Some games just stay with you. One that hasn’t left my head for more than a month at a time, since I first played it in mid 2016, is Furi.
Furi is a boss rush game. You are Dangerous McSamuraiGuy (actual name The Rider), escaping from an orbital prison by killing your captors. The jailer is the key – kill him, and you’ll be free.
I’m a combat guy. I love a good combat system. It’s the reason I can’t play Skyrim (shots fired – to the knee).
Furi has combat in spades. It is, much like Sekiro, a flashy version of Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!. Tough tests of reaction speed and counters, requiring you to get a string of evasive maneuvers right before an opportunity to attack is revealed.
There’s a lot they need to get right with how quick and varied the incoming attacks are. Harder fights give you only a fraction of a second to respond to a threat with a handful of possible moves. It’s brutal and I’m here for it.
But more and more, I’m finding it’s not the combat side of the game that sticks in my head. It’s everything else.
Furi. Come for the combat, stay for the story. The music. The ideas.
Peaking At An Unexpected Time
Furi is kind of a refinement of the formula that existed in Afro Samurai, The Game Bakers’ previous game. On paper, one might say Afro Samurai would be the one standing the test of time. It had voicing by Samuel L. Jackson, and music by the RZA. It wasn’t a rehash of the anime’s story, but added to it.
It just didn’t have one key element. The combat was a little wonky.
Fast forward a few years and the studio has another crack at the formula, this time without a big Hollywood actor, without a legendary rapper, without a major anime IP behind it. It switches the style to neon synthwave, and takes bold risks with the story. It was Furi.
Still, the long walks with an NPC chattering in the ear of a mute protagonist. Still, the silent samurai who’ll pop out his blade towards anyone in his path. Still, the unraveling mystery of the world’s rules and why this is happening.
But this time, it was part action game and part shmup. The action itself was refined, with a Souls-like evasion that gave you invincibility frames, and lots of reaction tests that gave you less time to enter the correct input than most action RPGs would dare.
Then the camera would shift into an arena-wide shmup view, as if this were a Nier game, and you’d have to get through bullet hell before your next true crack at the boss. I can imagine getting this right is tough – you have to have all the action and shmup elements just so, fine-tuning the levers of two genres instead of just one. But the results can be truly special, as we saw with Returnal.
Furi‘s Commitment To Story
My friends tease me about comparing everything to Dark Souls, and I’m about to prove them right. I think traditional storytelling definitely has a place in games, but where they really come into their own is the type of understated, left-to-be-discovered storytelling that lurks under the surface of Souls games.
Granted you can be understated in a traditional narrative, but it’s hard to live in that traditional, linear storytelling space while being as understated as, say, the architecture of a world. Storytelling through level design is inherently more understated and possible to miss.
Furi embraces both of these styles. There’s a lot to figure out just from the world around you, and there’s a lot that’s left unsaid in what the other characters say to you. It’s unclear why all of this is happening, and when you finally get a payoff at the end – whether you trigger the special ending or not – it’s worth it.
We’re entering spoiler territory now, so ye be warned! I’d recommend playing Furi before reading the rest of this section.
One of the most important moments involves a boss who finally explains to you why you’re being held captive. She says your very presence is a threat to the planet below, and you can’t be allowed to set foot on it. Everyone will die. You don’t know if she’s trying to trick you, but so far trying to kill you hasn’t worked, so she tries persuasion.
She offers you a deal – stay with her, in this paradise of an arena, and keep each other company until you grow old and die. She’s willing to give you her time, affection, her whole self, so that those she loved on the planet below can keep living. She makes a good argument. It would be a good life. And if you do?
You have to respect a game that’s so committed to its story, it’s willing to accept the player might not see half of its linear narrative due to player choices. This is more impressive to me than, say, the recent Far Cry games with easter egg endings. In Furi, this is halfway through the game. You’re invested.
For me it’s more on par with The Witcher 2 – a huge chunk of the content just might never be seen by the player, because player choice is important.
In another arena, the boss simply isn’t there. Your companion tells you he “took care of him”. It’s left to the player to figure out that this jailer is in fact your guide, who became so desperate to see his daughter he was willing to risk letting the world burn just to embrace her one last time.
The last fight is your typical “final boss is not the most powerful boss” gaming trope, but done with such an interesting take I absolutely love it.
The last boss is a kid. Albeit one with special abilities, but a kid who is ultimately weak in comparison to The Rider. This kid’s family didn’t want her to live in this prison, to risk fighting you. But she has a gimmick that could make the difference between you escaping and you staying contained. She’s willing to put it all on the line for a low-percentage play because the stakes are global annihilation.
This results in a fun level, ultimately easy, which could just be interpreted as the game giving you a fun reward for taking down the brutal conga-line of bosses prior. But if you pay attention to her story, it really hammers home how much these jailers are willing to sacrifice just so their world can live.
Whether the world actually burns or not comes down to a decision you make towards the end. Do you punish the world who imprisoned you? Do you save their lives because the experience has touched and changed you? Do you only want to get one more fantastic boss fight out of the game? Whatever is important to you, you can take that path.
The Messiah Of Synthwave
One absolutely cannot talk about Furi without talking about its epic soundtrack. It’s a big part of what makes a game live inside your head for so long. It’s why I still think about FIFA 09, out of all the FIFA games. Furi‘s music matched its setting and story in a way that’s on par with Ocarina of Time.
I’ve had other players tell me the same – that Furi started them on this synthwave journey and they haven’t got off the train since. Why would you? Synthwave is amazing.
My first port of call was buying the Furi soundtrack, and from there, looking into all its individual artists like Carpenter Brut and The Toxic Avenger. YouTube recommendations helped me take it from there.
When I’m at a party using turntables, I’ll slyly mix in some Waveshaper into some house music and it never ends badly. It’s great music for working, it’s great music for exercise, it’s great to have on at a party… Synthwave has been good to me.
If you haven’t checked Furi out, maybe this’ll convince you. Or maybe it’s not your cup o’ tea, and that’s fine too. Regardless of preference, it’s still fun breaking down what makes a game so great.
Now, to finally try their next game Haven!