Brave Fencer Musashi was a little PS1 action-RPG developed by Squaresoft, a company that excels at making Traditional RPGs. The game was billed as Square’s Zelda Killer, which was interesting considering that the game tries to mimic Mario 64 more than Zelda itself.
The game however had the misfortune of being released, in the same year that the groundbreaking Zelda: Ocarina of Time was released. In fact Musashi was lucky to beat Zelda out of the gates by one month otherwise it is quite possible the game wouldn’t have been as well received as it was by the critics. Not that the game received magnificent scores, but most critics specially a Game Mag with cartoon characters for editors (known for giving mediocre RPGs PERFECT SCORES) received Musashi with good scores.
Square must not have believed the “Zelda Killer” moniker because they released the game with an exclusive playable demo of the highly anticipated FFVIII. Companies do this to boost the sales of a product they don’t think would do so well by itself. After all Musashi was an original title that lacked name recognition.
Also Square had a so-so PS1 resume going into this title, since releasing the magnificent FFVII Square had disappointed the masses with crappy mediocre RPGs such as Saga Frontier and Ehrgeiz (which is a Fighting/RPG garbage but it features FFVII characters so it is a highly sought after title).
Brave Fenser Musashi however was developed under the supervision of Hinorobu Sakaguchi, and the Art Direction of Tetsuya Nomura and it shows.
The First thing you will notice when you start playing Musashi is the fact that there are no FMVs, instead everything happens through real time cutscenes. Either Square was proud of it’s impressive 3-D graphics engine (at the time for PS1) or they had a low budget for the title so they had to bypass the FMVs. Whatever the reason was, the real time scenes work well, thanks to the entertaining voice acting and the okay translation. To get an idea of how funny the game tries to be (notice I said “tries” because the game tries but really never achieves those laughing out loud moments that other RPGs have pulled off) the game’s main Kingdom is called Allucaneet, as in “all you can eat”, and the evil Empire goes by the name of Thirstquencher.
It is difficult to gauge whether Musashi was developed as a parody to other games such as Mario and the Zelda series in which the princess is always kidnapped. Because not 30 minutes into the game Princess Allucaneet gets Kidnapped.
The Story in Musashi is cliched if anything. The peaceful Kingdom of Allucaneet suddenly finds itself under attack at the beginning of the game. Being that the King and Queen of the castle are conveniently gone for vacation, the Princess and her Butler have no choice but to do a Hero summoning in which supposedly the Great Brave Fencer Musashi, a legendary hero who once saved the world centuries before the game’s start would return and save the kingdom. Instead they get a 3-foot-tall Samurai named Musashi, who himself is a brat full of bravado.
Musashi however is not at first happy with the whole idea of him being taken away from his home world. However the Butler, whom Musashi refers to as “Geezer” thanks to his advanced age and weird semi Shakespearean way of talking, tells him that until he saves their kingdom he cannot return home. So Musashi is forced to save the land from the Evil Thirstquencher Empire. His first task is to recover Lumina, which he does promptly but upon his return to the castle he finds that an Imperial goon has kidnapped the Princess.
From here the story takes the predictable collect five scrolls for Lumina, beat the Crest Guardians in order to liberate the crest, so that you are strong enough to defeat the last boss blah, blah, blah…
So indeed the story is lacking, the whole game takes place on a small village and its surrounding areas. To keep things interesting in between the scroll and crest searching, Square throws in one or two issues for Musashi to resolve in order to aid the village and its villagers. This happens periodically trough out the game.
Brave Fencer Musashi is only about 15 hours long, so forget about character development, what you see is what you get. Musashi is an overconfident brat at the beginning of the game, and he is still is an overconfident brat at the end of the game. Square tried hard to add humor with some corny scenes, and some well acted dialog, but it doesn’t work because everything is so cliched that you can tell what’s gonna happen in the story before it happens.
However it must be said that Square’s intention with Brave Fencer Musashi wasn’t to deliver a great story, specially since action RPGs aren’t known for their great tales (unless your are talking about Alundra), but rather Square apparently seemed interested in delivering big in the gameplay department.
Unfortunately for Square gameplay wise Musashi is merely a solid action RPG. The more I think about it the more I find the comparisons of Musashi to Zelda unfounded. In reality Musashi, feels, looks and plays more like Konami’s Action Platformer classic for the N64, Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon. Goemon was released about 5-6 months earlier than Musashi, so if anyone copied anyone it was Square copying Konami.
Like Konami’s game Square’s game relies heavily on platform hopping, however Musashi is very inferior to Goemon in that regard (and most others) because one, Square isn’t known for making platformers and two the PS1 is technically much inferior to the N64 in what 3-D visuals are concerned.
