Muramasa: The Demon Blade – Art vs Gameplay

Muramasa: The Demon Blade – Art vs Gameplay

Welcome once again to too late who gives a
shit, the show in which I talk about old otaku games that didn’t garner any noteworthy
critical or commercial success and have since fallen into moderate obscurity, making this
video a little cute. Muramasa: The Demon Blade is a sidescroller
by Vanillaware, the company known for their gorgeous hand drawn games like Odin Sphere
and Dragon’s Crown. It’s mostly a hack and slash action game
with RPG leveling, sword collecting, cooking, and a few Metroidvania elements. If it sounds like there’s a lot going on,
don’t worry, there isn’t. You can choose from two characters at the
start, who control the same and mainly differ in their stories. Kisuke is a swordsman with amnesia trying
to figure out why all of Japan apparently hates him while Momohime is a princess possessed
by the spirit of a dying swordsman hoping to transfer himself to a new body. The storytelling was based on kabuki theater,
something that can be seen in the dramatic poses and deliveries of the characters. The narrative almost exclusively advances
through cutscenes just before and after boss fights in which the characters stand still
and talk, and without any movement sometimes the scenes abruptly shift in a way that you
just kind of have to go along with. It’s very economical and stiff, but I wouldn’t
call it cheap- unlike some other games out there-
because here the acting has a lot of character and there’s a simple play-like charm to
it. If you go looking for it there’s a lot of
lore to piece together, but the story mostly stays out of your way if you just want to
play, which is great. In between the boss sequences you’ll be
crisscrossing Edo period Japan doing mostly fighting and walking. The swordfighting is done with a single button,
with different swings performed by holding the various D-pad directions. It’s very limited, but once you learn how
to use all of the moves it feels great to stylishly flow from one to the next as the
fight changes. It’s a little like Bayonetta in that you
can get a lot out of variation out of just a few inputs, but there’s much less incentive
to master the controls in Muramasa. There are no new moves to learn and enemies
rarely push you to use the handful of moves you already have. Samurai are one of the few examples of an
enemy actually resisting button mashing and even then the mashing works if you do it long
enough. Playing on the higher shura difficulty helps,
but the only real incentive to push yourself in fights is the rating system, which gives
you more xp for meeting certain criteria. The combat is saved from being repetitive
by the massive array of swords to collect. Each sword has its own unique special attack
that makes it stand out from the rest, with 108 to find altogether. There’s some cheating every now and then,
with some being variations on the same attack, but they are all technically distinct. The special attacks often seem to be tailored
for a specific boss or enemy type from the next area, which adds a little more variety
by enabling the developers to design fights that might not have been possible with earlier
swords. They’re absolutely not equally balanced
though, with some attacks allowing you to devastate everything on screen and others
not doing much more than a normal swing. The poor balancing ultimately doesn’t matter
much since there are so many swords that you’ll never be stuck with a bad one for long. The swords also function as your keys in a
Metroidvania sense. Your progress is limited by barriers at the
ends of each prefecture, and beating a boss will reward you with a new sword capable of
cutting another barrier type down. That’s where the Metroidvania influence
ends; There are a few soul refills tucked into hard to reach areas, but there’s no
real exploration or powerup hunting. There are challenge rooms where hordes of
enemies can be fought for XP and items, but they’re just sitting out in the open and
pretty much impossible to miss. Compared to the maps that are usually so complex
and tangled in Metroid type games, the maps in Muramasa are as boring and flat as can
be. There’s a little bit of verticality here
and there, but the game doesn’t ever push beyond simple, rectangular screens joined
end to end. There’s a point where the formula starts
to wear thin and it becomes a cycle of running in a straight line, fighting the same enemies
over and over using the same moves over and over until finding and beating the boss, then
starting over in a new prefecture. The fatigue gets compounded by the game’s
other weaknesses, like the lack of a decent travel system. There are a few palanquins and boats to ride
but they rarely ever let you board them and the few times they do they’re never going
where you need to. There’s a warp system, but you only get
it after beating the game. The backgrounds are also repeated heavily,
often back to back. You’ll be seeing a whole lot of this forest
by the end of the game. If you remove all the padding, the scope of
Muramasa’s content is somewhere between a Wiiware download and a full game. It’s not padded out in a deceitful or underhanded
way; the staff was made up of around 20 people, mostly artists, and it plays like a game made
by mostly artists. You have to forgive them for stretching to
