Since E3 I have heard literally nothing about Musashi: Samurai Legend and I was starting to get a little worried. Had Square-Enix put the game on hold? Or perhaps cancel it completely? These were things I needed to know since I actually enjoyed the first Musashi, with its quirky characters and fun game play, and its challenge, how I loved a good challenge. Well out of the blue and into my PS2 has come and gone the new tales of Musashi, and where as the Musashi of legend and lore was constantly evolving and looking for the perfect path in life, this title is nothing more than a quiet retread of the previous game, only it looks better, plays about the same, and has a learning curve, or rather a learning spike that can turn off a number of players, both old and new.
Musashi’s new look is the first thing people are going to notice right out of the box. He went from being a pudgy little blue haired samurai to a mish mash of Kingdom Hearts meets Final Fantasy designs from Tetsuya Nomura. On one hand you can say this works, because really if you want to create a franchise you’ve got to create a noticeable character. Unfortunately all the bad-ittude in the world couldn’t save Musashi from being completely unlikable and grating. If there some things I have to pin point it would be first, the voice work. Musashi’s voice ranged from sounding like Nelson Muntz from the Simpsons to just a monotonous droning individual, kind of like one of my past math teachers. Everyone else in the game is reasonably well acted, though some ham it up a notch, and have designs that are not as needlessly over the top like Musashi. This is the second issue, his overall design smacks of something I’ve seen from random deviantart.com users, it seems like Musashi got out of bed and threw on everything that was present in the room, including the obligatory ab-showing low cut shirt.
Getting past the initial aesthetics of the game, you’ll see that this is one of the best looking cel-shaded games ever made. Probably second to Jet Set Radio Future, Musashi has a lot of fluid movement and colorful graphics. It’s a shame that the frame-rate and aliasing issues of the game also make it a pain in the ass to stare at. The frame rate is never consistent and will at times dip into the single digit range. This is particularly noticeable in the Roquefort Mine area which has a wide open area loaded with enemies and rife with slowdown. I haven’t seen it get this bad since Skygunner from Atlus, but at least there was a mode that locked down the frame rate, in Musashi’s world you’re just going to have to suck it up and deal.
Musically the game is very pleasant; everything seems to have a Yoko Shimamura quality to it, so a lot of the tracks don’t sound far off from what was heard in Kingdom Hearts. This is a soundtrack I wouldn’t mind having in my collection. However there are always two sides of the coin and this one comes in the form as like I’ve said before, Musashi’s voice acting. His stands out as the blandest from the entire cast. Sure the rest of the cast may not be perfect, bad accents abound and quite a bit of over-acting had my finger poised on the mute button. But the music, a-okay with me, very ambient and flowing music that never seems to grate on the nerves and just fits the overall situation. The surf rock track; Samurai Struck provided by fittingly, The Surf Coasters does a good job complementing the new Musashi style, and is a definite stand out track whether you like it or not.
There’s a story buried in here somewhere and I’m getting to it. Ah yes… remember the first Musashi? Summon a hero to save the day from an encroaching evil spreading its wings across the land, a town full of people whisked away in protective orbs when their town is in danger? It’s a definite retread of that which is a tad on the disappointing side making this feel a lot more like a remake than a completely separate tale. The only difference is the character names and a little bit of the mythos of Musashi’s legend. Remember Ganryu? He’ll be present in the game, in a very fitting manner. But a very large portion of the game is spent interacting with the maidens of the various forces of earth that power the magical whale called the Anthedon that the mystics you’re trying to save live on. If it sounds a bit out there it’s probably because it is. A twist on the rescuing the princess bit is nice but this may have been a little far out there even for me.
Getting down to what makes this game fun and a chore in one is the game play mechanics, or rather the very rudimentary levels at which they are applied. Proceeding through the various stages Musashi can learn a large variety of techniques from the enemies he encounters by studying them and watching their moves. When the opportune moment arises he can learn their skills in an instant and turn them against his would be attackers. The only problem is the level of ease at which one can learn skills. It’s simply hitting square at the proper moment and then pressing a specific button combination required to pull off the move. A lot of the time it will simply be the circle button as that is how all these skills are learned.
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