Friday, June 2, 2017

Gōsō Jinrai Densetsu Musya (SFC) Review

Received: December 1st, 2016 / Written: May 30th-June 2nd, 2017
Alternate Title: Musya: The Classic Japanese Tale of Horror
Year: 1992 | Developed by: Jorudan
Published by: Datam Polystar | ]

Hello everyone, StarBoy91 here; passionate about video games and big retrophile, and I love to import games from Japan (namely for the Super Famicom).  =)

Today I'll talk about a game from a little-known video game developer named Jorudan, who got their start with their 1990 Game Boy title Battle Bull published by Seta and afterwards graduated to the Nintendo 16-bit console to create games like the system's first turn-based RPG Gdleen in 1991 (again published by Seta) based on the seven-volume light novel series Jikō Wakusei Gdleen that lasted two years from 1989 to 1991 which remained in Japan followed by a March 1992 Super Famicom release of the action-oriented platformer Chōkō Gasshin Xardion courtesy of Asmik (which did come out the following month for the NTSC SNES as simply Xardion) which had mecha designs from Moriki Yasuhiro and Gundam's Hajime Katoki.
During the month of April 1992 when America was experiencing Xardion Japan received yet another Super Famicom offering from Jorudan in the form of Gōsō Jinrai Densetsu Musya which roughly translates to "Brave Spearman Jinrai's Legend - Warrior", and it was the first game published there by Datam Polystar (as well as the only Jorudan fare they released); when it came to the American release it was localized by Seta's USA division that December as Musya: The Classic Japanese Tale of Horror.  So, what do we have here today?

After a long hard-fought battle where the spearman Jinrai winds up being the sole survivor he decides to go to Tengumura Village where he collapses from his sustained injuries.
After resting up a bit there the village mayor greets Jinrai and informs him that the maiden Shizuka has been taken away from monsters and must be saved.
Heading down the deep and dark abyss to find her Jinrai will venture to Kihōshōnyūdō in order to rescue her from harm, but it won't be easy (it never is).

Heading towards danger
Because I've only played the original Super Famicom version of this game I will discuss this version exclusively, though along the way I might bring up what changes were made since gamers who live in America that don't import might only be familiar with the version they were given.  Like Chōkō Gasshin Xardion before it, Gōsō Jinrai Densetsu Musya is a 2D action-oriented platformer; in it you control Jinrai whose only means to attack enemies is with his spear with the Y button (while standing, while ducking, and while in midair; the last of which you can even point downward if you press down and Y simultaneously) once or repeatedly and with the A button you'll amass a spear attack that spins around Jinrai as if it were a barrier for a few seconds (even when in midair) but can be cut short by pressing Y.  With the B button Jinrai can jump in the air, and how hard you press the button will amount to varying altitudes; interestingly enough, if you want to jump really high up as you can hold down the up button as you jump (you can adjust your position in midair a little bit).

You can also move while ducking to either the left and right, and by holding down the left and right shoulder buttons you can make him crawl backwards in either respective direction (there really isn't much reason to do this though, but it is there if you feel the need).  While progressing you'll find strange containers for which the contents may include something to replenish Jinrai's qi (capacity being sixteen), a small statue to summon a deity (always random; depending which one pops up they'll either replenish the qi completely, render Jinrai impenetrable for a short period of time, or wipe out all onscreen enemies), something to render the spear more powerful (up until you lose a life), and a magic scroll.  When you begin the game you only start with one magic spell, but after the defeat of each of the first four bosses you'll learn a new spell in the process; with the Start button you can select one of up to five magic spells you want to use (four being the scroll capacity) and provided you have at least one scroll can conjure the spell with the X button.  Finally, pausing is done with the Select button.

Visually the game is fascinating to look at; there's a serious look and feel to it with its good sense of detail but what really complements the already interesting-looking scenery is the sense of shading and lighting.  When you start the game you're treated to a wooden infrastructure with some vibrant torches laying about and for a brief moment there's a glimpse of a nice crescent moon and that's just the first segment; one of the later segments of the first stage has got lots of huge imposing trees in the backdrop with a waterfall along the way.  In the second stage there's a dark cave-like setting followed by a long corridor comprising of... um, I'm not sure what those things are actually, eggs?  o_O  The third stage has got neat-looking detailed temples which look like they've been abandoned and in a later part there's a cave-like room with rows upon rows of statues;
I mean look at this: absolutely striking stuff!
also the final stage is the most visually arresting in terms of setting design and color choices and shading (especially the final boss room, holy crap).

