Odin Sphere developer Vanillaware brings their signature hand-drawn 2D style to the Nintendo Wii with Muramasa: The Demon Blade, a touching tale of a boy, a girl, and a whole bunch of swords.
Kisuke is a young ninja in search of his past. Momohime is a young and quiet Japanese princess possessed by the spirit of foul swordsman Jinkuro. Through separate stories, the pair hack and slash their way through ancient Japan, slaughtering their enemies, eating some good food, and occasionally taking a half-naked dip in hidden hot springs to replenish their power and the gamer's will to continue, just in case Momohime's towel slips. It's a hack and slash adventure with some role-playing elements thrown in to spice things up a little.
We all know that Muramasa has the looks to be a great title, but it's what's on the inside that counts, isn't it?
So Very Pretty: In case you've never seen a screenshot and the above image isn't showing up for you, Muramasa is an extremely pretty game. Vanillaware does some truly spectacular things with 2D sprites, to the point that this game and their previous title, Odin Sphere feel like some sort of second generation 2D, rather than a throwback to earlier consoles. The visuals are lush and gorgeous, nearly worth the price of admission alone.
Simple, Sexy Combat: Muramasa's beauty also lies in its simplicity You control your character with the thumbstick and attack with a single button. Combinations of the two perform different attacks, and sure, there are certain times you'll have to use special tactics to defeat a foe efficiently, but for the most part it's as sweet and simple as a hack and slash titles gets, without feeling stale.
The Demon Swords And You: Collecting and forging demon swords is your main focus in Muramasa, outside of progressing the main story. Swords are either won from bosses or forged using a combination of spirit points and souls, collected through battle and exploration. Each sword has different strengths, special powers, and stat requirements. It's these requirements that drive the game's entire leveling system - without them, there really would be no need for the game to be anything other than a very pretty beat-em up. The demon swords add much-needed depth to the title. Not too much depth, but enough.
Big, Beautiful Bosses: Vanillaware really gives their 2D graphics a workout during Muramasa's boss battles. At first the larger-than-life enemies are impressive. Once you find yourself fighting an opponent so large you can only attack its foot, things go way beyond that. These spectacular battles almost make up for the repetitive encounters that make up the rest of the game.
Setting the Stage: Pretty artwork is one thing, but there's also the way the you use said pretty artwork to help ease the player into the Genroku era of Japan. It's all about the presentation, and how the music from Hitoshi Sakimoto's Basiscape studio melds with the imagery to create the full atmospheric effect. Said music is a very pleasing arraignment of period-sounding music, though it doesn't shy away when the moment requires the odd electric guitar. All in all a very nice package.
Pretty Repetitive: At the most basic level, Muramasa is a 2D beat-em up, and that means repetition. A new enemy making its first appearance is exciting enough, but those enemies then tend to show up everywhere you go, and fighting them becomes slightly more of a chore than it is entertaining. Between that and the moderate amount of backtracking required to get from point B back to point A in order to reach point C, the game wears a bit thin at times.
Shallow Beauty: Perhaps I was spoiled by the length and breadth of Vanillaware's Odin Sphere, but I felt as if there just wasn't enough going on in Muramasa. You run. You fight. You run some more. Extra elements like cooking and eating come off as dolled-up versions of simple game mechanics, rather than deep additions. The story is pretty thin as well, providing not much more than simple motivation to move on to the next area.
Muramasa: The Demon Blade is a textbook case of what you see is what you get. If you've seen screenshots and trailers, then you've pretty much know what you are going to be in for, and that's not a bad thing. It's easily one of the prettiest games you'll play on the Wii, and for a game that really only uses two buttons tops, the combat is amazingly satisfying. There's also plenty to do, with new challenges once you make it through the initial 10-12 hour play through of both characters.
If you are looking for a beautiful game for the Wii on the more mindful side of mindless fun, then Muramasa: The Demon Blade is an excellent choice. Just don't expect it to get any deeper than the hot springs that drew so many of you to the game in the first place.
Muramasa: The Demon Blade was developed by Vanillaware and published in North America by Ignition Entertainment for the Nintendo Wii on September 8th. Retails for $49.99. Played through Momohime's story in Muso mode; then played through Kisuke's in Shura mode.
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