Game Review

Muramasa: The Demon Blade Review

USA USA Version

Posted by Jon Wahlgren

Gorgeous, engrossing, flawed.

A lot of Muramasa: The Demon Blade's pre-release hype hinged on its art; while you could get a good impression of the beauty of the game, it isn’t until you have it in motion on your own screen that it hits you. Vanillaware has delivered a visual and aural feast in its portrayal of feudal Japan; Muramasa is truly a painting in motion. Sun beams glistening through the forest and over mountain tops coupled with serene music will make you stop dead in your tracks to soak it all in. Not only is it one of the best-looking games this gen on any platform, the game belongs among a select group of titles whose true potential is held back by the Wii’s HD inadequacies.

In short, it’s beautiful. And it’s a blast. With two playable characters each with their own story, you’ll traverse Japan slashing up all sorts of samurai, beasts, giant bosses and folklore critters while cooking and forging blades. Throw in some Metroid-style map exploration and it’ll take you a good while to fully explore all of what the island has to offer.

Possessed by the spirit of fallen samurai Jinkuro Izuna, Momohime is forced to flee her comfy life as Princess of Narukami and complete Jinkuro’s quest for the titular Muramasas, blades that, once removed from their sheaths, require blood be drawn before they can be returned to their scabbard. The other story follows Kisuke, an amnesiac fugitive on a quest to find out why his former samurai clan wants him dead. The tales are interesting and occasionally the two characters cross paths, but their climaxes are fairly underwhelming and you can’t shake the feeling of “that’s it?” after eight or so hours of sticking with them. You’re also required to do a lot of backtracking throughout, which feels needless at times and artificially extends the game. Quick travel is available upon completion for explorers, but it’d be nice to have that available in the main game.

Combat is pretty simple and hinges largely on (A) and moving in any direction; you can bust out all sorts of slashes, combos, blocks and Crouching Tiger-style acrobatics in doing so. There are a few other moves, such as whatever special attack each of the 108 blades has or unsheathing a blade for a full-screen strike, but it ultimately all amounts to a lot of button-mashing.

Each blade has a “soul” meter that acts as a health bar for it, which is depleted by blocking and using its special attack. If this meter depletes, the blade will break and must be sheathed to repair itself. Many of the special attacks are tiered and/or similar to other ones, so 108 “unique” attacks is a bit of a stretch. Fortunately, combat stays fun throughout the game and is always a pleasure to watch unfold, but it doesn’t require a lot of skill.

Muramasa does nothing to take advantage of the Wii’s signature motion controls, which is likely for the better. No needless waggle has been shoehorned in, you won’t tire your wrist from slashing oni. A Classic Controller or GameCube pad work great, and you can also use a ‘mote + nunchuck combo. Jumping is done by pressing up on (DPAD) or (STICK), which can take some getting used to.

In addition to killing things dead, Kisuke and Momohime will be doing a lot of blade forging and cooking. There are two types, blades and long blades, that follow typical fighting properties: blades are quicker but with a shorter range, long blades are slower but tend to cause higher damage and can reach further. Blade forging is presented in a branching layout, requiring you to have certain ones in order to forge others, and you’ll need souls and spirit to craft new weaponry. Souls are scattered throughout the map and are left behind by fallen foes, with spirit gained through cooking and eating.

Cooking is an oddly hands-on thing; pick a recipe you have the ingredients for and press (A) at certain intervals to make/eat your dish. If you don’t, food will go unprepared or uneaten. Some food is eaten right away while others can be stored in your inventory and used to recover health. Every time you eat something, a fullness gauge pops up and must deplete in order to eat again; there’s no stuffing yourself with six rice balls at a time in battle and be practically invincible. Some food also comes with special properties, like attack boosts or minimizing enemy encounters.

There are two styles of game to choose from, muso and shura, which essentially equate to difficulty levels. Muso is easier, allowing you to block more often and plow through normal enemies relatively unscathed without a lot of planning and you’ll level up quicker. Shura forces you to be more methodical in your attacks, as your blades will break easier and blocking isn’t as efficient. You can switch between these two in-game if you’re looking to fiddle with the challenge.

