Muramasa: The Demon Blade: Sharpening The Sword

By Ishaan . September 10, 2009 . 3:09pm

We’ve already covered the Japanese build of Muramasa: The Demon Blade before. If you’re looking for a crash course in the base mechanics of the game, I’d suggest checking it out.

 

This morning, I spent a little over three hours with Ignition’s localized version. The two “modes” — Musou and Shura — are essentially difficulty levels. The manual and game both tell you that Shura is the more “technical” of the two and that you’ll have to learn to block and parry, and mix up your moves if you want to get through the game. Seeing as how I’ve swung my fair share of digital blades with Samurai Shodown, I figured I’d be able to get right into the thick of things without any problems.

 

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I quickly found out Muramasa plays nothing like Samurai Shodown. It’s nowhere near as technical and defensive nor as slow. While the Samurai Shodown games consist mostly of ground-based combat, you’ll find yourself pulling off one air-combo after the other in Muramasa. In fact, the biggest mistake you can make is to let an enemy find their footing — and give them a chance to block or retaliate in doing so — after you’ve launched them. If I had to make a comparison, I’d say that Muramasa feels like a 2D Devil May Cry.

 

It didn’t take very long for me to realize that Muramasa’s combat isn’t as simple as it first seems. Here’s a quick rundown of how things work: unlike most action games, your attack button isn’t meant to be tapped after you move in a particular direction. Instead, you’ll be holding down (to block) or rapidly tapping the Attack most of the time and pressing different directions on the D-pad to pull off your moves. There’s a fair bit of variety to be found here; your basic moveset consists of a crouching attack, a dashing attack, multi-hit combo, and a launching move.

 

This is a good time to mention that Vanillaware’s decision to map jumping to the D-pad may have been the right one after all. Since you use attack + up to launch enemies, and then follow them up into the air yourself to juggle them, a separate Jump button would have made things more complicated than they needed to be.

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In addition to your base moves, you also have what is called a drawn back slash — a charge move of sorts — and a quick draw move, which damages every enemy on the screen. The catch is that the quick draw can only be performed by switching to a different blade when your current blade is glowing (ie; after you’ve had it equipped long enough).

 

This is where things start to get technical. Not only does the game encourage you to use the quick draw often in battles, it’s also mandatory that you keep cycling through your blades so they don’t break in the middle of a fight. Broken blade often equals getting your ass kicked around quite a bit before you have a chance to switch.

 

Switching between different blades is also necessary if you want to use the right tool for the job. Each blade has its own special move, which can range from shooting crescent-moon-shaped fireballs to mid-air spinning attacks to a move akin to Strider’s Satellite Orbit from Marvel vs. Capcom. There are many more of course; these are just the ones I’ve found useful so far. The trick is to understand that a more powerful blade isn’t always what’s best for you. For example; I have a sword that does 30 damage but its special move — Skull — is pretty useless when you’re up against a large mob. And trust me, you’ll be using the specials a lot if you want to live through Muramasa’s battles. There’ll even be times when you’ll find yourself chaining specials from two different swords together.

 

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Enemies are ruthless and you won’t find many chances to catch your breath in the heat of battle. While the earlier grunts consist of boars, imps and regular swordsmen, you’ll soon find yourself up against tougher adversaries like the umbrella-welding demons and evil monks, all of whom love to gang up on you in groups. The game even surprised me a few times by deceptively throwing me up against a couple of the “weaker” swordsmen in a later level — except that they liked to block and parry themselves, which caught me completely off guard.

 

Little changes like these have kept the game from feeling repetitive so far. While your moveset remains the same throughout, enemies gain new moves to keep you on your toes. For example; the standard shinobi from early on in the game return in Act 3, only now they throw bombs at you, which means lots of dodging if you can’t take them out fast enough. As fast-paced as Muramasa is, sometimes you’ll need to go on the defensive if you want to preserve your health.

 

This is important because at the end of every encounter, you’re presented with a results screen that tells you how you did and what bonuses (in the form of additional XP) you were awarded based on your combat — including one for taking no damage. Like Devil May Cry, this ranking encourages you to mix up your moves, try not to get hurt and string together longer combos.

 

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The two boss battles I’ve been through so far have been fun. The first boss (the one-eyed monk you’ve seen in screenshots) was basically meat for my blades. The second one — a flaming wheel — was more offensive and hurled fireballs at me and dashed around the screen. I had to rely mostly on my special moves and quick draws to do any significant damage. The boss fights are a real spectacle in Muramasa.

