GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon Review: a bloody battle 1,000 years in the making
It was quite the surprise when Konami initially announced they were reviving an oft neglected franchise in GetsuFumaDen; it was perhaps even more surprising that the 1987 NES side-scroller was being revamped into a side-scrolling roguelike called GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon. Not that it seems like such a hard ask per se — after all, we’ve seen success with similar titles like Vigil: The Longest Night and, of course, Salt and Sanctuary. But, you know, it’s been literal decades since its initial release, and even then it was only for Japanese gamers. How would the world react to the revitalized title, and would its legacy be treated with care or would the kid gloves come off?
Let’s start at the beginning — literally. In the first game, the year is 14672 AD, and the world is plunged into the demon age by the Demon Lord Ryūkotsuki. Having escaped from Hell, the Demon Lord challenged the surface world leaders, the three Getsu Brothers, winner taking all. Two of the brothers were slain by Ryūkotsuki, the youngest, Fuma, being the only survivor; only after recovering the three stolen Pulse Blades and summoning the spirit of his fallen brethren did Fuma vanquish the Demon Lord, restoring peace to the surface world one more. Fuma and the Getsu clan reigned over the surface world peacefully, competent leaders who remained in power for a millennium…
…until, exactly one thousand years after that fateful battle, the Demon Lord Ryūkotsuki returned. 26 generations later, the Getsu clan must take up arms once more to defeat Ryūkotsuki once and for all.
I’m just going to come out and say it — the graphics drew me in. GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon is, without a doubt, insanely gorgeous. The backgrounds are busy with a colorful, hand-painted effect that adds a stunning amount of depth to the scene, the growing evil a constant and ever-present threat. The foregrounds are varied and interesting, moving against the background with a seriously cool parallax effect. And the characters themselves? Their flowy movement and clearly more 3D style choice juxtaposed to the 2D painted scenery are so striking that I audibly gasped when I saw their first movement. It was almost as if there was an alternate universe where a Japanese Disney’s more classically hand-drawn animations met with a Japanese Pixar’s newer 3D models (for lack of a more eloquent explanation), and I was here for every second of it.
When it comes to gameplay, GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon clearly draws inspiration from Salt and Sanctuary and even Dead Cells in plenty of ways, but with a catch — for one, progression feels quite a bit slower on both the easy and regular difficulty settings. I don’t know how else to explain it except the regular levels are nowhere near as adrenaline-inducing as the aforementioned greats. Players are welcome to kind of sleep-walk through levels if desired, as combat, while still satisfying, is somehow not totally challenging enough. Perhaps a more difficult mode being available upfront would tantalize players more accustomed to this genre, but if this is your first foray into this kind of game, GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon might actually be a beginner’s ideal starting place.
All of this goes out the window during boss battles, mind you — they’re definitely satisfying. There’s no tanking your way through the boss battles, even on the most basic difficulty levels; you’ll need to level up your gear as best you can beforehand and collect as many health potions as possible before attempting to do damage, as chances are pretty decent you’ll die a couple times trying to fight any other way. And speaking of dying, I’m sorry to say that, like most roguelikes, you don’t get to keep what you’ve collected, but you can work around that by use of portals dotted throughout the levels. Again, worth saying that this is a lot like plenty of other genre greats, so on paper it’s not like anything is too crazy different.
GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon works in theory. It has all the components it needs to be a good side-scrolling roguelike. But aside from its legacy, there’s nothing that really sets it apart from any others available at the moment except for a steeper pricetag. It has enemies that get in cheap hits (like exploding rocks through walls) and a limited item shop that offers little by way of variety, but it also excels in mid-air mechanics like rolling while double-jumping and graceful circular attacks. Does everything even out in the end? Kinda — especially if you’re new to the genre. But I desperately wish there had been a little more to set GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon apart from the pack instead of anything other than a game revived straight from 1987 (that absolutely feels like it, too). At least it’s pretty!
GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon doesn’t feel like it adds anything new to the side-scrolling roguelike genre; for some, that’s just fine. Not everything needs to be high-octane-melt-your-brain gameplay, right? GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon instead feels like playing a beautifully painted Japanese wall scroll come to life, its colors slowly meandering across the screen as they melt into one graceful bloodpit at the bottom. If you prefer form over function or are just curious about this Eastern franchise finally coming West, GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon is ready to slash up a good time.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: Switch, PC (Reviewed); Publisher: Konami; Developer: GuruGuru; Players: 1; Released: February 16, 2022; MSRP: $24.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon provided by the publisher.