Inuyasha: The Secret of the Cursed Mask Hands-On

We visit the mystical world of feudal Japan in this role-playing game based on the popular <i>Inuyasha</i> anime.

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The Inuyasha anime has been a hot property in the States since it began airing in Cartoon Network's Adult Swim programming block. The series follows the adventures of a Japanese schoolgirl named Kagome, who falls through a well at her family's shrine and ends up in Japan's feudal times, where she befriends a gruff half-human, half-dog demon named Inuyasha. Inuyasha: The Secret of the Cursed Mask is a role-playing game based on that popular universe, and it lets you experience an original storyline involving the series' memorable cast of characters.

You'll begin the game as one of two characters, a boy named Michiru Kururugi or or a girl named Kaname Kururugi. The only difference between these characters is their appearance--your choice has no effect on gameplay, but these and other characters have been designed by the cartoon series' original creator, Rumiko Takahashi. After you choose your character, you'll find yourself on a bus, on your way home from school with one of your friends. The conversation centers happily around that time-honored schoolhouse dilemma: how everyone other than you seems to have a boyfriend or girlfriend. You're eventually dropped off at your family's shrine, where a doll festival is going on, and your father sends you to the storeroom to fetch additional dolls for the patrons. Entering the dark storeroom, you step on a star symbol on the floor and you end up falling, and when you land, you're not in Tokyo anymore. You've been transported to feudal Japan, where some villagers attack you, thinking you're a strangely robed demon. You flee them by running into the forest, where you're beset by an actual demon who tries to make a meal out of you. Just as everything is starting to look bleak, you emit a strange light that defeats the creature, and you awake later to find yourself staring at Inuyasha, who had been passing by. He's intrigued by your powers, so he brings you to meet Kagome at a nearby village. Kagome agrees to help you find a way home, and when she tries to transport you through the well that she uses, it doesn't work. So you end up tagging along with the pair and their friends as they set out to look for an explanation for your mysterious powers and your presence in that world.

By selecting a destination on the overworld map, you'll be able to explore the various regions, ruins, forests, and villages in the game on foot. You'll first visit the village where the priestess Kaede resides, and after grouping up with Inuyasha, Kagome, and the adorable fox-demon Shippo, you'll all set out in search of clues. The game's areas are divided into smaller segments, and as you pass through these areas you'll be able to talk to any characters you meet, pick up any items that might be lying around, and eventually get into some battles. The game's random encounters bring up a turn-based battle menu, and you'll fight your enemies in an order dictated by the speed of each character.

Each of your allies has a standard melee attack, as well as a number of additional abilities called "tech attacks" that are specific to each person. For the anime series' cast, these abilities are equivalent to the ones they have in the show. For example, Shippo can lob small bombs at foes and Inuyasha can use sword skills like the "wind scar." Some of these abilities can be used free of cost, and others cost points that you'll gain as you're attacked by enemies or when you defeat them. Your party can also use special combo abilities that let multiple characters attack at once.

While the anime-style character portraits and art used during character conversations (and the animated cutscenes) have a nice look that matches the quality in the cartoon, the 3D character models actually have the superdeformed look traditional to Japanese anime cartoons. That is, they're short, round, cute, and squat, with huge heads and tiny bodies, and they resemble little plush dolls. These models appear very simple, but they're still easily recognizable. The world of Inuyasha also resembles that of the animated series, in that all the various areas look like backgrounds for cartoon cels with nicely layered detailing.

Fans will be pleased to note that all the voice actors of the animated series reprise their roles for this game; the main cast sounds just as they do on Cartoon Network. The other voice work in the game also seems to be of the same level of quality as the show, and while not all the dialogue in the game is spoken (many characters deliver their lines only through onscreen text), a majority of it is, and it's sounding good. The music for the game features the same sort of themes that can be found in the anime: orchestral pieces with Japanese folk music woven in.

If you're an avid Inuyasha fan and you don't mind a light, turn-based RPG, you're just the kind of person that might be interested in Inuyasha: The Secret of the Cursed Mask. The game is scheduled for release on the PS2 later this year.

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