Genre: 2-D Action/Adventure/RPG
Nintendo Wiifi: None
In Vanillaware’s new 2-D Epic time-piece set in feudal era Japan; “Muramasa: The Demon Blade”, is a side-scrolling action/adventure/RPG, which tells the stories of its two playable protagonists: Kisuke and Momohime. Both have their own individual story-lines, weapons and boss encounters; which provides players with two distinct experiences.
Graphics: Without doubt, this is the first thing you’ll notice about this title, and with good reason. It’s beautifully hand drawn/painted sprites and backgrounds/foregrounds set the amazing visual tone to “Muramasa”, that you won’t be able to take your eyes off of. The diverse geography of Japan is beautifully represented through multi-tiered mosaic backdrops, seen throughout the games various locales.
It’s becoming a rarity to see 2-D titles like this produced anymore, which is a shame, because hand drawn/painted sprites can add such a warmth and personality to a title; that which can clearly be felt in “Muramasa”.
Controls: Perfection. Not a word that I ever use lightly; but in the case of Muramasa, it’s the only one that sums up the silky smooth responsiveness and intuitive feel of controlling this games characters.
Sound: The voice work in this game is astounding. Each of the games characters and NPC’s have distinct and colorful voices. While all of the voicing is in Japanese, you won’t be able to help but take notice of all the voices that overflow with life and character. The titles other ambient sounds (sword swings, slices and clangs) are also very impressive as well.
Score: Muramasa’s score is just as impressive and unique as it’s graphics and visual style. The games different compositions revolve around traditional sounding Japanese melodies played from what sounds like traditional Japanese instruments. In many instances though, these compositions often incorporate attributes from more modern music. You’ll hear anything from electronic and industrial accompaniments to appropriately sounding metal guitar work within the games soundtrack. All of it is so well written that you may find yourself humming a tune or two, even after you stop playing.
Gameplay: The action, or combat aspect of Muramasa’s gameplay is fast, frenetic and always fun. The combat situations happen in RPG-esque, random enemy encounters and then play out in true action game style.
Enemies attack in groups and will each use different methods of attack, which requires a players quick reflexes and a well-rounded knowledge of all their characters offensive abilities and how to use their swords “secret arts” (special attacks) in the most advantageous way possible. Between paying attention to enemies, watching your swords soul power meter (strength meter), looking for striking opportunities, cycling through your swords and healing yourself through the use of food items all in real time, “Muramasa” offers players a very unique gameplay experience; which at its core, is not unlike a juggling act. This formula is what makes the gameplay so engrossing, and its these mechanics which keep the experience from becoming monotonous and boring.
The game does a superb job of balancing the mechanics of its different genres, which it utilizes to make a satisfying and effective gameplay experience.
Story and Script: One might expect a game like “Muramasa”, that already has so much going for it in the visual, sound and game play departments to be lacking story-wise; something which I can happily report is not the case. Each character’s story is very well written and steeped within Japanese folk-lore. During the course of their journeys, you really start to care about these characters and empathize with their plights as well. It’s been a long time since a game has been able to evoke some emotion from me, let alone a fictitious 2-D, action/adventure/RPG set in feudal era Japan.
The script for “Muramasa” is masterfully penned. The character’s lines and especially those of NPC’s are genuine, witty, humorous and again add a lot of warmth and personality to the experience. Localization for the title should also get a big pat on the back for doing such an amazing job of conveying the culture of the game’s characters and language. Although it’s subtitled in English, the words don’t lose any context of Japan’s culture or it’s people.
Ending: After putting a substantial amount of time and effort into a game, there are some things that I think all of us expect from an ending. We expect an ending to provide us with some satisfaction in the stories closure (a rare thing in an age of sequels and spin-offs), we expect the ending to be lengthy and just as good as the game itself. Ninety-nine percent of the time we walk away disappointed; either the game provided us with none of the above or only gave us one or two of the aforementioned qualities of a great ending. Muramasa completely delivers on all of these qualities. Without spoiling anything, the games ending(s) are some of the best in video game history; they’re a great compliment to a great gaming experience, which is a big “thanks” the player. Thank you, Vanillaware.
Enemy frustrations: Bomb spamming Ninjas. Some of the enemy ninjas in this game hand out bombs like candy on Halloween, to the point of player frustration.