make ends meet. At this point, I’m probably not making Muramasa
sound very appealing. So why would I want to talk about an apparently
mediocre old Wii title? Well, look at it. Listen to it. There’s a quote attributed to Shigeru Miyamoto,
apparently falsely, that good art can save a bad game. Muramasa is the purest example of this I’ve
seen; it’s not bad, but it is too small a game to fulfill the potential it had. But even if it were just a walking simulator
with no action, I still might play it. Its atmosphere is that good. Everything in the game was hand drawn and
animated using custom software derived from Flash, with a few 3D elements blended in for
effects that would be impossible with sprites alone. Vanillaware have mastered 2D visuals and their
work is proof that modern sprites look far superior to polygons. Tropical Freeze is the only 2.5D game that
stands as looking great to me, and it still doesn’t really compare to this or Hollow
Knight or Rayman Legends. I wouldn’t hesitate to call Muramasa the
best looking game of them all due to the huge amount of history and culture infused in the
art style. The game is meant to be a tribute to all japanese
art rather than one specific style, but it does lean heavily toward Edo woodblock prints,
which makes sense considering that the game takes place in that period. There’s even a recreation of Hokusai’s
wave. The food of that period was researched and
recreated as a game mechanic. It’s not really necessary to cook or visit
restaurants to complete the game, but it’s hard to resist when the eating animations
are so satisfying to watch. Raijin, the god of thunder, is imagined in
a badonkadonked form. The 108 blades in the game are a reference
to the number of sins in Buddhist mythology. Nara prefecture includes a run through what
appears to be horyu-ji temple. The story itself is based on the legend of
Muramasa, whose swords were thought to contain his bloodlust. The game is so Japanese that the developer
opted not to dub the acting into other languages, which seems like the right call. In the words of Miyamoto, “even white boys
got to shout.” If you have any interest in Japanese culture
at all, the history adds another layer of enjoyment to playing. Or if you’re just the kind of person who
likes to spend time marveling at what the artists put into the game, you can get a lot
out of this. A scene can already have impressed you with
its animations and sprite quality, and then jumping in the air reveals even more animated
layers that you can’t see otherwise. The non playable characters are all given
a lot of personality with just a few simple movements, and as with the food, you don’t
really need to interact with them but you can’t pass them up. The boss designs are also inspired and inventive,
with each of them being a totally different fight. The soundtrack is equally impressive for a
game from such a small studio, being performed with mostly traditional Japanese instruments. It has a strong synergy with the visuals that
reminds me of Super Metroid in a way that few other games do. The game also does the Hyrule field thing
where the music changes to an alternate battle version on the fly. Faster drums and modern instruments like electric
guitars get incorporated alongside the traditional instruments in a way that completely transforms
the track, and then seamlessly drop back out once the battle is done. Muramasa is so interesting to me not only
because of the incredible presentation, but because playing it makes me consider the importance
of music and art in a game. Strictly as a game, it’s OK but if the visuals
were also just OK I’d probably never replay it. But they aren’t, and I’ve found myself
replaying the game every year or so since its release and even consider it one of my
favorites. A game with great design can hold up even
when the visuals aren’t very impressive, and this game demonstrates that it also works
the other way around; it’s like Miyamoto said, “you don’t even need clothes if
you’ve got BALLS.” It’s a little weird to recommend the game
when the availability isn’t great. If you still have a Wii or Wii U, you can
probably find a disc really cheap. I ripped mine years ago and have found Dolphin
to be a great way to play it, but it can’t do much to enhance the 2D sprites. I’m using an upscaled texture pack, but
it comes at the cost of introducing seams between some backgrounds. There was a rerelease on the Vita, which added
a lot of new content and characters. It seems like a major improvement, but I can’t
comment on it personally since I never had a Vita to play it with. Jim is the only person who bought a Vita,
and he’s dead now, and he was buried with it so now the Vita is gone. Vanillaware drew the sprites at double the
Wii resolutions and the Vita display wasn’t much higher res, so the full quality of the
art has never been seen. The Switch would be perfect for a definitive
edition with full resolution visuals and all of the Vita content. I’d buy and recommend something like that
with no hesitation. It might be boring for some, but it is one
of the most beautifully crafted games ever made and I get a different kind of enjoyment
out of it than anything else I’ve played. If it doesn’t get released again soon, it’s
well worth going out of your way to track a copy down before it fades away.

