Muramasa: The Demon Blade

The push for photo realism in games has really drawn attention away from games with great sprite art. Muramasa: The Demon Blade is a title that got completely lost in the American market, in part because of it’s being a sprite-based side-scrolling action game and in part due to its being released on the Wii. In fact, I remember being interested in the title before it was released here and then totally forgot about it until a friend brought it to my attention again. I’m glad he did because the game really hit me on an aesthetic level and brought me into the world of magical ancient Japan.

The graphics really bring the story to life, as ridiculous as it might be. The game features two characters in stories that run simultaneously to one another, converge, and then never happen. It’s brilliant in a way. On the one hand, you play as Momohime, the second princess in line for power. She witnesses the death of a master swordsman, who then transfers his soul into her body to get revenge for his death. His goal is to master the demon blades, defeat the gods themselves, and achieve immortality. On the other hand, you play as Kisuke, a young ninja who should have died if not for a swordsman’s somehow transferring his life (and abilities) to the boy. Kisuke seeks vengeance and justice. What the stories have in common are the demon blades, or Muramasa, which are self-healing swords and incredibly sharp. They are tough enough to cut through demons and gods – and some may be sharper than that!

One of the strange highlights of the game is that your characters make food and eat food. The latter received extra attention by the designers, who seemed to take great pleasure in recreating their favorite dishes and desserts. The foods tend to bounce and jiggle as they are consumed by your character, and your character tends to make incredibly pleasured sounds as the food vanishes. The worst part is that the player has to press a button to eat the food, bite by bite. This is clearly the worst game to play when hungry.

But the game isn’t without its flaws, and the most glaring is the game play. The game is simply a side-scrolling, Metroidvania-ish game with swordfighting. In RPG fashion, your character enters into random battles, but your character is locked into the screen’s area while your foes can come and go as they please. Beyond that, the battle system consists of repeatedly hitting the attack button, or even just holding it and moving your character back and forth. I’m not exaggerating the simplicity of the battle system. Most of the bosses require some sort of strategy when your character is fairly weak, but in general all you need to do is slam on the attack button and occasionally switch swords. (Your swords break when overused – but they regenerate.) Battle strategy changes and becomes more frantic when the difficulty level is raised, but the default game play is lackluster.

So what is the draw to the game? What is it that makes anyone play through to the end? The game begins and ends with a narrator telling the story like it is a classic Japanese legend. Players no doubt want to learn the story of the Demon Blade and those whose lives were affected. I’m not saying that the story was especially well told, but the framework is especially enticing for individuals who like Japanese legends and faux legends. This game is about telling tales and the power of legend.

About Gospel X

Media commentator who tries not to waste time - and often fails

Posted on September 22, 2011, in arts, fantasy, medieval, review, video games, Wii and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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