After all of the trailers, the wondrous screenshots, and the months of waiting, Vanillaware’s latest game, Muramasa: The Demon Blade, is finally in stores. Now that it’s here though, the question becomes, “Is it any good?” This is a title that has been built-up as the next big thing since the moment it was announced, due to its look as a spiritual successor to Odin Sphere, the fantastic, late-life PS2 RPG, so people expected a lot of it. The short answer: Muramasa is not just a good game, but a great one, as it’s one of the best Wii titles of the year and a necessary addition to any gamer’s library.
There are two separate stories you can play through. You can use either Kisuke, a ninja who has forgotten the crime he is being pursued for, or Momohime, who has had her body possessed by the spirit of a master swordsman. Each storyline has different bosses and weapons you can use, and by playing both of them you can unlock additional swords and endings for each character, giving the title some replay value. The stories in this are solid enough, but they are not the strong suit of the game.
Publisher: Ignition Entertainment
Sep. 8, 2009
That distinction would go to, well, everything else. Graphically, the game is stunning. The hand-drawn, animated backgrounds are some of the most stylistic and graphically superior sets in the entire system’s catalog, and look great for any game, not just a Wii one. We’ve noted many times from the trailers that this game looks even better in motion than it does in the screenshots that capture its beauty, but playing the game and seeing it all unfold in front of you is something else. The soundtrack that accompanies this art is fitting; it was created by the same sound team that worked on Odin Sphere, and is made up mostly of atmospheric, Japanese music that occasionally takes it up a notch and introduces newer, faster-paced instrumentation depending on what’s going on in the game world at that time.
Vanillaware cranked the presentation up to 11, but they didn’t spare any expense when it came to gameplay either. You control your character on a 2D plane, fighting enemies that attack and surround you on the ground and in the air. You perform attacks with the A button and special attacks using the B trigger, while jumping is executed by moving the analog stick upward–press it twice to double jump. There are plenty of secrets hidden high up in the levels, so you will want to explore vertically as well as horizontally. Exploration is encouraged in fact, thanks to the game’s design–it’s like a more RPG oriented Metroidvania title, with much faster-paced action. Think Ryu Hayabusa in 2D traversing feudal Japan rather than Transylvania, and you would be close. While there is a lot of backtracking, there are also loads of areas to explore that are off the main path, and many of these areas bring you extra battles (and therefore experience and money) as well as additional items and secret challenge rooms that you can open up only after acquiring the blade specific to that area. These rooms don’t fool around either, as they present you with challenges such as defeating 100 armed monks, or wave after wave of ninja.
On easy, the game is not that difficult. Leveling up and creating swords is your focus here, as well as progressing the story. When you play on the harder difficulty though, the game is significantly different. You can’t just spam the A and B buttons here until everyone on screen is defeated, as you will need to block accordingly and use your special attacks in a more strategic manner; enemies also take much more damage in this mode, so battles will not be as quick. You earn experience and money with each battle, and you can earn bonus experience by avoiding damage, repelling attacks, using Quick Draw attacks–performed by switching blades in the midst of battle to unleash a powerful attack on all enemies in view–and various other objectives. This encourages you to learn the ins and outs of Muramasa’s fighting, as you will progress much faster once you master battling and pick up more experience.
Besides leveling up, there’s another area to progression to pay attention to, and that’s forging swords. There are over 100 blades in total in the game, and you will need to create progressively more powerful ones in order to succeed. The lifespan of a blade is pretty short, as you will unlock the ability to make new ones each time you defeat a boss, and will most likely have created all of the new ones available to you by the time you unlock another major blade. Special attacks often repeat in more powerful swords though, so don’t feel like you need to hold on to an inferior blade just because you’re partial to its special feature. You will also use all of the blades you acquire, sometimes within the same battles, as blades break from taking too much damage, using special attacks, or from blocking incoming attacks. They repair themselves when in your sheath, so they aren’t broken forever, but the best strategy is to sheathe a blade prior to its breaking point–this unleashes the Quick Draw attacks mentioned above–and move on to the next one. Blades are broken up into Long and normal types, with the smaller ones better for quick attacks or aerial fighting, while the longer blades work well for cutting through swaths of enemies at once.
There are three difficulties in Muramasa, and the third is even more intense than the original hard, and is only unlocked by completing the story mode. In Shigurui difficulty, the game plays much like it did on easy, but with one major caveat: no matter your level, you have one hit point the entire game. Now that, my friends, is a challenge mode. Combine this with the multiple endings for each character and the two separate stories, each of which should take you 6-8 hours to complete, and you’ve got yourself a game well worth the price of admission.
Blast Factor: There has not been a better looking game on the Wii this year, and it’s also one of the better playing titles on the system in 2009. Muramasa: The Demon Blade is a must-have for any gamer, as the game’s easier settings allow even those not accustomed to action games to enjoy the story, gameplay and gorgeous graphics, while those looking for a challenge are sure to find it on the two more difficult modes. Highly recommended.
Muramasa: The Demon Blade is available exclusively on the Nintendo Wii, and retails for $49.99