Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Muramasa Rebirth

Muramasa Rebirth Box Front


In 1999, Japanese videogame developer George Kamitani developed Princess Crown, which would remain untranslated, for the Sega Saturn, founding a company called Puraguru three years later. He eventually changed the name of his company to Vanillaware, creating successor projects such as Odin Sphere for the PlayStation 2, which, while more refined than Princess Crown, suffered technical issues like slowdown on the system. Afterward came Muramasa: The Demon Blade for the Nintendo Wii, which would see a port to the PlayStation Vita entitled Muramasa Rebirth, which could very well be the portable system’s killer app.

Muramasa occurs on the main island of the Japanese archipelago, Honshu, its style and setting drawing heavily upon Japanese folklore and mythology. The primary playable protagonists are Momohime, whose body a deceased warrior possesses, and Kisuke, an amnesiac ninja. The narrative is generally enjoyable, aside from the slightly-derivative JRPG trope of amnesia, with an interesting style where, before and after boss battles, either character can converse with antagonistic parties. Both characters’ stories are well-developed, and the superb translation job from Aksys Games, which is largely flawless, and somewhat pushes the game’s T rating to its limit, definitely helps.

Fortunately, solid gameplay accompanies the narrative, with Momohime and Kisuke each able to equip up to three blades forgeable through Soul Power and spirit obtained from fighting and eating special dishes either at restaurants or made through recipes with certain ingredients. Each character has a fullness gauge limiting how much food they can consume or health recovery foods they can eat in battle (although fortunately, medicines exist to restore health without affecting their fullness meters, which can really help in the more challenging battles). Throughout the game, each protagonist acquires color-coded blades that can break colored barriers impeding progress.

The game wisely limits the number of blades each character can forge, new ones only forgeable after acquiring the aforementioned colored swords. As either advances through the various side-scrolling two-dimensional areas, they may occasionally encounter enemies they need to defeat to advance, the screen sometimes locking in place and other times not. Both characters can string extensive combos against their adversaries, the player also able to aim their attacks using the Vita’s left joystick, with plentiful freedom in this regard. Level-ups occur frequently, oftentimes in the middle of battle, and afterward, additional experience the game rewards based on combat performance.

Each character can also find gauntlet challenges in barrier-protected caves that reward special accessories. From battle, players also obtain money that they can use at shops to purchase new accessories (each character only able to equip one at a time), consumable items, cooking ingredients, maps of various areas (where unvisited parts of each region are grayed out, the game otherwise and mercifully tracking where the player has been), and recipe books. Boss battles necessary to advance the central storyline sporadically come, with each having several life bars, although they tend to be fast-paced affairs, with even the endgame battles going swiftly.

As players battle, the sword that either character is using at the moment gradually wears down, until it breaks, and while the player can continue fighting with the broken blade, changing to an unbroken sword, with a transitive sequence damaging all enemies on the screen, is a good idea in this case. Broken and sheathed blades recover as fights go on, with spirit acquirable in and out of battle recovering them until they’re whole again. Two different difficulty settings, one for casual players that leaves plentiful room for error (although there are still some daunting fights), and one for more skilled players, are sure to pacify most gaming audiences, and combat is far more than refined, and whatever difficulty there may be doesn’t feel artificial at all.

Control also serves the game well, with crystal-clear direction on how to advance each character’s storyline, maps for each region, easy menus, fairly-spaced save points (and luckily, dying restarts the chosen character at the beginning of the area where they died), in-game tracking of time, and a pseudo-Metroidvania exploration formula in the color-coded barrier-breaking swords. While there are occasional places where the player can seek rapid conveyance between certain regions, fast-travel doesn’t become available until players complete each character’s quest. Even so, Muramasa very well interfaces with players.

Composing duo Hitoshi Sakimoto and Masaharu Iwata, along a few others, provide the soundtrack, another of the game’s high points, with plenty of oriental music, and while there is a slight dearth of central themes, no tune is ever out of place. The localization team also kept the voicework in Japanese, which sounds superb for the most part and gives the game an authentic Japanese feel, saving the translators money and sparing foreign audiences the horror of miscast non-ethnic actors portraying the obviously-Asian characters, with everyone sounding as they should. In the end, the aurals of Muramasa are definitely a delight to the ears.

The port is a delight to glimpse as well, with Vanillaware executing their beautiful two-dimensional visual style, with character and enemy models containing good anatomy, along with pretty environments, fluid animation, great battle effects, and the like. There are occasional reskinned enemies, but otherwise, Muramasa is easily eye candy.

Finally, each character’s quest takes somewhere from six to nine hours to complete, with things such as trophies, the sealed cavern trials, post-game content, different endings depending upon blades used, and such, providing plentiful lasting appeal.

Overall, Muramasa Rebirth is a great port that hits the right notes in regards to all its aspects, such as its smooth combat system, excellent control, great narrative, largely-spotless and mature translation, superb sound, pretty visuals, and plentiful reasons to come back for more. Whatever issues it may have are negligible at best, and I can confidently say that this game has pretty much been one of the high points of my videogaming career, highly recommending it to those in search of a great action RPG. I very much look forward to trying out the game’s Genroku Legends DLC.

The Good:
+Refined combat with adjustable difficulty.
+Great control.
+Excellent narratives and localization.
+Superb sound with Japanese voicework intact.
+Pretty visuals.
+Plentiful lasting appeal.

The Bad:
-Limited fast-travel until post-game.

The Bottom Line:
A Vanillaware masterpiece.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Game Mechanics: 10/10
Controls: 9.5/10
Story: 9.5/10
Localization: 9.5/10
Music/Sound: 9.5/10
Graphics: 9.5/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Adjustable
Playing Time: 6-9 Hours per Character

Overall: 10/10

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