InuYasha: The Secret of the Cursed Mask Anime Video Game Review
Yet another modern school student (can be male or female), this one named Kururugi, has been pulled through time into InuYasha's fantasy world of Feudal Japan. But unlike Kagome, Kururugi has been stranded, as even the portal in the Bone Eater's Well turns out to have no effect on him/her. With no known means of getting back to the present, things seem rather hopeless for Kururugi, but fortunately he/she at least has the good luck of stumbling onto InuYasha and his companions right after his/her arrival. Taking pity on the new arrival due to the similarity to her own situation, Kagome happily agrees to help Kururugi get back home if they can find the means of doing so. Until then, Kururugi will be Team InuYasha's newest companion on their quest to recover the Shikon Jewel Shards.
The journey will be long and perilous, and the time spent on the road with InuYasha, Kagome, Shippo, Sango, and Miroku may result in Kururugi building strong relationships with them, some perhaps more intimate then he/she initially imagined.
Well, this is it, InuYasha fans, a chance to spend some quality time with everyone's favorite dog hanyou as a member of his team. It certainly seems fitting. After all, the plot of the manga and TV series resembles what you see in a traditional RPG, so it's only natural for them to make an actual RPG in the InuYasha world, complete with the entire production team and familiar combat moves from the English dub of the show. Sadly, that's not enough for it to achieve all it might have, as the game is riddled with major issues that keep it from reaching top-quality status. But, it's still a solid, enjoyable game that most fans of the series can appreciate if they are really into this specific type of game.
Basically, you get to join up with InuYasha and his friends to form a six-person wrecking crew for battles using the old-school RPG format. Combat occurs in random encounters as you traverse the Feudal Era, and it's turn based with no time limits or penalties for taking too long to chose an action. A key difference, however, is that there there is no MP or magic system similar to hit points or a health bar. Instead, you have a bar with three "specialty slots," which fill up as you perform almost any action in battle: Taking damage, inflicting damage, and healing. Once you build up enough energy with a particular character, their slots get filled, which you can use to perform advanced techniques.
All advanced fighting techniques and spells fall into one of three categories: Regular Tech, Special Tech, and Co-Op Tech. Regular Techs don't require any special slots to use, so you can use them just like a normal attack. They either cause more damage than a normal attack (Sango's Hiraikotsu), hit multiple enemies (InuYasha's Blades of Blood), heal your comrades (Kagome's First Aid Box), or give stat bonuses or penalties to allies or enemies. The only downside to using them is that they increase the time it takes for the character using them to get his next turn.
Special Techs are extremely powerful attacks or healing waves, such as InuYasha's Wind Scar or Miroku's Wind Tunnel. These Techs take even more time to get your next turn and they take special slots to use. The more powerful it is, the more special slots are needed.
Finally, you have the coolest aspect of the game: Co-Op Techs. These involve a combined attack with two different characters, requires both of them to have enough slots filled up, and takes the most time between turns. However, they cause the most powerful attacks and, best of all, they look incredible, being depicted with a great anime cutscene showing the characters working in tandem to carry out the move. The first thing that went through my mind after I saw one for the first time (after picking my jaw off the floor) was "Why the hell didn't I ever see anything this awesome in the series?!" Really, the Co-Op Techs look way better than any type of action I saw in the series, movies, or manga. After so many times watching InuYasha do all the fighting as his "teammates" casually conversed in the background, it was a wonderful experience to see him and his companions working so effectively as a team, combing their unique moves and powers to unleash devastating blows.
The whole system can be cumbersome, forcing you you to navigate through multiple menu screens, but it actually works out pretty well, as it requires the same strategy as a game of billiards in that you have to consider how every action is going to affect your next move. Is it worth it to tie up two team members for a long time to use a Co-Op Tech? When your slots are empty, should you try to max your inflicted damage with regular Techs, or should you use weaker regular attacks to decrease time between turns so you can quickly fill your slots to use for more powerful moves? Stat-boosting spells can be a big asset, but they don't increase your energy to help you fill your slots, so you have to decide if they are an efficient use of your character at the time. Character specific traits are also a big factor. For example, InuYasha and Kagome logically have some devastating Co-Op Techs. But Kagome is the team's most valuable healer and losing her for the time it takes to pull them off could be a problem.
