Muramasa Rebirth - Staff Review  

The Retelling of the Pandemonium of the Demon Blade
by Adriaan den Ouden

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Less than 20 Hours
+ Highly improved localization.
+ Visuals even more impressive on the Vita.
+ Fast, fun combat.
- Lots of backtracking.
- Still no English voice acting.
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   The last Vanillaware game North American gamers were able to play was Muramasa: The Demon Blade on the Wii. That was four years ago, but the wait is over, sort of. Its latest title to grace North American shores is Muramasa Rebirth, a port of the original title for the PlayStation Vita. However, even those who played the original on the Wii in 2009 are going to want to take a look at this new version, as it's vastly improved in almost every respect.

   Muramasa tells two separate stories with certain common elements. The first story follows the ninja Kisuke, who is being hunted by his clan as a traitor and doesn't know why. As he regains his memory, he falls into an alliance with the beautiful princess Torahime, who is fighting a demonic war to reclaim a dangerous sword which holds the spirit of the dog god Inugami. The second story is that of Momohime, a princess possessed by an evil soul named Jinkuro. Jinkuro has claimed her body in his quest for divinity, and will brave the depths of Hell and the wrath of Heaven in order to achieve his goal. Both Kisuke and Jinkuro are masters of the Oboro style of fighting, and wield the demon blades forged by Muramasa, evil swords that devour souls and hunger for blood.

   Both stories are presented as "Ninja Scrolls," and are heavily steeped in Japanese folklore, particularly the Buddhist and Shinto mythos. Some players may find it difficult to follow the stories because of this, but Aksys Games deserves credit for giving the story a great deal more personality and clarity than the nearly incomprehensible mess of the original version. With its new localization, the story takes on a much more prominent role, though it's still dwarfed by the rapid, fast-paced combat that takes up the majority of the game's playtime.

Gigantic, epic boss battles are one of the game Gigantic, epic boss battles are one of the game's highlights.

   Like other Vanillaware games, the combat is fast-paced and action-oriented. Both Kisuke and Momohime control the same, and they leap across the screen with blistering speed. There are two types of blades in the game, swords and long swords, each of which offers distinct advantages. Swords are faster, offering up longer, quicker combos. Long swords are a bit slower, but they provide the advantage of allowing the wielder to float while in the air, allowing for much longer aerial combos. Every sword in the game also has a unique special attack, activated by the O button. Players can forge new blades by collecting souls from defeated enemies and spirit from consumed foods, with a total of 108 in the game. Despite this, customization options are very limited. All swords have a stat requirement in order to equip them, and every new sword is better than the one previously acquired. It's highly unlikely players will equip any blades other than the newest, strongest ones they've created.

   Key to combat is rationing a weapon's soul power. Each weapon has a set amount, and it goes down whenever players parry incoming attacks or use a sword's special ability. Once it runs out, the sword breaks, limiting its damage potential and preventing the player from defending at all. Luckily, each character can equip three swords at a time, and can change between them at will. While not being used, a broken weapon will slowly repair itself, so players will have to keep switching weapons if they don't want to be rendered defenseless.

   The gameplay hasn't changed much from the Wii version, except for one key difference: while jumping in the previous edition was handled by pressing up on the control stick, Muramasa Rebirth provides a dedicated jump button, which goes a long way to improving control, although there are still a few niggling issues. The combat is still much simpler than some of Vanillaware's other games, most notably Odin Sphere, but it's fast, addictively fun, and the boss fights are all spectacular and complex. The scale of some of them is truly impressive; in one case, Momohime battles against a demon so large that for much of the battle she's only fighting its foot.

Incredible backdrops are a common sight. Incredible backdrops are a common sight.

   Other issues with the game remain in place. There is still far more backtracking than ought to be necessary, though players can take this travel time to collect more souls so at least it isn't wasted. Many desirable features, such as the ability to share swords between Momohime and Kisuke, or the ability to teleport to other areas, are locked away until the post-game, but the game is so short that the damage this causes is fairly minimal.

   Unsurprisingly, Muramasa Rebirth is a beautiful game, but it's really hard to believe the level of improvement between this version and the original. Even though nothing has really been added, the vivid clarity offered by the Vita screen is astonishing. A Vanillaware game has never looked this good, and considering that all their games thus far have looked amazing, that's saying a lot. Some of the details are extremely impressive, especially the way the perspective changes when characters take to the air. Some of the backdrops are awe-inspiring. The music, provided by Hitoshi Sakimoto and Basiscape, is also excellent, mixing traditional Japanese sounds with a modern twist. Once again, there is no English voiceover, one of the few disappointments in an otherwise terrific localization.

   Considering the issues with the original, Muramasa Rebirth is one of the few ports that's not only welcome, but highly desirable. Thanks to its new localization and higher resolution, Rebirth is unquestionably the definitive version of the game, and anyone who enjoyed the original would be foolish to not experience this improved version. It's a very short game, lasting less than twenty hours for players only interested in experiencing the main stories, but players can add a few extra hours by acquiring each characters' second ending, and many more by going after the third, true ending. Muramasa Rebirth is definitely a title RPG-starved Vita owners should check out.

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