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Musashi no Bouken (NES) artwork

Musashi no Bouken (NES) review


"Lovers of history and mythology will enjoy discovering what events were based on fact and which on fiction. They’ll enjoy exploring a recreated Feudal Japan, wondering which places actually existed. And they’ll ponder how well the next battle will go, where the next quest item will be and question its place in myth. "



Miyamoto Musashi was a legendary samurai who lived during the Edo Period in Feudal Japan. From a young age, he began mastering the sword, defeating his first opponent (an Arima Kihei, to be exact) at the age of thirteen. He then traveled much of Japan, engaging multiple weapons masters and renowned duelists along the way. It mattered not their choice of weapon; his handle of strategy was so great that he never lost. Among his challengers, he defeated Sasaki Kojiro with naught but a wooden sword carved from an oar, so acute was his skill. It became his most famous battle. During his travels, he adopted three sons, founded the Niten-ryu style of swordsmanship, which specialized in the wielding of two blades at once, and penned the Book of Five Rings, detailing his distinct views on strategy, tactics and philosophy.

Rather than acting these events as they actually happened, however, Musashi no Bouken takes Miyamoto’s legacy and blends fact, fiction, and Japanese mythology into something a little different. Instead of playing as the legend himself, you play as his fictional son of the same name, a youngster striving to surpass his father in both skill and fame. And he’ll do so by defeating his father’s former nemesis, Kojiro, who, on a whim of hatred, has risen as a ghost. Vowing to do whatever it takes to destroy the land, the vengeful spirit summons scores of malevolent demons and other malicious folk to do his dirty work.

Vanquishing the foul phantom will not be an easy task. Almost from the get-go, you’re told to collect the five scrolls that make up the Book of Five Rings. The knowledge acquired from them will give you the ability to craft a mighty oar from three powerful swords, which must also be obtained. Doing so requires a long, arduous journey that will have you hunting high and low throughout Feudal Japan, venturing to places no ordinary man would go.

But the trip is necessary. The oar is the only weapon that will affect your formidable foe, a twist on Musashi’s actual achievement.

Throughout your quest, you’ll discover many quirks like this. Some based on fact, some fiction, and some a combination of the two. Your journey starts in the curiously named Arima Village; your first weapon is a bamboo sword, something Musashi himself is said to have used; and you’ll encounter the village of Hirafuku where the man lived for some time.

More noticeably is the game’s stress on mythology. If you disregard the occasional oddball, such as menacing bushes or threatening ears of corn, you’ll find that several creatures appear as if designed from Japanese lore. Demons are everywhere, especially Oni. They may not be the soul-suckers portrayed in numerous folktales, but some variations seem as though drawn from such legends themselves. Masters of illusion, Kitsune, also appear, and their strong magic base suggests an honest attempt to stay true to their myth.

While many beasts are harmful, there is one that is not. Your first real objective has you looking for a magical “tanuki”, a shape-shifting raccoon dog with a tendency towards mischief. And, true to its nature, this tiny helper can be your best friend or your worst enemy. Once you find the legendary creature, he’ll join your party, as a CPU controlled unit. This can cause problems. With completely random participation, and equally random attacks, you never know whether he’ll hurt your enemy or boost your hero’s strengths. Whether he’ll even jump in at all raises questions. Often he’ll just sit idly by while you’re getting thrashed. Or else try to scare away already weakened enemies. Or increase the wrong stat. Or enhance the right one by an ineffective margin… Then, when you don’t need the little bastard, he’ll be more than happy to assist.

It’ll definitely have you wondering whether it’s even worth retrieving the necessary power-up items that allow him to cast magic.

But then there’ll be the occasional miracle cure, healing you at your gravest time of need, and you’ll be thankful you gathered those items after all. Such is the curse of random probability.

Musashi’s emphasis on Shintoism also presents itself. And not just with monsters based on Japanese gods. As you travel throughout the land, you’ll encounter various “Shinto Gates”. Granted you possess a special permanent item, you can receive certain magical benefits. The Flute of Slumber will fully restore your life when used at these gates, a guaranteed lifesaver. Once, completely drained of MP and lacking the fortitude to make it back to town without dying, I just lingered around a gate, killing enemies until I leveled.

Leveling recovers all your health and mana. It’s nice.

And so is the unique way Musashi no Bouken honors Miyamoto’s legacy. Lovers of history and mythology will enjoy discovering what events were based on fact and which on fiction. They’ll enjoy exploring a recreated Feudal Japan, wondering which places actually existed. And they’ll ponder how well the next battle will go, where the next quest item will be and question its place in myth.

Rating: 8/10

wolfqueen001's avatar
Community review by wolfqueen001 (June 23, 2008)

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