Conclusion

Muramasa: The Demon Blade and games of its ilk are increasingly rare beasts. With its striking hand-painted art direction, fun combat and exploration, it’s the type of game that brings solace to those who lament the death of 2D on consoles. While it may have some niggles with backtracking, lame endings and button-mashing combat that hold it back, overall the game is as engrossing as they come and certainly one worth investing a chunk of time into.

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User Comments (55)

AlphaNerd01

#2

AlphaNerd01 said:

My only complaint is the price tag. I rented the game, loved it - but it's clearly a 30 dollar title. 50 dollars is way high for a game like this.

JayArr

#5

JayArr said:

After reading a few reviews this has made it's way to my "rent not own" list. Drop dead gorgeous though.

motang

#6

motang said:

[strike]I will be picking this one up on way home from work today![/strike]
Didn't pick it up, but I did get it as a gift for Christmas from my friend. :D

DAaaMan64

#8

DAaaMan64 said:

Man I really think this game is like a 9. The back tracking and "button-mashing" is nothing when your addicted to sword creation, leveling up, and getting to the next boss.

Machu

#10

Machu said:

I just looked at the number without reading the review, I want to know as little as possible about this one. Can't wait to get an EU release date!

Awesome review btw.

joeshabadoo

#11

joeshabadoo said:

Alphanerd, $30 game?!, are you kidding!? The amount of love poured into this game easily warrants a $50 price tag. Also, Jonathan, the fast travel is available in the main game prior to "beating" it with a character. But I find the traveling to be a very Zen experience of artistic and natural appreciation, as well as more opportunity to level

paulcmnt

#12

paulcmnt said:

Muramasa Review: Conclusion wrote:

With it’s striking hand-painted art direction [...]

AHHHH! My eyes! My eyes! Please fix it, please! (crying) :P
EDIT: Thanks! ^^

A good review otherwise — just like the game. ;)

SwerdMurd

#13

SwerdMurd said:

Yeah I agree with 8/10, maybe even 7/10....it's an awesome game, but yeah the storyline is ridicutarded, it's a bit too short, the sword tree is super linear, and there are just a few moments of questionable game design choice. But yeah, about to finish Momohime's quest and I had a great time. Then back to FuSoYa's quest in FF4TAY, then the rest of the main!

LEGEND_MARIOID

#14

LEGEND_MARIOID said:

Nothing in the review that discourages me from purchasing it. Don't like the choice of button for jump. Why not A to jump and B to combat?

#15

said:

sounds as boring as okami. I'd better rent it.

The_Fox

#16

The_Fox said:

This is another example of great graphics, no so great gameplay. The art is sweet, but it has plenty of problems. I'd say around the 7/10 range, myself.

ejamer

#18

ejamer said:

"I hate 'up' as a jump button.
There is no way to customize controls in this game?"

Actually, I'd love to hear this also. Pressing up to jump isn't something I'm keen on either... so alternate control schemes would be nice.

JamieOStaff

#19

JamieO said:

Cheers Jonathan, this review has me as amped up as much as ever and I appreciate that you are clear regarding the backtracking, endings and slightly basic combat controls. Fair play.
That is all cool to me, an 8/10 is a quality score and I will play through this one just to experience its fun gameplay. I also know that I will enjoy travelling through "one of the best-looking games this gen", it looks completely dazzling.
Thanks, a great review. :)

Bring_Back_Pluto

#20

Bring_Back_Pluto said:

........bad review....i'm giving you one hour to explain to me what a niggle is. I refuse to look for context clues or online for a defintion.

Ristar42

#21

Ristar42 said:

@SeanAaron an EU release would be cool, but King of Fighters and Samurai Showdown collections never did show up from Ignition in any proper numbers, and they were released in March this year...

