Mitsurugi Kamui Hikae
- Street Date:
- February 16th, 2016
- Reviewed by:
- Sophia Edwards
- Review Date:1
- February 15th, 2016
- Game Release Year:
- Zenith Blue
Digital PS4 version reviewed.
'Mitsurugi Kamui Hikae' first released back at the Japanese Comic Market 84 in 2013 before it rapidly gained attention outside of that somewhat tiny launch and ended up getting picked up for an English version on Steam. The game puts players in the role of Misa, in search of a demon sword, and faced with a sliceable horde of enemies. Now 'Mitsurugi Kamui Hikae' is finally hitting consoles, bringing the indie action hit to a brand new audience.
The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
'Mitsurugi Kamui Hikae' is a shockingly well-made game that I hated when I first started it up. Character action games such as 'Devil May Cry' rely at least in part on their presentation alongside combat mechanics, after all, it's a lot less satisfying to see skilled play without the style Capcom brought to that series. 'Mitsurugi', though, has almost none of that, at least not at first. Not for lack of trying, but it's a game made without a AAA budget, which becomes clear immediately. The first time I played the game, my fiancee was sitting next to me watching it all and asking me "is this all it is?" as I stood in a nondescript arena fighting waves and waves of near-identical enemies. In a way, yes, that kind of is all this game is, but it pulls off what it sets out to do with remarkable competency.
Those first 10 minutes really did sting, but it wasn't entirely the game's fault. 'Mitsurugi' has the most rudimentary of tutorials, but beyond that it doesn't hold your hand in the slightest, and underexplains mechanics that are part of what makes the combat here so fun. When I first started, I my understanding was slight, and that led to me playing badly and fighting completely inefficiently. All I was doing was dragging things out. Once I started delving into the combat system, learning new techniques and trying to make sense of exactly how existing ones functioned, I was hooked. Moreso than in plenty of other action games, you won't get anywhere without learning as much as you can on your own, and that can make everything here feel limiting if you aren't already heavily interested in games of its type. You'll always be slashing waves and waves of enemies in dull arenas, but exactly how fun that'll be is up to you.
The 'Devil May Cry' comparison is quite intense here, and indeed anyone who has learned to control Dante will have a vague idea of how many of the mechanics work in this game, right down to having moves that are executed identically and have much the same effect. The better I played, the more currency enemies dropped, which in turn allowed me to purchase more techniques and upgrades, making combat open up even further. Attacks are made up of sword and hand-to-hand techniques. Sword skills are very strong, though they slowly drain the Katana Meter, but the much weaker hand-to-hand skills fill it up, which in effect forces the player to strike a balance and avoid button mashing. The central hook here lies in the "bleed" mechanics. hit an enemy enough and they'll start to flash red, at which point you can sheathe your sword and damage all bleeding enemies at once, forcing them to drop currency and health. What the game doesn't explain well is exactly what governs the effectiveness of this mechanic.
For a while, every time I did it, I dealt almost no damage to even the weakest enemies, unaware that this only really works well with a high combo intact. Keeping the combo is about not being hit, rather than constantly attacking. Building a combo fills up a gauge in the corner of the screen, and the more full this is, the better sheathing works, leading to higher damage and greater rewards from foes. This approach to combos works well, as it either asks players to try things carefully, or learn the combat to the point where they can fight quickly and effectively without getting hit at all. Getting to that point is wonderful, wherein the game reveals a combat system that is undeniably excellent and could easily support a bigger title than this one.
Boss fights are something of a highlight entirely because of how much they demand and because of how the fights function. The second boss in the game seemed near impossible until I learned to goad enemies into performing certain actions. Once I'd picked that up, beating the boss without taking a scratch felt entirely doable.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
The Audio: Rating the Sound
The soundtrack features the kind of J-Rock that is immediately forgettable after playing, but that fits the tempo of the game very well. It's silly, frivolous stuff that works perfectly in context. Sound design sadly goes unnoticed for the most part, though it does add an extra layer of satisfaction when you sheathe your sword. Japanese voicework nicely compliments the minimal cutscenes, but never really factors in anywhere else.
This is a very short game, with your first run lasting around two hours. That said, there are multiple unlockable difficulties that all boast gradually tougher enemy AI and compel the player to improve, which means plenty for those dedicated. There are also unlockable costumes and dozens of purchaseable skills that'll add hours to your total playtime.
'Mitsurugi Kamui Hikae' lives and dies by its combat. There's nothing else here, and I don't say that to be snarky. There's a story that barely exists (maybe two minutes of total cutscene time), but outside of that, it's all action. Thankfully, 'Mitsurugi' overcomes the low budget to deliver excellent mechanics that are capable of standing entirely on their own. I wish there was a little more to it all, but this serves as a nice action game that should easily satisfy genre diehards.
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