Review by Celtic Forest
Reviewed: 08/31/05 | Updated: 10/31/17
An old-school RPG with lots of charm, and one of the most balanced leveling up systems ever
This is one of those old-school NES RPGs that never made it to the West, and didn't even make it big in the battle with its tough opponents in Japan, like the Final Fantasy series and the Dragon Quest games. I first played this game in 2005, when the NES had been asleep for a long long time, and more powerful systems like PS2 and Xbox ruled the planet. I expected that this game, being an old-school RPG (with all the outdated mechanics from that time), being a game that didn't even sell particularly well, and being an unofficially translated version from Japanese to English, was going to be a disappointment, but interestingly, it turned out to be a very pleasant trip!
The story takes us back to feudal Japan to the peak of the samurai warriors. You play as Musashi, a young man who recently became a fully-skilled warrior, and must travel out in the world to defeat the evil warrior Kojiro. Musashi dreams of becoming the greatest warrior ever, and maybe even get laid by the princess of the village (no, I'm not making this up)! On his way, he gets a friend called Tanooki, a kind of raccoon dog spirit, who helps him in his battle.
The story is of course not the most revolutionary, and to tell the truth, nothing in this game really is. It is your basic RPG from the early days, where you walk around on the map and into different buildings, facing random encounters, and choosing commands for battling your opponent, gaining experience, raising your levels and so on. In fact, the game doesn't even fit in the "not breaking any new ground, but still being excellent" category, as it does indeed have some flaws. Still, while not being revolutionary and perfect in every aspect, this game wins my heart with mostly two things: Its sweet charm, and its extremely well-balanced leveling up system.
Let's talk about the leveling system first. I will try to explain exactly what I mean. I don't mean that it's based on a revolutionary method, and I don't mean it will spare you from all those endless hours of grinding outside the villages, because it won't. It will, however, give you a very nice and fair status raise for every time you level up. Now here's the great part: every time you arrive at a new area, the enemies are so strong. They quickly defeat you. You must raise your levels to survive. Now, after a while, you go up ONE level. What happens? You become a lot stronger, and the enemies suddenly give you a less unfair challenge. You go up ONE MORE level, and what happens now? The enemies suddenly become incredibly wimpy, to the point that you can take them down with just one strike with your sword!
This makes gaining levels – normally a very tedious part of classic RPG games – a very fun activity. You actually feel very powerful when you gain levels and can knock down your enemies with ease. Ever got tired playing the FF games where you needed to gain at least three levels before you noticed any difference in battling your foes? Well, here is the game for you! You can actually see and notice how strong you've become, and how the enemies have different strength. It may look like a minor feature, but I love it!
The game uses this system very well too, because there are rarely any "barriers" when going to the different continents of the world. You are mostly free to travel anywhere, but you won't be surviving long if you go to an area where the monsters are too strong. It's of course recommended that you go from continet to continent in the correct order, but you don't necessarily have to, and this makes it so much fun. And in fact, you CAN actually conquer an area that you aren't supposed to go to yet, if you stay alert and gain a lot of levels, in case you want a truly crazy challenge. That makes the game less linear, and gives you the option of taking the easy route or the harder route.
The second great part is its charm. The graphics are, while very simplistic, really nice and artistic. The designs are cute, and some of the close up images of Kojiro, Musashi, and the bosses are really lovely. The music is excellent as well, setting the mood perfectly. The game is filled with small cute features, like getting a boat for sailing at the ocean; visiting the mermaids' kingdom, and seeing a secret picture of their princess for ALL your gold; the furious and teasing princess of a village, that turns out to be a spider princess; and so on. The dialogues are funny too, with a lot of weird comments, partly because the translator didn't have enough space in the dialogue box. One of the best is the turtle saying: "Go on back!", meaning you should step on his back and ride to the mermaid kingdom.
All the goodness aside, this review wouldn't however be fair if I didn't mention any flaws, and indeed, there are quite a few. Musashi No Bouken has a lot of those clunky elements that old RPGs tend to have.
1. If you gain experience, you can see the points you've gathered on your menu screen. However, you cannot see how much more experience you need until you go up a new level. To see this, you must visit the sage in a village, and ask him to tell this to you. Why not just put the numbers on the status screen?
2. When buying armor in the various shops, you cannot see if they are stronger or weaker than the equipment you're currently carrying, so prepare to save your game before every shopping round in the new village, if it would happen that you wasted your money on armor that in fact was weaker that your current armor!
3. Your friend Tanooki is computer controlled. He does random attacks on the enemy during the battle. Most of the time he is great, but when he reaches a certain level, he starts using an attack that scares away the opponent. Every time he manages to do this attack successfully, the enemy escapes, and you are awarded no experience points at all! In other words, when you walk around outside a village, trying to level up, Tanooki might very well scare away half of the monsters you encounter, thus making the process of leveling up taking twice as much time.
4. Musashi gains a lot of spells on his journey. However, 90% of all spells are worthless. Among others, you get spells like fire, ice and thunder. They are in fact weaker than your standard weapon. On ALL enemies. And the spells cost magic points to cast. Points that you could use on Cure instead, for example. In the long run, you end up just using "Fight" and "Cure"-spell over and over again.
There are more examples, but these are some of the worst ones. As you can see, Musashi No Bouken is a very old RPG. However, most of these bad parts actually aren't as bad as they seem to be, since they don't keep bugging the hell out of you. At least Tanooki stops with his stupidness as soon as he gains another level.
Many gamers might think this game is not so interesting, and will stop playing it after an hour or so. But some people, like me, may enjoy it very much. The important thing is to not expect it to be the world's best RPG ever, but to see it as a good game that will entertain you for a while. Give it a try before you judge it. And yes, I still hold on to my point, that the balance in the leveling system is excellent. I don't get it why not more RPGs do this.
The total score of the review is supposed to represent how much fun you had with the game, and I did indeed have a lot of fun with it. If you grade Musashi No Bouken based on originality, it is just average, but if you grade the game based on entertainment, a score of 8 is well deserved.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
Product Release: Musashi no Bouken (JP, 12/22/90)
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