I thought of Muramasa recently while playing another 2D action RPG – Dust: An Elysian Tail. Dust was developed by a westerner named Dean Dodrill, but it has much in common with Japanese-developed RPGs. The art style and the storytelling are just two elements that seem to take after Dust's Japanese counterparts.
That Dust has so much in common with Muramasa is a reminder that an RPG doesn't have to be developed by the Japanese to be a "JRPG." I've heard arguments to the contrary, but there is definitely a certain style at work in JRPGs, which is most apparent in their console-friendly accessibility, animated look, and their focus on storytelling. These are all traits that can be readily replicated by western developers.
The indie-developed Penny Arcade's On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3, along with developer Zeboyd's previous Cthulhu Saves the World and Breath of Death VII, are just a couple examples. Over the past few months, Penny Arcade has become a particular favorite of mine. Superficially similar to the 16-bit Final Fantasies, it quietly combines some of the best elements of Final Fantasy V with Grandia and Final Fantasy XIII, the result being a game that manages to feel both refreshingly modern and comfortingly nostalgic.
Dust, for its part, does a great job appealing to my sensibilities as a JRPG fan, and it happens to play pretty well too. It's one of the more relaxing action RPGs that I've played in a while, despite the fact that the action can (occasionally) be pretty intense. In another positive sign, I've found myself wanting to take on every sidequest that I can find – a sure indicator that a game has its hooks in me. I definitely recommend Dust to anyone who wants to look outside of the usual channels for the JRPG fix.
While I'm at it, here are a few more for the PC.
Millennium: A New Hope: A lovely little game by the French developer Aldorlea Games, Millennium: A New Hope is a product of RPG Maker XP. But despite its pedigree, Millennium mixes original anime-inspired art with a solid Dragon Quest-style battle system and a very nice little story. It's pretty tough too, especially when you run into the Animal Kings. It's balanced, it's bug free, and it captures retro RPGs in a way that more advanced competitors like Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood can't quite manage.
Septerra Core: Septerra Core is a PC game that was meant in part to capitalize on the JRPG craze of the late 90s. It's not what I would call perfect, given that it's both buggy and a little slow. It is, however, really long, and it is cheap. Good Old Games has the patched version for $4.99, and if you haven't checked out, it's probably worth it at that price. A fun steampunk look, a solid battle system, and some pretty decent puzzles round out a western-developed JRPG that has picked up a nice little cult audience over the years.
Anachronox: Fascinating game. Developed by Ion Storm – the same folks who also unleashed Daikatana upon the world – it proves to be a startling mix of western and eastern RPG elements. It feels very much like a PC adventure game, with all of the attendant puzzles and dialogue. But the battle system borrows a number of elements from Final Fantasy, including a variant on the active time battle system. Basically, if you like the style of JRPG, but hate anime, then Anachronox is a game you should be checking out. Or, you know, you could check it out anyway. It's kind of a classic.
In my case, I'm killing time with Dust while I wait for Persona 4 Golden and Pokemon Black and White 2 to arrive (by the way, expect an interview with the creators of the latter next week). It's review season, but I have hopes that I may finally get to play Muramasa. It's been far too long.