Octurbo: Samurai Ghost

Our penultimate game for this month-long TurboGrafx-16 feature is Samurai Ghost (Genpei Touma Den: Kan no Ni): a rather perplexing action game that is the sequel to the even odder Genpei Touma Den - perhaps best known to a few of us as memorable GCCX entry The Genji and the Heike Clans. Oddly, TG-16 owners received the sequel but not the original, which wouldn't see a localization until a decade later with a Namco compilation for the PS1.

As with the first game, the player controls the phantasmal warrior Kagekiyo who is out to avenge the death of his entire clan (including himself) by their rivals the Heike, who apparently cheated by falling in with demons or youkai or some such. So it's kind of like the Hatfields and McCoys, if you played a zombified Hatfield trying to gun down a bunch of demonically possessed McCoys who are flying around breathing fire on you. Actually, that doesn't sound too bad an idea for a game either. Get on it, AAA studios.

Ghost Samurais Follow the Boo-shido Code

Welcome to Samurai Ghost! Though it's actually "Samurai-Ghost". Probably not a distinction worth splitting bamboo over.
So apparently Lord Yoritomo didn't get the hint when we slashed him to ribbons in the previous game. To be fair, if Kagekiyo can find a way to keep resurrecting himself, there's no reason his enemies can't.
For some reason the game begins with an automatic sequence where you run forwards and kill this random dragon. Maybe I'm breaking out of some unearthly jail to go kill Yoritomo on Earth again? Honestly, this game is steeped in so much Japanese history and folk mysticism it would leave a Megami Tensei player lost and confused.
With my wise sense of direction, I immediately start in a volcanic zone. Making that the first stage seems kind of backwards. I'm not sure I like the expressions on all these smirking ground faces, either. They can trollface all they like, but at least I'm not embedded in the topsoil.
Most foes in this game take a single slice from Kagekiyo's wild sword swings, but guys like this skeletal samurai actually require you parry their attack, knock their sword away with a heavy blow and quickly slice them when their guard is down. It's all intuitive too: the enemy doesn't attack often, and the gap to kill it after the parry is relatively wide. I have to imagine that it's practice for the far more difficult bosses who'll fight similar duels with you later on.
Most enemies drop these hole coins. I never did figure out a use for them. Maybe there are hidden stores that I wasn't perceptive enough to find?
The floating platforms from the previous games are back, but as with the duelling skeletons from before, there's no real danger of falling off these so it's more for practice. I mean, you can get jabbed by those spears, but there's no big pit or lava or anything quite as fatally conclusive.
Again, more a demonstration of future travails, these spiky floating platforms work as Thwomps too: painful to walk under, but easy enough to walk over.
Goddamn, I love the backgrounds in this game. I really ought to figure out how to make gifs of these, because the parallax scrolling is impressive. As is the fact that these huge backgrounds seem to change in every sub-stage.
This is a boss fight, so the HUD across the top moves to show a purple boss health gauge previously hidden on the right. They all work off the same candle-based health economy as you do. He's also an enormous skeleton boss, but then I'm getting used to those after Legend of Hero Tonma.
As with the first game, the exit to a level is always one of these Shinto shrine gates (which I remember being called torii thanks to Katamari Damacy). It's usually a big relief whenever I spot one in the distance.
I can't imagine all those territories are separate levels. It looks more like a tessellated pattern to me. The path you chose was very important in the first game, but this one seems a bit more linear. Or, again, I'm not perceptive or knowledgeable enough to find any secret branching exits.
So, wait, the last place I was in wasn't a volcanic zone? The title text does that interesting Walking Dead (and a few other examples I can't think of right now) thing where it's part of the world and only leaves the screen once you walk away and force it to scroll past.
This sub-stage sets up an interesting challenge: there's a lava wall right behind me (presumably a pyroclastic flow, since this is a volcano and all) but I'm getting accosted by enemies as I try to escape. The skull spider is a particular menace, as it will continually walk away and outside the range of your weapon while spit webbing at your legs, which freezes you in place until you cut it away with your sword. The tengus aren't quite so much of an obstacle, but I do like this game's pragmatic interpretation of the ubiquitous crow demons of Japanese folklore.
Talking of Japanese folklore, we have one of the two malevolent Japanese weather deities, Raijin or Fujin. I'm going to guess it's Raijin, since I seemed to get shocked by electricity a lot. Like the spiders, he kind of hovers out of my reach and blats me with projectiles. Charming fellow.
Of course, not even deities can escape my wroth. I am one determined fellow.
The bonus stages from the first game are back: the goal is to follow the big Buddha type fellow in the background there as it drops dozens of coins and useful power-ups. It'll quickly double back and switch directions though, so we need to keep an eye on where it's going. Easier said than done.
I think we've seen enough of this game for now. Due to a lack of any sort of progress indicator or a world map that makes any sense whatsoever, I'm going to assume I've passed whatever world 1 was after that bonus stage.
Which means I can finally leave this weird ghost medium crone from The Others behind. Man, those faces are creepy. Are they decorations or do they just hover behind her like that? If the latter, does that mean she can only contact the spirits of twins?

Anyway, I leave behind a lot more questions about Samurai Ghost than answers. Seems like that kind of game, though, if watching Arino struggle through the obtuse The Genji and the Heike Clans gave me any indication of what this franchise is all about. It does seem strange that the game's pared away a lot of the odder aspects of the first game to emphasize the swordfights and platforming, but at the same time it probably had the serendipitous effect of making it more palatable for US localization. A hypothetical American me of 1992 wouldn't need to know what tengus are or who Yoritama was if I'm just given a cool zombie samurai protagonist and a bunch of weird monsters to chop into pieces. Kids of the 90s were uncomplicated that way.

As I'm finding with a lot of these TG-16 games, Samurai Ghost juuuust skirts the line between "this is an all right game" and "this is a great game that deserves to be remembered as a classic of the 16-bit era". Really haven't seen too many that manage to stay firmly in that second category, despite covering a lot of games so far that have been at the very least interesting and potentially quite fun. I guess it's like what Jeff was saying about the Amiga: there are folk who swear by it (and I loved its admittedly inferior cousin the Atari ST, so I'm with them), but you have to wonder when seeing most of it for the first time years later if nostalgia isn't carrying most of that weight.

Anyway, all this conclusive talk can wait until tomorrow when Octurbo finishes for good with my final (and probably quite obvious, given the date and recent subject matter) game. Jury's still out on whether I bother completing TurboMento-12 - I think I've done more to promote the TurboGrafx-16 so far this year than even NEC did back in the day. See you all on Halloween, folks, and in case I don't - have a fun one.

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