written by Justin Prince (@Prince_Justin)
Vita owners rejoice and count yourselves amongst a lucky group... formerly a Wii exclusive, Vita owners now get the chance to play Muramasa: The Demon Blade. Rebranded as Muramasa Rebirth for the PlayStation Vita, this gorgeous sidescrolling slash em up is the perfect addition to the handheld console's library. The spiritual successor to the beautiful PlayStation 2 game Odin Sphere, Muramasa Rebirth comes from a developer that knows a thing or two about sidescrolling actions games, just Google Odin Sphere and Princess Crown and you'll see what came before. When I first played the Wii version, I didn't understand why it was on the Wii of all consoles, it didn't utilize the motion controls, I always wished that they would release it for the PS3 or XBox 360. At least with the Vita the hope to see this gorgeous game on a beautiful AMOLED screen is achieved to wondrous fruition.
The game features two protagonists and you can start the game as either, or switch back and forth at your leisure. Kisuke is a rogue ninja with a serious case of amnesia and Momohime is a princess possessed by the spirit of the master swordsman Jinkuro. Kisuke and Momohime both control identically and are proficient in the Oboro style and wield Demonic Swords crafted by legendary swordsmith Muramasa.
As you progress through each act in either Kisuke or Momohime's story, the truth behind how they became so proficient in the Oboro style along with the true nature of their journey comes to light. The story is never too complicated to get and with the improved translation of this version of the game, some story elements that were confusing when originally played on the Wii are better fleshed out. Apparently with this new Vita version we will be expecting four playable DLC characters fleshing out their own personal stories. Their quests won't be as long as either Kisuke or Momohime, but any excuse to get back into this awesome game would be an absolute treat. The DLC has not launched as of the writing of this review, so look forward to a DLC centric review coming soon.
This game is absolutely gorgeous! There have been many times that I found myself just admiring the beautiful hand drawn backgrounds, which can be a slight distraction when in the middle of a fight, though I won't dock it points for that. The cutscenes in between each act are fantastic and serve as the main delivery of each tidbit of the story, the voice acting is perfect and suits the characters to a tee. The music fits this ancient Edo setting and wonderfully complements the visuals. Visually striking hand drawn sprites against beautiful hand drawn backgrounds, it fits so perfectly it's hard to sincerely complain about the game's presentation.
While easy to pick up, it's varied enough to not feel too repetitive
Just as vibrant are the character sprites for both your characters and for the enemies you'll, many of the boss encounters are absolute visual treats, it's a wonder if a game like this ever could have existed in the PS2 era! While Odin Sphere is indeed one of my favorite games of the gen, the gameplay was plagued with so much slowdown it was annoying at best and insufferable at worst. No matter how many enemy sprites I face or how big my boss battles are, the swordfights are always fast paced and never feel like they are slowed by the limitations of the console.
Levels are mapped across straight forward plains, some occasionally forcing the player to go up or down. It has a very MetroidVania (like Metroid or Castlevania) feel to the level design, I dig that but at times it felt tedious, especially when you are forced to backtrack (this happens a lot). Locations are varied, from sprawling fields to beaches all the way to the gates of Hell. There is just so much to see in this world.
Swordplay is simple, you hit one button to attack and one button to jump, depending on whether you are crouching or holding up on the analog stick, pressing attack yields different either a rising slash that juggles most opponents or a low cut meant for smaller foes. Crouching and holding down the attack button for a few moments then releasing activates a charged attack meant for shattering the swords of samurai (a tactic you'll have to get used to). Combos are created by stringing together your regular attacks with attacks involving the analog stick. You can also dash three times after a jump by directing the analog stick left or right, also a downward slash when tilting down. Throughout your journey as Kisuke or Momohime, you will find and forge various demon blades, each with improved stats and each with a special attack unique to each blade. While easy to pick up, it's varied enough to not feel too repetitive. Though at times battle does get a little too hack and slash, the satisfaction of seeing my combo counter go up is enough to keep me entertained.
You are equipped with three demon blades and can equip new ones as you journey through ancient Edo. Switching between swords is as simple as a press of a button. If your sword's Soul Gauge depletes from overuse (by using the sword's special attack and/or deflecting attacks). When a sword is broken, you have to sheathe it to regain its Soul Gauge. When switching between swords, you will sometimes unleash a powerful full area attack when unsheathing and switching between blades. You can equip any variation of two types of swords; katana (mid-sized blade) are geared more to swift combos with increased mobility and nōdachi (long blades) inflict more damage but are slower and less mobile. Deciding on what combination of the two types to take into battle are up to the player. Personally I like having two katana and a nōdachi at all times, but this is up to you. You can forge more blades from the menu screen by talking to the spirit of Muramasa and exchanging souls (found or obtained by slaying enemies) and spirit (from eating food). Speaking of food, you can cook by collecting the right ingredients, and eating certain dishes will yield spirit and and sometimes added stat bonuses. Spirit can also be gained from eating at various restaurants throughout Edo.
Enemies are either ninjas, samurai, or all manner of Japanese folklore creatures. They are varied enough to keep things interesting. My one complaint about enemy encounters is that they don't happen often enough. Sometimes I'll travel across several screens before I even find something to cut. When trying to level up my character, sometimes I'm forced to hunt down enemy encounters. It never is too hard to come across them, but it is time consuming. As I said earlier, some of the boss encounters are huge! So be ready to get creative with your plan of attack.
The game is gorgeous, despite some repetitious battles, it continues to stay fresh and entertaining. I've thoroughly enjoyed playing it again on this new console and it is better than when I played it on the Wii. This is an absolute must buy, Prince tested... Lifted Geek approved.