Legend of the Mystical Ninja for the N64
By – Ian Quinlin
Back when Konami was still a reputable producer of fine games and didn’t rely solely on producing pinball variants of their best-selling franchises, they enjoyed a sustained period of original releases and varied character copyrights. One such character and ex-mascot of Konami itself, the legendary thief Goemon, was massively popular in Japan due to his folkloric backstory and line of SNES games. When ported over to the US, Goemon of the Ganbare Goemon series did not do so well: understandably, Americans’ lack of familiarity of Japanese mythology and culture was partly to blame; but on the other hand, blatant revisions to said titles by translations meant to homogenize content and make eccentricities more accessible to foreign audiences also played a significant factor in Goemon’s failure to make an impact abroad.
You see, if the goal of translation teams in the 80s and 90s was to remove any barriers to language which might arise in games and erase cultural oddities which might go over the heads of the uninitiated, then Ganbare Goemon was destined to be a failure from the beginning. The series is entirely, and nothing BUT, an homage to the rich history of the supernatural and religious tapestry of Japan – imagine my excitement, then, when the first 3D foray for Goemon, Legend of the Mystical Ninja, arrived on US shores mostly free of revisionism.
Mystical Ninja’s storyline is honestly superfluous to enjoying the full game – something something save the girl, save Japan – however, the cast of characters and their respective abilities was at the time tremendously satisfying to use; in addition, the game features some of the jim-jammy, tastiest beats you’ll ever find on the N64. I still catch myself whistling Zazen Town’s theme in my spare time. The graphics early-game bely the creativity that can be found later on in the design of some of the dugeons: submarines populated by sushi-monsters, castles manned by Odango rice balls, and temples fashioned around Matsuri festival season all populate key junctures of the journey.
And about those characters again – you have eventual access to four ninjas with different weapons and special abilities including the ability to become a mermaid or go off-brand Super Saiyan; not to mention the power to call down a creepy giant fighting robot made in your likeness. The weirdness of it all can offset the at-times slow pacing of a company who was just dipping their toes into the waters of a then-poorly understood revolution of depth perception in newly-popular three dimensional space.
But it is precisely this weirdness which gives Mystical Ninja and the Goemon Franchise its charm – glossing over differences to provide simplified gameplay experiences would do the title no justice. It has to be played to be experienced, so do yourself a favor and… I don’t know, download an emulator to play it? This game isn’t exactly common any more. Go support some poor Youtube channel and watch a Let’s Play of it.