When it comes to videogame properties, Konami has some absolute bangers. Silent Hill, Metal Gear, Contra and Castlevania are the big ones that spring to mind, but there are other lesser known properties that are also noteworthy. Almost all of them have one thing in common though: they’ve been abandoned by Konami. Aside from the occasional collection (please do more of these!), they’ve not really done a whole lot outside of Pachinko and whatnot.
Needless to say, it was a bit of a surprise when they announced that they were resurrecting one of their properties, Getsu Fuma Den – an obscure Famicom game exclusive to Japan that nobody every really talks about. It got some love in the form of DLC for Harmony of Despair back in 2011 (which is how I came to know about it), but then there was nothing more until 2021 when Undying Moon made its first appearance. And it looked good.
But this is modern Konami we are talking about. Do they even know how to make games anymore? Let’s find out.
Many thanks to Konami for the review code
THE LEGEND OF FUMA
Undying Moon is a sequel to the original Japan-exclusive Famicom game, but it may as well be a reboot considering the similarities in the plotline. Like with the original, the gates of Hell have broken loose and it’s up to Getsu Fuma, as the leader of the Getsu Clan, to descend into the depths in order to seal away the evil once more. The only real difference lies with the primary antagonist, which is no longer Ryukotsuki – although he does make an appearance. The story is just a thin excuse to fight demons with very little development. It is a little unfortunate that it isn’t fleshed out a little more, as it’s a really intriguing world that I wanted to know more about – however, the rest of the game more than makes up for the lacklustre narrative.
The original game was very much a combination of Zelda II and Castlevania, albeit with a Japanese twist. Undying Moon does away with the overworld and 3D sections (for the better, I might add) and focuses on larger 2D environments that have an almost cavernous feeling to them. The first game never had much of an emphasis on the platforming side of things, instead opting for an assortment of varied enemies to fight in quite rudimentary environments. Undying Moon retains that focus on action, but with some very light randomization within the levels themselves.
There are eight stages in total, each one offering key elements that are retained each time you play. The Misty Peaks level, for example, has you navigating the left and right sides of the map for the eyeball statues that are controlling the evil mist blocking the boss gate lying just above the stage entrance; The Great Wave of Damnation, on the other hand, focuses on smaller platforms across a treacherous sea, with the stage’s boss attacking you as you make your way through. Each stage will feel essentially the same each time, but the altered layouts means that you’ll always have to explore in order to find new weapons, materials, and the gate leading to the boss.
Materials and weapons are generally collected by killing enemies or finding chests. What you get is mostly random, although enemies tend to drop certain types of materials rather than others. You can use the materials to craft new weapons and upgrade slots to make the weapons stronger. You’ll still need to use the purple souls found in the levels in order to activate these slots on any weapon you have via the shop portals found in each stage. Many weapons you find have these already upgraded, along with other potential bonuses too; these can then be used in your journey, or disassembled into component material. Upgrades you make to your weapons or your character are permanent, but you will lose any material you have when you die – meaning that if you aren’t confident that you’ll last much longer at your current strength, you can chicken out and return home. Upgrading certainly helps make things easier, but you rarely feel like the game is impossible to beat without doing so. If you have the skill, I’m pretty sure you could just rely on Getsu at his base strength and utilise weapons you find on your way. Think of it like an old-school platformer, except with the ability to make things easier for yourself over time.
Despite having quite large open areas, the game is not a Metroidvania in the slightest. It’s a platformer through and through. After beating each stage, you proceed to the next – although the game offers branching pathways allowing you to choose the next stage you want to tackle, providing you’ve found the key that opens the relevant gateway. It’s a fantastic system, and the uniqueness of each level means that you can choose which one will be the easiest for your current loadout.
The main draw that will keep you playing is the combat itself. Rather than being a game where you can plough through enemies without a thought, almost all of the enemies require some degree of tactics to overcome them. Whether you’re dodging the slow but powerful Oni attacks, or jumping over the snake-like Numagozen’s tail, learning how each enemy works is key to success. It helps that the controls feel very weighty for the most part, giving everything a sense of impact. It all just feels right. Even the clunky double jump seems to feel appropriate for our chunky Getsu Fuma.
