GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon early access impressions

by on June 3, 2021

I wasn’t sure I’d ever get the opportunity to write about a new Konami game. Other than Skelattack last year, it’s been very quiet from the mega publisher as of late. Once upon a time there would be countless classics bearing the Konami logo, delighting gamers of all tastes. One such game was Getsu Fuma Den. Released in 1987 in Japan exclusively, this side scrolling action game served up Castlevania style gameplay in a Samurai setting. Now over 30 years later, this obscure gem is coming back in the form of GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon.

After 1000 years of peace, the demon lord Ryukotsuki had risen again and chaos reigns throughout the kingdom. As your ancestor was the one who stopped this god-like threat the first time around, it falls on you to grab your Katana and restore peace to the land. I can’t say the story has been particularly enthralling, but it certainly brings with it a fantastic setting.

Not a traditional side scroller

Unlike the original game, Undying Moon is not just a traditional side scroller. As part of the series’ modernisation GetsuFumaDen is now more of a Roguelike action game. It’s now very reminiscent of a slower paced Dead Cells, but with Samurai weaponry and a lot of Oni. Combat is thoughtful, and there’s a huge focus on dodging and timing your attacks if you want to make it past the first area.

A screenshot of GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon

You start every run with your Katana, but will gather a whole host of weapons throughout a particular run. Each one of these have standard combos of various speeds and stengths, as well as a special ability you can perform with them. Your trusty Katana has a helpful dodge (albeit with a small window for success) which is incredibly helpful, but others have more offensive moves like creating huge shockwaves in exchange for leaving you vulnerable for a moment.

Don’t get too close

There are also sub weapons, which come with a limited amount of use before needing to recharge. These are generally ranged weapons or traps, that mean you won’t have to get too close to a baddie to dispatch them. I ended using these way more than my melee weapons, because the cooldown isn’t particularly high. There are simple sub weapons like bows and rifles that are incredibly effective at killing easier foes, but also complex tools like Caltrops that require a bit of thought to utilise effectively. You never know what will present itself to you during a run, so it’s worth experimenting with them all just in case.

A screenshot of GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon

Standard enemies are one thing, but it’s a true test of your skills and equipment when you come head to head with one of the games’ screen filling bosses. I loved fighting every one of these massive beasts, and you’ll need to prepare yourself to learn an attack pattern or two if you want to survive against them. My favourite boss so far is the enormous centipede at the end of stage 2, who charges about the arena with ridiculous speed and requires some swift maneuvers to dodge.

A work of art

Above all else, the most impressive part of GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon is how it looks. Inspired by the Japanese ukiyo-e style, every area of the game is a work of art. In the foreground you and your demonic enemies are perfectly animated, and in the background there are all sorts of gorgeous (or occasionally horrific) scenes.

There’s the base of a great game in GetsuFumaDen, but the roguelike systems are currently lackluster at best. You can unlock different buffs and upgrades between runs, but it takes so long to gather enough collectables to upgrade anything. If you die you lose what’s been gathered on a run, so the only way to keep everything you’ve collected is to return to home base between levels and give up on a run. The whole system is frustrating and grindy.

A screenshot of GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon

It also doesn’t have enough randomness for my liking. The variety of weapons is generally small enough that you always have something you’re competent with, and it’s rare for runs to feel very different. Obviously the maps are shuffled between attempts to save the world, but when some of them have the same specific objective to proceed (like an awful cloud level that requires to explore every inch to unlock the exit) it just feels repetitive.

GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon is a really fun action game, but in its current state is let down by the roguelike elements. The combat and visuals are just incredible though, and with a bit of tweaking before release it could be a very special new addition to the long forgotten series.