Review by Archmonk Iga
"A beautifully crafted game with fluid and simple 2-D action/RPG gameplay."
I don't have much of a story in how I got interested in Muramasa: The Demon Blade. I read a little about it, and when it came out I thought it looked sweet. So I played it. And it was pretty sweet. It didn't exceed my expectations, it didn't disappoint me... It was basically what I thought it would be.
Prepare to have your English-speaking mind boggled. There are two stories to play through in the Japanese setting in Muramasa. One is the story of Kisuke, a young rebel-ninja with no memory but with a fiery passion to recover it. The other is the story of Momohime, whose soul is kicked out of her body because the spirit Jinkuro possesses it. Both stories involve the Demon Swords, which are cursed and must see bloodshed before they can be sheathed. The stories are a bit all over the place and they give you a cool sense of the old-school days, though they are pretty darn bland. Thankfully they don't take themselves too seriously. It's cool how Momohime's is so much more focused and direct while Kisuke incorporates a little mystery to it. I think I prefer Momohime's story a bit more just because her antics with Jinkuro bring some great comedy to the game. I also kind of wish the NPC's throughout the lands would say different things depending on who you're playing as. Is that really too much to ask? It's not a big deal, but it would have been a nice little addition. Another thing I would have liked was the two stories crossing paths. Now and then the two protagonists meet each other in a hot spring, but that's as far as it goes.
Yes, the graphics are perhaps some of the best the Wii has to offer. You will be completely mesmerized by these hand-drawn landscapes. They are colorful and have the most fluid animations I've seen so far in a sidescroller. You will often find yourself looking at the backgrounds instead of at your character. I was a bit let down that the landscapes are often repeated in completely different levels, but the visuals department in this game is far and away its best feature.
Musically, Muramasa is fantastic. I wish there were more tracks, but what you get is nevertheless quite fulfilling. The eastern-influence blended with that timeless Japanese videogame rock that we know from our favorite games of yore, with a one-up because it's on a current-gen system, makes the soundtrack one worth tracking down on eBay. The voice-acting is in Japanese, and you can skip through it if you want. I think it was very well-done for every character, with everyone fitting their voices while holding onto the cartoony vibe to the game as a whole. Lastly, the sound effects are great, from the light splashes your character makes while running over water to the swift sounds of your blades being slashed.
First and foremost I should let you know that you can play this game with a Wii-remote, a Classic Controller, or a Gamecube controller. It does not incorporate the remote's motion controls in any way, so I would definitely recommend one of the latter two options. I'd also like to add that there are virtually no loading times to be seen while you play through the game, which is quite a treat.
Both characters perform the exact same ways in battle--the only differences are in the graphical animations they are given. If you were looking for variety in the gameplay department as well as the story department depending on your character, then you're only gonna get half of that. And while the combat system works well, it would have been nice if the two characters fought differently.
And maybe that is my problem with this otherwise great game. Everything it offers, works. The only thing that doesn't work in Muramasa is that it is lacking.
The combat is simple and fun, where you control your character to fluidly slash through all the enemies that appear in the random battles. But it's missing any depth aside from jumping, running, slashing, and the powerful change of swords and special abilities. I love how the swords each have their own little power, but these powers are often repeated in stronger swords and there are only two sword types to control (blade and long blade). Slashing and comboing throughout an entire battle is fun, but it doesn't take a whole lot of effort to get really good at it. Sure, the enemies get stronger and the numbers all get bigger as the game goes on, plus the boss battles are all amazing spectacles and pretty challenging. But the level of difficulty never really increases. Not to mention the fighting is incredibly simple to begin with. Another slight problem is that the enemies are often pushed offscreen when you attack them, so it can be annoying to have to wait for them to come back onscreen so you can fight them again.
The process of building your character is a cool idea. Collect the soul flames throughout the land while eating enough to gain spirit (just don't get too full!). As long as your strength and vitality (which builds from leveling up, along with HP) is high enough, you can create new, stronger swords. The grid that is used for you to track your sword-making process should have allowed us to zoom in and out, though. Going along with that, the map is very handy, but it also should have allowed us to zoom in and out. It's another small subtraction from the game that could have easily been added on.
Following in the footsteps of the 2-D Metroid and Castlevania games, Muramasa encourages its players to explore their surroundings. This is fun for the simple fact that you get to look at the beautiful graphics a lot, but since they repeat all the time, the exploration aspect of this game is a simple excuse to tack unnecessary hours onto the game clock. Not only that, the rewards you get are never as fulfilling as they are from Metroid or Castlevania. I came all this way for some lame item that allows me to escape from a battle? Laaame. What's worse, the game's exploration is often quite the oppositebacktracking and lots of it.
So looking at the entire picture of Muramasa, I feel that this game's gameplay only makes it halfway. It has an awesomely simple and engaging interface, especially in the combat, but it's missing a lot (or isn't missing enough, in regards to the backtracking). The gameplay is fun once you turn it on, but fun is as far as it goesfor the most part, it's not very deep or engaging.
You can play through each story once in less than 20 hours. Both stories have multiple endings and multiple difficulties, though. There are also lots of areas to explore and over 100 swords to create between the two characters. But with a game this simple, doing all there is to do will only be for the most devoted players.
REPLAY VALUE: 6.5/10
If you like 2-D sidescrolling action/RPGs, then you will like Muramasa: The Demon Blade. I like 2-D sidescrolling action/RPGs, and I therefore like this game. It's nothing for the history books of gaming, but it works for what we are playing this generation.
Thanks for reading =)
Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 05/12/10
Game Release: Muramasa: The Demon Blade (US, 09/08/09)
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