OF COURSE there are tentacles and a character with amnesia in th
I really want to know why developers continuously rely on the ole "amnesia" trait for characters in their games. Not only is it old hat at this point, but it just feels like a lazy way to do an RPG. Luckily, that particular complaint really doesn't mean all that much because the story of Muramasa: The Demon Blade really doesn't mean all that much. In fact, it's really a footnote in a very action based RPG.
Muramasa is brought to us by Japanese developer Vanillaware, who's only standout title to this point is a PS2 ARPG called Odin Sphere. It's a two dimensional side scrolling title exclusive to the Wii, although there's nothing in the game that indicates that. There's no funny waggle mechanics that don't make sense; there's no pointing at the screen to navigate menus. In fact, probably the only reason why this game is even on the Wii in the first place is because it is a 2D side scroller and not using super awesome 3D photorealistic visuals.
No, instead The Demon Blade opts for a more simplistic, hand drawn visual style that's both unique and beautiful. This is a perfect example on how to make a wonderfully vibrant and gorgeous Wii game instead of forcing the expectations of the current generation onto the Wii's userbase. At no point did I say to myself "Man, if only this was in HD it would look so much better..." because it just doesn't need it. The audio is top notch as well using spoken Japanese for the primary dialog with English subtitles, and an overall delightful soundtrack.
To start things off, you'll get to choose between one of two playstyles, and one of two main characters. Choosing the "simple" mode will let your character auto parry attacks, generally making the game much less entertaining and more button mashy. Opting for "advanced" controls on the other hand makes you actively block all the incoming attacks, and causes battles to be more challenging and rewarding. The two protagonists are Momohime, a young girl that gets possessed by swordsman's spirit, and Kisuke, a ninja on the run for a crime he just doesn't remember (amnesia!). The characters start out on opposite sides of a rather large world map and can wield three swords from their arsenal as well as one piece of equipment but other than story and model differences, they're effectively the same removing some of the drive to play through as each.
Gameplay is handled by running from story point to story point, often taking time out to slice and dice some bad guys. When you have to fight, a large exclamation point will appear on the screen and your play area will be somewhat gated off, as if you were entering into a fighting arena. Dispatch your foes with easy-to-use controls, and you can keep moving on. Die, and there's no real penalty so you'll get to try it again or even bypass it.
At first, the controls can feel a bit weak and out of your control. I spent a large portion of time just hammering on the A button and pressing towards my enemies until I learned some of the nuances which started making my hundred-hit combos feel like I was actually earning them. Due to the lack of death penalty, the game doesn't really force you to get any better, you'll have to figure that out on your own (or by reading this review). Additionally, while the combat system does get better the more you use it, eventually you'll plateau and it will lose it's luster potentially landing you into overly repetitive zone.
Taking out bad guys earns you experience, spirits, and items which go to improve your character. You do gain character levels, although you don't really have control over that. It'll just up your stats and hit points for you on a fixed basis, but that's not really a problem thanks to the forge system.
Each time you take out bosses and challenge enemies, you'll get a brand new blade. Swords are broken up into two types, either long or regular. Longer swords have more range and deal more damage, but are much slower making your misses that much more painful while regular swords are quick, but have less range and deal less damage. Each sword you obtain from an enemy will fit into what equates to a tech tree found in your pause menu. You'll be able to utilize your obtained swords to create new swords by spending souls and spirit which you obtain by dispatching enemies and eating mass quantities of food. Obtaining new swords and forging new ones is a highly addicting system. Not only do you get more powerful, but each sword has a unique feel to it as well as a special ability (magic). While you're never sure what you're gonna get till you get it, it's a ton of fun to try out your new blades. Additionally, the two playable characters share portions of this sword tree forcing each to obtain a specific blade in each before you can forge the next in line. It's not a requirement to do this, but you certainly get incentivized to do so.
The biggest drawbacks to Muramasa are its repetitive nature and the amount of pointless backtracking you'll need to do. Sometimes after taking down a boss, you'll have to work your way back many unpopulated screens you just fought through to go to a different map branch. It's completely unnecessary except to get the point across that, hey, you're going back where you came from to go somewhere else. If you can overlook these few low points, you'll find a game that's beautiful, entertaining, and quite addictive. You can easily spend 8+ hours with each character, and plenty more trying to get all the blades. Now, lets see about getting those last few for Momohime...
- Hallmark example of how to make a great looking Wii game.
- Addicting collection and forging system for your blades.
- Simple yet deep and engaging fighting system.
- Even with the mirrors, there's too much pointless backtracking.
- For an ARPG, the story is unfulfilling
- Yo! Where's my map-based fast travel?