Review – GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon
Whenever a developer announces a game, and that game is initially released in Early Access state, I almost always sigh in frustration. I don’t necessarily have anything against the concept of Early Access. I understand it is really useful for developers with limited resources, as well as getting in touch with its community in a more meaningful way. The problem is that this method is overused to the point of saturation, with tons of games remaining in Early Access for many, many years. Very rarely do I see a game that leaves this state quickly, and according to plan. GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon, a surprising release by none other than Konami, is one major exception.
I did tackle GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon‘s first Early Access build last year, right after its initial announcement. I normally don’t like covering games released in such format, since their amount of content and mechanics can change overnight, rendering any kind of preview worthless, but I really wanted to give that game a try. A mix between the “roguelike meets Metroidvania sensibilities” from Dead Cells and some of the most insane visuals I have ever seen in a 2.5D game, it looked far too enticing to be ignored. Upon giving it a go, I fell in love with it. I wanted more from it, but didn’t know when the full version would be released. Furthermore, I really wanted to tackle it on the Switch, as roguelikes and portability are a match made in heaven.
Then came the February 2022 Nintendo Direct. As usual, Konami’s games weren’t exactly showcased in a flashy manner. Either they are stealth released, announced discretely via a press release, or showcased in a sizzle reel. GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon‘s release, slated for that same day, happened with the latter. I basically did not see a single living soul talking about it. I felt like the only person who wanted to play the damn thing almost immediately. And so I did, and I regret nothing. GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon is, without any exaggeration, one of the best roguelikes I have ever played.
In essence, GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon follows the pattern established by Dead Cells, being a roguelike where you’re thrown into a randomly generated Castlevania-styled map. You’re meant to explore said map, killing foes, improving your equipment, until you find a portal that will lead you to a boss fight. Fight the boss, grab loot, proceed to the next area, where you’ll do the same thing until you die, being thrown back to the beginning of the game.
The game itself is technically more of a roguelite, as you can actually unlock certain skills that will be available at the beginning of each new run, but those are a bit harder to access. You can only improve your overall stats by talking to specific characters after fighting bosses or back in the main hub world, and you need to spend a colossal amount of resources in order to do so. That creates a small dilemma: do I keep on venturing with my limited resources, risking to lose everything I have unlocked so far, or do I quit my run while retaining my spoils, therefore improving my stats for any upcoming new run? It’s a nice risk and reward system, which is not exactly revolutionary by any means, but fits well with the game’s setting and overall action-packed gameplay.
GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon wants you to go aggressive as hell against everything that dares to come into visual contact with you, from enemies to pots lying around in the background. You can only acquire items and resources to improve your stats and weaponry by killing enemies and breaking objects. It encourages you to do that by presenting you with a delicious combat system that, while simple in nature, offers a ton of experimentation, as there are tons of weapons to use.
You can carry two melee and two ranged weapons at any given moment, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. The katana is a jack-of-all-trades, being readily available at the beginning of each run, and somewhat easy to be permanently enhanced, but nowhere near as destructive as, say, a gigantic oni club. The bow is a standard ranged weapon, but it isn’t as powerful as a rifle. It does one-up the rifle by being faster to use and featuring more ammo, however. This is the kind of strategic variety offered by the game. Sure, you acquire items and weapons randomly, but the game is generous enough to never withhold their availability. You can also access small shops in each level in order to acquire new weapons, if you so choose.
Combat follows the same souls-like inspired system seen in Dead Cells, but in a more simplified and brutal way. While there are enemies whose attacks can be avoided with ease, giving you more time to unleash counter attacks, the best defense in GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon is your offense. Go nuts. Kill things as quickly as possible. Do that with bosses as well. Learn their patterns in order to exploit their weaknesses. Grow stronger. Die eventually, but through sheer willpower, keep improving your skills by bringing back some resources with you after death, until you best the game throw the power of stubbornness.
