Muramasa Rebirth ReviewKyle Stepp
This would look so much better in HD.
It was a thought that often crossed my mind when playing 2009's Wii title, Muramasa: The Demon Blade. So when given the chance to play Vanillaware's stunningly beautiful side-scrolling action RPG on the Playstation Vita's sexy screen, how could I say no?
I was definitely not disappointed.
As with the original Wii title, you take control of two characters who explore the same world but have their own stories to tell in each. Kisuke is an amnesiac ninja who's hunted by his former clanmates as he seeks to unravel the truth behind who he is, while Momohime is a princess possessed by the spirit of an evil, bloodthirsty swordsman. Any time you load the game, you're given the option to pick whose story you wish to play through at that moment, And although each character explores the same world, they begin their quests on different ends of the map, and their quests take them to their own unique dungeons, all rendered in Vanillaware's trademark (and beautiful) style.
As you run through each of these stunning areas, you'll be randomly accosted by various baddies, all of whom are based on various facets of Japanese history and mythology. While there's the standard samurai and ninja, you'll run into creatures spawned by the unique blend of Buddhist and Shinto beliefs that is distinctively Japanese. On top of famous creatures like the kappa and tengu, you'll also face more obscure ones, such as the Inugami and Fudo-Myoou. Even the title of the game and its focus on demonic swords comes from an old legend about a swordsmith named Muramasa who made evil swords in contrast to Masamune who made holy ones.
But none of the beauty and the attention to detail regarding Japanese myths and history would mean a damn if the game itself weren't fun, and thankfully, it is. As a side-scrolling RPG similar to Zelda II sans the world map or one of the more recent 2D "Metroidvania" games sans the additional abilities opening new areas, random battles will pop up from time to time and you'll have to slash your way through with one of your three equipped Muramasa blades. There's multiple methods of playing, and while the "Legend" difficulty allows you to button-mash your way through, changing the difficulty to "Chaos" requires that you learn the various button combinations that'll have you juggling foes in midair, dashing through them in a lightning-fast blur of speed, or simply piercing your blade through the enemies' thick skulls like Link's downward thrust in the aforementioned Zelda II. Once you finish one of the characters' storylines, you earn another difficulty, "Fury," that has the same requirements as "Chaos" but caps your characters' HP at 1, regardless of your level. Only the bravest and most skilled need apply for "Fury" mode.
While you can only have three swords equipped at one time, there's dozens available. Some are earned by defeating bosses, while others must be forged by the spirit of Muramasa himself, forever cursed to continue crafting his evil blades. Swords become available via a sort of "tech tree," that's large and has many paths, but not to an overwhelming degree. Each sword also has some stat requirements before you can equip them, so you can't just jump straight to the best weapons. Furthermore, many of the weapons have passive abilities that will take effect even if the weapon isn't drawn. Some of them, like the one that recovers your HP over time, the one that makes you immune to status changes, or the one that makes you take 10% less damage per hit, are quite useful. Others, like the one that increases the rate at which your sword consumes its energy, not so much.
Each sword has its own energy bar, which is depleted by blocking attacks and projectiles with the blade or by using the sword's special move, some of which do absolutely devastating damage. When an energy bar runs out, the sword breaks and must be sheathed to restore its energy over time. The combination of all these different aspects of the swords, combined with the fact that there's both normal swords and large ones that promise extreme amounts of power at the cost of speed, means that you have a plethora of options available. Will you use a slower sword that has an awesome special move but not much power? Or will you keep a weaker sword equipped for a long time because its passive ability is that good? Or perhaps you'll equip an awesomely strong sword, but the passive ability will make your swords break faster? There's no really right or wrong answer, but collecting the swords is fun and switching them out constantly keeps battles fresh and exciting, as if fighting a giant Oni in the depths of Hell while hiding behind piles of rock that, when destroyed, little ghosts appear to repair wasn't already exciting enough!
But that's probably what I love the most about Muramasa Rebirth. Just when you think you've seen everything, Vanillaware throws something more out there that's shocking, yet beautiful. The ending of the game may lack some climax, and the upscale to HD is just what the doctor ordered for a game like this. Muramasa Rebirth may not be much of a "rebirth," but it's a fantastic game nonetheless.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.