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Brave Fencer Musashi (PlayStation) artwork

Brave Fencer Musashi (PlayStation) review

"Most people anticipated games like Parasite Eve and Xenogears, but I showed zero interest in those, following instead a title called Brave Fencer Musashi. Touted as a 3D adventure similar in style to oldschool games like The Legend of Zelda, I was captivated by the colorful imagery and descriptions in magazines, about a blue-haired sword fighter summoned through time to a kingdom in distress."

After the success of Final Fantasy VII, Squaresoft felt more confident releasing some of their niche-like titles outside Japan the following year (1998), stuff you would never have seen pre-VII. Most people anticipated games like Parasite Eve and Xenogears, but I showed zero interest in those, following instead a title called Brave Fencer Musashi. Touted as a 3D adventure similar in style to oldschool games like The Legend of Zelda, I was captivated by the colorful imagery and descriptions in magazines, about a blue-haired sword fighter summoned through time to a kingdom in distress. I was excited, possibly to the point of setting myself up for disappointment, but the thing just looked like a genuinely fun adventure to play.

Not a letdown was had when I bought the game and played the opening chapter. With a castle already being assaulted, a young princess and her aids forcibly call forth the Legendary Brave Fencer Musashi, only to be stunned that a small child came through. Insults are thrown, nicknames are tossed around, the most notable being Sir Little Turd, but the kid begrudgingly goes along saving the castle. Seconds later, you gain control of Musashi as he single-handedly fights through an infantry-infested forest to one of the greatest video game themes ever. Eventually, the fight continues up a tower where you dodge giant wheels and spiked logs while attempting to seize your second weapon, Lumina, a sword that's needed to gain special attacks and save the kingdom. Once obtained, you'll have no choice but to run straight down the outer walls of the tower, since a head statue has gone crazy and gives chase all the way to the castle entrance! The chapter then concludes with little Musashi battling a gigantic steam robot and tossing it through walls with just his bare hands!

Comical yet still engaging, the first chapter is short, but makes quite the impression and sets the tone for the entire journey. However, I should stress that, though it has a mostly lighthearted vibe, don't assume Brave Fencer Musashi is also light on challenge. There's going to be many hard-hitting obstacles throughout this tale, and there's a certain one that pounces newcomers pretty early in. After putting the finishing touches on a simple prior task, a new one immediately pops up: the Steamwood reactor has gone berserk, and will blow it and the nearby village below the castle if nothing is done! In a mere 20-some minutes, you'll have to rush to the reactor, then turn off eight valves in order. This is tricky for any first-timer, since the valves aren't lined in order, plus they're on three separate floors with steam blockades and an automated elevator. If you fail, there's no second shot, instead being prompted to load a previous save. So if you haven't saved recently... oops!

There's many of these hardships lending to that oldschool mentality, and I know it'll frustrate gamers, speaking as someone who's slipped an explicit here and there. But I believe this to be the good type of frustration, since Brave Fencer Musashi rarely cheapens, though only a scant few times. Regardless of those, the game almost always gives breathing room between challenges, to stock up on items and save data, leaving you well-prepared for the next gauntlet. Whether it'll be climbing in and around Twinpeak Mountain in search of Legendary Armor, trudging the town mine filled with conveyor belts, rock slides, and poisonous streams to find a cure for a sick boy, or navigating a forest maze using unusual rules, there's plenty to behold. Helping to ignite passion into the journey is a fantastic, orchestrated soundtrack. I feel like the composer got the game's whimsical, adventurous feel, never diminishing it for a "kiddy" tempo, always taking every theme to heart.

Though inherently an action-adventure game, the devs love doing this shtick of not holding your hand, only giving out small clues to help you to the next destination. Good old-fashioned investigating and brain power is required on your part. Keep in mind this was released in 1998, back before you can quickly and easily solve the problem on the Interwebs, or at least hope the next issue of your favorite magazine has a walkthrough. Some solutions task you with experimenting with your immediate surroundings, or even wait during different times with the game's condensed Day-and-Night clock system to see if anything changes. They even toss you some curve balls by including supposed side quests into the fray! See, about 30 castle workers have been sealed away in energy fields and scattered everywhere. Turns out you'll need specific people for stuff like pressing four switches at the same time in order to advance the plot. So if you've been ignoring them... whoops!

Some of these solutions actually make you facepalm in embarrassment once solved. For example, I was looking for a lost dog at the foot of Twinpeak Mountain. Seconds in, I was stuck... a puffy white giant was blocking my path. Five minutes and much running around later, I finally remembered my first sword's Fusion attack, a technique that can steal other enemy's abilities! The answer: take the nearby ghost's shrinking attack and use it on the puff. I felt so stupid. Humorously, you'll be subjected to cruel abilities from time to time. Steal from a suspicious mutant mushroom and, surprise, surprise, you're poisoned! The most disgusting one involves taking from a Vambee, a weird bat/pig freak: body odor! Plus a flattering view of pixelated, disturbingly detailed flies chilling on the screen. That's just nasty, Squaresoft.

Now that I think about it, I rarely got bored playing the game, since there's always something new and varied waiting around the corner. The only time I really felt Brave Fencer Musashi was getting repetitive was when I reached the ice mansion. The flow was that of a typical dungeon, forcing you run around in circles until you find an area with a "key" to get further. What really burns is, if you haven't stumbled on an item in your travels that allow you to appraise stuff on the spot, you'll need to walk all the way back to the village and get a Legendary Armor, found in the mansion, appraised, just to complete the second half of the mansion! Ironically, an earlier dungeon with a similar flow, which I thought was going to suck, actually had much better and hilarious mechanics. It has four separate segments with drastically different mechanics; one area makes you figure out how to navigate tiny walkways over pits in the dark, while another makes you bowl through your enemies lined up like pins!

It's great that, after all this time, Brave Fencer Musashi has held up well, which is a great display of the talent involved in this production. The adventure is still a blast, the intentionally blocky characters and detailed, colorful environments haven't lost their touch, and the hefty chunk of voice acting displaying an array of personalities is still solid. Even when the game becomes stubborn in its difficulty, there's a layer of confidence about the title that's always there, right up to the very end when the credits begin rolling. The development team knew what they wanted to make and never backed down, and what we got because of that is a charming game.

Written in memory of Steve "Psycho Penguin" McFadden


pickhut's avatar
Community review by pickhut (May 09, 2012)

While playing Ultracore, I was reminded of Mega Turrican. So I looked up Mega Turrican footage. This, in turn, reminded me of Mega Turrican's soundtrack. It's a really great Sega Genesis soundtrack. You should give it a listen.


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