The year is 1998, and PlayStation owners are introduced to Brave Fencer Musashi, a fast paced action platformer. The wild haired, diminutive dual sword-wielding samurai managed to stand out from the other mascot driven titles thanks to his special abilities. In particular, Musashi could turn his opponent’s attacks against them by absorbing their abilities through his weapons. Seven years have passed since then, and with the PlayStation growing into the PS2, Musashi has grown up along with it. Welcome to his latest adventure in Musashi Samurai Legend from Square Enix.
The storyline of Samurai Legend is set on a distant planet racked with turmoil. An evil corporation called Gandrake Enterprises is practically strip mining the world for a mineral called Nebulite, a powerful energy source. When the company discovers that a particular race of people skilled in magic (known as The Mystics) can enrich and harness the power of Nebulite even more, it sets out to enslave them at all costs. As a last resort, Princess Mycella of The Mystics casts a spell to summon a hero for their protection. Across time and space, this beacon is sent, until Musashi is transported to this mysterious world. The only way he can return to the home he knows is to defeat Gandrake Enterprises and save The Mystics.
Fortunately for Mycella and her people, Musashi is an extremely capable swordsman. Initially, he starts out with a katana, which he can use to pull off fast, light attacks. Eventually, however, he’ll acquire six massive swords to supplement his strikes, each of which is extremely powerful, but very slow. By combining blows from each weapon, Musashi can trigger a number of flashy combos. But he’s not limited to swordplay. Similar to his first adventure, Musashi can absorb attacks from incoming opponents, turning their strikes against them. However, he won’t need to impale an enemy to steal their power. Locking onto a target and waiting for them to release their talented attacks gives Musashi all the opportunity he needs to learn their skills, bolstering his considerable number of moves.
Along with trying to defeat Gandrake's forces, Musashi will also need to save the Mystics that have been scattered throughout the land. When the Gandrake troops launched an attack on the "city" of Antheum, many of the Mystics fled their haven. I stress "city" because Antheum is actually tied to a magical creature known as the Anthedon, a gigantic flying whale-like being that symbiotically provides the Mystics with their power. Unfortunately, this exodus, along with their subsequent imprisonment, has weakened this beast significantly. Each Mystic that Musashi rescues from their blue orb prisons restores a little power to the creature, and as they return to their homes or jobs in Antheum, they'll provide additional services, like shop keeping, to our hero.
Visually, Samurai Legend builds upon the recent popular explosion of cel-shaded titles with a redesigned focus on the lines and edges of every single character model. Dubbed "manga-shading," the obvious anime-influenced designs of Musashi as well as the world he lives and fights in feels much more like a cartoon instead of a game. The thicker border around characters actually makes them stand out from the background elements and seem more defined as well. This transfers over into nice touches such as Musashi being able to slice through an enemy, watching it fall apart along a cleanly cut line.
However, as smooth as the game looks at times, it isn't fully consistent. For one, Samurai Legend suffers from significant slowdown on a regular basis, even without a large number of enemies or elements on screen. It can be somewhat disconcerting to see the game stutter when Musashi jumps and the camera hitches as it tries to keep up with him. Secondly, the lack of enemy character model variation makes the game feel like its visual effects and levels are recycled throughout the game. (Hey, it's a yellow robot instead of a green one…) Finally, while it isn't continually a problem, the camera can be faulty, getting locked in bad angles that don't show you enemies that are attacking you, getting stuck in objects or picking flawed areas to display. The sound of Musashi practically the same as the graphics, in that it means well, but the implementation is somewhat hampered. For example, the music of Samurai Legend is pretty diverse, ranging from techno and synthed-out music to surfer influenced guitar riffs. Unfortunately, this is somewhat undermined by some relatively weak voice acting, which you may find yourself tuning out or muting.
Outside of the technical hang-ups, there are a couple of gameplay problems that hamper Musashi from being a truly impressive title. First of all, the title is relatively short, somewhat repetitive and not necessarily difficult. It's completely possible to go through the entire game in around 10-15 hours, and while you unlock a harder difficulty level, there really aren't any other secrets that provide an impetus to replay the game. On top of that, you can literally run past or avoid some battles entirely, which doesn't exactly make combat engrossing. Sure, this is broken up with a couple of driving and flying mini-states, but other than that, it's essentially the same thing over and over.
Secondly, the primary ability Musashi has, that of stealing enemy attacks, isn't handled particularly well. First of all, to acquire these skills, you need to lock onto an enemy and remain locked on them until a meter fills, often without moving around too much. Unfortunately, this means that you're left open to attacks from any other opponent, which disrupts your lock and forces you to start all over again. It might not seem bad, until you run into areas where enemies constantly warp in. Secondly, you have to essentially hope the enemy uses their skill on you once you fully lock onto them. They're not forced to use these abilities on Musashi, so you may find yourself constantly jousting back and forth until they oblige you with their special attack. Finally, once you acquire these skills, you'll unfortunately notice that there really isn't much of a need to use them in the game. There are a couple of skills that you may use here or there, but more often than not, you really won't need to use any of these to make it through enemies, bosses or other features of the game. This is disappointing considering how much of a focus it was in the first Musashi title.
While it's good to see Musashi back on the screen again, it's unfortunate that his title is hampered by a short game experience, practically unused skills and technical glitches. Hopefully it won't take another seven years before this hero returns in another adventure, one that shows the character off in a stronger way.