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.
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.
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.
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.
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.