GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon Preview
Pure roguelikes can be some of the most frustrating and rage-inducing games in existence–entirely on purpose, I might add–so the idea of adding those infuriating mechanics to another, calmer genre sounds like a terrible idea. It turned out to be a fantastic one. GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon is described as an “Ukiyo-e style roguevania 2D action” game by Konami, which means it’s an unholy mix of procedurally generated levels, deceptively complex combat mechanics, and sprawling environments that demand constant backtracking. The result is a stylish game filled with frantic energy that still demands real thought be put into it. Though technically a remake of one of Konami’s oldest, Japanese-exclusive IPs, GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon works as a standalone title and is one of the most beautiful games I’ve played in years.
A Journey Into Hell Itself
The plot of the game is simple: the demon Ryukotsuki has risen after a thousand years of slumber, ripping open a hole that leads straight to hell and allowing countless evil spirits to flood out into the world. It’s the duty of the Getsu clan to descend into the pit and stop the madness. Unfortunately, your older brother, the clan’s strongest warrior, has gone missing. Your name is Getsu Fuma, and you must walk into hell in his place. If that sounds a little dangerous, don’t worry—this is a roguevania, which means the mysterious Shrine Maiden who serves your family will summon your soul back to a new body upon death. And believe me, you will die. A lot. Even on the lightest difficulty, this game is hard.
An enormous variety of enemies await you in this stunning dark fantasy, all of which have their own attack patterns and will destroy you if you’re careless. The winding, maze-like levels are as gorgeous as they are foreboding. The whole experience has a very mythological tone and distinctly Japanese tone reminiscent of games like Okami. Playing GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon feels like listening to a gifted storyteller bring ancient legends to life.
The procedurally generated levels grow larger and more maze-like the further you advance, requiring plenty of backtracking to grab everything, but you can quick travel between activated Shrine Gates for convenience. Finding the correct route to advance leads you to a boss fight with an enemy straight out of Japanese legend–a beast so large it fills most of the screen. Even an ordinary enemy can kill you if you slip, so fighting a boss is an exercise in trial and error. There’s always a twist or a unique mechanic to a boss fight, and solving the puzzle is half the fun.
Style and Substance
The game’s unique visual style immediately caught my attention. GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon is, to put it simply, gorgeous. It feels like playing through an elaborate Japanese ukiyo-e painting or woodblock print that may, at any moment, suddenly transform into a bloodbath. The atmosphere is thick, gorgeous, and sent a creeping chill down my spine. The haunting soundtrack uses a variety of traditional Japanese instruments to create a sense of solemn beauty and deep, sorrowful unease. Fitting for a game about carving your way into hell.
The game’s environment and enemy design lean heavily into this, too. Getsu Fuma is a far more stylized figure than, say, Jin Sakai, but he’d look right at home in an ukiyo-e print. So would the foes you encounter, which include floating monster heads, vicious oni, undead cicada spirits, the tormented souls of warriors who killed civilians on the battlefield, and enormous burning skeletons. Hanged bodies and rotting skeletons decorate the levels in a display as grotesque as it is stunning.
In fact, the game is so dedicated to its traditional Japanese aesthetic that the protagonist’s name remains in Japanese name order, surname before given name, which might be a bit confusing for those unfamiliar with Japanese culture. That said, the title is so streamlined and action-packed that this is more of a stylistic choice than anything else, and GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon uses its style as a weapon. Fast platforming, a complex weapon and weapon upgrade system, an expanding world that rewards skill and punishes mistakes–this game truly has it all, and it’s still in Early Access. I’m on the edge of my seat waiting for the full release.
***Preview code provided by the publisher***