VITA Muramasa000

Published on July 3rd, 2013 | by Christian

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Muramasa Rebirth – Honed

The Vita gets a lot of ports.  Also, they’re really late most of the time.  Usually when you’re playing the port of a console game, you don’t expect it to be the definitive version, but in the case of Muramasa Rebirth we’ll have to note the exception.  Coming to Vita nearly 4 years after the release of Muramasa The Demon Blade on the Nintendo Wii, Rebirth seems right at home on the Vita.  It’s a stunning game, and I promise to only spend two paragraphs talking about how amazing it looks.  It plays alright too, and I’ll also get into some of the design problems that drag this game down a bit.

Muramasa01

How many words is this picture worth? I don’t have all night to write here.

Visually, there is nothing quite like Muramasa Rebirth.  The character sprites are beautifully detailed and animated, and while there are not very many different kinds of enemies, the designs are imaginative and clearly communicate  how the enemy fights before you even see them throw their first attack.  Bosses are huge and detailed, and the game recycles none of them across two lengthy single player campaigns.  With all of these beautiful looking characters, it would be a shame if there wasn’t a nice collection of breathtaking environments, and Muramasa delivers them. From snowy mountain ranges, to tranquil farms, caves, waterfalls, forests and castle roof tops; Muramasa Rebirth has got a ton of great backgrounds to run around and fight on.  The game is a masterclass in background animation and parallax scrolling, and just running through different areas is enough to make your jaw drop.

Muramasa 02

It’s nice here, but you really need to see it in motion.

Obviously I really like how this game looks.  To me, Muramasa Rebirth is the best looking video game ever made on any platform.  Period. While its Wii incarnation was held back by crummy video output, Rebirth looks stunning on the Vita’s screen.  One can debate just how HD the Vita’s 960×544 5″ OLED is, but there is no question that t he visuals are sharp and the colors really have a chance to shine on this platform.  What’s important is that I can’t imagine it looking any better, which was not the case with the Wii version, so Rebirth is a clear improvment.  That said,  what makes this game look great doesn’t have anything to do with hardware limitations or technical prowess,  it’s the overwhelming cohesion of the world on display.  Everything in Muramasa looks like it belongs, from the characters, to wild boars and pheasants, ninja, sushi dinners, giant centipede bosses- you name it.  Nothing looks out of place here.  Every element appears to have been crafted with the same amount of care and attention to detail, which is almost unheard of in games today.  Oh, and the music is pretty bangin’ too.

Muramasa03

That guy is a regular enemy. In any other game he would be a boss for sure.

Okay, so now we get to the part where I lament how this game could have been the greatest game ever if not for some really serious design flaws.  They’re not all that bad, it’s just that the game puts such a strong foot forward aesthetically and then completely cocks it up when it comes to some of the game’s sub-systems.  The core gameplay is actually quite good. Aside from the sometimes repetitive random encounters and backtracking through empty (albeit beautiful) screens, Muramasa plays quite well.  Kisuke and Momohime are responsive, combat is exciting, and depending on how serious you are about the game you can get through it by playing a very tight technical game or just by mashing attacks wildly, though the game encourages you to play well by giving XP bonuses for ending fights quickly and without taking damage.  It’s mechanically sound, but some problems with how death, cooking, and the special sword techniques work hold it back from absolute greatness.

Muramasa04

This sushi dinner is really cute but completely pointless.

The problems with death and cooking are related.  When you die, there is no penalty. You start back at the beginning of the current screen with all of your health and items. This is convenient, but completely invalidates cooking, which is a pretty detailed sub-system in the game that revolves around collecting cookbooks and ingredients to make wild boar stews and boiled radishes and all kinds of tasty meals to restore health and also grant passive bonuses.  It also makes some of the other items in the game like the smoke bomb (which ends random encounters) completely worthless.  The end result is that you can get through the game only cooking  before boss fights, and then only using your healing items during said boss fights.  It makes the majority of the game feel kind of like a grindy time-sink, despite the fact that it plays well.  I would have liked to have seen some gameplay changes in this version to address these issues, but I’m not going to knock Rebirth too hard for these legacy problems.

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Some of this guy’s swords…. not so great.

Imbalanced special sword techniques are my other problem with this game.  Some of them seem completely worthless, and can make forging a new sword (kind of a big deal in this game) feel like a waste of resources.  Alternatively, others are completely devastating, turning your character into an invulnerable human buzz-saw capable of landing 10 blows in a second.  There seems to be no rhyme or reason to the power and distribution of these abilities, and it would have been nice if the abilities that hit less or offered less frames of invulnerability were balanced to do more damage, but usually that’s not the case.  It should always be exciting to trade up to new and ostensibly better swords, but it often feels like a drag when those swords have lackluster abilities tied to them.  Sword collecting is sort of what this game is all about, so it’s a shame that Vanillaware dropped the ball on this aspect of Muramasa and again didn’t make any apparent corrections for Rebirth.

Muramasa06

Breaking the fourth wall?

So do these problems ruin Rebirth? No, not really.  The art, music, story, and deft blend of action and RPG elements are what make Muramasa a great game to me.   It has been long enough since the Wii version that this feels like a new game to me, especially on the Vita which is a piece of hardware I enjoy playing games on, so I don’t at all regret purchasing this game again.   That it could be a better game is undeniable, but in light of how fantastic so many of it’s elements are, I’m more than happy to settle for a great game that also happens to be the best looking game ever made on any platform.  Did I mention that already?

 

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Christian



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