|Title||Shaman King: Master of Spirits|
|Release Date||November 9th, 2004|
|Age Rating||E (ESRB), 7+ (PEGI)|
It’s pretty typical for Japan to receive games that never make it across to the West–we all know that. That can be especially true for games that are based on Japanese anime and the like. Did you know, though, that every once in a while we have one that they never get? Turns out that Shaman King: Master of Spirits is one such game, made specifically for the 4Kids dub of the Shaman King anime.
Now at this point you might be ready to write this game off–to which I say, hang on. There’s still the whole review ahead of you.
For those of you who may not be so familiar with it, Shaman King is the tale of Yoh Asakura, a young man with the ability to work with spirits in order to fight. His goal is to win a tournament and become the strongest shaman of all. Master of Spirits is sort of an aside to this story, apparently in one of the last rounds once the party has arrived at Dobie Village, the final testing ground. It exists completely outside the main plot, though understanding all the characters may take some familiarity with the series.
While taking a break, Yoh meets a mysterious figure named Magister, who tries to steal the Tome of the Shaman (essentially Shaman King’s version of the Necronomicon). As all the various characters fight for it, it tears apart, and the pages are blown away on the wind across the world. Now, Yoh has to race Magister to get the pages back.
Early on, almost everything in the game consists of running, jumping and attacking enemies with your sword. The first area you’ll go through makes this incredibly easy, but already starting at the second one there will be challenges, like an enemy that blocks frontal attacks. Strong enemies like these call for Yoh’s spirits, which can be customized and switched out quickly and consume a little furyoku (like MP). You’ll start out with a damaging sword strike from Yoh’s guardian, Amidamaru, and acquire more as you go on. Some spirits are activated for a single strike, while others can be toggled on and off for a constant effect, and others are completely passive. While there are tons of viable combinations, many spirits are better than others–one or two even have negative effects!
Not all spirits are for combat, though. Besides those that increase Yoh’s stats, many are most useful for solving puzzles. One that you’ll obtain early on and use often throughout the entire game is Tokageroh, whose Big Thumb can be used to push blocks around. Other spirits let you break through certain barriers, pass through poison gas unharmed, jump higher, slide into crawlspaces and more.
These abilities are the main thing that keep the game going in a general order. In fact, when you start the game, you’ll find yourself on the world map with no directions or clues about where to go. The only way to figure out which is the proper first level is by trying the paths around you and discovering that most are impassable for now. As you go on and fill out the map, the directions will become easier.
They’re not just going to hand you these abilities, though. If it’s really powerful or necessary to get past a major obstacle, you can always bet that the spirit is owned by a difficult boss. Most of these are pretty familiar faces–Yoh’s friends–which are given different motivations or even directly controlled by Magister to fight against him. Each one has a unique variety of attacks that are tough to dodge unless you learn their patterns and react quickly.
By this point some of you are probably making the connection that this is a Konami game and resembles the “Metroidvania” format that most Castlevania games of that time period were embracing. It’s true, and it’s obviously no coincidence. When you get into one of the game’s longer areas, the graveyard that leads to a confrontation with Faust VIII, it becomes a lot harder to tell the difference. One of the spirits even has a whip attack!
Yet every little detail of this game will remind you that you’re in the Shaman King world. Every character has quite a few voice clips from the dub actors, and Yoh even says attack names for every major spirit–not bad for a Gameboy Advance title. And speaking of spirits, there’s about 70 in the game and almost all of them correspond to ones from the series. No matter how minor, just about every character who appeared up to a certain point comes back as, at the very least, an enemy. Even this mariachi band from Episode 37.
Sadly, a handful of the best of these spirits can be missed permanently. Once you make a certain amount of progress in the game, some characters and bosses won’t appear. The spirits they guard aren’t really needed to advance, but they tend to be some of the most powerful in combat. This is especially frustrating because it sort of coincides with the world becoming truly open (though you never do get to jump from place to place on it quickly). In other words, while Master of Spirits isn’t linear at all, the path to getting everything in it basically is.
Still, I have to admit, these world map flaws are really the only things that get in the way of a great game. Most of the time you’ll be so busy trying to figure out just what spirit setups and healing items to bring to each situation, you’ll forget the map anyway. At some point it just becomes that place where you’re incredibly relieved because you finally get to save. With insanely powerful enemies and longer levels, the last few areas will have you dying a lot, which is equal parts enraging and exhilarating.
Surprisingly, the soundtrack doesn’t seem to have any connection to songs from the anime at all–but it’s actually quite spectacular. Some of the most memorable game tracks I’ve heard came from the first area (http://www NULL.youtube NULL.com/watch?v=CzqbyUw2YHY) and boss battles (http://www NULL.youtube NULL.com/watch?v=ibu9vm0a_N4) of Master of Spirits.
Graphically, I wish these screenshots could quite do it justice. Because of the game’s pace, afterimages, lightning and explosions will appear and disappear in a flash. Many techniques come with a nice quick image cut-in of the spirit, which plays if you haven’t used it in a few minutes. I think “flashy” is probably the best word to describe it.
Shaman King: Master of Spirits is a short game–it comes in around the 10-hour mark (plus whatever time you spend dying)–but that’s in part because, again, everything moves really fast. It’s actually amazing to think of how much content is in those few hours, compared to games that can drag on a lot less variety to cover a lot more time. It looks like a typical Amazon price for the cartridge by itself is about $7-$10 USD–one of the best deals you could ask for, in my opinion. If you can, give this little gem a shot.
Review copy purchased by the author.