The game stars Hanabusa, a young swordswoman who has dedicated her life to fight the Tsukumogami - everyday objects that have gained sentience or been possessed by evil spirits - in order to get revenge for her slain parents. Initially, she has little luck, since the Tsukumogami are Immune To Swords - the best you can generally hope for is to drive them off long enough to escape. But the Tsukumogami's numbers are rising steadily, to the point where they're effectively threatening the capital itself... something must be done.
Enter Komiya, a mysterious white fox who claims to be a servant of the mighty Mountain God. He delivers to her a magical blade called the Gokon Sword, which was supposedly forged by her parents - the only weapon capable of effectively fighting the Tsukumogami. Shortly afterwards, Tsukumogami seeking to steal the sword frame Hanabusa for the murder of an important nobleman. Thus begins Hanabusa's journey in earnest, as she battles the Tsukumogami hordes, seeks the favor of local gods, contends with corrupt nobles, and gradually unravels the truth about her parents.
However, all the power of the Gokon Sword will do her no good if it isn't used cleverly. Turns out that the secret to defeating the Tsukumogami is to reveal their True Form - by speaking their True Name. And in order to do so, you first need to figure out what the enemy you're facing IS - because until you know, it appears only as an indistinct blob of Miasma. With your sword, you must first extract hints about the nature of the item, and individual letters of the name, in order to guess the spirit's true nature. Thus, it carries some of the heritage of an old Edutainment Game, albeit done RIGHT.
Also, after a certain point in the game, you gain the ability to capture the spirit of Tsukumogami in your sword, in order to use their powers to solve puzzles or defeat their fellows. The result being an odd mix of Pokémon and a rummage-sale, and possibly the only game where you'll ever see the message "Pants captured!"
Provides examples of:
- Action Girl: Hanabusa, of course. She's been practicing swordplay since she was a little girl, in order to fight the Tsukumogami who made her an orphan.
- Always Chaotic Evil: Subverted. The Tsukumogami at first appear to be this - evil spirits with no purpose but to torment the living. Gradually, however, it becomes clear that things aren't so clear-cut, with friendly Tsukumogami making several appearances, and a few major NPC's proving that Tsukumogami can do good, too. The hostile demeanor of most Tsukumogami is mainly due to them being the spirits of the recently-deceased, possessing any object they can find - and most of those dead people have good reasons to hold a grudge against the nobles and the government.
- Aristocrats Are Evil: True to the setting - the Heian era was marked by enormous mismanagement and over-taxation by the ruling classes. Those nobles who get actual character-development, however, usually turn out to be fairly okay people, just not very smart. (With the exception of one or two Smug Snakes...)
- Big Eater: Saki and the other Weasel-Spirits. This even winds up saving the day at one point, when Hanabusa and Komiya have been bogged down by a gang of kitchenware-Tsukumogami...
- Cute Clumsy Girl: Waka, who has been dubbed the Craftman's Quarters Queen of Tripping Over Her Own Feet. Despite that, she's a highly-skilled and graceful dancer - the problems only start when the STOPS dancing and tries to WALK. Or turn around. Or carry anything. Or...
- Earn Your Happy Ending: The merely 'good' ending is easy enough to get - you basically just need to not have been a ruthless monster throughout the game. The Golden Ending, though... you'll have to WORK for that one. It doesn't QUITE require 100% Completion, but something close to it.
- Eyes Do Not Belong There: A frequent part of the Tsukumogami's design - add one or more eyes (and maybe a tongue) to a common household object, and BAM, instant creepy monster. Overlaps with The Walls Have Eyes with the Hundred-Eye Screen Door and Cunning Tanuki Partition.
- Foregone Conclusion: If you're at all familiar with japanese history, you know how it will end. The game takes place towards the end of the Heian Era - and immediately after that follows the more well-known Sengoku Era, the Age of Warring States... over a hundred years of blood-soaked civil war and widespread suffering wherein rival warlords rise and fall amidst thousands of deaths.
- Friend or Idol Decision: THREE TIMES, one of the villains attempt to get the Gokon Sword from Hanabusa by threatening someone's life. And depending on how loosely you're willing to interpret it, that count could actually be as high as five. Enough said, the villains REALLY like this strategy. No matter what you do, though, the hostage will survive, and you'll keep your sword... however, repeatedly putting your mission ahead of the lives of your friends will lead you down The Path of Asura.
- Gotta Catch 'Em All: Well, if you wanna Earn Your Happy Ending you do, anyway. Other than that, there isn't much reason to - you can pretty much go through the entire game with just two or three choice Tsukumogami.
- Guide Dang It!:
- The requirements for the Golden Ending. Most of it can be achieved simply by virtue of a 'go everywhere, do everything' attitude, but there's also the matter of the 'choices' you make. Most of them are simple Friend Or Idol Decisions, but the very FIRST one you run into is likely to trip you up by being more ambiguous...
- If you're trying to Catch 'Em All, you might also find yourself troubled by the last 5 spirits... who only appear (rarely) towards the end of the game in areas you've already cleared and left behind at that point. One in each area, to be specific. note
- Handsome Lech: Komiya tends to flirt outrageously with every pretty goddess you encounter. Of course, they all know him far too well to take it seriously. Not that they seem to MIND, particularly...
- I Know Your True Name: A key part of the combat-system. Until you've correctly identified a Tsukumogami by name, you can't hurt or capture it. For Random Encounters, you can usually just pick the right name out of your Spirit Index, but bosses are a different kettle of fish. On the other hand, you'll usually find many hints about their nature in the level leading up to them, making it somewhat easier.
