I have distinct memories of picking up Muramasa: The Demon Blade back when it first launched, as it was a gorgeous looking title that duped me into purchasing it by including just about every design it had on a big piece of cardstock and clipping it to the game. However, I never did properly beat it, or at least to the degree I did before picking up the remastering/port/upgrade for the Vita. Only putting ten hours into it before stopping to play something else, which is a statement that very much held true after getting as far as I did.
Muramasa: Rebirth Review
Platforms: PS Vita
Publisher: Aksys Games
Muramasa Rebirth opts for the sort of story where it does have two player characters, but never has them interact in any meaningful way and instead leaves them as two tales that, like much of the game, feel unfinished. The story of the female protagonist, Momohime is not entirely her own as she is a princess whose body is possessed by an old swordsman who is hunting after a blade to separate his soul from her frail body and into the strongest man he can find. It is a quest filled with an almost absurd sense of escalation as the possessor, Jinkuro, not only goes out to fight gods so he can sneak into heaven and descends into hell for one of the story’s eight arcs, but is a delightfully foul character who spiced up the dialog more than the already bonkers high fantasy had laid out. Which is certainly a highlight to Kisuke’s story which, despite having previously played albeit years ago, led a story that was filled with far less goofy adventures that involve beating up gods, and more focused on spontaneous romance, amnesia, redemption, and something I like to call hallmark sacrifice. It could be that I simply wasn’t paying as much attention as I did his campaign second and my patience with the game had been growing thin due to the manner in which Muramasa is structured.
You start in an area made up of regularly recycled yet absolutely gorgeous handdrawn background art, and go through a series of very basically constructed rooms filled with almost cynically inserted jumping puzzles and random enemy encounters in what is essentially an action game. You keep on going through the environments as they repeat, occasionally finding vendors, save points, or a surprisingly important restaurant, before coming across a boss area. Said boss area often features new backgrounds it repeats as you go through a series of near identical rooms, eventually finding a boss after fighting the same basic enemy encounters enough times for it to get repetitious. You then fight the boss, go back through the now completely and utterly vacant boss area, go through some of the way you want to get to the boss area, and find another region in order to get to the next one. This is most of what you do in Muramasa, and it is one of the only games I genuinely believe to be more than fifty percent filler.
But what about the actual gameplay? Perhaps it is interesting enough with unique character based abilities and interchangeable weapons to make these encounters interesting. Well, that is not the case in just about any regard. The two character who are not available as Downloadable extras have an identical moveset only changed by their animations while the inner workings are identical for both of them. They each do have an arsenal of about one hundred blades you get over the course of the game, but aside from stat changes, there are only two forms, long and standard length. And to place a cherry in merely describing the game, you only have one basic attack button, a jump button, a special ability button that only does one action per blade, and the ability to switch between three blades, often resulting in a damage to every enemy on screen. There are minor complexities such as how blades have their own health bar of sorts, decreasing as you use their special ability and use them to defend, which is done by attacking for the most part, but I can in no way justify this gameplay system as being one that can hold one character’s nine hour story, let alone two.
This already paints Muramasa as one of the most perplexingly poorly put together games I have seen in quite some time, but that is before the question of how the difficulty curve is handled, as the game scales just about every encounterable enemy’s stats with the ones the player characters increases either through leveling up, or forging new weapons. This sounds rather good on paper, but it mostly results in you reaching something of a wall in terms of difficulty outside of boss battles. It can take seven hits to murder a generic ninja enemy during act one, and take the same number during act six, with the damage percentage for the main character also staying about the same, despite how their initial 140 hit points grows well into the quadruple digits. Effectively removing all sense of progression if one removes the numbers, as the enemy AI is stagnant throughout, removing all differentiation between progression and grinding to the numerically inclined.
This, as stated before, is due to repeated used backdrops that the game incorporates in its already bloated world, which in addition to being some of the flattest levels I have seen in a 2D game, are some of the most undermining to other makers of gorgeous hand-drawn titles. Regardless of how much detail went into every character design or their basic animations, the fact is that you are everything so often and with so little variety in between, the beauty the game begins with loses its meaning. While it is amazing to look at well drawn food being animated as if somebody is eating it, it may as well be a flat image when you are doing it to invest in the arduous grind the game needlessly dubs to be worth both its designer’s and its player’s time.
In fact, I would consider doing so much as properly learning the game’s potential complexities to be just that, as the default difficulty hardly makes the most out of the combat system, while switching to the harder difficulty had me die during the first battle I tried partway through the game, as I was grossly unprepared for any form of advance strategy as the game does no teaching aside from a tutorial that only covers the fundamentals. This isn’t a Character Action Game where you can string together multiple moves and combos while mastering the art of dodging, as much as it is a game that reminds me very much so of Dust: An Elysian Tale, which despite being made by a single person, is far more complex and unique in its environments and enemy archetypes than Muramasa Rebirth is. Muramasa Rebirth is the worst game I played from start to finish to its conclusion two times back to back and bought DLC for before even beating the game, and the title is among the least attention demanding and repetitively gorgeous games I have ever seen.
The title is on the pitiable side of things, as it is where the starting intentions, whatever they may have been, have apparently gone very wrong over the course of development. Resulting in a game that, if it could emote, would be sad.