When Konami launched the unexpected GetsuFumaDen revival as an Early Access roguelike last year, I was cautiously optimistic. On paper, the genre of choice seems a bit forced – the original NES cult classic was more of a traditional platformer mixed with elements of dungeon crawling – but then this new iteration already does so much differently. It rocks a new and vibrant ukiyo-e painting inspired art style, and even the story is a distinct adventure from the original game. So it stands to reason that they’d want to play with the gameplay too by shifting to a different genre – and it works, for the most part. Coming to the game again after it first launched in Early Access, though, you can’t help but notice how similar this full launch is in terms of content and scale.
The gameplay loop of GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon isn’t original, but it is very satisfying. After exiting a hub world that houses your unlocked weapons and an upgrade crafting area, you’ll hop into a starting stage that is always artistically identical, but rocks a different, randomised layout each time you enter. The map reveals itself as you explore and find basic enemies, weapon drops, and upgrade materials.
Combat is pretty simple with just a single attack combo and a special weapon ability, alongside rolling or jumping to dodge incoming blows. The simplicity might be a turn off it it weren’t for how smooth and satisfying all of the weapon animations are. Katanas and dual blades deliver swift and gorgeous strikes, while spears and clubs dole out heavier, more precise attacks. It adds a lot of spice to regular enemy encounters, which are otherwise pretty mindless given how slow most of the enemies are with their attacks.
Boss battles are a much more charming combination of mechanical challenge and jaw-dropping aesthetic. Bosses are big and beautifully rendered Japanese folklore monstrosities, and their themes are face-melting high-energy buttrock ballads that never get old. The boss attack patterns are so much more ruthless than anything you see from common foes – it’s a fresh mix of screen-filling attacks and movement-tracking projectiles that will constantly keep you on your feet. Plus, with the limited amount of health resources bringing an extra challenge to the game, I often found myself challenging bosses without a full health bar and a pit in my stomach from how nervous I was that I’d get hit once and die.
Naturally, death is part of the process in a roguelike like this. Facing defeat or returning to your lair between stages lets you use banked currency and upgrade materials to unlock upgrades for you and your variety of weapons. Unfortunately, this is where the game starts to fall apart. Progressing through the game and getting these persistent upgrades is exhaustively slow and repetitive. You either replay the first few stages endlessly so you can return home to bank your recovered goods, or you die and come back with just a few materials. Alternatively, you can get to the point where you can consistently complete a full run of the game, but the length of these runs isn’t matched by the rewards at all.
On top of that, a lot of the upgrades just aren’t all that fun. So many of them, especially for your weapons, are purely damage boosts or small-percentage buffs to your other abilities. The lack of any kind of creative or fun upgrades to hunt for makes it hard to care about the hunt at all.
A lot of these complaints were in the back of my head when the game first launched in Early Access, but I stayed optimistic at the time, hoping that the path to a full release would introduce a hefty amount of additional content and gameplay adjustments the way it does for so many other Early Access roguelikes. Unfortunately, having arrived at the full release of GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon, not much has changed. The game has added a single additional playable character, one new weapon type, one new stage, one new boss, and two new common enemies. There’s a bevy of minor gameplay adjustments and quality of life changes, but nothing that remedies the slog of progress. Overall, it’s a drought of content compared to other roguelikes. As beautiful as GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon is, and as solid as the combat and platforming can be, it’s hard to find any reason to stick with it after a more than a few runs.