By Spencer . April 21, 2009 . 12:28pm
I’ve been playing Muramasa: The Demon Blade as “Princess” Momohime. I put “Princess” in quotes because Momohime is more than meets the eye. It’s not really spoiler material since it’s spelled out early on, but I’ll leave the exact details out unless people press for them in the comments. Anyway, Momohime is a furious fighter, a good thing because Muramasa: The Demon Blade is action packed.
While you’re strolling through a dark forest and admiring the scenery, suddenly an exclamation mark (!) flashes. Invisible walls trap players in a battle until all of the enemies (or you) die. Momohime can defend herself with three swords which you’ll need to switch around. Each time you use a slash, sweep, reflect projectiles, or cyclone spin the sword loses a bit of energy. Drained blades shatter and you have to wait a minute before the blade materializes again. Well, you can attack with a broken blade, but it does less damage.
Each blade has a unique special move like a rapid thrust (think Raphael from Soulcalibur 2) and a spinning top slash (great for taking out ninjas tied to kites). Other than the special attack swords have pretty much the same moves. There are two types of swords, but you’re going to use the same combos throughout the game. Fortunately, Momohime has a versatile move list which includes a downward thrust, block (hold attack to block), teleporting blur rush, knockback attack when she changes swords, and an air juggle. You can even juggle enemies killed in mid-air before they flicker off the screen to earn more experience. However, leveling up only boosts your stats like HP and doesn’t unlock any new moves.
Muramasa: The Demon Blade loads the screen with more enemies than Odin Sphere. Inside a cave a family of rainbow colored trolls might pop out of nowhere. Skeletal youkai warp around the screen pelting you with projectiles, but there isn’t any slowdown. Muramasa: The Demon Blade is amazingly gorgeous and fluid.
When fights end Muramasa: The Demon Blade goes back to being a 2D side scrolling game. There is a sparse selection objects to leap on like tree branches, but it’s pretty much a straight run from one screen to the next. A helpful map tells you exactly where you need to go and if a room has any treasures to find. Even though you travel to different areas Muramasa: The Demon Blade feels like one seamless and long 2D map with a few branching points. For instance, you can “walk” across a bridge in the background to go to another path and talk to a monkey to visit a bathhouse. Following the arrow leads players to a boss. Muramasa: The Demon Blade does an excellent job of creating memorable boss fights even if the bosses aren’t that tough. The beasts look so large, colorful, and cool Muramasa: The Demon Blade’s best moments are when you’re doing stuff like flying over flames with the teleport flash slash to cut a flaming wheel.
Other than slicing and running, Muramasa: The Demon Blade has a limited amount of crafting. Similar to Odin Sphere food is involved, but players don’t grow trees from the souls of their foes. You can gather ingredients to cook. Eating your home cooked meals or delicacies from a restaurant recovers HP and boosts your vigor. Why do you want vigor? It’s the currency used to forge new swords. To prevent players from hoarding vigor and building an invincible weapon in the first area you need to collect swords from bosses and have enough strength/stamina to wield a weapon. Some swords and accessories boost your base stats and let you access more powerful swords early on.
If you play the game in Musou mode you can breeze through the game as long as you upgrade your sword. Since I started on Musou mode I didn’t realize it right away, but Muramasa: The Demon Blade’s two “modes” are really two difficulty levels. In Musou the enemies are docile. Shinobi wait for you to make the first move. Shura mode is furious, and likely the mode you want to start playing the game on if you want a challenge. You take much more damage in Shura mode and the enemies like the Tengu dive into you. Fortunately, you can switch between Musou and Shura mode whenever you load a game. I see why Marvelous made two modes. Muramasa: The Demon Blade appeals to more people this way. Core gamers can play Shura mode while someone who just wants to appreciate Vanillaware art can relax in Musou mode. Something for everyone, right?
Food for thought:
1.) For some reason Vanillaware decided to assign jump to the up button. It works OK, but Muramasa: The Demon Blade would control better if jump was a separate button. Hopefully, the US publisher gives players a choice.
2.) Speaking of controls Muramasa: The Demon Blade supports a Wii remote/nunchuck combo, Classic Controller, and Gamecube pad. I started playing the game with the Wii remote, but Muramasa: The Demon Blade feels much more natural with a standard controller.
3.) The idea of leveling up is underutilized. Sure, you get stronger, but instead of dozens of swords Muramasa: The Demon Blade would have been a better game with less weapons and a customizable list of moves.
4.) Muramasa: The Demon Blade has multiple endings, but they require you to beat the game first. Discovering them is your post game content.