Musashi serves as further proof that great 3-D Action RPGs that feature Platform hopping are not really possible on the PS1, this is something Matrix should have taken to heart when developing the craptacular Alundra 2.
First of all, while the dungeons are well designed (well at least the ones before the horrific last dungeon in Soda Fountain) it is in these dungeons that the gameplay flaws begin to show their ugly rear. Musashi the character simply doesn’t control well. To start the visuals are handled by a static over the top camera, which completely boggles the mind since the camera can be fully rotated while in the village. However in the dungeons where the camera was of utmost importance Square decided to keep a fixed view which sometimes blocks obstacles as well as some of the platforms that Musashi has to jump into making it very difficult to precisely gauge the distance in which Musashi can safely jump.
Also for some reason Musashi after landing from a jump more often than not feels that he needs to take an extra step. Being that I am a seasoned platform gamer I got accustomed to this fairly quickly but not before I fell into my doom a couple of times. While the game offers the option to use the analog stick instead of the D-pad, even with the analog stick the controls are fairly imprecise. Even the double Jump feature that is acquired as you play feels a bit unresponsive.
Musashi has two swords, Fusion, a light fairly quick sword that really is effective against minor enemies and Lumina a slower but more powerful sword that is most effective against bosses. Musashi has the usual HP meter that can be upgraded by capturing nocturnal animals known as Minku.
What Musashi introduces to the genre is the funny sounding but actually a bit innovative and tedious at the same time, Bincho meter and Bincho power meter. What does Bincho mean? Is a hard charcoal oak, at least that is what google says about it.
Either way this Bincho meters serve two purposes, the Vertical bar at your left when filled can either be used to use Fusion to impale an enemy and temporally learn it’s ability or to perform a scroll skill from Lumina. The horizontal Bar below the HP bar, really only measures how much Bincho power points you have left before Musashi needs to be taken to an inn for a much needed rest or for dinner.
Every skill that you learn from an enemy and you use consumes an amount of points, in fact even by just running around Bincho points are being consumed.
This constant refilling of Bincho points really becomes a tad annoying in the earlier stages of the game, before acquiring the legendary cloth, which allows you to fall asleep anywhere and recharge life and Bincho points quickly. Otherwise falling asleep will also result in a Bincho points loss unless it is on an inn.
The BP limit can be upgraded by rescuing the Citizens of Allucaneet from the easy to find Bincho fields that are scattered though out the world. While some of these fields are optional, there are some that are mandatory to find in order to progress in the tale, and since all of them look the same you will be better served to find them all, I found all 35 in my first (and only) play through.
The combat system is a bit clumsy, the collision detection is of the charts, some how the enemies always find a way to hit you, but Musashi some times ends up hitting air. Also while charging Fusion, which is also the only way to block, Musashi is forced to face the one direction until he stops blocking or charging the meter with results in Fusion missing against the more mobile foes.
The Bosses, most of them are okay but some of them have a nastily hard to exploit weakness, once the weakness is found provided you have health items the boss fights are relatively easy. However the nasty part is finding that weakness, for example the one boss, threw at you an active flame that followed you around, the swords didn’t do anything to it, in fact attacking it with the swords resulted in Musashi taking damage. So I decided to use my water Squirt ability on it, however at first instance all I saw was a bunch of small zeros for damage (they could have been eights but they appeared like zeros), so I questioned the tactic for a bit. This was enough for the boss to deal massive damage to me, however after a while I noticed that the flame disappeared and the boss gave up the target. So the challenges were many; I had to think on a ways to kill the flame while avoiding the flame so that the target would be revealed. This could take less lucky players a while, and can cause a lot of frustrating moments especially on the last boss.
And now onto that last dungeon which is really that last and perhaps biggest combination of flaws in the gameplay. Through the game I encountered some control breaking moments (like that log down the rapids game) but nothing will compare to the last dungeon at Soda Fountain.
The Dungeon itself wasn’t hard, sure there was this part where there was a maze in which opening the wrong door would lead you to the beginning of the maze, which was frustrating specially if you had gotten pretty far ahead in the maze. There was another part where I had to use my flying ability to hover over acid pools while trying to avoid hitting electricity walls.
But none of this events frustrated me more than the fact that this is really a long, long dungeon composed of six boss battles, a massive field with enemies shooting rocket launchers at you, and a ridiculous tower with small platforms, in which Musashi had to get to the top as quickly as possible with out falling (or he had to restart at the bottom). It was near impossible not to fall thanks to the horrible and I can’t stress that word enough HORRIBLE slowdown in that section. All of these wonderful events happening without a chance to replenish your healing items or the chance to sleep.
So I pity the soul that only had one save file and saved right after the first boss battle and only had one healing item left, because he will likely never see the credits roll unless A.) He invested on a gameshark or B.) He plays the game all over again.
