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 Replies to “Muramasa: The Demon Blade – Art vs Gameplay”

  1. A friend of mine used to lent me his vita in School and I used to play this game.
    Stupid ass nigga forgot his vita on an Uber that his gf requested for him, the game was quite cool tho.

  2. The Vita version really is excellent. All the new characters in the game have way more interesting gameplay than original duo, and since they tackle fresh, seperate stories the themes can vary wildly.
    I really wish Vanillaware will do a port of the game to other systems. Full remaster in style Odin's Sphere probably isn't reasonable, since Muramasa's gameplay isn't nearly as dated as the original PS2 game was.

  3. Jim here, Muramasa Legends is pretty sick. Resolution looks a lot better than the Wii version, controls are better, translation is much better, and the additional content is nice, too. Genroku Legends for the most part doesn't do much to fix Muramasa's gameplay problems. You're still recycling enemies and areas and the gameplay is mostly identical if not arguably more simplistic and sometimes more frustrating than the main campaign, but the music, story, art, and bosses from each legend are more than worth the price.

    If you only have enough money for one of the four legends, I highly recommend "Hell is Where the Heart Is" because it is hilarious, super fun, and Rajyaki's super move is a Jojo reference.

  4. I think the reason why I love your channel is because you mostly talk about games or subjects that you are very interested in and you don't chase down popular topics or try to be extremely niche on purpose and in love with the sound of your own voice ,so you are genuinely positive about something and when you find a flaw in a game or a thing it isn't a nitpick it is a problem that may bother you or bother others and that is why you are funny and entertaining without being negative, annoying, mean to creators or viewers, trying to meme it up (being cringy), or being in love with yourself, like some other game reviewers that I have seen on YouTube keep your great work wish you the best Nerrel.

  5. Thank you for doing a video on this one! The art is so impressive and so much work went into it, it's a real shame to let this one fade into obscurity.

  6. God I love this game, both the Wii and the Vita version I got later. it's one of the few games I bought as a kid because the cover looked cool and didn't suck.

  7. Cool video, sums up nicely why people love vanillaware games.

    And yet I've seen a few people complain about their new title 13 sentinels aegis rim for being an rts. what do you think about that? I don't mind the gameplay change and I'll still enjoy the game for its art.

  8. Have to agree with you on Muramasa, it's an average game but the music and art alone are reason enough to come back to this game time and time again. I'd definitely recommend you try out Rebirth if you ever get a chance, it's fairly cheap these days (there's a digital release that comes bundled with the DLC and it's slightly cheaper than piecing it all together) and you can always find and pick up a Playstation Vita TV much cheaper than the Vita itself and play it on the TV. The additional content, changes and the revised and much better translation (Wii version had text limitations, and Rebirth did not so the translation is almost night and day) are easily enough reason to pick it up. I also noticed the thumbnail I did for the first part of Rajyaki's playthrough and had to do a double take it looked so familiar lol

  9. I was the second person to buy a vita and I yet live. Muramasa was the reason I bought it. Well worth it in my opinion. You can also cast the game with pretty good resolution using playstation tv to a well…tv.

  10. Man, now I'm sad that I sold this one! Some of you guys might have seen this game lying around in walmarts for the longest time, and I know I sure did. I seemed to see a lot of walmarts with a full priced copy of this game in the bottom of the wiiu section. If anybody else remembers seeing that, please tell me! Anyway, a couple of months ago this summer my local walmart put their one, extremely sunbleached copy of this game on sale for like, 2 bucks, and I bought it just for the heck of it. But then I sold it to a game store for something like 15-20 bucks, a pretty good profit I thought, and nothing more. But now maybe I'll go track down another copy. Looks like it's worth my time after all, thanks for showing me that Nerrel. 🙂

  11. I was plaing Odin Sphere Leifthrasir once, and there was a combat sequence I was having a lot of trouble with (I admittedly shouldn't have been, it was pretty easy) and I had finally finished it. My heart was still racing, the adrenalin was pulsing through my veins, it was that feeling most people play action games to chase. I decided i was getting too into the action and needed a break. So I just stopped. I stopped all the running, the jumping, the hacking, the slashing, the action, I just stopped. I stopped and looked out at the view. And then I saw something truely beautiful. A gorgeous turquoise castle looming over the vast kingdom in front of it. The different towers of the castle were curved in a sort of cartoony way, but you could tell the castle had a lot of elegance to it too, it wasn't just "cartoony," there was clearly a lot more nuance to it than just being "cartoony". But the vague cartoonyness did work to make it obvious that It doesnt take itself too seriously. It also had an air of dominance and importance to it as it loomed over all the smaller buildings. It looked down on them as they looked up to it. It was almost poetic. Its turquoise color and it's perfect harmony with the bright stars surrounding it, almost like it stretched all the way into space until it was almost just as much part of the sky as the stars themselves was simultaneously the cherry on top and the ice cream that everything tops adding that little extra bit of whimsy and wonder, with said whimsy and wonder being a leading force in this piece that is very clearly done by hand, sort of like a really potent secret sauce that can completely change the dish even after adding just a little bit. Then there's the music, and God was the music fucking gorgeous. Every note was somber, whimsical, elegant, powerful and emotionally impactful at the same time. Listening to it puts you in this almost but not really dreamlike state while simultaniously putting you through a bunch of emotions at once in a way ive only ever seen in Odin Sphere. It was the type of thing you would listen to while you reminisce on past memories you cherish. It was the kind of thing i needed to be listening to while I stared at that castle, and it's the kind of thing I needed in my head while I type this out. Then I almost cried. The music combined with the gorgeous scenery and atmosphere and artwork and the perfect harmony they have with each other, I almost genuinely cried right then and there. It was at that moment I fell in love with vanillaware's games. I'm sorry if this comment was a bit long, but I was just reminded of that experience I had, and wanted to reminisce. Great video, as always.

