Not long ago, I finished playing “Muramasa: The Demon Blade” after a two year break (I got a new XBox 360 halfway through and then was distracted by that and other various things for quite some time afterward). What I noticed first and foremost about this game when I found it at the store was the interesting art style and the rich colors on the front and back covers, which ended up being the main reason I decided to buy it (plus, the game store was having some kind of sale, so why not?). But, first, a summary of the game.
This game is a side-scrolling action game. Throughout the game, you collect or forge different swords, each with its own special skill, some of which can break different barriers that block your progress to various locations. Battles are fought with three of your swords, which you can switch between, preferably before your current sword breaks, and switching swords at the right time allows you to attack all enemies on-screen at once. The strategy involved in fighting in this game makes the battle system more interesting than simple button mashing (which is what I still largely did, though). The game is also composed of two stories, the story of Momohime (though, I don’t know if that is accurate, as she is possessed nearly the entire time) and the story of Kisuke, plus multiple secret endings. The stories and characters were fairly interesting, though they didn’t particularly appeal to me. It was other aspects of the game that made it stand out to me the most.
One aspect of the game I liked was that it takes place in Japan, and I enjoyed being able to play a game while also learning a bit about the country and its mythology. (The game is actually named after the famous Japanese sword smith, Muramasa, whose blades were rumored to not return to their sheaths until they “tasted blood”, if you will, even forcing the wielder to commit suicide if no other victim could be found.) I also encountered various monsters from Japanese folklore, like the Kappa, Tengu, and the most bizarre Kasa-obake, a strange umbrella monster that hops around on one foot. The game, while having dialogue written in English, is also spoken entirely in Japanese, which I also found interesting.
What distinguishes this game from others the most, though, is the style of artwork. This game has some of the most stunning scenery I have ever seen. The backgrounds (and characters) are more in a 2D style, but the background is kind of layered in a way, so it gives a more 3D feel to it. The locations use such vibrant colors and are positively beautiful to behold, from a stormy ocean (with a cameo appearance of the famous woodblock print “The Great Wave of Kanagawa”) to snowy hills with a frozen river running off into the horizon, from mysterious forests to tranquil fields of wheat at sunset. This game mainly involves fighting enemies and traveling, and the traveling doesn’t get as boring as I think it would have otherwise because the scenery is so lovely to look at.
And this makes me think of other games that use beautiful art styles, like “Rayman Origins” and “Okami” (the latter of which uses more of the Japanese ink art style in its scenery and characters). These games, along with “Muramasa”, stand out from other games, not because their graphics are realistic, but because they are unique and beautiful. Sure, games like “Halo 4” and “Final Fantasy XIII” look amazing. But, now that technology has reached that point, we’re going to see a lot more games that look like that. It’s not going to be so novel anymore once most games look that good, and we have become used to it.
It is the games with the different styles that will stand out in terms of graphics and are the ones that will always be beautiful to look at, even after the excitement of nearly-realistic graphics wears off. It’s like the difference between a photo and a painting. A well-taken photo can be nice to look at, but for me, a beautiful painting is so much more interesting to look at. A painting can use a style and colors that brings out emotions that a photo can’t. A photo shows you what’s there. Yes, photographers can be artsy with lighting and angle, but paintings still can do things photos can’t.
So I have gotten a bit off-topic about this game. The game is a lot of fun, with a story and characters that are perfectly adequate (like I said, I didn’t get overly attached to these aspects, but they certainly weren’t bad). But, it was the art style that stood out to me the most. This game is an interactive piece of art, and it has one of the most beautiful art styles I have ever seen. (I noticed this when I bought it, and this initial impression only grew when I saw that it also has one of the loveliest manuals and disks the world has ever known.) So while this game is not among my list of favorites, it still will always stand out to me because of its stunning art style. That alone might be reason enough to check this game out so you can see its glory for yourself.
The Duck Blade