Brave Fencer Musashi
Brave Fencer Musashi is a treasure trove of delightful oddities. First, there’s the amusing food obsession with locales such as Grillin’ Village and characters named Princess Fillet and Ginger Elle. Next, there’s the pint-sized hero, Musashi, a pre-teen samurai with a very high opinion of himself. Factor in other odd things, such as collectible action figures and the presence of Vambees (half-vampires, half-zombies), and you have the makings for an interesting ride. Combined with the excellent gameplay, the whole package feels like a bizarre cousin to the Zelda series.
Musashi’s misadventure begins when he’s summoned to another world by the inhabitants of Allucaneet Castle. The kingdom is in trouble due to the attacks of the Thirstquencer Empire, and only the Legendary Fencer can save the day. Unfortunately, the princess is disappointed by Musashi’s stature and calls him a “little turd.” Little turd or not, it’s up to Musashi to obtain the legendary sword Lumina, explore many dungeons, and fight his way through all of Thirstquencer’s half-baked cronies.
Despite the silly nature of the plot, Brave Fencer Musashi still feels like an epic. With the heroic score blaring through the locales, such as Twinpeak Mountain and the abandoned mines, it’s hard not to feel like a vanquisher of evil. While most game soundtracks are strictly background material, the memorable music here ends up taking a personality of its own, and this is juxtaposed surprisingly well with the ridiculous plot.
The epic nature is easily experienced thanks to solid gameplay. The “little turd” Musashi packs some serious power in his two swords. The Fusion blade is rather weak, but it has the ability to absorb special powers from enemies, which proves to be necessary more than a few times. The other sword, Lumina, not only deals massive damage, but it gains new powers as the game progresses. The combat is intuitive due to its simplicity, so the different skills and combos are a snap to bust out. Platform jumping also plays a big part throughout the quest. Early in the game this can be a nuisance due to some tricky jumping, but once the always-popular double-jump skill is gained things are quickly smoothed over.
Another epic aspect of Brave Fencer Musashi is the awesome boss battles, some of which give the memorable fights from Zelda a run for their money. These battles, such as the fight with a massive dragon and the duel with a fire-wielding statue, stand out thanks to the solid gameplay, memorable music, and Musashi’s charming trash talk. One particularly memorable battle is a dance-off in the vein of Parappa the Rapper. It’s the silly moments like this that makes this game stand out in the crowded action-RPG genre.
The dungeons leading up to these boss battles are, for the most part, straightforward. Just go from area to area while occasionally solving a puzzle or two. Getting lost is almost impossible, which cuts down on some potential frustration. I dare say that the dungeons are “easy,” but the final dungeon and the obnoxious Steamwood Factory refute that thought. Musashi enters this factory and must turn off various valves all while battling the unforgivable clock. Some platform jumping has to be done, and one small misstep spells failure. It’s intense, no doubt, but it’s also incredibly annoying. Worst of all, you have to do this twice! Once is more than enough. Two is just overkill. The Steamwood Factory portions aren’t really fun at all, which is a shame considering that the rest of the game is such an enjoyable ride
Fortunately, the dreaded Steamwood portions are overshadowed by the rest of the game. One particularly interesting feature is the different times of day. While games like Shenmue and the Grand Theft Auto series are based around a 24-hour clock, Brave Fencer Musashi is one of the earliest games to use this (at least to my knowledge). Shops open at a specific time, and some tasks must be completed at a certain hour. Having to wait all the time could be annoying, but Musashi can nap in the mean time in order to cut down the wait. This feature is used often, so it’s not just cheap gimmick.
Speaking of time, Musashi’s journey is over rather quickly at about 15 hours. At least there’s plenty of sidequests, such as rescuing all the castle folk and finding nocturnal animals that increase health. Another sidequest, although pretty much useless, is the collection of action figures. By purchasing these figures, Musashi can go to his room in the castle and play with the toys. I’ve always wanted to play with an action figure of myself, and I’m jealous that the Legendary Fencer gets to live that dream.
I’m sure plenty of gamers would scoff at the light-hearted nature of this game, but I enjoyed it all the way to the end. Whether I was collecting action figures or hearing Musashi threaten to kick someone’s butt, the exuberant energy of it all made it hard to stop playing. I’d much rather have a short and cocky samurai hero than a dull protagonist that consistently monologues about boring crap. Brave Fencer Musashi is a game that makes it hard not to smile at the sheer silliness of it all.