Here we are at the outset of the holiday gaming season. Fall and early Winter are coming, and for gamers that means a whole hell of a lot of games to blaze through. So the issue with a holiday like this is always where do spend your hard earned cash. And, I hate to do this to you, Muramasa is likely one of the best places to toss your money this season.
That says a lot, doesn’t it? We’ve got a new Halo title, Brutal Legend, Uncharted 2, NHL 10, Scribblenauts and more coming down the pipeline… and here I am telling you to spend your money on Muramasa: The Demon Blade. But that’s with damn good reason.
Muramasa is a 2-D, action-RPG with extremely thick Japanese stylings. The two stories within are ones rich in Japanese lore, the music is Japanese, the voice acting is Japanese and the art style is Japanese. Muramasa: The Demon Blade, stay with me now, is very Japanese. And it’s gorgeous.
We’ll start there. The 2-d style is so vivid and dramatic that this game instantly becomes a landmark in the genre. Muramasa is completely hand drawn, and that means a lot for those of us with a passion for aesthitics. The colors are deep and well chosen, the animations are smooth and fast and the look and design for the characters and landscapes on screen are fantastic. Truly the highpoint for the title, the attractive qualities of this game will likely have non-gaming friends and family remark on how nice it is. Make sure you head to the last page of this review to see a gameplay trailer.
Along with a vivid art style is a quality pair of two stories. Players will be given the choice of which story to play every time they boot up the game. You can either roll with the story of Momohime or the story of Kisuke. Momohime is a princess possesed by a power-hungry spirit. That spirit has made it his quest to trek across the earth in order to collect The Demon Blades. Then there’s Kisuke, a ninja with amnesia who must trek across Japan in order to collect The Demon Blades… yeah, the stories are very similiar. The characters do, in fact, intertwine quite a bit which does a lot to keep these two stories from feeling so separate. And yes, the storylines themselves are extremely simplistic. But their simple natures are what give them so much room to run. They stand up so well because they feel like their steeped in folklore.
The gameplay itself is extremely straightforward. Ignition (the team behind Muramasa) took the time to flash out the control options to include the Wii Remote, the Classic Controlle and the GameCube controller. So, in short, you can play this game however the hell you please. I found the most comfort with the Remote setup. Items are mapped to the d-pad, attacks are mapped to the A button (it’s that easy) and special attacks, the pause menu and blade switching are all spread out perfectly as well.
Like I said, attacking is done with, essentially, one button. There are accompanying commands, but you’ll find the core of the game rests entirely on the A button. Press A to slash, B to perform a special and C to change blades. You can carry three blades into combat and switch between them at will. Blades will break as you block and parry the blows of opponents, sheath them and they will repair over time.
Combat works on a system of combos and special abilities that harness the soul you collect. Each blade has beneath it a soul bar and its own unique special abilities. Blocks and specials decrease the amount of soul within the bar. Once the soul hits zero, the blade snaps and is rendered basically useless.
The entire game is built around the forging and finding of Demon Blades. Muramasa is a famous sword maker locked in what seems to be an in-between space where he spends all of his time forging you blades. You can forge blades with the souls and spirit you collect as you progress through the game. Blades can only be used once your strength and vitality meet their minimum requirements, you gain strength and vitality as you level up.
This constant need to improve and experiment with your equipment makes Muramasa extremely rewarding. You’ll always be working towards the next, more badass blade as you hack and slash your way around feudal Japan. This addicting need to keep getting stronger seriously makes Muramasa a tough game to put down for any length of time.
A few words about boss fights. They’re long, but they’re amazing. Each boss is unique and they all have very individual battles surrounding them. They range from goofy to horrifying and they are a great feature for the game. The artistic design, character design and combat elements in each boss fight are so well done that you’ll be dying to tussle with your next victim.
If I had to fault Muramasa I’d do it with two points. First of all, the localization team did a good job breaking the thick Japanese down into English subtitles. The voice acting is superb so I think it was a really good choice to keep the Japanese language intact. I will say that knowing Japanese makes this game odd at times. Characters will say one thing in Japanese while the subtitles read completely different. The weird thing is, however, sometimes the dialogue spoken could be translated into like five lines while the subtitles may only display one. So a Japanese phrase may last for 20 seconds as you read about five words worth of subbed dialogue. It sticks out in places but isn’t enough to pull you away from the experience.
Finally, and this is the biggest penalty, is the inherent repetitive nature of the levels. Muramasa is varied in environments. You’ll be in forests, in bamboo, in cities, on castle rooftops, in hell, between worlds, on beaches, on mountains or in caves. It all looks beautiful. But the issue comes when you start noticing that rooms repeat several times. And, on top of that, you’ll be backtracking through this rooms as you keep rolling on your quest. So the repetitive aspects are often times repeated because of backtracking. Yes, the game is gorgeous, but the level design makes the title repeat itself.
Look, if you’re a Wii owner, Muramasa: The Demon Blade is an essential title. Not getting it is basically stupid. The art, music and lore alone are elements worth your time. Stir in some extremely addictive gameplay and you’ve got a winner for this holiday.
CraveOnline Rating: 9.0 out of 10