Mitsurugi Kamui Hikae is a bit like Devil May Cry on a budget – a really tight budget. It's a Japanese indie that's all about killer combos, fast reactions, and the process of mastering the game's combat system. Those looking for a story to get stuck into or characters to grow fond of had best move along.
In a way, Mitsurugi Kamui Hikae is a typically hectic action game distilled into something quite pure. It doesn't try to do anything other than offer a neatly worked and stylish combat system – and that's absolutely fine when said system is as enjoyable as it is. Sure, it may not have the depth of the genre's heavy hitters, but fans of over-the-top Japanese action should still be able to get a kick out of the release.
You play as Misa, a schoolgirl with some impressive sword skills. Over the course of five or so stages, you'll pursue Misa's best friend, Suzuka, who's got her hands on a demonic blade. Spread across a couple of very short cutscenes and a tiny amount of dialogue, it's safe to say that the plot isn't the title's focus – it's merely a framing for the hack and slash gameplay.
Fortunately, as mentioned, the gameplay is pretty great – at least, it is once you've spent some upgrade points on building your combo potential. To start with, Misa's moveset is basic: you have standard martial arts attacks that do little damage, but fill your sword gauge and you have samurai style slices that dish out decent punishment but drain your meter. In essence, this means that you need to balance your technique usage, filling up the gauge with basic blows before unleashing heavier blade barrages.
Keeping track of the sword gauge may sound like a bit of a hassle, but the mechanic works well in practice. Considering that most moves can only be cancelled into a martial arts combo, you'll have plenty of opportunity to replenish your weapon's energy. As such, battles have a satisfying ebb and flow to them, and things only get better once you steadily unlock more advanced techniques.
Before long, you'll be juggling your foes in the air with several lighting fast slashes before smashing them back down to the ground with a devastating meteor kick – but combos are only one part of the overall system. Indeed, this certainly isn't your basic button basher: enemies can lock you in place with combos of their own if you're not careful, so blocking and evading also play a vital role.
On the easy and normal difficulties, you can tank a few hits and keep on slashing, but the harder modes of play force to you make good use of the game's parrying options. Hitting L1 to block at just the right time nullifies the incoming attack completely, and you can then retort with a powerful blow of you own. Likewise, the aptly named flourish technique is a glitzy counter-attack that requires some extremely precise timing, but is brutally punishing – even when used against bosses.
Gather up all of the title's combat mechanics and you've got a short but sweet release that sports a rewarding learning curve. It also helps that the game runs silky smooth on the PlayStation 4, and the controls feel tight and super responsive.
There's only one thing that holds proceedings back, then, and that's the camera. At times, it seems to have a mind of its own as it decides to focus on a random opponent, and the lack of any kind of lock on system or quick camera reset button compounds the issue. Still, since your attacks generally gravitate towards your nearest foe, the wonky camera won't hinder your progress quite as much as it could have.
Of course, if you're not a fan of hacking up a relatively small pool of enemy types for about two hours at a time, then you certainly won't find anything else capable of holding your attention here. Mitsurugi Kamui Hikae has a singular focus, and that's perhaps both a blessing and a curse. Case in point: the game's audio is pretty terrible. Aside from some cool slicing sound effects, the audio design is as basic as it gets, and the soundtrack consists of easily the most generic collection of cheap, instantly forgettable rock tunes that we've heard in a long time.
Mitsurugi Kamui Hikae is a prime example of a title that lives and dies by how entertaining its gameplay is. Fortunately, the stylish hack and slashing that's on offer here is worth checking out if you're a fan of the genre. Despite its low budget feel, this is a Japanese indie game that delivers on what it sets out to do, and the result is a focused and satisfying release that's perfect for a quick fix of over-the-top action.