(Hey everybody, Bitterly Indifferent swung by to do another review with us, because he’s just the best!)
B. Indifferent: Muramasa: The Demon Blade shoehorns in mystery where it’s not needed.
“Stop the bad guy before it’s too late!” is a plot that has worked since Bad Dudes, and it would have worked here. Instead, we’ve got a boy ninja trying to figure out the Mysterious Secret of his past, and a girl ninja trying to figure out the Mysterious Secret of her fiancé’s past, and it may have something to do with stopping bad guys.
(FUN FACT: The girl isn’t even a ninja — she’s only good at fighting because she’s possessed by the vengeful ghost of an amoral swordsman, which has something to do with the dude she was going to marry. GENDER ISSUES IN VIDEO GAMES: WE HAVE THEM.)
Video game characters should probably just stop getting married. It always seems to involves ninja interference.
As a result, I couldn’t tell where the game was being deliberately mysterious and where it was just referencing unfamiliar folklore in a bid for hyper-Japanese authenticity. I know a kitsune when I see one, but Muramasa: The Demon Blade introduced demons disguised as corrupt bureaucrats and one-eyed boars covered in daisies, and I didn’t know what was a tried-and-true staple of the genre and what was supposed to be a fresh new twist on an old classic. It was like a game of Clue set in feudal Japan’s version of a renaissance faire.
Then there’s the map. I love the “Metroidvania” game mechanic — where you unlock new segments of old areas gradually — but it relies on getting a new weapon or ability to reach something that used to be inaccessible. Muramasa: The Demon Blade went more like this:
“Here’s an arbitrary barrier you’ll have to come back to after beating a boss.
No, not that boss. The other boss. No, the other one.
What do you mean all these barriers look the same? THEY’RE COLOR-CODED. WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?”
Beating bosses gives you new swords. They look and swing just like your old swords, but they hit enemies a little harder and destroy (some) magic barriers. You collect more blades by working your way through a sword-based skill tree, and at the end you have over 100 additional blades… and only two different fighting styles.
I might have loved Muramasa: The Demon Blade if it was around back when I was 15, but this site has previously noted that 15-year-olds have questionable taste.
Brad: I don’t think a game has ever tried as hard as Muramasa: the Demon Blade to get me to like it and failed. This game has beautiful – and I mean truly gorgeous – 2D artwork, some fierce action, Metroid-style level design, a quick pace that doesn’t get too bogged down in its story… on paper this game had everything I like. And yet, here’s the typical Muramasa experience – I’d run across the screen, enemies would appear, we’d fight, I’d win, or occasionally die, and I never really understood why. For a game with all the trappings of a technical fighter, most of the gameplay felt like random button mashing.
Part of the problem is that the game’s approach to combat seems to have been taken from old cartoon strips where fighting was indicated by a dust cloud with little fists and swear words coming out of it. The game allows multiple characters to get right up on top of each other, so just about any battle against multiple enemies (which is almost all of them), quickly turns into a crowded, indistinguishable mess. This is surely one of the many, many reasons we have yet to see a best selling fighting game based on Beetle Bailey or Andy Capp.
There are plenty of other problems as well – navigating the branching, Metroid-style levels is a nightmare due to the lack of a map that’s even remotely useful. Moves are laid out in the least intuitive way possible, and tend to go on a bit longer than you’d like in what should be a fast-paced, reactive kind of game. And then there’s the whole “you have to change swords every 30 seconds or so” gimmick which seems to exist for no other reason than as a way to remind you that you unleash a powerful attack whenever you change swords. When a game needs to take your character’s weapon away constantly to remind you to use the super attack, something went very, very bad during the design process.
That’s not fun, it’s not interesting, and it’s not old-school. It’s just bad.