My only gripe with the gameplay, which is downright excellent, lies in jumping. There is a slight amount of delay whenever you press the B button, and that can result in a few weird instances of platforming failure. You might not be able to climb a platform or edge properly, and so on. Thankfully, GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon is NOT focused around platforming and jumping around. Sure, you jump a lot, but the meat of the experience is slicing and dicing. I hope a patch will fix the wonky jumping in the future, but as of now, this is far from a complete dealbreaker.
I’ve managed to get this far without stating the obvious, but I can’t shy away from it from much longer: the main reason your attention was, has been, or will be caught by GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon is due to its visuals. This is one of the most artistically unique games I have ever played in my life, combining traditional Japanese ukiyo-e paintings with great animations, exaggerated color palettes, and a lot of blood. There’s something truly charming about traversing a level designed after The Great Wave off Kanagawa and plaster it around with the blood of the undead.
I have previously played this game on a PC, and it ran and looked beautifully, but I really wanted to play GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon on the Switch. I like playing games on a PC just like anyone else, but roguelikes and portables are a match made in heaven. With that being said, the Switch is weak. Very weak. It struggles to run even the most basic of games nowadays, so I was worried it would run GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon with caveats. It is not the case… sorta. It’s capped at 30fps, but the visuals look crisp (especially while portable), the frame pacing is flawless, and the level of detail is just perfect. Dare I say, this might actually be the most visually appealing game I have played on the Switch… ever. I truly cannot find another competitor.
The sound design is almost as good as the visuals, especially due to the odd but amusing contrast it provides, depending on the situation. Whenever you’re venturing the main hub, you’re basically greeted with sparse traditional instrumentation. It’s calm, soothing, and relaxing. When exploring a level, the music ramps up to become epic, but is still mostly focused around traditional instruments, such as flutes and shamisen. Upon reaching a boss fight, traditionalism is thrown aside, with double-bass drums and heavily distorted guitars taking the spotlight. It’s meant to be a tense and adrenaline-filled moment, and what better way to crank up the excitement than with some good old heavy metal?
To be fair, there is very little I didn’t like in GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon. Besides the aforementioned wonky platforming, as well as the occasional sense of unfairness exuded by its roguelike nature (which wasn’t an issue for me, but will be for some), I was slightly annoyed with the poor English localization. I also wish there were a few more sound effects thrown into the mix. That is basically it, to be honest. I kept dying a lot, I kept fighting the same first boss over and over again until it became easier than playing Guitar Hero on anything but Expert, but I was hooked. As a matter of fact, I still am. I am currently writing this review while having game on my TV at the same time, usually playing a bit of it after writing each paragraph. The addiction is real.
I knew there was something special about GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon, but I didn’t expect for it to become this juggernaut of a roguelike that captivated me like no other game in the genre has ever done, and doubtfully will do in the foreseeable future. It’s not just about the jaw-dropping ukiyo-e visuals; it’s the addictive loot acquisition, the ultraviolent combat system, the enemy designs, and the sense of beating an entire level without ever getting touched by an immense boss, all culminating into what’s possibly my favorite roguelike of all time. If you like games in this style, do yourself a favor and grab a copy. Hell, if you own a Switch and don’t mind playing a tough game, grab it right now. It is worth it, and will consume your free time from now on.
A living, breathing, jaw-dropping ukiyo-e painting, just with an extra hint of blood thrown into the mix. GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon‘s visuals are a feast for the eyes like very few games available on the Switch.
Jumping feels a bit awkward, but thankfully, platforming isn’t this game’s focus. The combat is, and it’s great, with tons of weapons to use and combos to pull off. Upgrading your equipment is straightforward enough, but it is made a bit more confusing due to some poor localization.
Between the excellent folk tunes played during exploration sections and adrenaline-pumping metal tunes played during boss fights, there is a lot to love about this game’s soundtrack.
There are a few minute flaws thrown into this game, such as the terrible localization, but as a whole, GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon is one of the most entertaining and addictive roguelikes I’ve ever played.
Final Verdict: 9.5
GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon is available now on PC and Switch.
Reviewed on Switch.
A copy of GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon has been provided by the publisher.