A quick look at Getsu Fūma Den (also known as Getsu Fuumaden, Getsufu Maden, or any other similar translation, and literally means "Story of the Lunar Wind Demon") might suggest Castlevania, except set in the Japanese version of hell. That's not entirely incorrect, seeing it has the same general feel as many Konami Famicom games, and how the hero, Fūma (also spelled Fuma or Fuhma), vaguely resembles Simon Belmont. The game is structured as a non-linear action-adventure with some light RPG elements, putting it somewhere in the same realm as Castlevania II and The Goonies II.
It is the 15th century, and the dragon master Ryu Kokki has been resurrected. Two brothers of the Fūma clan set off to destroy him, but are killed. It's up to the remaining brother, Getsu Fūma, to hunt down their wave swords and kill Ryu Kokki, saving the world and avenging his sibling's deaths in the same stroke. The main character is based off real life figure Fūma Kotarou, who was also the inspiration for the characters ADK's 2D fighter series World Heroes, as well as others various games focusing on Sengoku-era Japan, including Onimusha 2, Sengoku Basara 2 and Samurai Warriors 2.
The game opens with an overworld map, not unlike Zelda II, and each of the islands presents itself as a fairly simplistic maze. Dotted throughout the corridors are Japanese-style gates, which will lead to side-scrolling action sequences. These levels, which scroll either left-to-right or right-to-left (depending on which direction you're going on the map, naturally) are short, and are rarely more than a minute long, though there are many of them, and they must be traversed each time you pass over its square.
The character control in these segments is much more slippery than, say, Castlevania, with a faster walking speed and long, floaty jumps that can be controlled in mid-air. Fūma also attacks with a sword swung at a downward arc, able to hit enemies directly above him, but is sorely lacking in distance. The culmination of all of this is that it feels a bit haphazard and sloppy. At the outset, most enemies take more than a single hit, and it's difficult to defeat them without taking some damage yourself. This is offset by the generous item drops - which will either give you extra money or restore a bit of health - and is generally negated once you bolster your arsenal. Repeatedly killing enemies with your sword will slowly power it up (as denoted by a "sword" meter helpfully displayed at all times above your life gauge) and various items can be found to help in both offensive and defensive manners. Scattered around the land are shops, where you can buy single use items to make you temporarily invincible or clear the screen of foes. Other items include weapons which can be used indefinitely as long as they equipped, like the talisman, which can absorb a bit of damage; the war drum, a projectile attack which will shoot the kanji for "power" a short distance; an item that lets you spin like a top (which is, frankly, silly), and others. You can also equip the wave swords for the game's most powerful attack, but only once you've obtained all of them. You will also need to beat boss monsters and obtain passports to move through certain checkpoints.
In addition to the side-scrolling segments, there are also three first person mazes strewn throughout. These are fairly expansive and pretty much require mapping out so you don't get lost - the only aid is a compass, which indicates direction - but items and bonus rooms are also strewn about. Unlike most 3D dungeon crawlers, the perspective is set right behind Fūma's back, as you see him march forward and turn corners. Enemies will attack at predetermined spots, which will trigger combat sequences. These are also fought from the 3D perspective, as you move Fuuma left and right (although not forward or backwards), to dodge and attack your foe before it gets too close. It's awkward to judge depth in these cases, and they largely amount to button mashing. The dungeon crawling sequences as a whole are somewhat tedious, but they're impressive for mid-generation Famicom game, during an era where Konami was sticking as many different gameplay styles in their games as possible, like The Adventures of Bayou Billy and The Lone Ranger. (3D mazes were present in The Goonies II as well, but they were much simpler, and did not involve combat either.)
Getsu Fūma Den is a fairly lengthy game too - in addition to the main island, there are four sub-islands, with numerous bosses and a total of three 3D dungeons. Unless you use a FAQ you'll also be wandering around a lot trying to figure out where to go, and backtracking can get annoying, since you need to play the same side-scrolling levels every time you pass over them on the map. Combined with the grinding necessary to power up your sword and get cash (which isn't terribly time consuming, all things considering), it'll take more than a few hours to see this game to its conclusion. Thankfully, there's a password feature that keeps track of your equipment and location. Although you have limited lives, the penalty for death is light, and it's not a terribly difficult game overall. The death scene when you fall down a bit is unique - the screen goes black and Fūma spirals into blackness, while the kanji for "death" appears in the center.
Given the limited ROM space of most early Famicom games, it's immensely impressive how varied the visuals are. Even though there are dozens of side-scrolling levels, many of them feature completely unique background tiles and enemies, at least on the main island. (They get a little bit more repetitive as you investigate the smaller islands.) The visual style isn't exactly attractive - despite using lots of bright greens and reds, the background colors often slash, and there's a sense of discomfort displayed through its grittiness. If nothing else, manages to look completely unlike any other Famicom game out there. The music is decent, although there are few songs, and they do grow tiresome.
While it gets off to a rocky start, once you get a grip on what you're supposed to be doing and get properly powered up, Getsu Fūma Den really hits its groove, and is easily recommendable to 8-bit NES fans. Although there was never any official sequel, apparently it was quite popular within the Konami offices, as the game is featured in both Wai Wai World titles, which compiled characters and levels from various games developed by the company. Both games feature Fūma as a playable character, and each features a level based around the Japanese underworld. Several people have noted some similarities between Getsu Fūma Den and the first NES Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles games - the overworld map, the sound effects, and the way Fūma controls similarly to Leonardo, right down to his overhead slashes - lead many to believe that it's sort of a spiritual successor.
Although buried and forgotten for many years, Getsu Fuuma Den also made a surprised appearance in the 2010 downloadable release Castlevania: Harmony of Despair. A Monster Hunter-style multiplayer loot game put in the context of a side-scrolling Castlevania title, it compiles characters, enemies and graphics from over half a dozen Castlevania games. It also features Fūma as a playable character, as well as a level based around his game, both available as downloadable content. The visuals have not been redrawn and look exactly the same as the Famicom game, although due to the widescreen HD visuals, you can zoom the screen in and out. Fuuma has all of the items and moves from his game, like the War Drum and the top spin maneuver, and nearly all of the enemies and bosses make an appearance. There are also two arranged songs from the original Famicom soundtrack that play during the level.
The 2011 shooter Otomedius Excellent, features cutesy female characters, some of which are based on various Konami games. Geshihana Fuuma is Getsu Fūma Den's representation, as the main character has been reimagined of a moe anime character piloting a spaceship, and in addition to the Wave Sword attacks, has elements of weapons from Axelay and Trigon. Ryu Kokki also appears in sultry female form as a boss. The Yu-Gi-Oh card series has a handful of cards based on the series, and an arranged version of the theme song appears in the rhythm game Pop'n Music, complete with a cartoonish rendition of the game's cover at the score tally screen. There is also a wrestler patterned after him, along with numerous other Konami characters, in Jikkyou Power Pro Wrestling '96 for the Super Famicom.
Getsu Fūma Den also bears a substantial similarity to Namco's Genpei Tōma Den, which had been released in the arcades the previous year. Both titles are side-scrolling action games that take place in approximately the same era of Japanese history, as you fight many mythical demons. While the designers of Getsu Fūma Den have admitted the influence of Namco's title, their title has a greater focus on open-ended exploration and RPG elements, and is ultimately a different beast. (A closer rip-off is Sega's Master System title Kenseiden.)
Getsu Fūma Den was released for the Wii Virtual Console in 2009, but only in Japan.
Wai Wai World Screenshots
Wai Wai World 2 Screenshots
Castlevania: Harmony of Despair Screenshots
Otomedius X Characters