Muramasa: The Demon Blade

Vanillaware has released a stunningly beautiful 2D adventure that includes heavy religious content.
Michael Caleb - Staff Reviewer

Content at a glance:

Violence: Swords, sickles, bombs, large shuriken, fire, electricity, claws, etc. are used to kill; a girl is swallowed whole by an oni.

Spirituality: Buddhist and Shinto elements; reincarnation; heaven and hell are visited; bodily possession by spirits; magical swords forged from the souls of the slain; ghosts, gods, demons, and celestial buddhas are characters; souls are fused together.

Language: The word hell is used, but in reference to the place.

Adult Content: Exposed breasts with nipples covered; a female boss wears a thong; characters are barely covered in the hot springs; a lot of cleavage.

Miscellaneous: A character kills his master and all fellow students in his lust for power; various characters drink alcohol and it is included as a healing item.

Positive: Repentance, selfless sacrifice, and devotion are features of the story.

Story

When Kisuke finds that he is being hunted by ninja that call him a traitor, he allies himself with a fox-woman that introduces him to the ghostly swordsmith Muramasa, whose swords he can use in his journey to find out who he is and why he is being hunted.  Meanwhile, Momohime’s body becomes possessed by the spirit of Jinkuro Izuna, a criminal who was foiled in his attempt to steal the body of her fiance.  Momohime is forced to help Jinkuro in his journey to find the sword that will allow him to possess a more fitting body before the tie between her soul and body becomes so thin that it breaks.

Much like Vanillaware’s Odin Sphere, which was loosely based on Norse mythology, Muramasa is steeped in Japanese mythology, a cosmology combining Buddhism, Shintoism, and Japanese folk tales.  The stories of Kisuke and Momohime intersect, but only briefly in most cases, making the unfolding of the story a bit more underwhelming and less involving than Odin Sphere, but the inclusion of three endings for each character allows for extra scenarios to play out.

Audiovisual

The hand-drawn 2D art style from former Vanillaware games returns, and an almost perfect marriage between that, anime, and traditional woodblock print styles is accomplished.  Running through the countryside can often be a distraction in and of itself, as the foreground and various background layers show parallax in a most beautiful way.  As an added treat, a select few areas are easter eggs of famous Japanese paintings.

The voice-acting is left entirely in Japanese, with the dialogue boxes serving as subtitles.  While this approach avoids the problem of possibly horrible English dubbing that would do nothing but detract from the story and immersion, some might not like the absence of an option one way or the other.

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Gameplay

After playing through the initial tutorial, the player will have witnessed all of the regular fighting abilities that will be available for the entire span of the game.  Whether or not this is a good thing depends on whether you like mastering a basic set of skills or if you like to gain powers over the course of a game that will make you nigh unstoppable.  If you prefer the latter, then the game might become repetitive quickly.

There are two types of weapons at Momohime’s and Kisuke’s disposal: blades, quick swords that have a relatively short reach, and long blades, which are slower, longer, and are generally more powerful.  Both types have a combo on the ground and in the air, which can be mixed together with other basic abilities to create some combinations that are simple enough to be practical, but complex enough to make the player feel accomplished.

There are three difficulties: Muso, Shura, and Shigurui.  Muso mode is portrayed as the normal setting, but is closer to an easy mode for the game: enemies do significantly less damage and abandon certain attacks altogether.  Shura, however, is such a step up that it can be off-putting to someone seeking just a little more challenge than Muso provides.  Shigurui is unlocked after a successful pass through the game, and it is a sudden-death style mode where the characters’ health never rises from a single point.

Violence

Swords, sickles, bombs, large shuriken, fire, electricity, claws, fists, poison, and other assorted means of inflicting death are visited upon the main characters throughout the course of the story, while they are limited to the use of straightforward swordplay and the various special skills each blade will endow them with.  Along the course of one of the stories, a girl is swallowed whole by an oni, whereas a character stabs himself in the stomach, albeit offscreen, in the other.

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Spirituality

As mentioned above, Buddhist and Shinto elements are displayed predominantly throughout the course of the game: Shinto and Buddhist gods are featured in the story, and buddha statues line roads; Amitabha, a celestial buddha, plays a small, albeit important role in the story; an old man prays to a buddha; heaven and hell are visited as physical places during the course of the story, with Japanese ogre demons known as oni present there; and reincarnation takes place.

Besides the aforementioned content, there are more general spiritual elements: ghosts are present as enemies and characters; the ghostly Muramasa forges swords using souls from enemies that have been slain; samurai are raised from hell in order to assist a protagonist in overthrowing a corrupt shogun; a technique is used that causes souls of living beings to be fused together; and man is condemned to hell when his relatives provide him with a cheap funeral.

Language

Hell is used, although it is in reference to the place.

Adult Content

Muramasa contains a lot partial nudity.  Both fox characters bear a lot of cleavage.  Breasts of goddesses and a mermaid are bared, but with nipples obscured.  A female boss wears a thong, and her vulnerable stage involves her rear-end pointing at the screen, leaving it open to attacks from the protagonists.

In the hot springs, Kisuke wears a fundoshi, traditional Japanese underwear that operates much like a thong.  Momohime simply holds a towel in front of her, obscuring most of the sensational portions of her body, but allowing the player to see the entire side of her, including her thighs and parts of her butt.  The player is forced to visit the hot springs at least once during Momohime’s story, and it is not possible to leave immediately.

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Miscellaneous Content

A character kills his master and all of his fellow students because of his lust for power.  Various characters drink alcohol and it is used as a healing item.  A character commits suicide.

Positive Content

A character repents for the evil that he has done after having a religious experience, and another character renounces the material world in order to dedicate the rest of their life to praying for the one they love to be reborn out of hell in a shorter amount of time.  In these and other ways, repentance, selfless sacrifice, and devotion to loved ones play into the story.

Conclusion

Muramasa: The Demon Blade is an entertaining game that is beautifully rendered, but the amount of near-nudity and religious content present in the game might give someone second thoughts about whether or not they want to allow it in their home.




Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this Spotlight review are those of the reviewer (both ratings and recommendations), and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Eden Communications or the Christian Answers Network.

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