A confused Musashi has wandered into a scene from FF7.

It happens again later on.

An RPG staple that predates even Dragon Quest: the town. Note the cozy New England charm, common in feudal Japanese architecture.

Spells, dungeons and a spiky-haired protagonist: Square at their best.

Have you ever wondered why RPG's never let you smite that snotty bastard who refuses to give you a potion? Well, you don't get to do it in Musashi, either. Sorry.

Brave Fencer Musashi

A long time ago in what seems to be a galaxy far, far away, Square was responsible for some quite amazing action/RPG's that are still in the memories of a lot of true game enthusiasts. I mean who could forget Secret of Mana, one of the most known (non Nintendo) action role playing ventures of our time? Secret of Evermore did not do especially well, but it was a fun game for those who took up the difficult challenge and somewhat mundane puzzles. Since then, all America has seen has been Square's more traditional RPG roots. Not particularly a bad thing, but a lot of action lovers have been feeling cheated by the industry giant. Well, the cries have been answered and here it is: Brave Fencer Musashi, the goofiest RPG character on this side of Mario.

You are Musashi, a very strange little man from a different world. You have been summoned to this world by a circle of royalty so that you can go off and do their dirty laundry. Getting called a turd from the get-go, you know damn well that childish humor is at the very core of the story, but actually to full avail, as the humor and funny voice acting (that's right, voice acting) will grow on you quickly. Your mission is to collect various artifacts that have been snabbed by a group of notorious enemies. Naturally the geeks in the royal circle have made it so that you cannot go home until your mission is complete, so there is obviously a feeling of treachery, even on the side of the collective team of "good guys". The game starts out fairly shallow, yet entertaining. Soon however, the story picks up off the ground a few feet and will actually have its moments of emotional endearment (it is a very sparse to feel emotional in BFM, but the moments do exist).

The graphics in BFM are almost good, and almost bad at the same time. The animation is pretty sweet, with fluently moving enemies and nicely organic backgrounds. Musashi moves pretty well also, if not a tiny bit choppy at times. It is just awfully hard to look at him running around on the screen, due to the fact that he is one ugly mofo, and his hair is equally frightening (but not as scary as the dude from Quest 64, whose pony tail fly's the wrong way as he frolics aimlessly throughout the world). As for special effects, there are some good ones, but nothing to make you check your chin for drool. The level designs are not too bad, but it does not have tons of originality. If I had to pick one gripe about the graphical layout of the game, it would have to be the fact that there really is no decent camera control, leaving you often out in the cold and about to be hit by a giant bolder that you did not see coming. Also, enemy designs are a bit bland at times, especially considering that this is coming from Square, the people who brought us Repo Man and Emerald Weapon! ^_~

The controls are a bit weird to become accustomed to at first, but soon you will be controlling that little dude like second nature. The jumping and the sword swinging is easy from square one, but using the "assimilate" feature takes a while to tackle. The concept is simple enough: steal enemy abilities by sucking their life-force from them. The problem comes when a number of things can obstruct your goal of doing so, such as cheap hits from other enemies and the majorly glitched up collision detection. For example, you are sucking the life-force out of some big fatty while dodging the bullets of another big fatty. One of his bullets hits a wall on the other side of the screen, and for some queer reason you take the hit and have to start the assimilate process from the beginning. Granted, it does not happen very much, but when it does it makes you stand up and scream, "%^&*%$^&!". Analog controls work great and do give you better odds at surviving agility prone encounters.

The music is fitting, as are the sound effects, etc. What really makes BFM stand out from the pack is its voice acting. Not many RPG's have it these days, and when they do, it is either pathetically lame, or just in cut scenes (with a few exceptions, most notably Blood Omen). BFM has it, and it is not bad if you are not too harsh of a critic. The voices are cute and tormenting, but they do fit the mold of the characters. Don't quote me on this, but I believe that Musashi's voice is the same as the one done by the kid in Heart of Darkness. OK, so he is not the best voice acter in the world, but some of these lines were made for this kid. Other than the voice acting, the audio is nice, if not a little undramatic and tame.

If this was all the game had to say for itself, I am sure it would receive a less than lukewarm encounter in the US market, but yes folks, there is a catch. Brave Fencer Musashi is the first game that marks the first ever playable demo disc of Final Fantasy 8, what very well may end up to be the best game of all time. The demo is incredible, and it almost made me forget that I was paying my 50 bucks for BFM.

So while Brave Fencer Musashi may not be that much of a well endowed videogame, it works well as a fun-filled diversion to consume a little time. It is entertaining, very playable, and it has got a couple very innovative game features. If you can boost yourself beyond the fact that there is not much of an intricate story structure or a whole horde of RPG elements, then I highly recommend this title for you. But if you are expecting the next Xenogears, you have a long time to wait and BFM will be one of the biggest let downs of the year.

Andrew the Game Master