Combat comes to head with the spectacular boss fights: huge behemoths that lie in wait at the end of each world. They all offer a substantial challenge, and knowing how best to avoid their attacks is the key to staying alive. Some bosses too benefit from having certain weapons, so your loadout can significantly affect the route you take to the end. It’s all very satisfying and reminded me a lot of the fantastic combat in Blasphemous. As fun as the combat is, however, the creature design is where things truly shine.
HOW DOES E’DO IT?
The main thing that is likely going to draw people to this game is not the obscure property that the game is attached to, but rather the absolutely stunning visuals that are reminiscent of artwork from the Edo Period of Japan. The game is so jaw-droppingly beautiful that not even videos and screenshots do the game proper justice; everything flows so well, and the animation is top notch. Tiny details are added to enemies that really bring them to life, giving them a fitting moveset that never fails to match the game’s art style. As gorgeous as it is, my initial concern was that it would be hard to keep track of the protagonist and he would just blend in with the rest of the environment; thankfully, this issue only seems to be apparent in videos, as during gameplay I never had this issue.
Accompanying the breathtaking visuals is a suitable epic soundtrack, that is mainly quite subtle with flutes and drums creating haunting melodies to accompany you on your journey. Things take a turn as you enter a boss arena though, starting with deadly silence as you approach the boss and switching to full on metal as you fight for your life against your gargantuan opponents. I was disappointed with the music at first, as I was expecting something akin to the original game, but the restrained OST works in the games favour as it still proved memorable and never got on my nerves. There’s also some bangers thrown in, including a cool remix of the iconic stage theme from the original game.
BLUE SOUL UPGRADESDon’t forget about blue souls! These stack and can grant you invaluable upgrades. I’d recommend using them on health and primary weapon upgrades; the one to spawn a potion is pretty pointless.
UNLOCKSIt can be tough figuring out what to do at first, but I would recommend focusing on unlocking skills for your weapons. Start with your default katana as you’ll always have that, but perhaps also another main and sub weapon too that you particularly like. You’ll need to activate them during the run though, so do that as soon as possible!
PATTERNSLike with most old school action platformers, learning enemy and boss patterns is the key to doing better each time. You have options as to which level you want to do next, so experiment with both and choose what’s easiest for you.
LITTLE BY LITTLEDon’t be greedy! Practice the first level until you’ve got it down (it’s not too hard), and then perhaps work on a couple of levels at a time before returning to camp. Once you’ve unlocked stuff and those levels become easier, try and go for a third! You’ll get there.
The tutorial in the game may do a terrible job at explaining things, but there’s an in-game training manual too that can help a lot. Things may be confusing at first, but you’ll get a hang of things soon enough!
As much as I like to sing its praises, the game does have its issues. One of the most notable issues is the dreadful job it does at explaining things in the tutorial. Sure, it tells you how to do basic movement and attacks well enough, but then completely fails to explain the more complex mechanics. For the longest time, I thought that blue souls were to dispel barriers; and I still have no clue what ‘Y to transform’ is even talking about. Reading the manual in the options menu certainly helps getting to grips with everything, but it’s so hidden away that I’m sure many will have no idea it’s even there. As such, my initial experience of the game was one of confusion as it wasn’t clear how the upgrade system worked, and the game seemed overly difficult. Once I’d cottoned on to everything, however, my enjoyment increased dramatically.
Other than that, any other issues I have are niggles more than anything. Projectiles can be thrown by enemies through solid walls, although they’re also very easy to avoid making it a non issue; there’s a range of weapons, but in reality most are just better versions of another; and worse still, those looking to play the original game need to shell out for the Deluxe edition beforehand, as it’s unavailable separately. For a game such as this, I can imagine most will want to play it safe with the regular edition just in case they don’t care for it. It’s a shame there’s no option to upgrade later should you wish to do so.
Overall, I’m pleasantly surprised by how GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon turned out. Considering Konami doesn’t have a great reputation at the moment with new entries in their properties, I was expecting a beautiful mess. Thankfully, I was only half right. Not only is the game stunning, but it also feels like the new Getsu Fuma game I’ve always wanted. The lack of story may be a slight disappointment, but I know I will be playing this for years to come. I really hope Konami continue supporting the game with additional stages and characters, as it really deserves it.