  12. Dude, this game was dope. Maybe just a tad long for its limited playstyle if you go to collect all the swords and get all the endings, but it was still really fun, and the sheer personality in the game is an absolute treasure.

    Master the Guard Break. Become the Guard Break. Know no fear in the extra challenge boss fight, because you are Guard Break.

  13. Muramasa fell into obscurity? I remembem everyone having played/recommending it to anyone with a wii on online forums so I always thought it sold a least relatively well, kinda like dragons crown.

  14. Muramasa is pretty bland on normal difficulty, but Shigurui mode makes it a totally different game.
    I think they originally designed the game around Shigurui mode, but then the bigwigs at Vanillaware were like "You call this a video game? Where's all the fucking FOOD??" and they had to go back to the drawing board.

  15. I was sharing your videos with my sister and she says she would really like to see a video on either Twilight princess or Okami.

  16. I think you'd appreciate Otogi: Myth of Demons. It's a mid-zeroes FromSoft game, and it's absolutely bitchin.'

  17. I feel like this is a game i hold very highly regarded, but yet, I've been afraid to replay it because i didn't want to bear with it not being as good as i remember it and this video showed me i was kinda right. I still love it a lot though

  18. The combat is simple but is very satisfactory and fun. I agree that the walking can get boring, but I find this a very enjoyable game overall.

  19. After eons of searching for the tomb of Jim and the Vita we have been successfully extracted the data of the updated version of Muramasa: the Demon Blade and might make it available for the eShop soon.

    However it is in the need of motion controls

    – Shigeru Miyamoto

  20. I know you don't do Playstation Games very much but it would be nice if you could cover the PS1 game: Azure Dreams
    Please give it a try, it's my favorite 🙂

  21. Holy shit.. I wanna totally play. This because is so fucking japenese that you turn japanese.. Thanks for. This straight forward "iam born 1977 so i love it"

  22. I really do feel this way about Donkey Kong Country. The platforming is really just above average. But the way the sound design, the lighting, and the music…it all melds together so well and creates such an amazing atmosphere.

    Maybe I'll pick up Muramasa if I see it at my local game shop again.

  23. I'd have to disagree that a videogames art can make a bad videogame good. There are plenty of games with absolutely amazing art and stories, that just aren't fun and have bad mechanics, that I would never touch because it's just boring. The beauty of the art should ADD to the gameplay, not replace it. I mean think about all the gross looking N64 and NES games we all still love and play today and think about all the visually stunning story driven games released today that no one remembers or plays years down the road. I mean think of how many people still play Mario 64 and Ocarina of time, despite looking like shit for todays standards and preferring the original over the graphicly enhanced version. It's just like with your Majora's mask remake video, yes, the game is visually beautiful, but the changes to the gameplay and mechanics makes it not fun and it's not worth the graphical overhaul. Good gameplay can makeup for bad art, but it's not interchangeable. I do believe video games can be a form of art, but not like traditional art, it's not YOUR canvas to paint on, it's just as much the player's canvas to enjoy the world you built the way they want to. Nice visuals and bring heavily story orientated doesn't make a game good, it's the gameplay behind all that. The gameplay always should come first, that's your canvas to paint with when it comes to videogames.

  24. Love this game! Don't think I ever 100%'d it :'( A rerelease on Switch would be incredible and I'd definitely rebuy!

  25. I saw this game called "Bladed Fury" and immediately thought of this video. Here's a link to the game:

  26. I replay it like once a year too, the art and music is just too beautiful. It's starting to get a little ridiculous how it hasn't been re-released on the switch or ps4 though, the world needs to be reminded of this game.

  27. I remember ten years ago, first seeing this advertised and I was beyond excited for months, until it released and recieved mediocre scores. I was very disappointed and didn't get it just because of reviews. After watching this video I just bought it and will never let reviews influence what I buy, ever again.

  28. The Vita version was amazing, largely due to the high quality OLED screen that the system used. That screen made a lot of games look really, really good- this was exceptionally true Odin's Sphere and Muramasa's case.

