Muramasa Rebirth Review
Originally released on the Wii in 2009, Muramasa: The Demon Blade was a beautiful side-scrolling slash-fest. Though it was a bit on the repetitive side, the gorgeous visuals and simple gameplay kept us coming back for more. Now Vanillaware has re-released the game for the PS Vita under the title Muramasa Rebirth.
For those of you who missed out on the original, Muramasa tells the dual narratives of Momohime, a demon-possessed princess, and Kisuke, a ninja who has amnesia. Both are scouring the countryside in hopes of getting their hands on the fabled Demon Blade, and each character's version of the story sheds details on the other. This translation of the game is slightly different than the Wii version, but in a good way. Both Momohime and Kisuke are given a bit more personality, though the overall story is rather sparse.
As Momohime and Kisuke are wandering the same areas, albeit at different times, there are plenty of repeat locales and boss fights. At first, this isn't really a big deal, as it is interesting to play the game from multiple perspectives. However, as the game drags along, encountering the same enemies over and over again can certainly grow tiresome. It also doesn't help both Momohime and Kisuke play almost identically, which means in addition to recycled environments and bosses, you're also repeating the same combat endlessly.
While the action is as tight as ever, that doesn't mean it won't grow wearisome after a few hours. Swordplay boils down to a few simple combos, all executed with the same button, and special attacks tied to specific blades. You'll always be armed with three swords, which adds a bit of strategy in how you approach a battle. There are over one hundred different swords to discover and create, each with their own perks and specials. The "gotta have 'em all" mentality will keep you plugging away for hours, especially for some of the more difficult-to-obtain blades. As long as you're progressing, you'll always be earning new swords, which is a nice incentive, even if the latest weapon isn't that much different from the one you're currently brandishing.
Even if the environments you'll visit are used over and over again, that doesn't take away from how gorgeous Muramasa Rebirth looks on the Vita. The high-def remaster of Vanillaware's already-stunning 2D sprites turns the vibrancy up to 11, and makes every screen a masterpiece of game art. From the wheat fields at sunset to the mountainside waterfalls, there's not a single area of Muramasa's world that isn't an eye-catching landscape. That said, there comes a point in the game's exploration where backtracking through the same routes with both characters takes away some of the awe. It doesn't help the optional (but necessary so you don't get lost), mini-map overlay takes up some screen space and obscures the visuals. This was a problem on the Wii version too, but on the Vita's smaller screen, it's even more glaring.
It's fortunate Muramasa Rebirth is so good looking and easy to play. Without its compelling visual style and simple and intuitive controls, the wash-rinse-repeat nature of the game would have worn us down much faster. Muramasa isn't a bad port; it's extremely faithful and features improved presentation and a better translation, but it also brings the old ghosts of monotonous gameplay. If only Vanillaware had found a way to alleviate that tedium, revisiting this old friend might have been a more enjoyable experience.
This review is based on a retail copy of Muramasa Rebirth for the PS Vita.