Gaugain, Monet, Picasso; there are many names in the art world that evoke the concept of a masterpiece. In gaming culture, things should be no different, and developer Vanillaware has proven time and again that video games can be masterworks of art. Their newest title, Muramasa: The Demon Blade is no different. Recently released for the Nintendo Wii, did it stack up to previous Vanillaware fare like Odin Sphere and Grim Grimoire?
The first thing that will strike you about Muramasa is the graphics. Much like their previous titles, the 2D sprites and backgrounds in this piece are completely stunning. There is very great attention to detail in the animations of the characters and the environments. Masterful use of layering in the background gives you sweeping views of the landscape while creating dynamic depth, giving the sense of being in a full three dimensional world despite the explicit use of flat graphics.
Great care is put into the audio of Muramasa as well. The soundtrack is very typical of the feudal Japan time period which the game takes place in. When out of combat, the music calms down to a very meditative pace, but as soon as combat begins, the instrumentation picks up pace and seemlessly segues into a bumping swordplay jam. Combine this with the spectacular visuals and this game is a sensory experience rivaled by few.
Mechanically, not much has changed since Odin Sphere. There is a more complicated combo system at work here, with varying sword techniques being more or less useful against certain enemies. In a sense, you still recieve “experience” for eating food and for killing bad guys. However each of these points, labelled Spirit and Souls, are used to forge new swords with which to do battle. During combat, your swords will lose durability and break if you aren’t careful, so you must switch constantly between up to 3 equipped blades to keep each blade consuming enough souls to keep it in good repair for the duration of the fight.
At times, as with most beat-em-ups, the gameplay can get a little bit repetitive. Thankfully this is driven by a well-written narrative following two different characters whose stories you can choose to pick up or leave off at your leisure. If you feel like playing as the spirit-possessed female Momohime for a couple of chapters and then follow the amnesiac ninja Kisuke for a few more, it is all left entirely up to you.
All in all this is a spectacular title for Wii owners that should be obtained and absorbed as quickly as possible. The baddies are big, the world is fantastical, and the game comes with two difficulty settings for either casual gamers, or hardcore beat-em-up buffs. If Van Gogh were alive today and making games instead of paintings, it would not be a far stretch to envision him crafting something of Muramasa’s calibur.
Final Verdict: 9/10