The creation of Japanese indie development team Zenith Blue, Mitsurugi Kamui Hikae is an arena fighting game that features a combo system akin to the likes of Devil May Cry. The player zips and flies around the game's circular playfield in staccato fashion, on a mission to kill everything that materializes in this place of slaughter.
Why? The story, what little there is of it, reveals that young schoolgirl Misa – a dab hand at sword-slinging – is on a mission to track down her friend Suzuka, who's somehow gotten her hands on a demonic sword that she used to slay her teacher. Taking the role of Misa, it's the player's task to confront and destroy Suzuka for perpetrating this foul deed – a task that involves dispatching a small army of seemingly random enemies whose origins remain a mystery. To be blunt, the plot isn't Mitsurugi Kamui Hikae's strong suit, but what it does articulate justifies its action well enough – it boils down to a fighting game that plays out over three sets of five stages.
As soon as the game starts, enemies magically appear in the game's circular arena, and close in on the young heroine, swords at the ready. Fortunately, she's extremely handy with her own katana, and by using combinations of button presses, she can hack and slash the bad guys to death in fairly short order. The timing and cadence of the action feels very similar to the combo system used in Devil May Cry: She can jump, dash, charge, and block – as well as execute a variety of offensive moves to take out the enemies that try to overwhelm her with their numbers.
Misa has two types of offensive moves. Her standard kicks and punches do moderate damage to enemies, but have the benefit of filling up her katana power bar, while high-damage hack and slash attacks with her blade mete out hefty punishment, but drain her power bar. What this means is that fighting becomes a game of balancing attack types, with standard moves used to fill up the power bar so you can then let rip with your powerful moves to kill enemies. This ebb and flow of attack types helps add an element of strategy to the fighting.
As Misa progresses through the game, she earns points that she can use to upgrade her existing moves, as well as add new ones to her repertoire. This essentially dials up the sophistication of her offensive and defensive combo options, enabling her to chain together attacks and pull off maneuvers like air-juggling enemies. This evolving combat system doesn't just keep the game interesting, but is also integral to its challenge. More advanced enemies have their own combos to deal with, and learning how to break through them and counter with your own moves is key being able to defeat them.
Mitsurugi Kamui Hikae is a fairly straightforward hack and slash game that on its easiest settings is pretty much a button masher. It's possible to fight through most of the game by chaining together martial arts moves with deft katana slashes to keep your attacks strong so you can slice through the enemies in fine style, while making the combo meter tick into the hundreds of hits. It's not hard, but it is strangely rewarding seeing just how many moves you can chain together. Ratchet up the difficulty, though, and the game becomes a lot more interesting. Dispatching enemies is far more challenging, and you really need to use all of your available moves to be able to defeat them, blocking and parrying enemy attacks before unleashing your own. You also have to be more aware of your position, so that you don't get taken out from behind.
It's here that the game's main criticism is found – its somewhat wonky camera. The action is viewed from a third-person perspective, and the camera is focused quite close in on the heroine, meaning that it's sometimes difficult to get a read on where all the enemies are. This can lead to unexpected off-screen attacks, which can be very frustrating, especially on higher difficulty settings. You do have some limited control over the camera, but it's rather fiddly, and when combined with the speed that Misa can zoom around the screen, it can make keeping track of things a little difficult. If the camera was a little further out from Misa, giving a wider field of view, I think it would have made the action a lot easier to follow.
The other things that disappointed me were the lack of variety of enemy types, and the overall length of the game. There are basically four different denizens that are used in various combinations throughout the game's fifteen stages, as well as five bosses to defeat. This results in a game that takes only a couple of hours or so to work through, depending on the difficulty setting you choose. The action also becomes rather repetitive due to the lack of variety of enemy strategies. Most of the time you end up executing the same combinations of moves to eliminate foes, and that becomes increasingly tedious over the course of the game.
It's a shame Zenith Blue didn't add more enemy types to Mitsurugi Kamui Hikae, as I think its combo system has what it takes to make a really solid game. Once you start upgrading Misa's moves, you have some enjoyably over-the-top combos to play with, and learning how to string them together is certainly entertaining. The early part of the game is a lot of fun as you work out how to defeat enemies, but once you've mastered the four types, it just becomes a matter of routine. The bosses do help to break up that repetition somewhat, but they're not quite enough to truly save the game.
Ultimately, Mitsurugi Kamui Hikae feels more like a prototype than a full game. You can clearly see its potential as a sort of Devil May Cry meets arena fighter, but it just doesn't offer enough content and variety to cut it as a quality game.
The game only takes a few hours to work through, and after that offers little in the way of replay value.
The soundtrack is generic, and the limited sound and voice effects wear out their welcome quite quickly.
The fairly simple graphics look like a last-generation game.
Mitsurugi Kamui Hikae is an arena fighter that features a great combo system that makes it fun to play... for a while. Unfortunately it has a limited number of enemy combatants, and once you learn the strategies for beating them, the gameplay quickly becomes repetitive.