JamieOStaff

#22

JamieO said:

@Ristar42 You're right, I was fortunate enough to find King of Fighters on pal PS2, but Samurai Shodown Anthology is a rarity.

Syr

#23

Syr said:

Saying the game is flawed in the first three words of the review is not a way to convince someone that a game is good, as an 8/10 is trying to do. When people see such a negative comment so early on it overshadows all positive things could ever be mentioned, there is no coming back from that. I bet dozens of people will not even consider buying this game because of that single word. In the review the only 'flaws' pointed out are rather small nitpicks, not game breaking problems as is implied. IMO that word should be stricken from the review, but other than that, I agree with what was written.

Simply an awesome game and should be bought by all self-respecting Wii owners!

Ristar42

#24

Ristar42 said:

@JamieO - Yep, it sucks, I've never seen the Wii version of either except on Ebay. I contacted Ignition some time ago but they didn't reply. Have to stick with my Dreamcast / Saturn versions...

TorisuRSG

#25

TorisuRSG said:

Hi, I'm from Rising Star Games - we intend to release Muramasa on 13 November 2009 in the EU.

The_Fox

#29

The_Fox said:

@Syr post 23:
Is it hard being so over the top? Those 3 words you're talking about also included gorgeous and engaging. Get a grip.

Syr

#30

Syr said:

@The Fox Actually, it comes quite easily. :P To say it is flawed after saying it is gorgeous and engaging is like saying "Yeah, I had this sandwich. It had great ingredients and looked gourmet, but wasn't very good." To end a description negatively is to dismiss the good things said prior.

Nothing against the reviewer though, great work Jonathan!

DAaaMan64

#31

DAaaMan64 said:

You'd understand the Up for jump thing after you play the title for a while. Its very necessary in combat. I didn't like it at first, but once I kicked ass at combat I did.

Complaining about the sword tree being to linear is retarded. Theres a HUNDRED freaking swords and the do it in like 7 rows. Its only as linear as you make it.

The length isn't amazing but if you did it with no side quests you'd probably beat it in 12 hours. Thats a hell of a lot better then you'd get from other games. I know you've bought a game you enjoyed less, beaten in 6 hours, and aren't regretting buying. (WiiMusic)

And at least the story line is more interesting the Twilight Princess.

Sean_Aaron

#32

Sean_Aaron said:

@Ristar42: TorisuRSG beat me to it, but Ignition UK and USA are not identical in their releases and Rising Star are handling Muramasa over here. The problems with the titles you mention are down to distribution; I'd keep going at Ignition and also try amazon.de or .se as I understand availability on the continent should be fine.

@TorisuRSG: Nice to see you! Needless to say Rising Star is one of my very favourite publishers. GAME doesn't have Muramasa up for pre-order yet or I'd have pre-ordered it already. Any idea on when we can expect Fragile to grace our shores and pretty please can you guys consider Phantom Brave for localisation (even better would be if you could convince Nintendo to license Captain Rainbow!)?

JamieOStaff

#33

JamieO said:

@SeanAaron Cheers Sean, some great advice on getting hold of some difficult to find Ignition UK, Wii SNK/Playmore titles there.
I have not imported from other European sites, even though I import from Canada and Hong Kong. I seem to remember UK gamers talking about importing Pal 'Fire Pro Wrestling Returns' (PS2) from other parts of Europe. I think that I've misssed the boat on that one, though. Cheers.

TorisuRSG

#34

TorisuRSG said:

@Sean Aaron, thanks for your kind words. We intend to release Fragile early 2010 but I can't yet be any more specific than that, sorry. I'll pass on the game suggestions but no promises! :)

FantasiaWHT

#35

FantasiaWHT said:

I'd waffle and maybe give it a 7 instead of an 8...
a) Yes, it's gorgeous
b) The button mashing is pretty fun
c) The stories suck. Period. Confusing, I have NO CLUE why I'm doing what I'm doing right now as the girl.
d) You have to switch swords too frequently. Just as you are starting to get used to one's special attack, you need a stronger one. Some I've never even gotten to use their special attacks
e) Some of the special attacks are virtually useless
f) There's bad collision detection when you swing your sword
g) Related to d), there's NO PRACTICE MODE. You can't test out moves and combos, and can't learn what a new special attack does until you are in the heat of combat.

