Muramasa Rebirth: Brawler And RPG Meet In Harmonious Matrimony

By Kris . July 6, 2013 . 4:30pm

Muramasa Rebirth is an odd game. At first, I didn’t quite understand why it felt obliged to be a brawler-meets-RPG hybrid. Things felt disconnected. It’s a very fast game, so some of things that felt more RPG-like seemed almost unnecessary. Sure, the safe areas where you could buy items and eat meticulously animated soba and dango were interesting, but when the rest of the game is about running around, tearing through tons of ninjas and demons as quickly as possible, things like weapon-forging trees and fullness gauges that prevent you from spamming healing items seem a tad extraneous.


It would be one thing if you gained different attacks as you leveled up, but your standard moveset doesn’t change at all throughout the course of the game. You can do dashing rising slashes (which can be chained together to knock enemies further into the air), sliding slashes, air and ground combos, launchers, a somewhat impractical front-flipping slash, and an aerial plunge. All of this is mapped to the Square button, which, should you hold it, is also your block button. On top of that, you’ve got the ability to do a screen-filling sword drawing attack by swapping swords with Triangle after one breaks, or after waiting for a while. No matter which sword you use, no matter how much you level up, you’ve always got those abilities. The speed and animation of certain attacks change whether you use long swords or normal katanas, but your basic moveset is always the same.


Adding a bit more variety is the fact that each sword has its own specific Secret Art, which can vary from a screen-spanning dash to a phantom projection of your character that slashes away at your enemies from behind to an exploding projectile. Since you can have three swords equipped at any given time, you’ve basically got three special attacks in addition to your standard moveset. You can’t completely abuse these though, since each Secret Art you use will drain a bit of your sword’s energy, which is also drained by blocking attacks. Should that energy be depleted, your sword will break, and you’ll have to wait for it to repair itself. Thus, you have to balance blocking and Secret Arts to make sure you don’t find yourself running away from your enemies with three broken swords until they magically reforge themselves.


Because you have all of this at your disposal from the very start, cutting through standard enemies is pretty simple. Sure, they have attacks that can take off a quarter to half your health bar in a single hit, but Momohime and Kisuke are basically murder artists. Block and roll well enough and stay on the offensive and you’ll feel almost invincible as you run from area to area across Muramasa’s fictionalized take on Genroku-era Japan, leaving hundreds of corpses in your wake.


However, all of that changes when you face a boss.


In  Mega Man-esque fashion, each boss is preceded by a gate and a short story sequence in which you have to talk to everyone to move onto the boss. It’s one of the few elements that feels like an RPG in the game, but I like the way it sets the stage for the boss. You go from running freely through fields to walking slowly through a corridor talking to everyone and the bosses are worth the change in atmosphere, both from a visual and difficulty standpoint.


Bosses are where Muramasa puts your skills to the test. You need to know when to dodge,  when to block, when to retreat, when to use the invincibility provided by the Secret Arts. You typically learn this through pain. Lots well-animated pain. Especially because enemy patterns will shift as you take down their health, often leading to attacks that will kill you in one or two hits. This is why Muramasa Rebirth’s checkpointing system is so lovely.


As frustrating as some of my poorer attempts were, Muramasa was actually quite respectful of my time. Should you die on a boss, the game will bring you back to life directly in front of the door to the boss with your used healing items restored, and you won’t even need to go through the pre-boss conversation scenes again.


This sort of checkpointing is basically Muramasa Rebirth telling you that it’s okay to experiment and fail. You’re not necessarily meant to beat each boss the first time you fight them. Doing so feels good, but failure is only a momentary thing. The game puts you right back at the beginning of the fight practically as soon as your character’s body hits the floor, so you don’t have time to be annoyed. You can make any changes you need to, perhaps adjusting which healing items to bring  maybe switching accessories to something that neutralizes the boss’s tendency to set you on fire. It’s a nice approach to the old-school “learn through repeated failure” design mentality.


I appreciated this generous checkpointing even more when I took on the various Caves of Evil littered across the map. These are essentially the game’s challenge rooms, complete with recommended levels for taking them on and special accessories earned for completing them.


They’re rather brutal, but they also got me to appreciate the game’s blend of genres a bit more. I was ridiculously overleveled for one of the first Caves of Evil I tried. The recommended level was 9 and I was somewhere in the early 20s. I thought it’d be easy. I was promised a few waves of monks, but I figured that as long as I equipped my best swords, I’d have no problem. In traditional RPG style, as long as I had the level advantage, it’d be a piece of cake, right?