Keep attacking it so it doesn't replicate itself
Jinrai is designed decently in-game and has got solid walking/crawling and swift spearing animations when facing straight ahead; disappointingly there's no splash effect whenever you get in and out of the water (as if it were Quintet's Actraiser/ActRaiser from 1990) but the effects for when the deities are summoned and the magic you use look cool.  The enemy roster in Gōsō Jinrai Densetsu Musya comprises of creatures and monsters based on Japanese folklore and original designs that are rather grotesquely designed in their own right; some examples of them are menacing head creatures, giant eyeballs, eyeballs with wings, corpse/spider hybrids, specters and ghosts (especially ones who emanate from the other side of a flipped wall in the third stage), statues that blend in with the background statues, enemy samurai and archers, et al.  The bosses you fight are darkly imposing like the fire-breathing tanuki, the mud monster, and the giant red samurai to name a few; the final boss is very ominous and at points makes for nightmare fuel as far as the heavy contrast and shading is concerned (and the aforementioned room you fight him in adds to that).
During the intro, ending, and after the third stage are sepia-toned anime stills that are beautifully and effectively drawn; they really set the tone for the game and add to the atmosphere.  =)

The game's soundtrack was composed by Kiyoko Asukawa, who from what I gathered hasn't really done much of anything else before or after the fact, and it's one of this game's highlights for me as it blends perfectly well with the respective stages' atmospheres it accompanies.  The instrumentation is purely Japanese but sounds unconventional for the platforming genre in that there are songs with an understated quality to them (namely the boss battles) and yet they still work in the context of the game because of the darkly atmospheric nature.  The introduction theme does a good job pulling you into the game's story, the first stage theme gets you geared up for adventure, the second stage theme is chilling, the theme for when you rescue Shizuka is deep, the sixth stage theme is slightly foreboding, the final stage theme has got a rather woozy feeling to it with its slowly unnerving tempo (which was actually sped up for the American version), and the final boss theme is interesting in that it's very understated; and luckily until you lose your last life the music resumes as opposed to starting from scratch.  =)  It's a shame Asukawa didn't do anything else, I think she would've been a really good composer with what's in evidence here; some of the sound effects by Tenpei Sato (Gdleen, Chōkō Gasshin Xardion) and Naoto Niida (Gdleen) are curiously selected on the other hand, like the sound for when Jinrai learns a new spell and summons a deity but most of the other sound effects are low-key--which is good since the music is atmospheric.

Keep your eyes peeled for anything suspicious
Whenever you start the game and anytime you use up a continue you start off with three inochi (the equivalent of lives), and anytime you lose all your qi (and if you use a continue after losing all three inochi) you resume from the segment you're currently in especially segments where you fight against the stage boss.  There are an unlimited number of continues that you can use, but if you feel it to be overwhelming to continue presently you could always decline in favor of a simple four-character password, so you don't have to worry about playing through it in a single sitting if you're not confident enough.  After the third stage when you save Shizuka she grants Jinrai a more powerful spear and armor, seemingly sending you back to the start.
Now I know what you're thinking: shades of Chōmakaimura/Super Ghouls'n Ghosts?  Um, not really--it might seem like it at first but it doesn't take long to discover the difference: unlike the 1991 Capcom classic where the stages have the same amount of enemies per visit, in Gōsō Jinrai Densetsu Musya's case the second time you visit the first three stages there are more enemies to contend with than before, not to mention that the bosses in the first two stages revisited are completely different.  Also since it's only the initial three stages that are revisited (with a different warp point in the third one) as opposed to seven of them like in the aforementioned title you're not required to look for a special item to head to the final stage, for there are a couple extra stages you didn't explore before in the latter half.

No, not this boss!  =(
One of the most notable things in this game is its numerals: from what I looked up this is one of the rare games from Japan that actually uses the Japanese numerals as opposed to the common number system that is universally recognized, and I believe that; you can kinda get an idea of what the numbers represented are if you pay attention to it rising, but it is a very fascinating aspect--not that you'd be able to tell that in the American version as in there it's been replaced by Hindu-Arabic numerals (well so much for maintaining the purity of the Japanese original... oh, who am I kidding?  American localization in the early '90s rarely maintained the purity of the Japanese original, so it's no surprise really).  Jinrai was given the name Imoto in America and changed into a pikeman instead of a spearman (as spears are regularly known for being thrown but they can be thrust also, the latter being the case with this game; odd detail to change, really).  The most understandable change had to with the symbol representing the scrolls as in the Super Famicom version there was a manji symbol attached which I looked up was removed for the American version (the symbol has different connotations depending on certain religions or cultures, but since it's really only seen outside of Asia as a symbol of hate and oppression then, yeah, it's for the best that it was taken out).

I remember finding out about this game years ago when I stumbled upon information on it online and saw a gameplay video of it on YouTube; it looked very interesting from what I saw but didn't get a chance to play it on account of other games which I was also curious about grabbing my attention (being a collector who plays games); not to mention the American version is a bit pricy.  It wasn't until November 2016 that I had considered ordering it from eBay in the form of the more affordable Super Famicart Gōsō Jinrai Densetsu Musya (because I had wanted to play it in its original Japanese state, plus I was on a Datam Polystar kick with Success' Keeper and Märchen Adventure Cotton 100% before it), and when it had arrived that December 1st I had actually beaten it on my first sitting; now I know how that sounds, but trust me when I say that this game wasn't a cakewalk in the slightest.  It was quite a night playing session experiencing this game for the first time.

