Saturday, March 1, 2014

Muramasa Rebirth (PS VITA)

Out of all the gaming gems that Vanillaware, and George Kamitani have released "Muramasa: The Demon Blades" was, without a doubt my all-time favorite action-rpg from them. It was one of the first games that I pre-ordered, and was one of the first Wii games to draw in my undivided attention indefinitely. I played the game through completely creating all 108 Demon Blades, finishing both character stories, and both difficulty settings. It was a video game adventure I don't think I'll ever forget.

Recently, being the rather fortunate journalist that I am I was able to secure a code for the PS Vita re-launch of the original game. Appropriately titled "Muramasa Rebirth" the game not only presented an HD visual overhaul making it look worlds better than before, but it also offered additional DLC enabling the player to experience the game through four new character perspectives. While only two batches of DLC are out at this time you can rest assured Aksys Games will follow through with the final two intended DLC releases. Aside from the DLC additions you'll find that the enhanced gameplay was presented in a more fluid manner than before with more responsive controls, and spot on features that matched what the massive Wii version had in store. This handheld version of the classic tale will no doubt come off as being the definitive version of the two as a result.

In "Muramasa Rebirth" the story continues to follow two familiar characters (Momohime & Kisuke) as they battle the otherworldly threats at hand. In Momohime's story arch she once again becomes possessed by the skilled swordsman known as Jinkuro. Jinkuro, the master of the Oboro sword style had aimed to possess Momohime's love interest, but was interrupted when Momohime threw herself in front of her master in order to save his life. Momohime took the brunt of the sword blow, and in turn was possessed by Jinkuro's secret art of soul swapping. Once in the afterlife Momohime is briefly freed of the possession only to be recaptured by Jinkuro's lingering soul. During the chaos of battle against a condemned monk a remaining priests steals away Momohime's departed soul, and forces Jinkuro to chase him down in Momohime's body in order to fulfill his dreams of making the perfect god slaying sword. This of course is where the joint adventure of Momohime, and Jinkuro begins.

In Kisuke's story we find that he is a lone swordsman who suffers from a mysterious case of amnesia. With the guidance of a Kitsune he is led forward to the east in search for a way to restore his memory, and gain possession of the fabled Muramasa demon sword. Along the way he encounters various characters of interest including a lost love who ends up aiding him in his quest. Both Momohime, and Kisuke have multiple endings based on your game completion. As with games like "Castlevania: Symphony of the Night" you'll find that some endings are much better than others, and that your efforts to earn all will not go unrewarded.

When the game begins you will be given a choice as to which character you want to go with, and which gameplay style/difficulty you wish to take on. The two difficulties include "Legend" which is basically easy mode that requires not attention to evasive, or defensive moves. As such it is the perfect setting for anyone getting into the game for the first time, or for those interested in getting back into the swing of things after not having played the game for so long. The second optional setting called "Chaos" will require perfect knowledge of the controls, and character moves in order to make it far. This difficulty setting is in essence what a "HARD" difficulty setting would be. I'd suggest saving this setting for when you've completed the game the first go around on "Legend".

After choosing your character, and their gameplay style you will be given the opportunity to take on the tutorial. While both characters are different in appearance, and plot you will find that their attacks, evasions, and defensive moves are all the same. In general the attacks are attributed to the "SQUARE" button, and directional "Left Thumbstick" inputs. Things like blade uppercuts, crouching sword swipes, and downward aerial stabs are some of the attack types that will use this varying two input setup. When it comes to defense, and evasive maneuvers you'll find that "SQUARE", and the "Left Thumbstick" hold true in the same sense as the other offensive, and defensive moves. Simply using the proper directional input plus button press is all that's required. Also the occasional button hold is necessary for certain attacks, defenses, and evasive moves as well.

Aside from basic attacks, defenses, and evasive maneuvers you'll also find that sword play plays a huge roll in this game. At any one given time the to main characters can wield 2-3 swords, and can switch between them as needed via the "TRIANGLE" button. With that being said you will only want to switch swords after a sword breaks, or in the case that one sword is more effective than the other. By continually blocking attacks your equipped sword will take damage, and eventually break. To counter this effect you must sheath your sword using the "TRIANGLE" button, and wait for it's damage meter to be restored before using it again. Anytime you press the "TRIANGLE" button to switch/sheath swords you will release a surprise slash attack that will do extra damage to onscreen enemies. This is an effective way to deal damage to bosses as well as to keep multiple enemies at bay as you prepare to continue your attack.

Like any RPG game "Muramasa Rebirth" takes in account the need for restoration items as well as weapon crafting. In the restoration item offerings you'll find obtainable quick fixes for things such as sword breaks, and health loss. Most of these items are food related, and play on the traditional Japanese theme that the game has set in place. Later on in the game you'll also be able to buy food from select vendors, and will even be able to cook your own authentic Japanese meals via an in-game mini-game.

As far as sword crafting goes there are a total of 108 demon swords that must be crafted in order to fully complete each character's story. At the helm of the sword crafting is none other than the fabled swordsmith, Muramasa. This damned soul of a swordsmith is obligated to do your bidding in order to fulfill his hellish prison term. In order to take advantage of his services though you must collect souls that are scattered throughout the metroidvania style lands. Souls from fallen foes will also be added to your count as you go along. While all 108 swords are shown via a sword lineage tree you will not be able to forge the weapons of death until you have met certain requirements, and have collected enough souls. In order to forge the demon swords you will simply have to access "Forge" menu in the main menu listing, and apply the needed souls to the appropriate swords in the sword lineage tree.

When it comes to enemies you will often times encounter groups of ninjas, samurai, or other lesser demonic creatures. These foes will help you gain the required souls for your sword crafting, and will also help you gain restoration items that will be useful in the more difficult boss encounters. Bosses themselves are a difficult adversary that are usually screen filling, and will require certain tactics to defeat if you hope to come out victorious. all bosses have a certain attack pattern that must be learned by the player in order to overcome the odds. Keep in mind that the boss characters in "Muramasa Rebirth" have multiple health bars that must all be depleted before a boss is considered defeated. In this way the boss fights come off as being more rewarding than they would have if they had had only a single health meter. After defeating lesser enemy type, and bosses your efforts will be graded on your overall performance. Things like landing the first strike, or not getting hit at all are taken into account. Also the time it took for you to complete the task is also tallied into your end score.

About the graphics and sound ...

Muramasa Rebirth, is as I said at the beginning the definitive version of the game. The graphics are more vivid, and high in quality than the Wii version ever was. Everything from the characters to the background settings come to life in a vibrant way. The accompanying sounds that are filled with the music of traditional Japanese instruments, and Japanese voice-overs liven the gameplay at hand making the experience worlds better than it has ever been. The fact that the developer was able to shrink the game's content down to handheld size without losing any of it's features was an impressive feat by itself. I absolutely loved playing through Momohime's, and Kisuke's story again. I will no doubt be spending PSN credits to see what the additional DLC is all about!

Now on to the verdict ...

Having played both versions of the game I can honestly say that this "Rebirth" is without a doubt the better of the two. It is a must have for any PS Vita owner. If you love George Kamitani's art style, and if you love to play action-rpgs in general you cannot go wrong with a purchase of this game. The fact that the price has/will be dropped gives you no reason to miss out on it. Even if you have played the original game as i have you'll want to get this game, and the DLC in order to see what's new. The gameplay itself is smoother than ever, and the visual/audio overhaul has made it all the more impressive. You'll definitely not want to pass this one up.

Co-Publishers: MarvelousAQL & Aksys Games

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