 

Tougher than both bosses, however, was a secret area I stumbled across that requires you to defeat 100 evil monks. The game told me the recommended level for the area was 9. I was at 12 and still got my ass handed to me multiple times. They just kept on and on coming…in waves. I’m at 14 now and plan on going back to teach them a lesson. I’ll report in again after playing some more, maybe on Kisuke’s campaign and the art and the forging aspect.

 

Food for thought:

 

1. Aside from statistical differences in swing speed, effects and attack power, every blade is the same, barring the special moves. It’s safe to say fewer blades with more variety that affect your moveset would have been a better design choice.

 

2. So far I’m disappointed by the localization for this game. It’s set in medieval Japan and it’s obvious that some of the characters are more eccentric and dramatic than the sub-titles make them out to be. This is probably due to textbox space limitations but it would be nice to have dialogue that isn’t as bland. If Rising Star do a better job with their version, I might double-dip.

 

3. Games like this really need more developer commentary. A game like Muramasa doesn’t come along everyday. It would have been awesome to have a separate DVD with developer interviews and concept art from Vanillaware.


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  • http://denpanosekai.blogspot.com denpanosekai

    Harsh point #2. Ignition promised they’d improve over their previous efforts and they sure have. You should at least mention that much!

    Totally agreed on #3, though the latest PLAY magazine has like what, a 13 page interview or something? But I’d like a commentary thingy for No More Heroes 2, for sure.

    • Ereek

      Really? I’ve heard from multiple sources that the localization is dismal.

      • http://twitter.com/sirhitmaker JMK

        from what ive seen, it is.

        I dont know much japanese, but from what I can understand, the dialouge is quite significantly different from the text various places. Some screen text is left untranslated too.

    • http://www.siliconera.com/ Ishaan

      I would’ve, if I’d played any of Ignition’s other games recently, aside from Lux-Pain. And that one wasn’t really their fault — they only did the voiceover work for it while MMV translated the game themselves I believe.

      It’s little things about Muramasa that irk me. In places, it’s obvious that the characters have a very dramatic way of speaking. The subs cut it down to a
      couple short lines. It kind of takes away from the “feel” of being in that era.

      Another example — although this one is REALLY nitpicky, which is why I didn’t mention it — is when you get an item. It says “Bamboo flask acquired.” There’s nothing wrong grammatically or translation-wise with that but it sounds a little Metroid-esque for some odd reason. Like it would be better suited to a more “modern” era game. Instead, they could’ve gone with “You got a bamboo flask” or even “Got bamboo flask,” which doesn’t come off as sci-fi.

      (Like I said, nitpicky)

  • http://twitter.com/ECMIM ECM

    Every blade is the same, barring the special moves. It’s safe to say fewer blades with more variety would have been a better design choice.

    Could you elaborate on this? I have the game and, between what you said above and this comment, I’m a bit confused.

    I have the game and some blades are faster, some slower, some do more damage, some less, etc. and they’re even different colors/sizes–how, exactly, does that make them “exactly the same”?

    • Code

      I can understand where Ishaan is coming from. All blades use one of two styles, the Blade, or the Long Blade, from there real only differences is attack power, special and skill (color is one thing, but doesn’t really play any role in the feel of the weapon). It’s not like each blade has an individual look and play style.

      Plus the game kind of encourages a linear trend with locking blades until you have beaten a certain boss, as well there’s little reason to use a blade with less attack power, compared to more attack power. This kind of resulted in a lot more blades I simply skipped over because why use some less powerful. There’s only a few instances that I broke from that trend through my playthrough which was to use one katana slot, for a katana that gave increased money, and then later increased exp. But they really don’t vary/feel different enough imo, fewer blades with more variation between them would have perhaps been more interesting.

      • http://www.younganimal.com/berserk Mr_Qoo

        I have to disagree with you just a little bit here. I don’t believe anyone should be encouraging “skipping” blades because they are less powerful. Some of the Ougi’s (specials) could be worth while. Higher Attack Power doesn’t mean it’s better – I think Ishaan even covered this a bit.

        @Ishaan- Nitpicky =P Acquired isn’t a “Sci Fi-only” word and it’s been around a long time but I agree: the entire translation could have been better. Great game overall, of course.

    • http://www.siliconera.com/ Ishaan

      Yup, it’s what Code said. There are statistical differences between the different blades but beyond that, your moveset remains the same regardless of what blade you use. The only difference in this regard is the special move unique to each one. I edited the post to make that point a little clearer. Thanks!

