What if three dimensional games never took off. If developers had continued to push the hardware in order to deliver crisper and more beautiful 2D graphics. Then more games would look like Muramasa: The Demon Blade. As it is it feels completely unique, like a colourful interactive painting. Words can only begin to describe its beauty.
Muramasa: The Demon Blade is an action title that borrows freely from the world of role playing games. The characters level up after combat and you have to experience dialogue that makes no sense and you can equip your character with different weapons and armour. It's a mix that works and one that appeals to me. I'm also spared from the horrors of poor voice acting as the Japanese voices have made it over.
I make my way through forests bathing in enchanting light. Onwards through fields where the wind gently caresses the grass as it sways. I pass through the odd wooden cottage. The blue light from the moon strike the thatched roofs. I pass foaming waterfalls and mountains covered with ice and snow. Leaves in thousands of colours. It feels horrible to just run past of all of this visual splendor. Everything has been drawn by hand at Vanillaware. The last time I saw anything resembling this was when the same developer was flirting with Norse mythology in Odin Sphere on Playstation 2.
So far I have only mentioned the environments. But the characters are equally inspired and neatly designed. I wouldn't mind framing and hanging the first boss I encounter, a gigantic blue monk, on my living room wall. As a matter of fact, while I'm writing this, I'm searching the web for merchandise from the game. At the back of my mind I'm wrestling with a greedy thought: "What if this had been made on Playstation 3 or Xbox 360 with HD graphics..."
The game comes across as very Japanese. I'm taking hot spring baths, suffer from amnesia and socialise with busty wolf women. The title Muramasa is derived from a legendary Japanese sword smith whose weapons are known for being sharp and begging for blood. And as the enemies fall your blade is fed with their souls.
The battles are short, intense and chaotic. I tend to resort to simple mashing as the chaos hits. Mashing out attacks gets me far, especially on the easy setting. It's entertaining to put the beat down on enemies, but the actual combat system is not what makes it special. The enemy design is what gets to me.
Apart from the battles the game mostly consists of long transports. Between the relatively short combat sequences there are vast areas that you will have to traverse in search of the next batch of enemies. The beautiful environment help to alleviate the boredom. When my patience is at a peak I find it meditative, but it borders on absolute boredom. At the harder difficulty levels battles occur more frequently and there is less transportation.
On top of battles and running around you will also forge weapons and cook food. The weapons smith is always at hand to forge a blade. He charges you in souls of your fallen foes. There is an impressive array of blades to choose from. And that is a good thing, because in spite of Muramasa's legendary status his blades frequently break. They mend automatically with time, but you have to be prepared to switch weapons at all times. A fun way of forces variation on the player.
The food is a whole chapter by itself. I always find it entertaining to cook food in games, but in Muramasa this is something even more special. Not because of a particularly well made game mechanic, you just pick your ingredients and push a button. It's just that the food looks so great. I feel hungry when I play Muramasa, that's how appetising it looks.
I have cut my way through hordes of monster in a historical Japan. Despite my absolute love of the graphics, and the fact that I enjoy the battles, making weapons and cooking food, the game feels a bit slow and sluggish after a while. I find myself wishing that it would end. If the experience had felt tighter and better kept together the score would have been higher. But if you are into some old school action with a helping of RPG elements, and don't feel that transports and a slight repetitiveness will put you off, then Muramasa: The Demon Blade is a definite buy.
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