One thing that helps the battles and the overall game in general is that Secret of the Cursed Mask features almost the entire cast from the English-dubbed series and movies--not just the main characters, but also the lesser ones like Myoga, Rin, and Kouga. And these guys didn't just show up to collect a paycheck. They really give it their maximum effort. Their tone of voice and attitudes sound perfectly authentic for every situation, creating a wonderful atmosphere that really makes you feel like you're in InuYasha's unique world (assuming you watched the series dubbed and not subbed). It's great for the normal game dialog, and for the battles, when you are treated to attacks that have the same level of intensity that you hear in the series. Hearing the familiar shouts of "Iron Reaver Soul Stealer!," "Wind Tunnel!," "Hit the Mark!," "Hiraikotsu!," and "Fox Fire!" as the characters pull off their moves greatly contributes to the game's authentic feel. Some aspects can be a minor annoyance, most notably the team's overabundance of congratulating each other when they pull off an attack--any attack, no matter how minor or insignificant the damage. It feels like a football team celebrating a 3-yard run on first down with the same level of joy as when they score a touchdown. But, overall, the persistent use of familiar statements really makes one feel at home in the InuYasha universe.
When not in combat, you'll be spending time getting Kururugi integrated with InuYasha's gang as you roam across the land, going through towns, buying equipment, and conversing with each other as you advance the story and try to get him/her back to the future. Here is where the game starts to run into problems. First of all, why is Kururugi in the game? Do we really need another character? We've already got five (six if they made Kirara a full time party member instead of Sango's assistant), and they basically fill the roles of all the traditional RPG classes. I would much rather have focused on the adventures and interactions of the characters I've grown to love through so many episodes, movies, and manga volumes, instead of watching them help some nobody one-and-done twerp get home. At the very least, couldn't they have made Kururugi a bit more distinctive? It's just another ordinary school kid from the modern world. If you pick a male character, he just feels like a male Kagome, while a female one just feels like Kagome #2. We already saw Kagome go through all the trials and tribulations of getting used to Feudal Japan and the concept of demons. It's not that entertaining to see someone else go through it again, in almost the same manner. The only advantage is that it gives the other characters a legitimate reason to explain the situation and character backstories without sounding forced, thus aiding people who aren't familiar with the series. But, since the overwhelming majority of players are going to be people with at least some knowledge of it, that doesn't seem worthwhile overall.
Fortunately, it's not all bad. For one thing, it does create a nice atmosphere of a new recruit joining one of the most famous adventuring parties in anime history. The process is depicted quite naturally, with a lot of growing pains at first but eventually becoming a full fledged member of the team. How they treat you along the way also changes as the game progresses, and it depends heavily on which gender you pick. This isn't one of those games where your gender has about as much significance as being right or left handed. It actually has an impact on certain parts of the story and how you are treated. For example, if you pick a female character, Miroku will greet you with his traditional "would you consider bearing my children?" line and occasionally flirt with you (sadly, the makers of this game didn't put in the full aspect of his personality by having him constantly grope you and hit on you in public, though his relationship with Sango is accurately depicted that way). This comes into play even more so when it affects your "off days."
Usually after completing a major event such as clearing a dungeon, InuYasha and the gang will take some "off duty" time where Kururugi can pick a character to spend the day with. The events that occur during these sections are usually inconsequential, but they show off some great Rumiko Takahashi artwork and, even more importantly, they allow you to build "friendship points" with the specific character. These points will help you learn new Co-Op Techniques and build your relationship with the selected character, and if you pick a character of the opposite gender enough times, your relationship will go beyond mere friendship and into the realm of romance (except Shippo, since he's too young), while the character with the highest amount of points will ultimately determine which ending you get. There are five different endings for the male Kururugi, one for each other character, and six for the female one, as she has the added choice of getting one with Sesshomaru.
