, the camera suddenly getting wedged in the background geometry or deciding to sit behind the boss you’re trying to fight can make being in the right place at the right time impossible.

The preview praised the distinct look and sound for the game, and playing the game in more depth has only revealed more in the way of stunning backgrounds, quirky character designs, and fantastic music. The unevenness of the voice acting can be distracting at times, but as with many modern games, you can mix the balance of voice acting, SFX, and music to your satisfaction in the options menu. The manga shading looks pretty good in practice but the thick lines it puts around each character get to be a bit distracting in close-up shots. Hopefully this is something Square-Enix will refine in the future, as the technique also results in some incredible enemy and background designs. Hopefully Tetsuya Nomura will be returning to something more like his Kingdom Hearts art style for character designs, though; an entire universe of people with hands bigger than their heads gets unsettling after awhile.

The worst thing about Musashi: Samurai Legend, honestly, is how short it is. For the average gamer, there’s roughly 20 hours of gameplay to be had from it, and highly skilled gamers may find themselves beating the game inside of 15. While this is plenty of time for Samurai Legend to throw a wild variety of challenges at you, and not too terribly short compared to most action games, it still feels a bit unsatisfying. Something with Samurai Legend’s promise and retro appeal doesn’t come along too often, and seeing it developed more fully in a longer game would result in one of the best action RPGs ever. As it is, Musashi: Samurai Legend is a very good game with a few quirks you’ll have to tolerate, and if you like frantic action or its shounen manga aesthetic, you won’t want to miss this game.

Score: 7.9/10


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