Game feel is, undoubtedly, the most important element of game design. It creates the general framework for the type of experience that the game is trying to present and is almost entirely visceral, making it the most difficult element to accomplish as well. Game feel is, however, nothing without game design that compliments it. You wouldn't want a pretentious, artsy game on Psn to feel like a Gears of War game, and vice versa.
If thereís one thing that Muramasa: the Demon Blade does incredibly well, that is game feel. Every swing of your sword replicates the feeling of being an elegant, yet deadly, samurai perfectly. This is due to the elegant and intuitive controls, which make translating your thoughts to the game second nature after five minutes of play time. Itís easy to understand how this was accomplished, since the entire combat system is played with just one button and the analogue stick. Theoretically, it could be played on an Atari 2600 controller. However, like I said earlier, game feel is nothing without complementary game design to go along with it.
The difficulty in designing a game such as this is making every attack meaningful. In the heat of battle, you should constantly be thinking about every move you make, for any slip could mean the end. That isn't to say that any wrong move should end in death, but the attack that I use should have a noticeable effect on how a fight plays out. If you canít tell by watching somebody play a game, whether heís been playing it for ten hours or ten minutes, your game needs some tweaking. This is a common problem in Muramasa: the Demon Blade. Some attacks have a slightly longer reach, while others might do slightly more damage, but in the end, theyíre all the same.
Some might argue that most fighting games are like this. Every attack in a good fighting game is ever so slightly different from one another, and in every situation, there is an attack that is best suited for it. The faster you can think of said attack, the better you are at the game, which is how it is in Muramasa, meaning that you can
get better at the game after a while. (youíd hardly notice by watching someone) The difference, however, is that in fighting games, there is a reason to get better, which is being able to play more fun and exciting matches with more sad, pathetic people.
There are, however, no sad, pathetic people to play against in Muramasa: the Demon Blade, only soulless enemies that are only as complex as the game allows. (which isn't very) Because of this, thereís nothing to encourage you to experiment with the depth of Muramasaís battle system. Itís like if Street Fighter had no versus mode, and all you had was the tournament. Youíd get only as good as the tournament required, finish it, and then forget that the game ever existed, only an hour later.
I will give the designers credit for at least trying
to add an extra layer of difficulty by having your swords break. By using your sword to deflect projectiles, you avoid getting hit, but you also wear down your sword over time and eventually break it. After about forty five seconds, the sword will be back to normal. Until then, you have to use one of your other three swords that you carry with you. Admittedly, this is actually a very cool idea.
Iím going to assume that youíre smart enough to figure out that the word ďtryingĒ is italic for a reason, and just explain whatís wrong with this mechanic. Like I said, in the last paragraph, it takes about forty five seconds for your sword to become usable again after it breaks, and you hold three, usable swords at all times. Since itís almost impossible to break a sword in under ten seconds, and every enemy on screen falls over for three seconds after you change your sword, the longest you will ever remain without any usable swords is, roughly, five seconds. That is, of course, if you break every sword as quickly as physically possible.
Fortunately, the poorly executed and forgettable combat is only half of the game. The rest of the game consists of walking from left to right on a giant anime wall scroll that tries too hard to replicate Metroid, and reading the hammy, and sometimes even grammatically incorrect, excuse for dialogue. This is because fighting is divided into sections, that happen about every other ďroom.Ē Once every fifteen, or so, empty rooms, youíll come across a village, which is littered with mindless npcs that you can talk to. They might read you a poem, tell you about their personal life, or, if youíre playing as the girl, awkwardly hit on you. Itís like all the special kids got to go on a field trip.
The mindless npcs aren't the only source of poorly written dialogue though, because this game has a plot: a forgettable, shoehorned in plot, with lines such as ďI wonder where am I.Ē When the story isnít crashing a semi into the English language, its telling a story that Einstein couldn't even understand. This is because it constantly uses terms and refers to people, without giving you a clue what they mean or who they are. This literary garbage is accompanied by Japanese voice acting that, if you donít speak the language, is just a collection of noise.
Fortunately, a sea of mediocrity is still home to a couple of pearls. This gameís pearl is itís art direction. Every screen of the game is filled with several layers of beautiful foreground and background elements that give the game a sense of depth, despite being entirely two dimensional. Many of the background elements like to play with perspective in fun and interesting ways. Some levels roll, as if you were traversing through the center of a very small planet, while others have the background move, like it was being viewed through the bottom of a glass of water. Because most of the game is very down to Earth, these surreal moments are even more stunning, by comparison.
Unfortunately, the poetic visuals present a new problem. Because the game is restricted to only two dimensions, it can be difficult, at times, to know when the visuals end and the level begins. You might try to jump on a branch, that turns out to be a background element, or you might jump around on the bottom of a horizontal section, looking for the one rock that you can stand on. These problems are very rare, but when they do turn up, any immersion that you might have built up will be gone. It creates a sense of distance from the character you play as, and the environments that your character is in.
The confusing visuals aren't the only thing that gave me that sense of distance, however. It also came after noticing that you never interact with the environments at all. Because of this, you donít always feel like you belong in these environment. Youíre not part of the painting, but a refrigerator magnet, holding it up. This was especially apparent after realizing that, no matter where the light is coming from, your characterís shadow always stays directly below him/her. I know, itís a petty complaint, but Iím a petty person, and this is a petty game, so it fits.
The visuals are obviously an important part of what makes this game what it is, and the designers knew it. This is why the game is structured similarly to a Metroid game, with many branching paths, made entirely of linking rooms. Many of these rooms donít have any enemies or items in them, and only exist to look pretty. The game flaunts itís sexy art direction like a slutty high school girl, and thereís nothing wrong with that.
What is wrong, however, is using the classic Metroid structure, without understanding what makes it good. Metroid was designed that way to encourage exploration, and the feeling of mystery. Anyone whoís ever played a Metroid game knows that they tend to be a lot bigger than they look at first glance. This is because it was designed to feel like it could go on forever, and have an infinite number of items in it. Muramasa, doesn't do any of this. It always tells you how many exits a room has and if it has an item in it or not. By telling the player that there is an item in a room, you ruin the feeling of discovery that obtained by letting them figure it out on their own. Instead, finding the item feels more like a chore. Something that you do as quickly as possible, so you can mark it off of your imaginary checklist.
Overall, there was nothing terrible about Muramasa: the Demon Blade. Well, except for the writing, but you can skip about ninety percent of it, so I like to pretend it doesn't exist. Everything else, however, is alright, with some mistakes here and there. Whatís so upsetting about it, is how good it could have been. With a little bit of polish, it could have been a great action game, with a story that wasn't written and translated by Homer Simpson.
Muramasa: the Demon Blade is the worst parts of your favorite anime.