FantasiaWHT

#36

FantasiaWHT said:

And yeah, I actually agree that the sword tree is linear. Despite it's "branches", you have to wait for story points for most of them, and there is rarely more than 1 or 2 swords you can make (or at least use) at any given time because the required stats for them are so spread out

Sean_Aaron

#37

Sean_Aaron said:

@TorisuRSG: Please, you guys deserve it for doing such a great job with that stuff. Of course it probably helps that Marvelous has been publishing great games in Japan for you to bring over!

I strongly recommend getting that guy from the Little King's Story video more work -- not just because he's an articulate and good-looking fellow, but because his enthusiasm really came through and sold me the game. I was interested but not ready to buy upon release; after that video I pre-ordered it right away!

Ristar42

#38

Ristar42 said:

@SeanAaron Thanks for the suggestions Sean, its frustrating when you are trying to support quality 2D games on Wii, and you cant find them anywhere amid shelves of 'Ready Steady Cook' and 'Ninja Bread-man'.
@TorisuRSG Great - looking forward to a November release and shall pick this up!

CanisWolfred

#40

CanisWolfred said:

I might give it a rent. I was afraid that the combat would be too mashy, although with THAT many different weapons, it may not be much of a problem. It's the art that so far has physically blinded me everytime I watch a trailer that's the main issue here.

TorisuRSG

#41

TorisuRSG said:

@SeanAaron do you mean Tyrone Walcott? He's one of my colleagues and I keep trying to persuade him to do more videos. Hopefully he will now I've shown him your comment!

@Ristar42 many thanks - I'm sure you will enjoy it.

Zork2

#43

Zork2 said:

I got this game and it's incredible. Muramasa is the Wii's Symphony of the Night.

CanisWolfred

#44

CanisWolfred said:

After watching a decent portion of the gameplay, I am seriously considering renting this game.

And am I the only one who doesn't like the look of this game? The movement and animations just seem awkward to me, and I hate the artsyle.

Croz

#45

Croz said:

Just bought this today, got my Datel classic controller hooked up and I gotta say I’m loving it so far, if you’re on the fence about this game, and you like a good 2D platforming adventure just buy it!

Tate24

#48

Tate24 said:

i just bought this from hmv! for £30 pounds. and i love it and i think it deserve at least 9/10. Hmv is only place ive seen this game and there were only two copys in store? No one seems to be stocking this game & its bloody shame! This out-rates all them half baked titles that are two short or to crammed with tons rubbish mini games and pointless waggling!
Games like this are unique & deserve attention!! and should be in your collection!

do yourself favour get this now!!

Deviant_Mugen

#49

Deviant_Mugen said:

This is another one of the many games on my "to buy" list--sadly, it'll have to wait a while...

Great review, by the way.

gblock

#51

gblock said:

Just found this on clearance at Sears for $19.99 and picked it up. For that price point, I'm sure it's well worth it.

vdallos

#52

vdallos said:

I give a 9 to this game. The beauty of the game, the music, the narration...

Mariru

#53

Mariru said:

I got it a few days ago for just 10$! I think it's a really good game and the graphics are amazing <3
@vdallos Me too

ToxieDogg

#54

ToxieDogg said:

Meh. I bought this a while ago for £25 (also from HMV) on the strength of reviews but have ended up disappointed. Sure, it's beautiful to look at and competent to play, but it's gameplay is as hollow as a drinking straw...extremely repetitive and with precious little variety except for boss fights....you get a whole bunch of different swords to use but combat is pretty much the same with all of them...button bash and jump around when you need to. A real shame, as I usually like games of this genre and really wanted to like this too, but ultimately I wouldn't award this anything higher than a 6 (or a being-generous 7).

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