Muramasa Rebirth Review
Muramasa Rebirth Box Art
System: PS Vita
Dev: Vanillaware
Pub: Aksys Games
Release: June 25, 2013
Players: 1
Screen Resolution: 544p Alcohol References, Fantasy Violence, Language, Sexual Themes
A Sharp Demon’s Edge
by Shelby Reiches

I wish we saw more in the way of 2D action games. Much as I love the DMC action formula, aped and reinterpreted by everything from Ninja Gaiden to God of War, there’s a certain purity to combat on a single plane. It holds true in fighting games and, as Muramasa Rebirth proves, in broader action titles as well.

To call Muramasa an action title, though, is a bit disingenuous. While the gameplay is very much that of a standard hack-and-slash platformer, there are wrinkles, both little and large, in the fabric of the game that define it as something other. Something a bit grander.

Muramasa Rebirth Screenshot

Taking control of either Kisuke, a traitorous and amnesiac ninja who has displayed sudden proficiency in a deadly, lost sword art, or Momohime, a princess whose body has been co-opted by the spirit of a vengeful and powerful swordsman, one plays through an expansive, eight-hour plot that takes them to nearly all of feudal Japan. Along the way, one battles with ninja, samurai, monks, and various demons and spirits ripped straight from Japanese folklore.

That Momohime and Kisuke have completely unique storylines is a Vanillaware hallmark; Odin Sphere has five characters, each of whom told their own story before linking together for the finale. In much the same way, Muramasa’s protagonists only rarely cross paths, and their storylines only converge at their climax under specific circumstances (there are multiple endings, most of which never explore this connection).

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The plot in Muramasa Rebirth is strong enough to drive the action, especially thanks to the new English translation, which injects a wealth of personality where, in the original Wii version, much of the dialogue comes across as slightly obtuse and overly literal. The translation is accompanied by sharpened versions of the same, lush visuals that define the game’s original release.

Muramasa Rebirth Screenshot

In fact, the visuals are perhaps Muramasa’s greatest draw. Smoothly animated and highly detailed, they are extremely expressive and intricate, lending a real sense of character to the world and its inhabitants. It’s a bit unfortunate that many of the backgrounds are repeated fairly frequently, which is especially noticeable since the game demands so much in the way of backtracking (pacing can be a bit of an issue), but that does nothing to detract from the obvious quality of what is on display.

The action sometimes suffers from a similar issue, wherein it becomes notably tedious. Though the core mechanics are designed to make the combat fast and dynamic, with Kisuke or Momohime dashing about the screen in a surprisingly precise flurry, there are only a handful of distinct enemy types, re-skinned throughout the game to provide a greater challenge as you level up and forge increasingly powerful swords with which to dispatch them.

Muramasa Rebirth Screenshot

Forging those blades is the other major form of advancement in the game. While each character can only equip one accessory, most of which either provide a direct statistical benefit (there are only two stats: strength and vitality, but they dictate what swords one can use) or help negate a status effect of some kind, they have three separate swords equipped at all times. These come in either “sword” or “long blade” forms, the latter of which tend to be significantly stronger, but are far slower to wield. Given the speed of combat, they’re best reserved for powerful, individual enemies. Why three swords, though?

Because you can switch between them on the fly, and you will. Each sword has a special technique, which activates with the press of a button. These are generally attacks of various stripes that may prove useful, but activating them also consumes the sword’s Soul gauge, which is also emptied by blocking. Should the gauge empty completely, the sword will break and must be sheathed to recharge, at which point it will be whole once more. Because of this, battles, especially protracted ones, tend to involve frequent swapping between blades. This is doubly true on the game’s Chaos difficulty setting, in which enemies are more damaging and defense is less automated.

It isn’t all fighting bad guys and advancing the plot, though. While there isn’t anything in the way of formal side quests, the game does contain sealed battle rooms that pit the player against challenging bosses or seemingly endless waves of foes in pursuit of useful trinkets and, of course, experience (experience is granted during combat, but it’s also granted at the end, based on how well one performs). There is a cooking mechanic, as well. It involves finding recipes and ingredients and can be used to produce either individual dishes that must be consumed immediately (but typically afford the player powerful temporary benefits) or food items that can be used for health in mid-battle. Eating fills the Fullness gauge, which must empty before one can eat again (limiting how often one can refill one’s health) and, in addition to health, provides one with spirit, one of the two resources used in crafting blades.

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