Of course repetition in this last dungeon makes for perfection, but it is not an understatement to say, that in order to have a fighting chance the first time through Soda Fountain, you need to at least defeat the first three bosses with the use of no more than three healing items. That is, if you entered the dungeon with all of the item slots filled. Either that or you played the game for 40 Hours and Musashi was at a high level. When I beat the game I was at level 20 and it took me about 16 hours.
Sakaguchi must have thought the game was too easy and therefore he had to dramatically cheaply increase the difficulty of the last dungeon. Alundra still the hardest action RPG out there, but Musashi had its moment of great difficulty (if not cheap) in that last dungeon.
Finally to put the negative stuff about the gameplay aside Brave Fencer Musashi also has its moments of greatness. The environment runs on a realtime clock, so like the recent Zelda’s, in Brave Fencer Musashi you will see the dark night turn into bright morning and so forth. Musashi has a clock that is always present on screen and it also has calendar, so yes you have all the days of the week except Friday, which is called Skyday. The Clock plays an important part since certain events can only be done at night, and different shops open at different times. Even some things can only be done on certain days.
Since the game doesn’t feature any particular item that speeds time, in order to speed time a bit you are gonna have to send Musashi into a deep sleep (which is easy to do and almost a necessary part of the game.) Thankfully Musashi has the extraordinary ability to fall asleep anywhere.
Also the ability to steal the enemy skills, is innovating (or was in 1998) and useful, specially because if you find yourself stuck in a dungeon is because most likely you need to steal the ability of an enemy nearby, so Square really designed most of the dungeons around this concept.
Graphically the game is “B” class, yes the characters are blocky, but that is the price you have to pay when you make a full 3-D game on the PS1, the worlds are colorful, and somewhat smooth (though the walls and floors still have a pixilated look. The game has a Mystical Ninja look to it but obviously much uglier than the N64 classic. Musashi animates well, but the same cannot be said about the supporting characters, and while some of the bosses are impressive, Nomura’s artwork was not at his best here the only design I liked in the game was Musashi’s the rest of the characters were generic. There is no doubt that even on the limited PS1, the characters could have looked more polished, Square’s efforts at the time however were on FFVIII.
The over the top camera also hurts the score, even though the game looks a bit better than The Granstream Saga the lack of a rotating dungeon camera will hurt the final score as Square probably used this to conceal some of the graphical flaws. Some will also complain that the game’s only town was the village and because of this the scenery gets old really quick, while this is true, in terms of gameplay one village is probably all the game needs.
Sound wise as I stated before, the acting gets the job done, and the Music compositions fit the bill even though they don’t warrant a soundtrack purchase the composer did its Job and did it well. The sound effects are standard fare, even though I would have liked to have more environmental sounds such as birds singing, in order to bring the world closer to life. But again presentation wise Square did what it had to do and really, other than The Granstream Saga, there aren’t many full- 3-D action RPGs on the system, so Square wasn’t exactly pushing the limits with Musashi, which is a bit of a shame.
Brave Fencer Musashi ultimately ends up playing more like a solid Action-Platformer than an action-RPG. The platforming sections of the game and the controls are clumsy however, putting it below games like Goemon. Even against action-RPGs on the PS1 the game falls somewhere with The Granstream Saga, but way under the 2-D classic Alundra which without a doubt ended up being the best Action RPG for the system. Indeed Musashi is a solid purchase as the game is still to this day fun to play, I definitely recommend this to hardcore players, casual fans need not worry with this small solid action RPG from the past.
Gameplay: 6.5-Relies heavily on Platform hopping, too bad the controls are clumsy, which carries over into the battles, also the collision detection problems run rampant. The last dungeon is a true test of patience. However I liked the ability to steal skills from enemies, and I liked the design of some dungeons.
Graphics: 7.5-The camera is horrible, there is slow down in some parts, and the characters are super blocky, but remember, there aren’t many PS1 3-D Action RPGs that look as good as this.
Music: 8.5-The game composer did a solid job, the actors however provided the game with some wacky voiceovers.
Story: 6.0-Cliched Story, bits of forced humor kind of save this category also the translation is good. Plus Action RPGs aren’t known for their awe-inspiring stories anyway.
Addictiveness: 6.0-About 20-25 Hours long if you want to find and collect everything however once the game is finished there is not much incentive to keep playing.
Overall: 7.0-A solid effort by Square, sharper controls, a more even level of difficulty and a more original story could have gotten the game into the high 8s. Technically speaking the PS1 wasn’t made for fully polygonal 3-D RPGs perhaps Musashi would have fared better as an N64 game. Solid buy for hardcore fans.