Get some Japanese roguelike action in the latest offering from Konami that isn't a Pachinko machine.
If I asked you to name a classic Konami game deserving of a remake or reboot, I'm willing to bet there are several iconic series that come to mind. Maybe you'd choose the rebirth of the iconic vampire-slaying Castlevania series, the golden era shoot-em-ups like Gradius or Contra, or even the sneaky stealthy Solid Snake espionage of Metal Gear. Konami truly were quite a powerhouse back in the day but have sadly fallen from grace in recent years. So what better way to regain their adoring fans than by offering a reboot of a retro classic? With an impressive library of titles to choose from, strangely Konami have picked a game that most have never played, or even heard of before now.
GetsuFumaDen first released in 1987 for the Nintendo Family Computer (Famicom) and received critical praise for its stylish Japanese visuals and soundtrack, which were both quite impressive for the era. With side-scrolling hack n' slash combat, the game played similarly to the likes of Castlevania II: Simon's Quest and featured a strong Japanese cultural influence through its characters, enemies and setting. Now 35 years later, GetsuFumaDen receives an unexpected successor in the form of GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon for Nintendo Switch and PC. Blending a stylish Japanese art-style and horrifying Yokai with gruelling side-scrolling roguelike gameplay, could this game signal Konami's return to videogame fame? Well, it's time to grab your nearest katana and find out.
All hell has broken loose. Literally. After a thousand years of peace across Japan, the evil demon lord Ryukotsuki has unleashed innumerable hellspawn to ravage the lands by opening the gates to hell. With the surface world now overrun by malevolent Yokai, the mighty Fuma, 27th leader of the powerful bloodline known as the Getsu Clan, must take it upon himself to delve into the depths of hell itself. With the power of the Getsu Clan on his side, even the mightiest of demons dare not stand in his way. Blessed with immortality, even death does not mean the end for Fuma, as with each death he grows stronger on his quest to reseal the Gates of Hell.
Although the story is about as paper thin as a Japanese sliding door and features minimal exposition or dialogue, it's still intriguing enough to add an element of drama to the game's greatest asset: its gameplay.
Offering a fascinating mixture of Japanese mythology, stereotypical side-scrolling action gameplay, and elements of punishing procedurally-generated roguelikes, GetsuFumaDen creates a gameplay loop to keep players coming back for more.
Beginning at the picturesque Getsu Clan Estate, players can access a variety of weapons, skills, and abilities to help on their journey into the underworld. Most of these are locked initially, as everything in the game requires use of consumable souls and gems that can be collected throughout the game. Akin to most other roguelikes, accumulating currency is only temporary, as each death will send the player back to the beginning to start all over again. While this is initially unforgiving and brutal, the gameplay loop eventually becomes more enjoyable once some key skills are unlocked to power up Fuma's weapons and stats.
The majority of the game is made up of procedurally-generated side-scrolling levels, each of which feature a unique aesthetic and enemies that can only be found on that particular stage. What begins as a simple mazelike dungeon eventually progresses into complex levels requiring navigation, proper use of a map, and environmental puzzles like teleporters or intertwining areas. Every level feels fresh and enjoyable, including new challenges and colossal bosses as Fuma descends deeper into hell.
In order to make it through a level alive, players will need to make effective use of their chosen weapon. These range from simple katana and daggers all the way through to weaponised fans, umbrellas, and colossal mallets to pulverise enemies. Alternating use of main weapons with sub-weapons and swift dodges is the key to success, as many of the sub-weapons are significantly more powerful and can devastate even the strongest foes, but have limited ammo and lengthy cooldowns.
Souls can be collected while progressing through a level, which can be used to enhance weapon skills and stats, and also temporarily power up Fuma for the current playthrough. Most of these power-ups however will disappear upon defeat, leaving the player only with a small set of items that can be used back at the Fuma Estate. While the gameplay is initially gruelling and provides minimal reward, permanently adding to Fuma's stats proves to be incredibly useful and will make future runs significantly easier.
Overall, the gameplay is typical of the roguelike genre. Undying Moon doesn't revolutionise the genre or try anything too risky, but creates a solid blend of platforming exploration and simple combat. Navigating levels, dispatching hordes of enemies, and slashing away at each level's colossal bosses is certainly satisfying enough for roguelike aficionados.
While the gameplay might be fairly standard, the game's art-direction is likely to impress any fan of Japan. Taking inspiration from traditional Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints, Undying Moons visuals are sleek, stylish, and at times even downright disturbing. Cel-shaded 3D character models move with a 2D style and stand out against the game's detailed backgrounds. Enemy design is particularly impressive, invoking true horror through the design of its gruesome and unnerving Yokai.
While the game's regular enemies are certainly creepy, it's the wide variety of bosses that are truly breathtaking. Each boss fight takes up the entire screen (and then some), and feels like being a part of an interactive Japanese painting. For those of you that have played Okami, my personal favourite videogame of all-time, you're absolutely going to love the visuals of GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon.
But what authentically Japanese game would be complete without a traditional soundtrack to match?
Soaring orchestral melodies, intense and fast-paced percussion, and an impressive ensemble of traditional instruments all contribute to Undying Moon's phenomenal soundtrack. Composed primarily by Karin Nakano, who is relatively new to the videogame music scene, this soundtrack really showcases her incredible potential as an up-and-coming composer. Each track borrows elements from Japanese folk music while adding its own intense flair through orchestral flourishes or even fast-paced guitar & synth for some of the game's most intense moments. If you enjoyed the music of Ghost of Tsushima or Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, I'd highly recommend taking a listen to the full soundtrack for Undying Moon.
Unfortunately the game's budget must have run out after creating such an incredible soundtrack, as everything else in the audio department is lacking. Cutscenes which feature character dialogue are completely silent with not even an attempt at a voiceover, which leaves them feeling lifeless and flat. For what minimal dialogue there is in the game, even dragging a couple random Japanese people off the street would have been a better choice than no voice acting at all.
As with any roguelike, there is a tonne of unlockable content available, including a massive armoury of weapons and hidden abilities that can be collected by picking up scrolls throughout the game. Unlocking every weapon though would take an absurd amount of time, as the player only accumulates a very limited amount of resources to be spent back at the estate.
Different game modes also unlock once the player has completed the game or certain optional levels. An additional playable character, Getsu Renge, changes up the play-style of the game dramatically, as her moveset is more focused on quick dodges and movements than heavy attacks. Several additional difficulty settings are also available, which will change the rewards on offer and also which enemies appear in certain levels.
So have Konami completely redeemed themselves through the revival of GetsuFumaDen in this brand new roguelike? Not quite - the game is far from perfect - but there is a lot to enjoy for fans of roguelikes and games influenced by Japanese culture. While the gameplay itself may be simple and particularly punishing for new players, the stylish traditional art and impressive soundtrack should be enough to keep the majority of players dying time and time again. For those Japan fans out there reading this review, I highly recommend you GetSomeFumaDen.
So, why should you play it?
Incredibly stylish Japanese art-style.
Simple but satisfying gameplay loop.
Stellar soundtrack with an authentic Japanese sound.
Tonne of unlockables available for completionists.
But why shouldn't you play it?
Punishing difficulty for first 2 - 3 hours may discourage many players.
Somewhat clunky controls take some getting used to.
Complete lack of voice acting leaves dialogue feeling flat.
A review code was kindly provided through Keymailer for the purpose of this review.
Ben 'Qualbert' Schuster
Ben is a game reviewer and collector with a passion for the Australian games industry. His favourite game is Ōkami and he spends most of his time playing JRPGs and indie games. You can read more of his reviews and retrospective articles at qualbert.com