The biggest thing this platformer has got going for it is its sense of atmosphere as it is absolutely replete with it; there's a grand sense of Japanese culture in the proceedings and there's a seriousness about its fantasy world to the point that there's a slightly creepy quality to it, from the grotesque creature and monster designs to the mysteriously unnerving settings (the American version's subtitle classifies itself as horror which I suppose is apropos on occasion for it's definitely not what I would call lighthearted fare).  In the third stage and the third stage revisited (the sixth stage) there is a room where you must find the right warp statue that takes you to the boss fight as taking the wrong one will send back to the start of the segment, and the first time I played the game it took me awhile to find the correct one (and the second time you visit the stage it's in a different spot).

Thrust all the way
So what exactly gave me the most trouble in my initial playthrough and in my most recent one (albeit not to the same extent)?  Unfortunately it's the game's structure and gameplay itself.  =/  I like the idea behind the mechanics but it's the execution that lets it down: for starters, Jinrai moves at a deliberate pace and when it comes to the jumping it is a bit floaty which makes him a big target, but on top of that the controls don't feel polished.  If you were thrusting the spear while standing (and in quick succession if need be) and wanted to it while ducking you have to duck first and then begin using the spear which is a bit inconvenient when simply pressing down while doing so would've been more preferable.  Ultimately, however, it's difficult to go by without sustaining damage from enemy contact here and there (namely during the stages leading up to the boss in the end), and even if you tried to be as precise as possible in taking them down chances are you might still lose some qi in the process; nothing a little refinement of the controls or making them more responsive couldn't have resolved.
As a result you're going to see this a lot for you might go through many lives and continues (thank God the number of continues are unlimited and there's the option to use a password).

Going deeper and deeper still
On the way to face the boss you have one of eventually five magic spells to use; some examples being offensive magic that affects all onscreen enemies, magic that temporarily freezes time for the enemies around you, and one that replenishes a bit of your qi to name a few.  When it comes to the boss fights however you can't use the magic against them or to heal yourself except for one homing spell which will enable it to deal in plenty of damage to the boss for you; one of the power-ups you find will make the spear stronger up until you lose all your qi, but you'll still have the magic scrolls if it's in the same continue.  There is a catch, though, and that is if you lose all three idochi and have to use up a continue, you'll resume right at the stage segment you lost your life in (especially a boss room) sans the magic scrolls; no problem if it's in the earlier parts of the stage but may pose an issue if that happened whilst in a boss room (depending on the current boss).  Some of the boss fights have safe spots and have simple enough to follow patterns (because of its slightly unpolished nature I didn't beat any of the bosses on my first try; took me forever and a half to find a somewhat foolproof solution to the final boss' first phase), and the aforementioned homing spell and spear power-up would be enough to make the battles shorter... otherwise it might just take awhile to finish them off and as a result can become mundane in some instances (and I mean very time-consuming) if you didn't want to lose any if much qi (always satisfying to see the bosses change color to signal you they're almost defeated and see them going up in purple smoke when they bite it).  =(

I realize how I'm making this sound, but Gōsō Jinrai Densetsu Musya is not impossible... it's definitely manageable if you stick with it and persevere to the end, but it could've really benefited from polish to make it more playable and fun for me.
As far as Datam Polystar-published platformers are concerned I find Affect's 1993 game Makeruna! Makendō (which did come out in America courtesy of Seta's USA division as Kendo Rage) to be superior.  Not without flaws either, I personally feel that one edges out today's game on account that when you get its gameplay and structure down pat then it becomes very solid fun while it lasts; it also does one better in that you could also attack enemies from above you as opposed to just ahead of and below you.  Not to mention it's really lighthearted with a ridiculously goofy sense of humor about itself that makes it very endearing; kendo sword over spearing action any day!  =)

Underwater prison
Considering this was Datam Polystar's first publication it's not a terrible way to start off their business but Jorudan's platformer is deeply flawed in the gameplay and structure department and lacking in polish that it prevents it from being good or great, thankfully the publisher would have better footing when it comes to releasing games developed by Affect and Success.  If you wanted to play a game that is jam-packed with atmosphere and elements of horror you're going to get exactly that with this game, but if you wanted to play a game with strongly polished gameplay you're better off looking elsewhere; if you want to play an easy game then you won't find one here for it is novice-unfriendly, but if you have enough experience with games and were curious about it then I think you can do a lot worse than this.

My Personal Score: 5.5/10
<( -_-)>TO EACH THEIR OWN<(-_- )>
P.S. Between this and Chōkō Gasshin Xardion I'm not impressed with Jorudan's work, there are things about them that impress me but not as a whole; I do hope that when I get to play Battle Bull, Gdleen, or Imperium that I might find something decent or at least solid.

P.S. 2 If it seems like I'm struggling with the writing it's a combination of being kept busy in real life, not having gotten a chance to get images in the past few weeks and playing lots of games, and I might be getting a bit rusty(?); it has been over a month since my last review, after all.

P.S. 3
You know, I always wanted to know what a more serious take on Pocky and Rocky would look like, Jorudan, thanks=)
Never mind that today's game precedes Natsume's first contribution to Taito's KiKi KaiKai series by eight months, but you get the idea.

Happy 25th Anniversary, Musya
(Whether you deserve it or not)

Thank you for reading my review, please leave me a comment (spam will not be tolerated) and let me know what you think; hope you have a great Summer, take care!

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