Review by Red Lobstar

Reviewed: 11/30/10

A test in psychological torture.

If Musashi no Bouken could be summarized in one sentence it would be “Dragon Quest in feudal Japan”. The similarities are more than incidental; this game is a replica of the Dragon Quest formula in every conceivable way. But this is really nothing new for Japan. Many JRPGs in the late 80s and early 90s sought to capitalize on the success of the juggernaut that was Dragon Quest. Some, like Mother, were able to evolve their own style and become successful franchises in their own right. Others, like the Glory of Heracles series, were less widely appreciated but still received a handful of sequels. Then there are the games like Musashi no Bouken which fell into obscurity and have been doomed to remain there, and not without good reason.

Taking the form of historical fiction, Musashi no Bouken continues the saga of the real Japanese swordsman Miyamoto Musashi. In April 1612 Musashi dueled with Sasaki Kojiro and emerged the victor. The game begins with you, Musashi’s son, as you set out to confront the evil spreading throughout the land due to the presence of Kojiro’s vengeful ghost. The game’s title translates to The Adventures of Musashi and the rest of the game lives up to the premise. Most of the events that transpire have little, if anything, to do with Kojiro. Rather the young Musashi travels between towns solving their individual problems in miscellaneous adventures. In one the idol which protects fishermen at sea has gone missing. In another the mermaid princess is ill and requires medicine. As if by happenstance you end up acquiring the three legendary blades and five mystic scrolls needed to defeat Kojiro, whom you conveniently stumble upon by the game’s end. For an 8-bit RPG the story is decent. It certainly has more substance than the first Dragon Quest, but not as strong of a narrative as Dragon Quest IV, which was released ten months prior to this game.

I would venture to guess if you are playing this game it is not because of the plot but for the gameplay, and it is in this area where the title disappoints. As stated, DQIV had already been released in Japan for almost a year by the time Musashi came out. By late 1990 gamers were accustomed to RPGs with large parties, a multitude of skills, and a wide array of customization (e.g., Final Fantasy III). Musashi offers none of that. Developer Quest Corporation used the dated format of the first Dragon Quest and gave us nothing innovative to make up for it.

In true old school turn-based RPG fashion Musashi can attack, cast a spell, use an item, or flee. Musashi is the only playable character in the game, hence every battle is a one-on-one affair. This presents a multitude of problems which will quickly become apparent. Within the first ten minutes of playing I encountered a sentient stalk of bamboo who was capable of putting Musashi to sleep. Without any allies to cure him of this affliction I could only watch helplessly as my hero was slaughtered by the hostile flora. But that is only a symptom of a greater ill plaguing this game, namely that enemies get a plethora of advantages many players might perceive as unfair.

To begin with most battles begin with Musashi being startled, granting the enemy a pre-emptive attack. This happens all the time; roughly 75% of battles begin with the enemy getting the first strike. Several times they have gotten the drop on me only to put me to sleep, paralyze me, confuse me, or seal my magic before I can even react. In those situations the battle is decided before it even begins. To compound matters, enemies also have the opportunity to deal twice their normal damage per turn by getting in an extra attack. Every foe is capable of this and it happens purely at random, though frequently enough to make me wonder if the game is rigged since more than once have I witnessed them get double strikes on three consecutive turns. This leads to the constant need to heal even when Musashi is well above 50% HP for fear that the enemy could get two critical hits in a row (and I have seen it happen). By the time I entered the final dungeon Musashi had 200 HP yet several random encounters had the potential to take away upwards of 75 HP per turn if luck did not favor me. Keep in mind I had the best equipment in the game, so do not think I skimped on armor.

Yet even with all the aforementioned annoyances there is one which reigns supreme: the abysmal accuracy rate. Too many times have I tried to kill an enemy just to be told it evaded my attack. I vividly remember one battle where Musashi missed five times in a row, all whilst the enemy pounded him with flare spells and double strikes without difficulty or mercy. Between healing and missing I could not hit the foe to save my life -- literally. On average you can expect one out of every three or four physical attacks to miss. This is also independent of equipment. Whether you are using a wooden stick or the legendary Masamune there seems to be no difference to Musashi‘s accuracy. For being the son of one of Japan’s most skilled swordsmen this character is pathetic. The real Musashi would be rolling in his grave at the thought of bearing such incompetent offspring.

