Muramasa Rebirth

Vanillaware isn’t exactly a household name when it comes to videogames, with their first title, Princess Crown, developed when they were known as Puraguru, remaining in Japan after its release in 1997. A decade later, they developed GrimGrimoire and Odin Sphere for the PlayStation 2, with these two titles seeing North American release and receiving acclaim with particular regard for their gorgeous two-dimensional graphics. After another Japan-only release entitled Kumantanchi, they produced Muramasa: The Demon Blade for the Nintendo Wii. This game would receive a port four years later to the PlayStation Vita, Muramasa Rebirth, which is not only the definitive version of the game, but a superb game, perhaps a masterpiece, period.

Like most of the developer’s other titles, Muramasa features sidescrolling action gameplay, with the two playable protagonists, the ninja Kisuke and the princess Momohime, each able to wield three of countless swords that the player can forge during the game. In most two-dimensional screens, the player may encounter enemies that they naturally need to defeat in order to win a battle, with each character able to slash their sword countlessly, effective for dishing out damage and even deflecting enemy attacks. Overuse of a sword will gradually wear it down, eventually cause it to break, although in the case of low sword durability or a broken sword, the player can sheathe it and switch to another blade, with a draw sequence that damages all onscreen foes.

Battles against bosses are occasionally necessary to advance the storyline, with each of these formidable antagonists having several bars of life that the player must wear down with their swords. Depleting one gauge nets the current character experience for occasional level ups and greater strength and vitality (which are requirements to wield higher-level blades), and fortunately, at least on the easiest difficulty, death just takes the player back to the screen before the boss with experience retained. Items are usable via shortcuts, with many items, particularly food, giving the player a fullness meter that must deplete before they can use another restorative item, although this adds some challenge to the game. In the end, there really isn’t much to complain about gameplay-wise, with two different initial difficulty levels accommodating less skilled and more skillful players.

There really isn’t much to complain about control-wise either, with easy menus, shopping, and whatnot, alongside useful maps for each area of Japan the two protagonists visit. The only real flaw is the use of save points, which have been dated since the original Phantasy Star released several generations ago, which let players save anywhere except in battle.

Muramasa’s storyline is enjoyable as well, with two different heroes that visit different parts of mythological Japan providing a semblance of variety, alongside multiple endings and a polished localization that has occasional humor and vulgarity, such as a reference to “eye-humping.”

Partners in crime Hitoshi Sakimoto and Masaharu Iwata primarily compose the soundtrack alongside several others, with a nice variety of ethnic-themed pieces that are never out of place. The sound effects leave nothing to desire, as well, and the localization team left the voicework in Japanese, both saving them money and sparing player from hearing a bunch of miscast WASPs voice the characters.

Similar to predecessor Odin Sphere, Muramasa uses two-dimensional visuals and character sprites, which are absolutely gorgeous, and devoid of slowdown and long loading times that plagued the former title. Aside from some palette-swapped foes, the game looks great overall.

Finally, completing both Momohime and Kisuke’s storylines takes less than fifteen hours, although there are things to boost playing time such as acquiring every sword and completing every unlockable enemy arena. Ultimately, Muramasa Rebirth is a solid title that hits the right points in pretty much all its aspects such as gameplay, control, story, sound, and visuals, and leaves very little, if any, room for improvement. It’s definitely a step up from the technical problem-plagued Odin Sphere, and is not only one of the best PlayStation Vita titles, but one of the best action role-playing games period.

The Good:
+Excellent action gameplay and control.
+Enjoyable story and localization.
+Beautiful music and visuals.
+Plenty lasting appeal.

The Bad:
-Save points have always been dated.
-Some palette-swapped enemies.

The Bottom Line:
A masterpiece from Vanillaware.

Score Breakdown:
Platform:
Game Mechanics: 10/10
Controls: 9/10
Story: 10/10
Music/Sound: 10/10
Graphics: 9/10
Localization: 10/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Adjustable
Playing Time: Less than 15 Hours

Overall: 10/10

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