RetroSpective – The Mysterious Murasame Castle
The Mysterious Murasame Castle is quite an apt name, given how it didn’t see a release outside of Japan until 2014, and even its original Japanese release was on the long forgotten Famicom Disc System. Nevertheless, you will be rewarded for finding this rare gem, whether it be on the original FDS, or more recently through the 3DS Virtual Console.
The Mysterious Murasame Castle has a very Japanese feel to it, and this runs all the way through the game. The story, which takes place in the Japan’s Edo era (1600s), puts players in the shoes of the Samurai apprentice Takamaru. Following the arrival of an Alien creature that has taken control of Murasame castle and the surrounding villages, Takamaru is secretly tasked by the Shogunate with restoring peace. As such you will battle your way through four villages and each village’s respective traditional Japanese castle, before making your way to Murasame Castle itself. Each level is filled with Ninjas, Samurai, Tengu (Japanese mythological creature), Mages, and the ruling Daimyo (lord of a village) acting as the Boss. Murasame Castle itself however takes on a much darker theme, being filled with Demon-like creatures, blood rivers, and the alien invader.
Now if all this sounds like it would be a tall order for Takamaru to take on, then you haven’t seen anything yet. This is certainly one of the harder games in the Famicom library, and that’s saying something. Given Nintendo’s reluctance towards releasing difficult games in the West at the time, alongside its Japanese theme, this could point to its conspicuous absence for all these years. Nevertheless difficulty is inherent in this game, yet somehow doesn’t distract from the overall enjoyment. As the game’s addictive and intuitive gameplay leads players to do a little better each time, encouraging continued gameplay, reminiscent of the modern classic Dark Souls. There’s also a save function that returns players to the start of the area once all lives are lost, further encouraging gamers to continue playing. Nevertheless, prepare to die a lot, and keep learning from each death.
Takamaru does though have a lot at his disposal. The standard weapon set consists of a ranged projectile, and a close combat Katana blade which will kill standard enemies in one hit, both used by pressing A. The ranged weapon can not only be powered through pickups, but can even be switched to more powerful weapons such as fire projectiles. The ranged weapons will be your favourite friend as you’ll need them to block all the enemy projectiles. But for most latter enemies, the Katana is the weapon of choice. Takamaru also has limited chances to turn invisible and sneak up on enemies by using the B button. This creates for very simple, but tactfully varied gameplay. Allowing different gamers to approach the situation in different ways. Yet either way you’ll have to act fast, as this is one of the most hectic, action packed Nintendo titles ever made.
Enemies and projectiles will literally come from everywhere filling the screen. These enemies have a variety of close and long-range weapons, with the most deadly being the bomb wielding ninjas that are better off dodged. Some bosses, particularly the fourth Daimyo, took me close to tears trying to take her down, as she throws her projectile-infused bombs absolutely everywhere. But this all adds to the challenge, and the fact that you do a little better each time, adds to the one more go addictive nature, and sense of satisfaction.
The world is presented impeccably, embodying traditional Japan. Some achievement for an 8-bit title. The soundtrack that blends 8-bit with traditional Japanese music, is fast and catchy, fitting the style of the game. Even the high quality pause jingle optimises the game’s Japanese feel, showing Nintendo’s attention for detail. This is no more true than for the world. On your quest, you’ll traverse forests, lakes, and mountain tops, in all conditions, alongside the inside and outside of old Japanese castles, seeing the traps hidden within, and the zen gardens. In fact, the world is extremely reminiscent of The Legend of Zelda, two titles released within mere months of each other, and encourages exploration through a maze like world. Therefore, the world itself also impacts on the difficulty. As not only are you desperately trying to survive, but you’re attempting to do this whilst trying to work out where to go, adding huge amounts of variety, and giving gamers another aspect to the gameplay.
It’s criminal how this never came west, and childhoods were worse for it. The Mysterious Murasame Castle still today offers one of the most highly detailed and polished experiences that can be had from the 8-bit era. It also offers a wealth of gameplay, along the lines of games such as The Legend of Zelda and Dark Souls, true praise indeed. Due to it’s high difficulty and explorative gameplay mechanics, this game will take a long time to beat and will require high amounts of dedication. Yet you’ll want take on the challenge due to the highly detailed and engrossing world that Nintendo has built, alongside the gameplay mechanics such as the save system, that encourage you to just have one more go. Though to be honest you’ll want more than just one more go.
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