100 thoughts on “Muramasa: The Demon Blade – Art vs Gameplay

  1. I was able to get this game on ebay brand new factory sealed for pretty cheap price. Only 25$ dollars I think. I haven't played the game yet but You have definitely sold me on it. Especially on how the music transitions so fluidly in and out of battle. You really gotta appreciate that especially nowadays with games putting some stock percussion music when you get near an enemy or some cheesy otaku vocal music.

  2. I loved playing this back in the Wii days, thanks a lot for the retrospective and I concur, visuals and atmosphere alone make this game a great experience imo.

  3. Imagine being a 13 year old girl and that badonkadonked naked giant Raijin woman starts literally flying around the screen and not having any idea if someone would come in or not before you beat her. I absorbed none of the cutscene that preceded or followed it i was just anxiously trying to get the plot as fast as possible
    Also the hot spring scene with the boar was incredibly stressful. Grandmother came into the room with the boss fight right before it and then it just transitioned into that and I was mentally like "oh god am i in trouble is this Bad" but she just kind of Watched without saying anything
    In all honesty i didn't really get that it was supposed to be sexual, to give you an idea of my age. I just knew "nudity bad."
    That said, thoroughly bisexual nowadays so muramasa the demon blade probably made me gay

  4. It's always nice to see people talk about things they like when they first really got off the ground from them talking about things they dislike. It gives you an even better idea of what kind of things they value and enjoy so you can better understand where they come from when they criticize a game.

  5. It's always nice to see people talk about things they like when they first really got off the ground from them talking about things they dislike. It gives you an even better idea of what kind of things they value and enjoy so you can better understand where they come from when they criticize a game.

  6. A game can get by with mediocre gameplay if the art is amazing, but it shouldn't.

    An artistic creation should always focus on the strengths of whatever medium is chosen.
    A game should be interactive! Imagine if this art would have been used for an OVA, a manga, or even a series of paintings.

  7. As a professional artist and a long-standing weeb, this game was my jam. And that you're covering it even after all this time… well as Miyamoto said "I fucking love this channel, Nerrel!"

  8. Spirit of Jim here. The Vita version is very very good. New characters to play and an updated translation because the old one was done pretty badly.

  9. I played it on the VITA and it's one of the best games ever made for a handheld system. The game looks even better on the VITA's OLED screen. The gameplay flaws become less noticeable when playing this game on a portable system. If you don't have a VITA you can emulate it with dolphin on PC or even an android device.

  10. I'm holding out for an Odin Sphere Leifthrasir-style enhanced port at this stage. Dragon's Crown nailed both the gameplay and the aesthetic, and I've found it hard to go back to their games from before they made that. Both Muramasa and the old Odin Sphere were just a bit too boring for me to get through in their original incarnations, but I can see that changing quickly by taking another stab at it with what they've learned since.

  11. Love the graphic too, but to be honest it couldn't help to stay me motivated to that boring core gameplay loop, I guess you can't translate statements like this to any person, to be honst I don't care about graphic and art at all when it comes to playing games i'm much more interested in gameplay mechanics and their synergy, of course nice graphic can be a good plus but I always realise after some hours put into the game, that the novelty factor clings off and I just see the core part of the game.

  12. I do think that a 2.5d game can look as good as beautiful sprites by using 3d rendering. Guilty Gear and Dragon Ball Fighter Z removed any doubt I had of that.

    Muramasa's sprites perfectly fits its aesthetic though.