  29. The Vita version really is worth getting over the Wii version, it has a higher resolution, a newer better translation, configurable controls for improved gameplay, and the 4 DLC characters that add new gameplay styles and stories that are all really enjoyable and worth playing. I would say the best way to experience the game is the Playstation TV, but if you didn't pick one up when they were being pushed out of retail stores for about $20, they're now prohibitively expensive sitting in the $300 price range. I really hope Vanillaware ports this to other platforms, it's more deserving than most other games.

  30. My Wii's disc drive broke with this game in it.
    that is to say, it still works fine, but it can no longer eject the game.
    so, basically, my Wii is now a Muramasa: The Demon Blade machine, and I am very content with that.

  31. I had a playstation TV for the sole purpose of playing this. Love this game but the extra content has some real problems…
    All of the extra content follows a pattern by starting with a boss before you fully comprehend the new mechanics of your character, a small journey followed by two bosses, and a final cutscene that you get for beating every boss from the main game with the new character.

    The four characters are (goin off memory here)
    -A Nekomata, a shapeshifting cat with two tails, seeking revenge for the death of her owner. Best of the bunch with a form switching mechanic that alters between a werecat rush, small cat ranged attacks, and a rage mode where you turn into either a giant cat monster or a cat head made up of smaller cats. Also has the highlight of the expansions, the Youkai bossfight: a wild thing where you battle long necked rokurokubi, butthole cyclops monsters, a giant falling head, and a tanuki complete with a giant ballsack attack.
    -A ninja, fights like the ninja you fight in the main game (dynamite, kunai with chain, throwing knives). Pretty forgettable, best part is a fight with a gashadokuro (gigantic skeleton).
    -A normal villager seeking justice. He plays intentionally really badly but can summon friends and uses farm equipment to attack. Adds a sumo fight and some kunoichi for maximum japan
    A little oni girl turns from little girl with a hatchet to adult woman with an oni club to reskinned Raijin. story is about the oni girl trying to marry a loser/pervert. reminds me a bit of Lum.

  32. I have 2 vita…
    Also I liked the Vita version, the gameplay seems pretty good but obviously there was still a lot of padded walking around.

  33. Go buy a used Vita and get the DLCs. Do it. Go.
    I concur about the lack of variety in gameplay and the unfortunate repetition and despite that finished the game 10 times consecutively. Both main characters on normal and hard and as a speed run, and all four DLC characters on normal and hard. The DLCs each have such unique stories and characters and are so rewarding even though much of the game and world is the same crap youve done many times, albeit with two new bosses each… One of the "characters" is four hapless farmers and a ghost wife controlled simultaneously. Or a nekomata (cat lady) with three forms. And each DLC involves a treasure from Japanese lore that results in a cute bonus if youve cleared them all on a save file.

  34. the ps vita game can also be played on a plahstation tv and that hooks up to a tv through hdmi so I'm assuming you can have the game play on a normal tv that way

  35. "Raijin, the god of thunder, is re-imagined in a badonkadonked form"
    Well that's a interesting little fact that came outta nowhere.

  36. I've owned this game since it originally came out, i no longer have a wii, but I have never been able to bring myself to sell my copy. I love it to death, and I really wish i could play the enhanced Vita version.

  37. Man, I love this game from the bottom of my heart. it was there when I needed it most and I am so glad it didn't have wii motion controls to hinder it. It has been a few years since I played it last. (2014) but I wouldn't mind visiting again.

  38. I loved Oboro Muramasa, and sadly no one even has played it in the west. I still own the disc on Wii and I wished it would have gotten a remaster because the drawings are so amazing for this type of game. The game had a good bit of challenge with Shigurui mode once you beat both modes with you only having 1HP for the entire game and unveils more story.

    Edit: Thanks Nerrel, I'm going to replay it again. Dunno if you ever tried to, but I remember trying to get back to Takamagahara where you fight Raijin to find out like 'oh, well I guess it makes sense that you can't just go back to heaven that easily, I wanted to look around more'

  39. The DLC for the Vita version was out fucking standing. I especially liked the one about the rice farmers. After you beat each DLC, you can use the characters to go back and defeat all the bosses from both main stories, and I always loved the image of rice farmers coming into the god's domain and cleaning shop with the sickle storm ability.

  40. Oh, i started to play this (on a Vita) yesterday! I loved Odin sphere back in the PS2 era. So far it hasn't grabed me the way Odin did.

  41. On the point about the combat never really pushing you to master it: That's what the "hard mode but you only have 1HP" mode is for, lmao. It's a pretty good game; why they released it only on Wii and then re-released on the least-popular system in modern history is a mystery.

  42. I, uh, got the Japanese version on Wii back when it wasn't certain it was going to be localized, so I didn't get very far cause language barrier. I did get the Vita release but never finished. And now I can't since Jim is dead. I'd totally snag it on Switch. I just like to look at good art.

  43. so glad I played this as a kid when it came out. the visuals impressed me so much I barely noticed how simple the action was until going back to it years later

  44. I have it on the Vita with a couple of the DLCs. The game is much more fun on fury mode, but of course the highlight of the game is its bosses and not the screens between the bosses outside of the art.

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