Mitsurugi Kamui Hikae came to me as a surprise, there was little that I did know about this title, and its popularity over in Japan. Now that I’m in the know, its very exciting to be able to get such a title translated from overseas. I hope this becomes more frequent because in general it saddens me how many Japanese games are not localized as they were during the SNES-PS1 Era.
Gushing aside, this title is interesting and my experience was interesting as well. When starting the game up you are greeted with the image of the protagonist in all of her short skirt, katana-using badass glory. So I started to perceive this as the semi-sexist imagery that Japan tends to do. I don’t mind this, but I know others would. The thoughts still pour in as I set up my game. One thought was: “here’s a big breasted school-girl shrine maiden, fighting against a big breasted evil school girl with giant sword.” Story wise there is extremely little to behold, but just enough to humor people.
When you start the game, a monologue begins of the main character, Misa describing herself as a shrine maiden and that there’s an ancient evil sword that was taken by the other school girl, Suzuka. Now she has begun killing people, so you must go after her -and that’s about it. There’s no real engrossing story, no M. Night Shyamalan-esque plot twists, but as you play the game, that is not its major focus. From playing the title, it’s very safe to say that any hyper sexual activity (other then the short skirt design for some panty visibility) on the main characters wasn’t really blatantly apparent. Honestly, players will probably just enjoy the game for what it is.
What shines in Mitsurugi is the combat. The game immediately throws you into an arena like setting for each stage, fighting waves after waves of enemies. Eventually, you’re greeted by a boss at the end of the stage. When I first played it, I was not amused, mostly due to the very simple mechanics and the game itself being pretty easy overall. As you defeat enemies you collect red orbs that will allow you purchase moves. When I first looked at the list of possible moves, I was very disappointing with lack of techniques. The higher your combo meter is, the bigger the orbs are and the more points/health you obtain. The first time I played this, I used a keyboard since I don’t normally use one which left me with this meek experience playing the title.
Once I did use a controller and started to delve a bit deeper into the combat, that’s when the game took flight. When fighting you can do light attacks that will restore the Katana gauge, normal katana slashes that will use a bit of the bar, and a heavy draw attack that can be charged and unleashed for even more usage of the gauge. A cool effect is possible when you slash an enemy enough, they glow red showcasing a bleeding status effect, and then you can do a move called a Zanshin. This does huge damage and possibly leaves extra orbs after performing it.
In the beginning the combat is a bit dry but once you start buying techniques, the craziness does begin. There’s only 4 additional moves and an additional 2 defensive techniques available from the base move set, however all of these are upgradeable to normally level 4. Upgrading them makes each move even more useful in battle, which aids in the flow of combat. This is because your skills will end up having you move all over the arena with quick attack sessions ending with a Zanshin. It’s pretty rewarding to be doing large combos and see your screen covered in red from all the orbs you’ve earned.
You will also need to learn how to chain your techniques properly as intermixing light attacks with your slash techniques will keep the combo going and refresh your previously used skills. However, if you don’t chain properly, you get hit with some waiting time for the animations to stop. For a title like this you, always want your character to be moving and attacking.
You can guard and dodge which I felt was a bit wonky, especially in conjunction to the boss battles where it was hard to dodge an attack even when you felt the timing was right. The boss battles felt like old-school difficult – bosses that required perfect dodging techniques and sharp, precise blocking or a huge chunk of your health is gone. This starts to become a defensive battle more then an offensive one, so it was refreshing but also didn’t feel quite right as it seems like it was more of an unintentional difficulty curve from a conjunction of design issues.
Although the combat system is fun, it does have its downfalls. With not having extremely diverse attacks the game can feel flat pretty easily and the evasion detracts from the speed of combat. This definitely raises the difficulty, but it also will kill the flow that you’d want in battle. A few awkward hit boxes contribute in the uneasiness of the title feeling more of an accidental difficulty then an intentional one.
One of the bigger nuisances in the combat is actually the camera itself. The camera culling as the enemies can sometimes block your line of vision which is an easy fix of just moving slightly. This gets annoying with the amount of numbers thrown into a wave at a time, that easy fix becomes harder each time to evade and leads to unjustified damage to your character.
The other issue with the camera, which is always a finicky thing in most games like this, is that it can be increasingly difficult to read attacks. This is because the camera tracks the position of the player and is oriented by which direction the analog stick is pressed. Coming from this, when a character is moving very fast around the battlefield, it can become chaotic as to where the camera will go and what you can see when attacking. There is a reset camera button luckily enough but it is still a nuisance in these types of titles.
The flow of battle from wave to wave is awkward. It does it right for the most part with steady progression, adding and creating harder enemies, but for some odd reason it tends to give you one person stragglers near the boss battle. This gives a warning sign to the nearing end of the wave yes, but the adrenaline rush from your previous waves dies down a lot. There was also a situation where I was having a tough time with a boss battle but I decided to do a charge attack and hit him before attacking me which took out 3/4 of his max health, so there are some balance issues with possible damage output.
Normally it takes awhile to even do that much damage, as with boss fights you need to hit the enemy enough until he starts bleeding. Once bleeding, you can perform an onslaught of techniques for a set amount of damage/period of time before he regains his defenses normally a 1/4 or a 1/3 before that happens.
Combat aside there are other things that detract from this title, like the artwork for example. The main Protagonist and Antagonist models are really good quality. It’s actually so nice that it looks quite a bit different from the enemy waves with how they are colored, lit, and everything. The main characters do suffer from a shininess/plastic effect with reflectiveness on their skin, which is a tiny thing that irks me but it’s not a huge distraction.
There are only a few enemy models within the game and to help with budget are color-coded differently for ones who behave differently. This is a constantly performed method since the very beginning of gaming so its a give or take on opinion for that type of work. I felt it was fine as there are only 5 stages in the game, which is indeed very short but being a challenge based game it does present itself ways for the player to grow in skill.
The thing that kills the art the most are the environments themselves. Most are extremely flat from looking at them, and from starting this game up they ruined the polished look of the game in my opinion. So much more could’ve been done with the environments to give the game a cleaner look. They could even add environment props in the stage, which could help a bit to defer some of the monotony, and possibly add more of a strategy into the game with prop placement.
Perhaps an effectively changed layout to the circular arena setting to diversify progression, but I’m most displeased with the outside skybox, as it is just very flat and void of life. Admittedly, the last few stages were decent in design but playing a few minutes into the first levels left a very dull look initially into the game as a first impression.
The audio was ok, it did its job with the background music being some fast rock music. The game does have voiceovers, however there are a few moments when the audio will not sync up with the mouth movements for event sequences. Another one of those facets that could of used more polish to present the title a bit better but again there are only a few moments where cutscenes and events are even involved.
When playing this game, it’s best not to think of it as an experience like Devil May Cry game with all of its crazy moves and weird story. If you came into this wanting something quick and fun, this is definitely a title for that. During my second run through of the game I tried to perceive it more as an arcade-type of title and it felt right and better being labelled as such. The game has quickly rewarding and twitch-based game play but nothing deep and compelling to talk about majorly.
A game that fits closer to this would be the recent Ninja Gaiden titles with their harsh difficulty curve and quick-reflex, hectic combat, but just a little less in the experience in general. Overall the experience may not be as grand, but very much so shares a similar combat style. Despite my normal pessimism when reviewing, I still had fun with the title my second round and even third round through. I hope you all get the chance to at least try the game out and help support translators bringing this type of content overseas.
You can buy Mitsurugi Kamui Hikae here via Playism’s store.