Guess how many of these tengu are in a pre-attack animation!


The sheer number of enemies onscreen coupled with the fact that they were all meticulously hand-painted and overlapping made figuring out what the hell I was supposed to do a bit of a challenge. That was only compounded by the fact that my attacks wouldn’t typically knock them out of their attack animations, so while I’d try to scoop up a bunch of monks for air combos, I’d occasionally get knocked from the sky and volleyballed between a few enemies until I died. Next time, I tried cooking something before the fight to give myself a bit more attack power, only to realize that cooking is kind of a gamble. While death will restore the items you used in combat, you don’t get the materials you cooked with back again, nor do you get the stat boost. That said, cooking certain meals would result in me getting quite a bit further through the challenge room, so it was a gamble worth taking.


Even with the stat bonuses however, I still found myself getting killed. Again and again and again. After one particularly crushing defeat, instead of snapping my Vita in half (thanks again, quick checkpoints!), I took a moment to rethink my strategy. For the most part, my blocking and rolling were on point, but I kept getting hit when I was in the middle of dashing through the crowd of monks. I then realized that I had a few swords with Secret Arts that would be very good for crowd control, specifically one that released a tornado that moved forward hitting everything in its path multiple times. This could actually knock the monks out of their attack animations and would group them all together for an easy launch if I stayed close to the tornado. All of a sudden I was playing smarter. Instead of using my most-recently forged swords, I started thinking about challenge rooms and bosses from a more puzzle-like perspective. If I could get specific Secret Arts that solved my problems, I could tolerate lower attack power.


Although at first it seemed like Muramasa’s RPG and brawler aspects were completely separate, I liked that I had to use a combination of both intelligence and reflex to get through. Pattern recognition and the ability to put together combos could only get me so far, and grinding and Secret Art abuse were no good on their own. To play get through the tougher challenges successfully, I had to combine both playstyles, and doing so felt great.


Food for Thought:


1. While I haven’t spend a huge amount of time with the Wii version, I preferred the way the Vita version controlled. Having a dedicated jump button is nice, and being able to reassign the dodge roll from down and a direction on the analog stick to R made the analog stick feel less overworked in general.


2. On top of that, I liked the new localization for the most part, but every so often a character would use a phrase like “muff-diving” that felt kind of jarring, given the game’s setting. However, those occasions were pretty rare.

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  • Tenshiken

    I personally feel that the artistic look of the game is really enhanced on the Vita’s screen.

  • Smooosh

    Is this also coming to europe or do I have to import it from somewhere else?

    • ChiffonCake

      It does not yet have an European release date, as far as I know.

      • Smooosh

        Ah, too bad.
        Thanks for answering!

  • TheExile285

    I really liked how the game lets you change around the controls. My hands are condition from playing fighters like BlazBlue on Vita so it feels a lot more natural for me to have everything to D-Pad control.

    I wish Odin Sphere had that option. Hopefully Dragons Crown will.

    • FetusZero

      Oh man, that d-pad was absolutely marvelous. During the Tutorial I was starting to regret it because they make you use the stick by default. If there’s one thing some sidescrollers do that I absolutely hate, its forcing you to use the stick rather than the d-pad. I was so glad it could be changed around :]

    • Crevox

      They confirmed Dragon’s Crown will have a D-Pad option.

  • ChiffonCake

    This is surely one of the games that I’d buy a Vita for. I really loved the original version on the Wii, and the thought of an improved translation and customizable controls only make it sound better.

    I’m looking forward to hearing about the DLC.

  • Triplicity

    “muff-diving” what

    • Franggio Hogland

      “but every so often a character would use a phrase like “muff-diving” that felt kind of jarring, given the game’s setting.”

      I understand that the semantics might not be correct, but the sentence is in no way wrong. This is localization whereas the team incorporates the the translation to better suit the “new” audience but still keeping true to the script.

      Or you know, read a few novels, old ones, the Japanese are as dirty as the rest of us.

      • Triplicity

        Unless you were replying to the article author by way of replying to me, I really like how you assumed I was saying the translation was wrong as opposed to merely being surprised at how stark the phrase was.
        I don’t disbelieve you nor do I find it all that immersion-breaking m’self, I think it’s hilarious too

        • Franggio Hogland

          Bit of column a bit of column b.
          I seriously messed up, didn’t mean it as an attack just furthered an explanation that should have been a post in itself.