Because of all the complications you must be expected to endure during battle the best strategy seems to simply kill them before they kill you. Musashi has limited magical prowess, but throughout the entirety of the game the only spell worth using will be to cure. Fire, lightning, and ice magic I have never seen miss, but with only a few rare exceptions they are no stronger than the sword, plus they carry no chance for a critical or double strike. Status spells like sleep and mute are hardly worth mentioning since they rarely succeed (yet curiously work far more often when cast against you). When fighting a magic-based enemy I struggled in vain for six rounds to silence it, using nearly 1/4 of my MP in the process, only to be continually bombarded with ice magic in return. Magic points are a scarce commodity in this game, so often the better choice is simply to forego magic unless to heal since a) your health will drop like a rock due to the enemies hitting like freight trains, and b) there is virtually no way to replenish MP when outside of a town so you cannot afford to waste any. There is one item, the mandala, which will restore roughly 50 MP and will break after a couple of uses, but at the cost of 20,000 ryo it is prohibitively expensive. To put that in perspective, enemies drop only around 100 ryo even at the end of the game. Should you even be able to afford many you likely will not even be able to carry them due to the ridiculously small inventory Musashi has. At most he can carry 14 items, including what he is wearing and any key items. This often leaves just two or three spaces to hold any sort of item that may be practical for battle.

Something I have neglected is any mention of Musashi’s traveling companion. Early in his adventure he will gain the trust of a tanuki who can be used in battles. I use the term very loosely because the tanuki will at best prove to be of little help, and at worst will become a hindrance. For starters he cannot be controlled at all and only performs actions when he feels like it, so most of the time you may not even realize he is there. When he does deign to act he will either kick the opponent or perform one of his special moves which can be upgraded throughout the game by finding items called happa. After acquiring the first he will create an illusion to distract enemies, which is potentially his most useful skill. Upon finding the second happa the tanuki will sometimes make scary faces at the enemy in an attempt to force it to flee. This is when he becomes a burden. Adding to the list of the game’s already numerous frustrations, the tanuki will often chase away an enemy when it is on the very brink of defeat and after you have exhausted a large quantity of resources. Heaven help you if you are simply wanting to level up and the animal keeps causing your targets to escape in terror. Subsequent happa will allow him to briefly raise your defense, magic, and attack power. While this sounds great in principle, the boost will be negligible and hence the effect not noticeable. The only point to gaining these happa is that by finding all six the tanuki will learn the cure spell so he will have a slight chance of healing you. Often I have watched him just sitting around making goofy faces while my health rapidly depleted when I was paralyzed, but on a rare occasion he can bail you out of a jam. While the tanuki is not completely worthless, he is not a tremendous help either. Enemies will not even target him, so you cannot even use him as a meat shield.

In the end Musashi no Bouken proves to be a pretty substandard game. It chooses to use a facsimile of the battle system pioneered by Dragon Quest which, while fine for 1986, was becoming antiquated by Christmas 1990 when this game hit store shelves. Even that would have been excusable had the game been fun. Instead it is plagued by a multitude of problems which serve only to artificially raise the challenge and prolong the experience. To be clear, I am not criticizing this game for its difficulty, but rather the fact that it is consistently annoying. The frequency with which enemies are given an advantage is staggering. Challenging foes are an essential part of any game, but the enjoyment is quickly lost when the odds are stacked too highly against the player. From the constant surprise attacks to the ineptitude of Musashi’s companion, the entire game is an uphill battle that many players may not have the patience to see through to its end. Many random encounters end up being more drawn out than they should be simply because of the frequent inability for Musashi to hit his target combined with the need to heal every other round. In addition, the encounter rate is fairly high which just contributes to the tedium. Musashi no Bouken should only be played by those who are severely starved for an RPG and even then I am sure more suitable titles could be found.

Rating:   2.0 - Poor

Product Release: Musashi no Bouken (JP, 12/22/90)

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