  • lostinblue

    still gotta get this one.

    does anyone know where to get the scroll?

    • Volcynika

      eBay? :P

      • lostinblue

        The bastards keep banning my paypal account because they suspect I’m robbing credit cards or something.

        Basically, I have no credit card and to have one the banks expect you to have a job and stuff or they’ll deny it (I’m still a student), so my bank has a service that allows me to create a credit card for every purchase I make. which is used a lot here by everyone (even people with credit cards) because it adds a extra layer of security to the purchases; If I create a $20 credit card, even if the number is stollen the dude isn’t gonna get anything else but $20, for instance.

        Now explaining that to the Paypal dudes is… impossible.

        Oh well. Ebay it is.

  • ElTopo

    Whats this about Rising Star’s version? Is this game being localized twice? Or do we have a confirmed port to another system?

    • http://www.siliconera.com/ Ishaan

      Rising Star are publishing the game in Europe. Since they aren’t affiliated with Ignition, they might do their own English translation for the game.

  • http://www.siliconera.com/ Ishaan

    Haha, it’s ironic. I thought Muramasa was all about battles against gigantic bosses but I’m having the most fun with boss #3 (Yukinojyo). Has anyone gotten else to him yet?

    • Code

      I did! I thought that was a great battle too, I liked the contrast between him and the first two battles. I can definitely say the game is really packed with some great bosses, for both Momohime and Kisuke’s side, I’m really glad so far to see they didn’t just reuse bosses for each side. Although I’m still early on Kisuke’s side.

      • http://www.siliconera.com/ Ishaan

        Yea, it’s awesome because it FEELS like a fair fight and you actually have to block and parry in this one, and break his defense instead of jumping around all over the place and digging into him. Drawn Back Slash is really useful here!

        I’ve played about an hour of Kisuke’s route so far. Momohime’s story seems more interesting but maybe Kisuke’s will pick up. I’m about 6 hours into her route at the moment.

  • Total_Overdose

    if Rising Star’s translation is better, can you let us followers know? Because I LOATH Ignition’s sub-par translation of the game and would like to pick up Rising Star’s version (if it has a good trans.)

    • http://www.siliconera.com/ Ishaan

      Keep in mind, Rising Star’s version doesn’t have a release date locked down yet. It just says “Winter 2009″ and as we all know, that could very well mean January 2010. Sure, we’ll try and keep an eye on RS’s version.

      Ignition’s translation is by no means terrible, but it could’ve been better. I wouldn’t not buy the game based on just that one comment. It’s still an awesome game. :)

      • http://www.youtube.com/user/jodecideion?feature=mhum TheWon and Only

        I think you should play both and alternate between characters. I’m on plot 6 on both of them. It seems like their stories do blend down the line.

        • http://www.siliconera.com/ Ishaan

          Not only that, it also seems like you can only forge the swords that are in the middle of the chart if you play both routes. Enough incentive for me. :D

  • Advent_Andaryu

    I’m very pleased with Muramasa so far and I’m near the end. I think you’re just nit-picking here…

    “Aside from statistical differences in swing speed, effects and attack power, every blade is the same, barring the special moves.”

    So you’re saying every blade is kinda different but you’re upset because they didn’t make an entire move set for each individual katana? That’s just stupid, they did a terrific job making each blade unique. And besides… There’s like hundreds of katana’s to choose from!! You get a new one like every other map…

  • Icon

    This game is very enjoyable on a lot of levels. I think the visuals and attention to detail is really fascinating. I’m really enjoying the music and the gameplay itself is just a lot of fun!

    Keep us posted on Rising Star’s translation, Ishaan, because I do agree that it seems Ignition’s is lacking. I sure hope I don’t feel this way when Nostalgia comes around…

  • Asura

    This game shines in Shigurui Mode. 1 hit and you are dead. Your sword breaks you are dead. The most fun I have had in a loooong time.

    Beat the game once to unlock it, and I suggest you start a new game on this difficulty (you have to since you can’t change it afterward), and then continue everything from there.

    This game is so long for a 2D sidescrolling beat-em up. 2 stories about 8 hours each, then you get to do the other characters bosses, all the challenges you have not yet done, which adds another good 5 hours at the minimum per character.

    Best game I have played in a long long time. About 90% done with everything so far.

  • http://www.siliconera.com/ Ishaan

    There’s more impressions coming later in the week. The people who said the blades are diverse enough as is were right. It really opens up later in the game.

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