          • Triplicity

            Ah, don’t worry about it now. I saw @aoshi00:disqus’s reply in another comment thread talking about how rude some of the characters actually talk in the original Wii Japanese version that he played and it sounds even more plausible than before. I guess old literature gets pretty crazy…! (see: Greek mythology lol)

      • Kris

        Edit: sleep deprived. Basically, the meaning of it didn’t surprise me, but the phrase “muff-diving” itself through me off. Sounded too contemporary to be used in Japan hundreds of years ago, but too dated to sound like common language now. :P

        That said, happy the line worked for other people. But that and a few others just felt anachronistic to me.

  • Margaret Chan

    You get “muff-diving” and then you get “you must be full of shit”

    Wasn’t too upset by it. :D

    • Aoshi00

      I think the new translation is great and very colorful.. I’m not sure how else their dialogue could be translated, those phrases emphasize how rudely both Kisuke and the Jingurou-possessed Momohime talk (the equivalent of damn, hell, sh*t) compared to say Yukinojou who’s very formal, as you could hear.. also I’ve played the Jpn Wii version before, this new translation is extremely close.

      While the small fries in Legend/Musou mode are on the easier side compared to the bosses/challenge rooms. I heard in Chaos/Shura even normal enemy encounters could be brutal/fatal. I just want to experience the stories again (playing both chars’ chapters side by side) and get the trophies first and not brave enough to attempt on harsher difficulty yet :)

      The game does look impressive and the Vita needs it, but I would’ve preferred it to be on the PS3 like Dragon Crown so you could see the beautiful hand drawn details on a big 46″ TV like the Wii ver.. I guess 5″ is even too small for my old eyes now :(, and the frantic action could look a bit busy… the good thing is I could listen to the awesome soundtrack w/ earbuds :) I have not played thru the Wii Eng ver except the beginning, but the new translation definitely does Muramasa justice, and worth getting the LE for $60.

      One minor nitpick, was hoping they would give us more than 5 save slots this time around, I want to save before each breath-taking boss battle.. like Xenoblade only had 3, why do they always have to go so stingy..

      • Margaret Chan

        I’m really not sure where this long response came from…? I loved their choices, though I had to google what “muff-diving” actually meant even if I had a very very good idea.

  • Selcca

    Also, not sure if this was deliberate, but I was stuck on one of Kisuke’s bosses for a good period of time. After a close shave victory, the next cut-scene has him declaring the importance of never failing to give up. Made me laugh quite a bit.

  • I’ve been really enjoying the game so far. I didn’t get to the Wii version of the game due to backlog but I think I’m definitely playing a superior version, here. I love the visuals and the traditional controls are perfectly fine for me.

  • ZEROthefirst

    XD wish I bothered to see that I could change the controls. Switching rolling to the triggers would have been nice, but it still beat the kind of wacky control scheme I remember dealing with on the Wii version.

  • Erikdayo

    I am absolutely loving the Vita version. Kinda funny since I never really got into the Wii version. I liked the idea and art but just never played much until I got the Vita version. Now I am cruising along and doing a lot of grinding on hard mode. It’s a lot of fun

  • Fidelis

    Was really excited about this game before I played it and realized about 75% of it was mash A to win..

    • TheExile285

      Someone’s playing on Legend and not Chaos…

      • ChiffonCake

        Hell, even on Legend the difficulty goes up pretty quickly as the game goes on, especially when it comes to bosses and the challenge battles (Total Pandemonium wtf). I’m guessing that Fidelis didn’t get very far.

        • Fidelis

          I stopped playing Kisuke’s story after the Spider or centipede boss (whichever came last) and Momohime’s after the Mountain God, both on legend…

      • Elvick

        Even on Legend, what I’m playing, you’ll break your swords doing that.

        I almost killed the first boss with Momohime without being hit, but he shattered my sword. D:<

        And, the Chapter 3 boss for Kisuke's story broke my swords a lot with that stomping move until I figured out how to avoid it.

        Even random encounters for Kisuke were giving me a few problems.

        You can't just mash 'a' no matter what difficulty you play on.

        • Fidelis

          I mean, I didn’t complete the game

          But I got through both of those bosses relatively easily just mashing and healing.

