Video Game Review
Muramasa: The Demon Blade
Developed by: Vanillaware
Published by: Ignition Entertainment
It’s easy to fall in love with Muramasa: The Demon Blade although it’s likely that not most people will. It’s not that it’s a bad game that has a certain amount of charm to it but it’s because this fantastic game is published by Ignition Entertainment; a small third-party publisher. Titles published on the Wii by the small guys rarely make it into the hands of most people. It’s a shame because not only is Muramasa a gorgeous looking game but it’s extremely fun as well. It borrows enough from crowd-favourites like Castlevania and Viewtiful Joe to satisfy those who are completely perplexed by the game’s story (which will be anyone who isn’t Japanese). The game does drag at times but, even then, it will be very hard to put down the controller.
The game takes place in Japan’s past and is split into two stories of which the player can choose to play at any time. The first involves a ninja named Kisuke who is on the run for a crime he can’t even remember committing and his search for a mythical sword and to defeat his accusers. The second story involves a princess named Momohime who has become possessed by an evil spirit Jinkuro Izawa. Izawa is forced to stop an evil power greater caused by his taking over of Momohime’s physical form. The two stories are independent of each other even though they take place on the same map. Most of the major enemies are completely different. Essentially, the game feels like two games in one…or the same game played twice.
Although the game can be played with just the Wiimote (played on its side without motion controls), the preferred way to play is with the Classic Controller or with a Gamecube controller. Explaining the control schemes with the different controllers would take several paragraphs so for the sake of everyone’s sanity, I’ll just brief it down to a few bullet points. The game is playable with the Wiimote but not only is it easier to use either the Classic or Gamecube controllers but it does make the game more enjoyable as it does feel a bit more intuitive. The controls lend themselves well to the action style of gameplay although pressing up instead of having a dedicated button is kind of perplexing and can be a bit of a problem during a heated battle. That said, the game is long enough that players should feel comfortable enough with the controller setup long before the final boss fight that nobody could use it as an excuse for the final boss handing them their lunch.
The major gimmick of the game (other than the gorgeous art style) is that the player can possess three blades at a time and that there are essentially 108 swords that one can acquire throughout the game. Each sword possesses different abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. Also each sword has its own unique technique that may make on more favourable than a comparable sword with a less impressive or productive specialty (although there are some swords that have the same technique). Some swords are found throughout the game but most of the swords are acquired by levelling up both the character and possessing enough souls and spirits. Since souls and spirits are in short-demand, it makes levelling up swords into a strategy. It’s very neat and it does make the usual concept of levelling-up a character feel different. The only problem is that it still encourages grinding.
The swordplay is done well. The player can possess three swords at a time and while the player can swap weapons when you’re not in battle, once the screen closes in and one is face to face with an enemy, they’re stuck with what they’ve got. That’s when things get interesting. The player can easily swap between the three swords they’ve got equipped. However, using a sword too much can cause it to break. Once a sword is broken, the damage a player can lash out with it is very small. However, putting it back in its sheath and selecting another equipped sword will allow the broken sword to regain its energy and get fixed. The sword’s energy gauge is on the screen next to the player’s life screen so there are few surprises as to why a sword suddenly breaks. Generally, using it on defense too much and firing off too many of the weapon’s special move will cause it to shatter. This gives even the battles a strategic element. Some may find if close to the Active Battle System seen in some RPGs.
But the game doesn’t really feel like an RPG. Sure, there’s character levelling and the battles on paper look like RPG battles since once enemies appear, the player is stuck inside the game screen and forced to battle the enemies. However, it feels more like an action game similar to Castlevania than a Final Fantasy game. The game, while linear, does have a map system that is very similar to the Castlevania (or Metroid) series. The action itself reminds me of Viewtiful Joe. Even though the game is swamped with old Japanese cultural references, the story isn’t required reading for the game unlike most RPGs (I barely understood the story at all and the few references I understood were because I took a few courses in Asian history in university).
However, the thing that will make you fall into the game hard is the atmosphere. The graphics are great. In fact, even though it’s on the Wii, it was one of the prettiest games to come out at its time even compared to the more powerful systems available. The reason why is because it uses a 2D art style that looks like everything was hand-drawn. Sure this game could have easily been made for the PS3 or the Xbox 360 but it wasn’t. The only thing we have to go by is the Wii version and it’s a thing of beauty. I’m not a fan of Japanese-style games and even I was taken in by the beauty of this game. To compare a title like this to even something as good-looking as Wario Land: Shake It is like comparing a horse to a snail in a race. The sound is good and fits the mood well. It has a Japanese style mixed with modern beats that won’t turn off those who cringe at even thinking about anything anime related. There is speech but it’s in Japanese. Some may not like it but it fits the title better than had there been English dubbing.
There are some problems though. Grinding is an issue and some may not like the quasi-random battles (although personally I found enemy appearances were a little predictable so it didn’t raise my ire all that much). Also, there will be times where you’ll be going through several screens of nothing but gorgeous scenery. It’s like the enemies decided to take a coffee break. There’s also a fair bit of backtracking that can feel tedious.
Still, Ignition’s Muramasa: The Demon Blade is one of the best action-RPG’s on the Wii and of the current generation. Its battles are intense and the strategy elements implemented are very novel. If you’re lucky enough to find yourself a copy you’re bound to have a lot of fun with the title. It may be on the bizarre side but in the end it turns out to be a great overall experience.