No Sale!: The addition of being able to “sell” or even “trade” some of your characters unwanted items would’ve been a big plus. This becomes very evident when upon gaining more levels, you won’t use low value food items anymore or perhaps you find some of the games recovery items to be unnecessary to you. This idea would seem like such a no-brainer that it’s surprising that it was never implemented into the game.
One Item at a time: Your character carries around three swords at any given time. In a move that defies logic, the game only allows players to be able to equip only one piece of “equipment”. “Equipment” is mostly made of up necklaces, charms and other things of that nature. It seems an awful waste to only allow players to be able to equip one piece when you will encounter so many of them. Clearly, this was a missed opportunity to add to the strategy of gameplay.
A Little More Depth: Aside from some of my dislikes of the title, I really would’ve like to have seen a deeper cooking system, perhaps the ability to work up your own recipe books through experimenting with cooking different combinations of food items. And to add to it, maybe the inclusion of a brief, but fun mini-game for cooking as well? The mini-game idea could also work in a fun way for the sword forging in the title as well.
The Verdict: Worth Owning (Contender for “Best Wii Game of 2009?)
EPIC. This best describes Muramasa: The Demon Blade. From sight to sound and to story, the game is truly an epic gaming experience. The 2-D hand drawn sprites hearken back to a simplier and more pure era in video gaming history; which the new generation may find a bit off-putting, but only to their own gaming detriment. The boss encounters in Muramasa are on an epic scale all their own, as these battles will cause hearts to race and hands to perspire. A true nod to the games of old in the era of the new.
Muramasa also delivers in length. At the end of my first play through of the game as Kisuke on the hard difficulty, I found I had clocked in at close to 22 hrs. After finishing Momohimes story and obtaining the games last blade, players can expect a playtime of anywhere between 30-50 hrs depending on which difficulty you choose and your style of play.
I read in an interview with one of Vanillaware’s employees, that this game had been in development for around five years, and it certainly shows. In playing Muramasa it’s plain to see that Vanillaware took their time with every aspect of the game; and in doing so have crafted a real gem.
If you’re the type of gamer that can appreciate a well made, well thought out title with a lot of soul, then go out and purchase this game immediately if you haven’t already; you’ll thank me for it.
As a writer/reviewer, I’ve read a few of the other reviews out there on this title and many of them site the gameplay as being the weakest part of the title, calling it a “button masher”. I found Muramasa to be anything but a button masher. For the review, I played through on the Shura difficulty (hard), and found the button mashing approach to almost always lead to certain death. If you’ve read what I’ve written under “Gameplay”, in the “Likes” portion of this review, I think you can clearly see that there’s quite a bit more going on then just “button-mashing”. Which leads me to wonder what title it was that these other reviewers were playing, and perhaps question how many minutes they actually played it for, before posting their “reviews”.
Some of these “reviewers” have also claimed to have finished up both of the games stories in just under 14 hrs. or so. If that’s the case, they most certainly must be playing the game on the easy difficulty, while running through each screen with out stopping to really take any real notice of the titles beauty. Is this what gaming journalism has come to now? Coincidentally these are also the same “reviewers” that called the game a button masher and claimed it was “too easy” but never bothered to try the “hard” difficulty, a pity.
It’s a sad thing when so many readers today don’t question a game reviewers judgment of a title or their check their journalistic integrity. It’s equally sad that so many readers today will outsource their thinking completely to a game reviewers opinion and never bother to find out for themselves whether or not a title is something that they might really enjoy. Instead, the game reviewers judgment of a title now becomes their own, even though they’ve never even seen the games title screen. They’re gamers that only believe what they’ve heard about a game and only play what they’re told to; they’re no longer gamers, only robots.
Reviews should be thought of as guidelines, not gospel. Find a game reviewer that seems to share the same taste in gaming as you do, and help make the gaming industry work for you and in favor of great titles like this one, not against it. Don’t support schlock game journalism!
The reason I mention this is because in the case of “Muramasa: The Demon Blade”, Wii owners are once again offered an amazing, must-own title that’s not getting the marks it really deserves from the gaming press. So gamers, this is your “Call to Arms”, do us all a favor and help revive the gaming industry. How? In the immortal words of John Lennon: “Think for yourself, ’cause I won’t be there with you“.
The Verdict: Worth Owning
About the Author: Jason Tanner is life-long video game enthusiast and a new contributor here at Nintendo Everything. He also writes for his own Wii game review site at: Wiivolution Now.