My husband tells me nostalgia can be a powerful thing, but I believe that we should all evaluate artwork based on its own merits, not viewed through rose-colored glasses. With that in mind, I decided to begin my journey through the last four physical Playstation games I have left with one I’d started many years ago but never quite finished–Brave Fencer Musashi. Back when Square-Enix was just Squaresoft, I played my way through the action-RPG but stopped just short of beating the final boss, which I seemed to do quite often at that age. I remember really liking the game overall, completing each mission, fighting the challenging but not impossible bosses, finding and freeing all the missing castle dwellers. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why I never finished it, so I made out to rectify that mistake.
The game starts out simple enough with Allucaneet Castle being attacked by the Thirstquencher Empire and Princess Fillet being led down a staircase to summon a hero, whom we come to find out is the legendary hero Musashi. Overall, the story is simple. Go solve this problem. Go get that item. Go kill the boss. Thankfully gameplay was varied enough to liven things up, but it should be noted the hero is not likable and is a jerk to everyone. I’m all for having a hero who, over the course of his adventures, learns how not to be an asshole, but Musashi is entirely focused on himself and saving people just seems to be the way he thinks he can get home. Later in the game, his rival Kojiro makes an entrance and fights him for no discernible reason. By the end, the plot twists aren’t necessarily unexpected, merely uncared for because they involve characters you never really had much interaction with, let alone an emotional connection.
Through the course of the game’s opening events, Musashi ends up with two swords: Fusion, which absorbs and assimilates abilities from enemies, and Lumina, which gains five elemental abilities as you play. These swords are how you attack your enemies and their capabilities seem like they would be fun play around with, but you really don’t need to use those capabilities often, mainly just in boss fights and unlocking doors, and when you do, the effects are typically short-lived. Even more irritating is that you have to pause the game to change Lumina’s element, which shows the developers really didn’t intend to integrate those abilities into gameplay in a major way.
Unfortunately, I feel like this game should have just stayed in my memory because it did not age well. The graphics are fine enough for the time, so I can forgive that. The voice acting is relatively decent as well. In fact, the music is just as catchy and energetic as I remember. On the other hand, the story is so boring and didn’t make much sense. The thing I didn’t remember was how difficult this game was to play. I’m not talking “fun” difficult like Dark Souls, where you die, you learn something about beating the baddie, you come back a second time and kill him. I’m talking “unfair” difficult, where there is a delay in jumping off bouncing lily pads, so you die just trying to get across the damn river. I wish I could blame this on the PS3’s emulation, but other games seem to be perfectly responsive to controls.
It wasn’t until I got to precisely where I was when I stopped playing the first time 18 years ago that I remembered why I gave up. The final dungeon never tells you that it is the point of no return and it is so difficult to get through that even if you go in full of restorative items, you will likely use them all up by the time you get to the final boss. This happened to me back then and I didn’t feel like starting the game all over again because I’d already saved over my previous saves. I knew going in this time, but still didn’t feel like devoting more hours to ensuring I made it to the end with the ability to beat the final bosses. I just said “screw it” and watched the ending on YouTube. My time is better spent elsewhere.
I wish I could recommend this game because I used to have such fond memories of it. It is thankfully short, but because it is super frustrating to play and the story is basically rubbish, I would advise against dusting off your Playstation in order to play Brave Fencer Musashi, even if the music will get stuck in your head for weeks. It’s no surprise the game hasn’t been remastered for later consoles.