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Musya: The Classic Japanese Tale of Horror (SNES) artwork

Musya: The Classic Japanese Tale of Horror (SNES) review

"Going to hell has never been so awkward."

Musya: The Classic Japanese Tale of Horror asset

The warrior Imoto has seen much in his life. Not only has the pikeman survived a war, but he is the sole remaining soldier on the battlefield. Caked in blood, weary, and possibly psychologically unhinged, the man treads to the nearest village and collapses. Upon awakening, he discovers that the village lies close to the entrance to a hellish abyss, and that one of the villagers has been dragged into its forbidding depths. So, like any old school video game hero, he grabs his trusty pike and commences impaling any demonic entities who seek to thwart his descent into hell.

As you can tell by the game's premise, Musya doesn't contain much in the way of narrative meat. For the most part, it's yet another rescue-the-maiden platformer. Unlike other such games, though, Musya doesn't pit you against adorable anthropomorphs or a tiresome array of stock enemies. True to its subtitle, The Classic Japanese Tale of Horror, the game sports a gorgeously rendered and fearsome bestiary. You'll spear your way through legions of female specters, rolling severed heads, savage sand monsters, and even mighty tengus. What's more is you'll only fight each enemy type in a certain area rather than running into droves of the same adversaries throughout the campaign. This is a concept that even some of the best platformers haven't utilized, and it works to Musya's advantage by providing the game with a variety of combat situations.

Through rich, earthy tones and appropriately shadowy environments, the developers expertly crafted visually pleasing corners of hell. For instance, you'll battle through a catacomb complete with mountains of dead material. Other stages have you wallowing in waist-deep filth or fighting off swarms of evil spirits in a haunted, subterranean village. Each stage features neat background details, including intricate structures and far off natural cave formations. While these may not be jaw-dropping visuals by today's standards, they certainly do further the game's atmosphere and bolster the impression that you're delving deeper into Perdition.

Musya: The Classic Japanese Tale of Horror assetMusya: The Classic Japanese Tale of Horror asset

Sadly, I've run out of positive material to cover for Musya. Apart from appealing visuals and a serviceable premise, Musya doesn't have much going for it.

One of the game's many woes is its awkward play mechanics--usually a death knell for any sidescrolling platformer. You would think that Imoto would handle like Simon Belmont does in Super Castlevania IV, where the mechanics are quite stable and the controls are fairly tight. However, Imoto seems to defy the laws of physics. The man doesn't leap upward at a normal speed, but seems to slowly rise like he's made of steam. When descending, though, he falls like a rock. This can make angling the man while he's falling very difficult, and there are a few scenes that require you to do so. More often than not, I wound up missing my target and plummeting off the screen.

Interacting with enemies is even worse. During my playthrough, I often found myself leaping into foes or failing to dodge them as they approached me. Mostly, this was thanks the aforementioned play mechanics. Colliding with an unfriendly sprite doesn't cause you to leap back as it does in most games, nor does it provide much temporary invincibility time. Enemies can overlap Imoto's sprite for a fair mount of time before shoving off, all the while draining his life without much effort.

The obvious answer to this is to fight your adversaries off with the pike. The problem is that stopping to engage most enemies in combat is a waste of time and/or resources. A large portion of Musya's monsters take multiple shots to fell, and landing blows does nothing to stifle their advances. You usually wind up stopping to attack them, only to see them penetrate your defenses and strip away a bit of your health. Engaging most enemies pretty much amounts to trading blows. What's worse is that taking the time to kill most villains leaves you susceptible to punishment from the others that have spawned in the vicinity.

Here's an even bigger kicker: most enemies respawn not long after dying. This is especially so in regards to some of the creatures that can absorb oodles of damage. There's nothing more frustrating than slaying a foe after a delivering lengthy barrage, only to see it return to the screen almost immediately. Worse, they'll often reappear right over the top of you, making combat feel even more futile.

Musya: The Classic Japanese Tale of Horror assetMusya: The Classic Japanese Tale of Horror asset

I may be making Musya sound like an impossible game, but the truth is it's quite beatable. One effective strategy I discovered was to avoid combat and power your way to the end of the stage.

I know, I've used ridiculous bold face and capitals to emphasize ironic concepts before, but anyway:
Musya is an ACTION game where you BENEFIT most from AVOIDING ACTION. There, I said it.

The only time you're actually required to fight is when taking on a boss. Musya could have redeemed itself a little by including fantastic boss fights, but instead chose to include mediocre ones. The game's rogues gallery at least looks cool, starring a pissed off Tanuki (sans enormous testicles), a vicious Kappa, and a statue possessed by a primordial ooze. Visually, these guys would be at home amongst Dracula's minions in Castlevania, but battling them is not as entertaining. They mostly run simple patterns and can be defeated with minimal effort. For instance, there's a mud creature called Gobo that you have to fight twice. Both times, you can easily drop this fool by waging a war of attrition against him. No strategy needed...

As if the above issues were't enough, Musya felt it had to kick sand into the eyes of its players one last time. After completing the third stage, you'll find yourself back at level one. From there, you'll have to challenge the first three stages over again, traveling through areas that are about 98% identical. The only noticeable difference is the new bosses you have to face.

Musya is an unfortunate case of a game with an decent premise that was unfortunately squandered on an unenjoyable campaign. Awkward mechanics, rehashed levels, dull boss battles, and terrible combat mar what could have been an excellent horror-themed experience. Thankfully, there are still plenty of 8- and 16-bit action titles that offer such a setup, many of which were spawned by Konami and Capcom. Musya is just another reason why it's sometimes wiser to stick with household names.


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Community review by JoeTheDestroyer (October 24, 2013)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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If you enjoyed this Musya: The Classic Japanese Tale of Horror review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!

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Masters posted July 14, 2015:

Nice review, Joe. I've always been interested in this game, and at some point during a retro run I would probably have wasted my time on it - thanks for sparing me that experience.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted July 15, 2015:

Hey, thanks dude! I ended up wasting time on it during a retro run of my own, so I figured I'd put out the warning. It's a shame, because I remember seeing a preview for this one way back in a GamePro mag when I was teenager and thought it looked like a great alternative to Castlevania. Yeah, not so much...
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Masters posted July 27, 2015:

Haha, yes, that's pretty much exactly what I thought.

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