I’ve never really understood why Muramasa started out life as a Wii game. It’s not that it didn’t fit on the system, but particularly given developer Vanillaware’s past association with Sony (through such titles as Odin Sphere and Grim Grimoire, both for the PlayStation 2), it always seemed to me that the frankly stunning visuals would have been better served by the superior processing power of the PS3.
Turns out I was right.
Four years after its initial release, the aptly-titled Muramasa Rebirth has made its way to the PS Vita, courtesy of Aksys Games, and really, this is where it should have been all along. Neither the story nor the combat has changed, save for some improved button-mapping that makes combat flow a bit more smoothly, but the real strength of the game—the art—is allowed to shine through far more than in its original incarnation.
Muramasa features two storylines, each individually accessible, that intertwine in fairly minimal ways. You can play as either Kisuke, an amnesiac swordsman in search of answers about his past, or Momohime, a princess possessed by an evil spirit. They play exactly the same (even the tutorial points this out), so which one you play first is purely an aesthetic choice.
There’s definitely merit to completing both storylines, though. Aside from the narratives, which are interesting in their own right, you can also unlock additional content, including alternate endings for each character, by doing so. Certain areas of the map are also inaccessible unless you have gone through both story branches in their entirety.
There’s a very Metroid-esque quality to Muramasa in that it does segment off areas of the world map (which is the same for both characters, although each of them starts out on a different side) until you go and fight the proper boss for the chapter. Doing so nets you a new blade, which can cut through barriers of a different color each time. Thus, you gain access to the next area, as well as to any of the optional properly colored challenge areas, which are scattered around the map. The final set of barriers, which are white, cannot be breached until you have finished both Kisuke’s and Momohime’s stories.
The original subtitle for the game was The Demon Blade, which gives a hint as to just how important the swords your characters will wield are to the gameplay. There are 108 in total, and with a few exceptions (such as the ones you obtain in story events), most of them can be forged with a combination of spirit (gained, somewhat bizarrely, by eating recovery food) and souls (found in the environment as well as picked up after defeating enemies). You’ll have no trouble keeping enough spirit around to forge anything you want, but expect to do some grinding if you want all of the souls you’ll need to catch ‘em all.
Once forged, up to three blades at a time can be equipped, and as each one is different, this requires some strategy. Each sword has a “Secret Art,” unleashed by pressing the circle button, which can deal devastating damage if properly employed. However, if you overuse it or it takes too much damage from blocking attacks, it will break, and must be swapped out so that it can regenerate. Boss battles in particular take on new tension when you know you must ration out your more powerful attacks so that you still have the energy to block when needed.
The biggest strength of Muramasa is, as it has always been, the art. Now that it is featured on the Vita’s OLED screen, this is even more apparent, but the hand-drawn characters and backdrops are an absolute joy to look at. The bosses in particular (different for each character) are detailed, original, and wildly creative, ranging from a murderous cyclopean monk to a swarm of giant centipedes.
Even simply running through the environments is a treat, which is good, because you’re going to be doing so a lot. This is by far my largest complaint with the game; naturally, a certain amount of backtracking is to be expected, but it’s far too excessive, and there is no fast travel system (at least, not until you complete both halves of the storyline). This was an issue in the original game, and one that I would have liked to see addressed in the reboot, but it wasn’t. Still, it’s a small price to pay for the experience you get.
Overall, I recommend Muramasa Rebirth without hesitation to any Vita owner who enjoys the genre. It’s by far the best looking game on the system, and there’s more than enough interesting gameplay to keep it fresh beyond just being pretty, as well.
Gorgeous hand-drawn visuals, now displayed on a fitting screen
Tons of collectables, if you’re into that
Creative creatures and storylines
Backtracking, and lots of it
Non-boss enemies can be a bit repetitive
OVERALL: 4 out of 5
A review code for Muramasa Rebirth was provided by Aksys Games. The game is currently available in the USA and a European release date has not been announced.