For me, the Nintendo Wii generation was a time of real experimentation. Until the Wii, my game experiences had tended towards games that my parents chose for me on the PlayStation 2 (such as the very underrated Jackie Chan Adventures) and a variety of Pokémon games on the Nintendo DS. With the Wii however, I truly started to explore my own gaming interests and develop my own sense of what I liked and didn’t like. Looking back over my Wii library, I can think of a wide range of games and genres that I probably wouldn’t bother with if they came out now, with my tastes more fixed. I’m thinking of titles such as The Conduit, Opoona, the Red Steel games (in particular Red Steel 2). These are games that, possibly due to their settings or their style, I probably wouldn’t give much of a second look nowadays, but I loved them then. My exploration during those days led me to some of my favourite games of all times, and is a strong reminder that I should push myself out of my comfort zone more often.
One game that I found during this time was a side-scrolling action RPG, something that had never particularly spoken to me before, with beautifully illustrated Japanese visuals that just grabbed my attention from the moment I saw them. That game was Muramasa: The Demon Blade. I know now that this type of intricate hand-drawn art style is almost synonymous with developers Vanillaware (just look at latest effort 13 Sentinels or minor PS3/PS Vita hit Demon’s Crown), but this was my first experience with the company. The art direction was immaculate, not only in terms of the game’s presentation itself, but also the box the game came in. I loved everything about it visually. The addition of scarfs and flowing materials to the main characters’ costumes that fluttered in the wind as you ran through the stages always amused me – this was just the developers peacocking, showing off the animation skills they had mastered during the game’s creation.
The visuals were lovely, yes, but the game also shone brightly in terms of story and gameplay. Muramasa features two protagonists, Momohime and Kisuke, who follow their own separate stories as they venture through classical Japan. Through their journeys, the player makes their way around a variety of Japanese vistas, from the ocean shore to the snowy mountains, smashing through enemies that litter the screens. I often find that in this type of game I just want the enemies to go away so I can explore or get about quicker, but in Muramasa, something just clicked with me in the battle system which made me excited to see areas with a large number of areas in a small space. The combat is fast and slick, which makes you feel like an unstoppable force as you plough through enemy defences. It’s immensely satisfying.
On your journey you’ll come into contact with a variety of monsters and creatures from Japanese folklore and earn an absurdly large number of Muramasa swords with which to fight them. For most of the game, these swords are split between the two main characters, but after completing each story once, you start to unlock new ways to progress the sword chart and unlock new, secret endings. I’m not often one for trying to find secret bosses or post-game content in RPGs, but Muramasa kept me hooked and had me wanting to play more and more until I finally got to the true ending which brought together both characters stories in a very satisfying way.
A couple of years later, Muramasa was rerelrased on the PlayStation Vita as Muramasa Rebirth. Seeing the game on the Vita’s beautiful OLED screen was a brilliant sight, and I ended up playing through the whole experience all over again. I unfortunately never got around to playing the downloadable content for the Vita version of the game, the Genroku Legends packs which saw substantial characters from Japanese folklore following their own stories through the Muramasa world, just owing to the fact that there was a pretty hefty delay between the game releasing at the DLC coming out.
Muramasa is going to forever be one of my favourite games, one that stands as proof to me that it’s worth pushing out of your comfort zone a little and trying out new types of experiences. This was my first time ever playing a side-scrolling action game, a genre that I’d never had any particular interest in before, but I fell completely in love with it, and I’d confidently recommend it to anybody.