  13. I bought the Vita version, the DLC introduces more variety in gameplay, but the stories are much shorter. I'm more of a fan of the Odin Sphere re release.

  14. As someone who wants gameplay over graphics, I think you overdonit in terms of comparing the gameplay to the graphics. You undersell the entertainment of this game.

    As someone who appreciates art, this is bomb ass. The game does indeed capture the folklore japanese feeling.

  15. I love your videos to death, and want nothing more than for them to be more popular. Keep it up man, thanks a lot. Will check this game out ASAP.

  16. I think art being able to save a game really comes down to the person. Based on the explanation you gave and the gameplay provided it seems that I would only play this game for about 20-30 minutes before never playing it again. A game's mechanics is what makes the game for me, story, and art aren't enough to keep me invested in a game. It's why I found Neir: Automata to be really boring to play despite the unanimous love for the game. If the core mechanics of the game get stale quickly then I find it extremely boring to play through, and it not being much more than a movie that I have to interact with for it to progress which I find to be more of a nuisance than anything. It doesn't matter to me how great the story is, if the gameplay gets boring then it's not worth the time to put in to get to the story parts, it ends up feeling like every minute of a movie is broken up by waiting for the movie to buffer for longer than you get to watch, at some point you stop trying and just turn it off.

  17. I guess my name is Jim and I've come back. The Vita version is wonderful and definitely needs to be on the switch. The additional content is great, and on a Vita TV you can experience the art a bit more clearly.

  18. I swear I'll support you on patreon someday if I ever manage to get my life together
    Your content always brightens up my day

  19. I'm here waiting for the switch version, I bought this game when it was on the Wii and PS vita……I want this game on the switch… It's on my top ten favorite games of all time list

  20. Jim here with a message from the afterlife.

    I can indeed confirm that these visuals on the original model Vita with the OLED screen, melted my eyeballs. In a great way.

  21. All of Vanillaware’s games need re-releases on the Switch. I love having them all on the Vita, and two are on the PS4, but these games really benefit from portability, and the Switch would allow so many new people to play them.

  22. Anybody who hasn't played this should go play this. Super fun mechanics and beautiful just to look at. A lot of the standard combos can be a little repetitive, but you'll feel like such a badass that you won't even care. And the blade abilities more than make up for it.

  23. This is in my top 5. I wouldn't play it every year or as often as you but I can say that each moment I turn it on it's always a blast. Never got the luxury of the Wii but I do own the Vita version.

  24. Dust: An Elysian Tail is also preaty similar in 2d art style and a metroidvania aspect is much more pronounced. made by 2 people I believe.

  25. Great vid, my childhood friend that I lost contact with a few years ago loved this game so everytime I see it I think of him.
    RIP Benny Harvey, miss you big guy.

  26. I always wanted to try Muramasa out but other games just kept getting in the way. If it is ever rereleased I will correct this great wrong!

  27. I hope you keep doing this series. I know the views aren't as big as your other video types but I think the views will really sky rocket for all of them as soon as you become verified at 100k subs.

  28. I'm surprised you didn't mention the controller compatibility. You can play this game with any control style you see fit. Even with a gamecube controller.

  29. I have a Vita and was planning to purchase Muramase for several years but always put it off for one reason or another. I promise I will buy it by the end of this year.

  30. Don't need to worry about tracking a copy down. Either just emulate it on Dolphin, or get a Vita/PS TV. The game is sold on PS Store.

  31. After playing Odin sphere leifthrasir I think I've officially missed the boat on this game. Odin sphere already did so much to expand on this game and it still bored me to death. It's a shame. Might have to look up a walkthrough just for the art

  32. I'm glad someone still remembers this game as well, Muramasa was an enjoyable experience for me, alongside Vanillaware's other titles. The hack and slash game play didn't bother me, as I liked its fast-paced action, though the lack of exploration did bother me a little. The soundtrack and visuals were of course, as gorgeous as they are in all Vanillaware games, and definitely one of the main draws as mentioned. I've been actually thinking of picking this game back up and playing it again, as I still have my copy, and a working Wii!

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