- The final boss is a particularly tough one, since it's a complete diversion from the normal model, and also contains a SPACE - which you'll only have run into ONCE before. Once you've figured out the pattern, though, the rest of it is child's play.
- Immune To Swords: Normally, the Tsukumogami are immaterial - being evil spirits and all - and as such can't be hurt by normal means. Until you get the magical Gokon Sword, you can't do more than chase them away with your plain old Katana.
- Katanas Are Just Better: Zig-zagged. Hanabusa actually starts the game wielding a Katana, but it can't do a damn thing against the Tsukumogami. The Gokon Sword - which CAN - is a double-edged ritual sword of a style popular in Japan's Bronze Age. However, when it comes time to catch Tsukumogami for your own use, the single-most useful one you can find is perhaps the Katana-spirit, despite being a Com Mon. Its two moves have a potent synergy that can easily cut a path for you clear through to the final boss and beyond...
- Mon: The Tsukumogami become this once you've unlocked the power of the Third Gem of the Gokon Sword - though you'll need all 5 gems active in order to fully utilize their power. There isn't actually very many, though - at least not by Mon-game standards. A bit less than the 99 claimed in the english title, even - but thanks to that, Catching Em All isn't all that much of a stretch.
- Multiple Endings: 3, to be specific, with slight variations.
- The Bad Ending, which is normally received by making a wrong choice during the final boss battle - but if you've consistently acted ruthless throughout the story, you'll get locked into it regardless. Hanabusa is possessed by the God of Change and turns into a monster. Komiya passes the Gokon Sword on to Kotetsu, and they chase after her into the swelling bloodshed of the early Sengoku Era.
- The Normal Ending, which basically just requires you to not be COMPLETELY ruthless throughout the game, and not make the wrong choice during the final boss battle. Hanabusa vanquishes the God of Change, causing all of the Tsukumogami - good and bad alike - to vanish. The Capital is safe, and everybody's celebrating... but Sozen, Kotetsu, and Rouran are gone.
- The Good Ending, which requires something close to 100% Completion - you need to spend lots of time talking to NPC's, do a large subquest before a certain point, Catch Em All, and always take the 'good' option in every choice. This nets you a neat suit of armor for Hanabusa, and provides you with a new alternative when you face the God of Change - to preserve the friendly Tsukumogami while destroying the evil ones.
- Olympus Mons: Averted. All of the Tsukumogami you can capture are normal, everyday objects (for Heian-era Japan, anyway), and even the most rare and powerful of them remain so - if you want to build a team of the most rare and powerful spirits around, you won't be looking for legendary gods, but for a dustpan, an oxcart, a kettle and a bell...
- Meanwhile, you get to FIGHT a number of legendary creatures, including a monstrous Oni and the gigantic, skeletal 'gashadokuro'... but you can't capture them, since they aren't Tsukumogami.
- Optional Boss: 4 of them - each a famous Youkai from Japanese mythology. The last couple are arguably tougher than the final boss. You don't get much for defeating them, though - only access to some new areas. Which you'll need to complete a certain subquest. Which you'll need to do if you want the Golden Ending...
- Public Domain Artifact: Though not widely known in the west, the Gokon Sword is a mythical blade said to have been crafted by Abe no Seimei during the Heian era, as a weapon against the Youkai. It's popped up in a few other games and anime, including Shōnen Onmyōji.
- The Man Behind the Man: Gijin acts as the Big Bad throughout the game, but at the very end, it turns out he's just another spirit with a grudge - being used and manipulated by the God of Change, who seeks the downfall of the stagnated, corrupt government.
- Thou Shalt Not Kill / Actual Pacifist: Hanabua clearly follows this rule, even if she never says so outright. Her superb sword-skills are only to be used on the evil spirits of the Tsukumogami, and whenever she winds up in conflict with humans (usually corrupt nobles and their Mooks), she simply runs away, refusing to lift a hand against them. She's even quite hesitant to fight Tsukumogami who take on human form.
- True Final Boss: By the same token as The Man Behind the Man, you'll find yourself pitted against the God of Change immediately after you defeat Gijin - assuming you don't take a sudden left turn into the Downer Ending, that is.
- Vendor Trash: Gemstones and Grains of Gold - which apparently are frequently found just lying around on the ground in Heian-era Japan. The later is far more valuable (for some reason), but neither have any point except to be sold to the store. (Although random Travelers you encounter will sometimes offer a favorable trade for a Gemstone.)
- We Buy Anything / We Sell Everything: There's only one store in the game (despite the owner once mentioning his 'many business-rivals'), but fortunately, it sells everything you could possibly need. Pages for your Spirit Index, Rice-Balls and Medicine, several magical potions (including two kinds of semi-magical alcohol), whetstones and a variety of Onmyodo-related magical objects... the 'Buy Anything' part is somewhat justified in that everything you can possibly sell is also part of their inventory, or fairly reasonable Vendor Trash.
- White Hair, Black Heart:
- Wakeup Call Boss: China Boss, the final boss of the Tavern District, will teach you the importance of utilizing Tsukumogami for combat. Considering that you get the ability to use Tsukumogami offensively rather late, and that Hanabusa is quite capable of slice-and-dicing her way through most enemies by her own strength, it's entirely likely that you haven't paid much attention to picking combat-worthy spirits for your team. By virtue of his high block-rate, rapid HP recovery, and long health-bar, any attempt to fight him without the aid of the Tsukumogami is likely to bog you down for ages, and be ultimately futile - your sword will probably break before he does.