          I don’t see how you’d have trouble on Legendary random battles, but I guess you were trying to take advantage of the systems to make the battles more fun, or maybe you weren’t making stronger swords or something

          I don’t doubt for a second that mashing “a” won’t even win you a single random battle on Chaos mode but it is completely possible to make it to make it to kisuke’s act 6 and momhime’s Act 5 mashing a about 75% of most fights

          Which is a bit over half of both of their stories, after checking.

  • Folk Hellfang

    Nice article.

    I would have to agree with the author on the new localization, in the team’s attempt to contexulize it for the Western audience some of the dialogue comes across pretty rough. Having played both localizations extensively I would say that overall the new translation does make the overall story clearer, and a few odd phrases aside I prefer the new effort to the original.

  • The way the checkpoint system works sounds really convenient; I adore designs that don’t waste the player’s time and instead spare that time for the player to spend.

  • z_merquise

    It sounds like Kris played this in Chaos mode (Hard difficulty).

    It really is tough but actually forgiving. Normal difficulty is still fun but it’s in the Hard mode where you really need to learn how to properly use dodge, blocking, special moves, etc. to the fullest especially in boss fights.

    I also personally preferred playing this game in a portable than in a home console so I’m really glad to see a Vita port and with some enhancements. I hope that we won’t wait too long for the DLC characters since I really look forward to see them.

    • Kris

      Yep! With action games, I typically go with whatever the hardest difficulty it offers me at first is. :)

      I completely agree about the game being a good fit for a portable too. I’d play through the Caves of Evil while doing my laundry at my dorm. :)

  • manobon

    Curious- I saw some youtube clips, but is the game’s action primarily, “run/jump/platform, screen-stop/fight all enemies, run/jump/platform, repeat”? Or are there enemies “along the way” (like in a Mega Man/Castlevania I or III type of platformer)?

    • MrSirFeatherFang

      I haven’t played this in a while… here’s what I remember.

      You travel around Japan metroidvania style. Although each region/prefecture are grouped/named so you know what area you definitely are in. There should be a designated destination that should be marked on your map. While traveling from screen to screen, you will encounter enemies. However you need to stop and fight them. I forgot how to run away (I think you needed an item).
      So I believe that corresponds to your
      “run/jump/platform, screen-stop/fight all enemies, run/jump/platform, repeat”.

      • manobon

        Darn (and thank you for the quick response!)- I was hoping I just caught a Type of gameplay in the game from the clip I watched, and not how all the action is.

        Oh well- and thanks again!

  • MrSirFeatherFang

    Hopefully I can keep the controls the way it was on the Wii. I really liked it that way. In combat I moving my hand up on a d-pad is a lot faster than pressing a button for me.
    If this is exactly like the Wii version though, then the large blades slow but strong attacks don’t make up for the smaller yet faster swords…
    Does anyone know if the larger swords have been buffed up at all?

  • Göran Isacson

    Huh. So it’s essentially a little bit, how to put it… old-school Castlevania but with swords? You have a basic set of attacks that serve you well against regular foes, but when things get challenging you have to figure out how to best make use of your sub-weapons to get by the tricky parts, instead of figuring out how to unlock some superpowerful combo or power-level until you can mercilessly crush all enemies?

  • This game turned out to be exactly what I wanted

  • Ric Vazquez

    I pre-ordered this game for the vita since I don’t have a wii, I’m not regretting it one bit.

  • BlueTree

    Actually… Spirit Art abuse is entirely possible, you just have to pick the right spirit arts. Simply having access to Soaring Lark 1 or Divine Blade and a set of Spirit Replenishing items can make all the difference, especially when you realize you can chain the invincibility of these Spirit Art attacks. Come end game, Vortex 1 or 2 or any of the upgraded “spin attack” Spirit Arts combined with greater access to money and items, means that rather than deal with the rather irritating armor of Cave Trolls or other larger enemies, you can just sweep them to death as an invincible rotating death saw. Even the projectile attacks can make short work and have quite a fair amount of invincibility that you can repeatedly slam the circle button and replenish your spirit with items as needed.

    The skill element of the game’s action elements can teeter off because of how armored enemies can require very specific approaches to deal with. I would find this lacking as an action game, but I think that’s a staple of Vanillaware games, a marriage RPG with some action game highlights. It’s infinitely more engaging than Odin Sphere, at least that’s how I felt.

  • That tengu cave challengue sure was annoying ._.

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