The friendship/romance system had the most potential out of any key feature of the game. Since all of your potential romance options are already in a committed relationship with someone else on the team, this was an opportunity to really rock the boat, creating your own love triangles that could cause all sorts of tension in the group and taking the story in a very different direction from the established plot. Sadly, this turns out to be the game's biggest disappointment, as my picks didn't seem to affect team chemistry at all. So far I've beaten the game twice, first as male Kururugi and then as female. The first time I romanced Sango and the next time I picked Miroku. In neither case did this result in hostility from their current partner, nor did it really affect the person I chose. The game ended before my relationship with them went anywhere, and also before their established partner found out about it. That's just unforgivable! Interfering with a well-established romantic couple from the story should have huge repercussions for your character and team unity, while also affecting the established storyline with dynamic new events.
Really, what's the point of including such a feature if nothing significant is going happen as a result of it? It's like they came up with this brilliant new concept, then chickened out at the last second. I can't imagine why; perhaps they were afraid it would anger hardcore fans by changing the relationships so dramatically. But why would it? Since you can pick which character to build the most points with, why would anyone romance a character if they didn't want to change the relationship that character was already involved in? No matter which way you look at it, it simply makes no sense at all.
Unfortunately, that's not the biggest problem with this game--that would be that it's way too easy. While you've got a six-warrior powerhouse at your command, in which every type of character class is covered, you never have to fight more then four enemies at once. That alone gives you a huge advantage, but it's even more lopsided because three of your six characters (Kururugi, Kagome, and Miroku) have a healing ability that heals almost any character back to full health which they can use without needing any specialty slots filled. As if that wasn't enough, Kururugi has a group healing Tech that only takes a single slot to use. The result is that almost nobody is ever slain in battle because any time a member's HP starts to get low, chances are another character with a healing spell has a turn coming up to get them restored before they fall. And of course if the next character doesn't have a healing Tech, they can just use a healing item, which are easy to stockpile in huge supply because with so many healing Tech characters, you hardly ever have to use them. Basically the only time any character is ever downed in battle is if the enemy scores a lucky critical hit, a hit with an instant death spell, or by sheer random chance a group of enemies gang up on a single character before you can heal them, all of which are very rare occurrences. As such, the only time you ever face the possibility of game over is when fighting a few particularly hard bosses or when the story forces Kururugi to split off from the main group for a while.
However, easy fights do not mean quick fights. The enemies in general have a lot of HP, and since there aren't many types of attacks that hit all of them at once, you generally have to take them out one by one. Add that in with a number of Techs from both you and them that can take a while to use, and a frequent "first strike" event in which the enemies all get to attack first at the start of the battle, and this results in some very long battles out of the random encounters.
Even worse, the length of the fights is exceeded by their quantity. The amount of random encounters in this game is simply way too high. There are two ways to get an encounter: the normal way, by simple travel, and running through clouds of purple smoke on the map, which virtually ensure you get one. The normal way is heavy by itself, with encounters sometimes happening every three or four steps. But the smoke clouds make it especially infuriating because they almost guarantee an encounter no matter how long it was since the last. That means if you are unlucky enough to get a random fight one step in front of a smoke cloud (which happens a lot), you'll still have another one right away as you go through it. Along with that, you've got dungeons and forests that are long and confusing, with tons of dead ends and paths that lead nowhere, ensuring that almost everywhere you go the random encounters are maximized. One nice thing about this game is that you pretty much never have to take time off from the story for "grinding" to build levels or money. Of course, that's only because the enemy encounter rate is so high that the game pretty much forces you to do it inadvertently, even if you are trying to get through the area and complete the story as fast as possible.
Furthermore, while the character portraits, "off day" still shots, anime cutscenes, and anime Co-Op Techs look great, the graphics for the vast majority of the game are horrendous. The towns, forests, and dungeons all look generic and lifeless, with pre-rendered backgrounds so bland that it makes it seem like the world is standing still. In the towns, most people don't even move! How long have video games had moving people in towns now? Since the early Nintendo days if I'm not mistaken. It's pretty pathetic that random wandering villagers was too advanced for this game. On top of that, they are filled with concealed doors and hidden pathways that you need to find in order to advance the game. There is nothing wrong with secrets, but they shouldn't be concealed simply because the angle of the camera doesn't let me have a good look at something that's right in front of me, which is too often the case here. I can't tell you how often I had to waste time running around town trying to find a path or person to talk too, only to discover they were right in front of me but I couldn't see them because the background was frozen in a spot that made them barely visible. On top of that, the main characters are depicted in miniature chibi-form, which doesn't show off how intimidating and commanding they usually are. There are only a handful of enemy designs, none of which are particularly menacing. Really, this is the kind of thing I might expect from an early PS1 game, not something on PS2. Certainly not a PS2 game released as late as November of 2004.
