|System: Wii||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Vanillaware||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Xseed||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: TBA 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Pending||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Tony Capri
January 26, 2009 - As the PS2 entered the twilight of its life cycle, a few last gems came along to grace the system's legacy. Odin's Sphere (Vanillaware) was one such title, and it was both an innovative approach to the RPG genre and an absolute stunner in terms of visuals. So, when the game's developer revealed Oboro Muramasa Youtouden for Wii back in 2007, the eyes of gaming took notice. Muramasa will follow in the footsteps of Odin's Sphere in concept, but it's also a very new experience fans should be excited about.
The game's name has since changed to Muramasa: The Demon Blade, and we learned late last year it would be picked up by XSeed for a U.S. release. Both Muramasa and Odin's Sphere are part of the Princess Crown series of action-RPGs, originating on the SEGA Saturn (though the first game never saw publication outside of Japan). Muramasa, however, focuses on a sort of wuxia-type theme and, in many ways, can be likened to The Legend of Kage. Far from a typical RPG approach, Muramasa is a side-scroller, and rather than having a party of characters tag along with you, you'll be flying solo the entire way through (though players will get the opportunity to play as two different characters).
Muramasa is the name of an actual person from Japanese history. A great craftsman of swords during the Muromachi period (1500s), it is said that Muramasa poured his madness into his creations. These cursed swords must satisfy their lust for blood - whether it be from foe or the wielder himself - and thus the tale of The Demon Blade revolves around the struggle to attain the swords and the powers they possess.
Muramasa is set in Japan during the Genroku period (the Golden Age of Edo), and it enlists many creatures and characters from Japanese folklore. You'll switch from playing as both Kisuke, a young ninja who's lost his memory, and a kunoichi named Momohime. Similar to The Legend of Kage, the game exhibits as much vertical action as it does side-scrolling. Players will use tree limbs and rooftops to navigate various portions of levels, and some areas are more akin to great platforming games than anything we've seen in RPGs of the past.
Players will have the option of using either the Classic Controller or the Wii Remote and Nunchuk set-up. With the first option, you'll use the face buttons for attacking and using items; the analog stick allows you to jump and move about; the left trigger lets you change out swords on the fly. Reportedly, there are more than 100 swords to be discovered throughout the game, though each character can carry only two at any given time.
The Wii Remote and Nunchuk option is, at this stage in development, equally straightforward, with no gesture-based action yet announced. You'll use the A button for attacks, as well as to deflect shuriken, and use the B button for special attacks. The analog stick on the Nunchuk moves your character in the exact same fashion as that of the Classic Controller.
Through the curse of the demon blades, evil spirits are summoned to terrorize feudal Japan. You'll encounter all sorts of monsters and mythical figures from Japanese legend, including some simply amazing bosses. Whereas the creatures of Norse mythology were the order of the day in Odin's Sphere, Muramasa will pit you against wingless dragons, red-demon oni, and hordes of ninja warriors. As might be expected, the combat incorporates moves that are ninja to the core. Players will find that the action has been ramped up significantly when compared to Odin's Sphere, and folks looking for a viscerally satisfying hack-and-slash will definitely want to keep The Demon Blade on their radar.
However, Muramasa is still an RPG, and you'll build your character much in the same way as in Odin's Sphere. Vanillaware has much still to reveal with respect to many of the particulars in the game, but players can expect more than just a short romp when setting out on this adventure. Additionally, Muramasa features incredible variety in terms of scenery, and the developers have taken fans' comments to heart by minimizing backtracking throughout the game.
What we haven't yet discussed, however, is the game's presentation, and if you're at all the type of gamer who is shamelessly drawn to lovely visuals, look no further than Muramasa. Thought impossible, Vanillaware has actually managed to one-up Odin's Sphere with its breath-taking 2D artwork. The sakura blossoms of Japan have always been a wonderful visual treat in any game based on Asian culture, but in The Demon Blade the colors simply explode. Character and monster animations are guaranteed to mesmerize fans of 2D-fighting games, and the environments could each stand as unique works of art. It cannot be overstated just how gorgeous Muramasa looks on Wii.
Almost equally tantalizing are the game's aural complements. Punchy, pleasantly piercing, and fully loaded to support the game's incredibly fast-paced action, the sound effects and traditional Asian themes are superbly crafted. We're delighted to see and hear just how well the production for Muramasa is coming together.
Muramasa: The Demon Blade releases in Japan this April, and we now have confirmation the game will also make it Stateside sometime later this year. 2008 was surely a disappointment for many Wii owners, but things are shaping up early to make 2009 a much, much better year for the system. In a word, Muramasa looks "tight," and our excitement for the game couldn't be greater.
CCC Freelance Writer