Muramasa: The Demon Blade continues Vanillaware’s mission to deliver gorgeous 2D gaming. After their PlayStation 2 action-RPG Odin Sphere, and now this, it’s clear Vanillaware gives all their attention to the beautiful, painterly visuals of their games. When it comes to the actual video game part of their games, well, things get iffy.
Muramasa gives you two characters to play as: Kisuke, a warrior without his memory, and Momohime, a princess possessed by the soul of a vengeful swordsman. Each character plays similarly, the only difference lies in their stories, neither of which comes across very well. The plot itself is a ghost, a non-entity. Once in a while you get a break from fighting and go around talking to NPCs who say the same thing over and over.
That’s about it as far as story goes. The presentation is barebones at best, no cutscenes or anything. Most of the time it isn’t even clear what they’re talking about anyway — blame it on the original Japanese script or a lack of interest in the whereabouts of Momohime’s soul. I usually say “Who cares about story in a video game?” but if you’re going to try, at least try harder than Muramasa.
The game itself fares better, playing a lot like a traditional side scrolling beat-’em-up fitted with numerous RPG-like elements, since that’s the thing to do to stale genres. It’s easy to rack up tons of combos, zip left to right in the air, crash down on enemies, switch blades to attack all enemies at once, recover using items all the while gaining experience points and tons of new swords, items and equipment. The battles are fun and keeps you constantly busy, though they are randomly generated which can grow wearisome. When stuck at a boss all I had to do was forge stronger swords and grind to get by. Typical skills like pattern memorization and timing didn’t really matter — it was all about the grind.
It’s also all about managing your inventory. You can forge tons of swords but only equip 3 at a time. Recovery items are unique in that you can only eat them when Kisuke or Momohime feel hungry, which can be tricky in the heat of battle. A degree of strategy between battles comes in handy. Actually, the most impressive part of the game’s presentation for me was the eating. There are various eateries throughout the game where your character can sit down and enjoy a fine, prepared meal. A plate of shrimp tempura is so lovingly rendered it got me watering, and bit by bit it disappears with each bite. The game has charm for sure, but charm can fuel a game for so long.
Muramasa is fun in short bursts. Playing for long stretches got me antsy for something meatier, more involved. I can only slash the same few enemies through the same few vistas for so many times. The vistas are gorgeous for sure, and I’d be foolish not to appreciate Vanillaware for their dedication to 2D, I just hope their next game is something I can really sink my teeth into and not something so … vanilla.