Secret of the Cursed Mask isn't particularly long for an RPG. I was able to beat it in just under 20 hours on my first run through, a good amount of which was spent wandering around the same area looking for where I needed to go and fighting through hoards of random encounters in the process. The good thing is that the 11 different endings and all the artwork from the "off days," story still-shots, endings, and Co-Op Techs are saved in a viewing room once you beat the game, which can be accessed any time. There are also some special events called "Mystery Field Events," which can be unlocked for viewing as well, though these are exceptionally hard to find, requiring planting the right combination of seeds and fertilizer in a field and then taking the right action under a special set of circumstances. I was never able to unlock any of them, even when using an online guide for aid the second time I beat the game. Also, after you beat the game, you can start your next playthrough at level 30, which will help you to get through the game a lot faster if unlocking new endings and story events is the only thing you are interested in. All this makes for some good replay value, but I found the appeal of going through again for the different endings to be highly suspect. After going through all the effort to beat the game with a different gender main character and a different romance option, I still finished with an ending that was virtually identical to the one I got the first time. Perhaps ones with other characters are different, but I'm not sure it's worth the effort to find out.
Most of the other reviews I've read of InuYasha: Secret of the Cursed Mask have been mixed, even among major fans of the InuYasha franchise, and it's not hard to see why. This problems is that the game has a very narrow range of appeal, and being an InuYasha fan alone isn't enough to enjoy it. You've also got to be really into this exact type of turn-based RPG format, have a lot of patience, and be willing to overlook some serious problems. Fortunately, I happen to be in that category, and as a result I had a pretty good time with this one. It was great to get so fully immersed in the InuYasha world and really feel like "one of the gang," while also finally getting an experience in which every member of the team makes a significant contribution to winning all the battles. However, the experience also had a degree of bitterness, as it was filled with obvious problems that could have been easily corrected, and if they had been this game could have been a true masterpiece. Like some episodes and a few of the films in the InuYasha franchise, Secret of the Cursed Mask set out for glory and fell a bit short.
Notes and Trivia
Based on a popular manga series by Rumiko Takahashi, consisting of 56 volumes between 1996 and 2008. From this series came a 167-episode TV series, four movies and, recently, a second TV series consisting of 26 episodes to complete the story called "InuYasha: The Final Act."
Secret of the Cursed Mask is one of four InuYasha video games that have been released in the US. The others are "InuYasha: A Feudal Fairy Tale," a fighting game for the PS1, "InuYasha: Feudal Combat," a fighting game for the PS2, and "InuYasha: Secret of the Divine Jewel," an RPG for the Nintendo DS.
Kururugi is yet another addition to the insanely long list of InuYasha characters with names that start with the letter K, extending it to 16. The others are Kaede, Kageromaru, Kagome, Kagura, Kaguya, Kanade, Kanna, Karan, Kikyo, Kirara, Kohaku, Koharu, Kouga, Kyokotsu, and Kyoura. The male version's given name is Michiru, while the female one is Kaname, adding yet another K name.
The game is rated "Teen" by the ESRB for fantasy violence, language, and suggestive themes.
Violence: 2 - Plenty of death, but you won't find a drop of blood anywhere.
Nudity: 0 - Zip.
Sex/Mature Themes: 2 - Miroku gropes Sango a fair amount, just as he does in the series. It's even present in one of their anime Co-op Techniques.
Language: 1 - Nothing significant.
Available in the US from Bandai, exclusively for PS2. It's a rather old game now, so a search for used copies at surrounding Gamestop stores or Amazon is your best bet.