Retro Game Analysis: The Mysterious Murasame Castle

Artwork for the Famicom Disk System game The Mysterious Murasame Castle.

The Mysterious Murasame Castle, or Nazo no Murasame Jō, is one of two games I own for the Nintendo Famicom, the Japanese version of the Nintendo Entertainment system. This game using the same engine as the original Legend of Zelda (LoZ) though it was not released in the west until it got a 3DS port for the virtual console. The main reason why it didn’t make it out of Japan was its theme. The game takes place in Edo period Japan. Today, United States gamers don’t tend mind playing a games not tailored thematically for them. In the late 1980’s United States, I doubt this game would have been able to compete with the Zelda series, which to this day is more popular in the West than in Japan. Secondly, Murasame was released on the Disk System, a floppy disk based add on only released Japan. Disk System games had more memory, could save game data without the use of complex password systems, had addition sound channel allowing for more elaborate music, and could be rewritten if player wanted to buy a new game. The LoZ also started on the disk system, though as some may know, its cartridge release on the NES allows progress to be saved thanks to a built in battery. In my opinion, it is more convenient to save on cartridges than on the disk system as large disk games often where on both sides of the disk. This means that the player could expect to eject and reinsert the game a lot. Nintendo may not have wanted to go through the conversion effort of porting a game to cartridge that may not been as profitable.

This is the inside of the first castle. I used a modern TV to take this picture as the refresh rate agreed better with my phone. It is typical for retro game enthusiasts to use CRTs as they doesn’t stretch the picture as much.

Now, for the gameplay. You play as the samurai apprentice Takamaru who was sent on secret mission to investigate 4 castles. Some may recognize Takamaru from his appearances in the Smash Brothers series as an assist trophy. Each castle, except the titular Murasame Castle, is divided into into three levels, 2 being outside and 1 being inside. I am still stuck on the inside of the first castle. There also is a time limit on each level. This linear and timed structure is a vast departure the open ended nature of the original LoZ. This game is harder than the original LoZ as the different colored ninja enemies infinity respond, forcing pressure on the player to push forward. These enemies can be destroyed using Takamaru’s throwing knives or his sword. These actions both use the “A” button and are context sensitive, using the sword when near an enemy and using projectiles when not. The player can quickly pick up power ups to upgrade their throwing knives. The player only has a limited amount of projectiles so it is important to use the sword. Luckily, some ninjas drop more projectiles. The player also has the ability to turn temporarily invulnerable and invisible by dropping a smoke bomb by pressing a the “B” button. You are only allowed this 3 times in a level and whenever you do a shadow indicates where you are. The sword can also be used to deflect enemy projectiles. I think it is interesting how versatile this simple moveset is, making an inventory like the ones common in the LoZ unnecessary. Enemies fallow predictable patterns, but their placement can often overwhelm the player. Princesses can be found in castles, giving the player an extra life. There is also a chance that a princess is an oni, or demon, in disguise, chasing the player throughout the level. This happens randomly, so a princess on one attempt may be an oni the next. This is an interesting dynamic where the possibility of gaining a life advantage could also mean an increased risk. All of these mechanics combined give it a more arcade-like feel than the LoZ, a feel I find intriguing.

I would love to see a modern game in the series, especially if they used the Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild‘s engine because it would be a very different experience. Nintendo now days rarely uses the same engine for two separate games unless they are a sequel, and even these sequels can be greatly different from their source games. Such is the cause between Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask. It is out there, but one can imagine.

Evan

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