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June 27, 2016

Muramasa: The Demon Blade (Part 4)

Go read the previous parts if you missed them. Today, I,m looking at the extra endings, which can be unlocked once both storylines have been completed - after which, you equip two particular blades to Jinkuro or Kisuke, and step in the final boss's room... to see what I'm about to explain.

Equip Tsukiotoshi and Mumei Tamanoo.
I mean, for anyone who isn't versed in Japanese, these names mean nothing.
They meant nothing to me really, but the game says they're important...

A battle of wills. Who is the best swordsman
using demon blades?
Well, I played them both, so I guess I am.
In Momohime’s second ending, we learn that Kongiku is being pursued by her fox brethren due to stealing the mask from Inarimyojin the Fox God, that same mask that allowed Jinkuro to speak with Muramasa Senji. Jinkuro is thus accosted by Yuzuruha and a fox, revealing why that kitsune was helping Kisuke: To retrieve that mask! So that’s why Yuzuruha had teamed up with Kisuke! The ninja boy shows up and a fight takes place. On the outside, it looks like Momohime versus Kisuke, when it’s actually a fight between Jinkuro and his old master, Oboroya Senju, whose techniques were given to the boy. It’s a very hard fight since, just like you, Kisuke can change between blades and you cannot get through to harming him until you break his current blade. It’s a very long fight.

Haven't you heard? Amnesiacs can stay badass. She may
be Oboro and not Momohime, but the power of Jinkuro is
within her and she can still slash you to pieces!
When it’s over, Kisuke realizes Jinkuro is too powerful, so he takes down the two of them in a suicide move. Mortally wounded and having a change of heart, Jinkuro decides to merge his soul with Momohime’s, which revives her – and gives her the Oboro techniques, although she falls unconscious. Next thing we know, she lives with an elderly couple and lost all of her memories, so the couple took her in as their daughter and called her Oboro. Because she kept saying that word when they found her, apparently. When the village comes under attack by a large Red Oni, “Oboro” grabs a sword and quickly defeats the monster. Surprised at these abilities, Oboro decides to go look for answers, to find out who that “Jinkuro” she keeps hearing about in her dreams might be. Blade in hand, she goes on a journey…

In Kisuke’s second ending, he, too, battles Jinkuro-as-Momohime, in another very tough duel. In the original story, the Shogun had found a way into Heaven; in this version, Jinkuro killed the Shogun easily and is the one trying to access the holy fountain of Heaven to become a demon king. Torahime recognizes the body as Momohime’s, but notices there’s something really wrong with the way “she” acts. Kisuke promises to save Momohime by defeating Jinkuro! When the evil spirit is defeated, it leaves Momohime’s body, allowing her soul to go back into it.

The adventure continues.
Torahime, seeing her mission completed (the Shogun is dead after all, even if Kisuke wasn’t the one to do it), has to return to the afterlife. Saddened to see his love go, Kisuke asks for her final favor, and her answer is simple: She wants him to take care of Momohime. Later, at the family grave of the Narukami clan, Kisuke learns from Momohime that she cannot rebuild her clan alone. Oh, do I sense a hook-up? She also says that there are many demon blades out there, and she will not be at rest until they’ve all been stopped. Therefore, Kisuke and Momohime go on an adventure where the ninja will look for wielders of demon swords, defeat them, and take their weapons away. …I like this ending, it’s the best happy ending of the game.

To see the third and final ending for each character, you first need to collect all the blades, then forge the Oboro Muramasa. Only problem, the way to it is locked by many weapons that can only be collected by defeating bonus Enemy Lairs and the bosses inside them. One lair has two dragons (like Kisuke’s seventh boss), one has centipedes, one has no less than 8 Big Oni, two of each kind, each with boss-level health and ultra-dangerous attacks no matter what level you’re at. There’s also the final Enemy Lair, titled Total Pandemonius, which claims to require a minimum level of 92 and is made up of waves based on all the other enemy lairs. Enjoy! Soon enough, you get all of the missing swords, and can forge the best weapon in the game: Oboro Muramasa. A sword so powerful, it can cut through fate itself and, perhaps, even rewrite history. The only downside is that you may still need to level up a little before you’re allowed to use it (due to minimum Strength/Vitality restrictions). To get the third and final ending for each character, you need to defeat the final boss again, with this sword equipped.

Definitely something isn't right with these two. Well, actually,
"Kiku" seems nice enough, but Yukinojyo is acting weird.
Though he can't be as awful as the one in the previous
In Jinkuro’s third ending, we fight Fudo-Myoou again, except this time when the real deity starts attacking, we find ourselves going back in time. We see a Jinkuro still alive, who sees an alive Momohime and Yukinojyo coming his way. This was before the big attack on the clan! Jinkuro is still sick, though he manages to think of a plan. Later, we see Momohime after her wedding to Yukinojyo. The servants are overjoyed, though there is one of them, wearing orange, that Momohime doesn’t recognize. Turns out this is Kongiku, the kitsune, disguised as a human. Momohime walks up to Yukinojyo and, in their discussion, the samurai says that he is looking to upgrade his talents by creating a new technique, and that he might call it the Oboro Style, or perhaps, the Izuna Style… …Izuna, as in, Izuna Jinkuro. Oh goodie, Jinkuro took Yukinojyo’s body and married Momohime. Guess he liked her after all. It’s probably just a good ending for Jinkuro, who was supposed to be seen as a villain despite being the main protagonist… And yes, before you ask, this "Yukinojyo" managed to apease the climate between Momohime's family and the Shogun, so there's no danger of the massacre happening again.

Yes. Traitors must die. At least the Kagami clan is
alive and well, this time.
In Kisuke’s final ending, we get to the Shogun after he has killed Torahime again, and the battles goes as it did during the first playthrough. However, after Inugami is defeated, Kisuke finds himself going back in time through the Oboro Muramasa’s power, back to before the attack on the Narukami home. He takes the Kuzuryu blade and quickly defeats the ninjas who were coming to kill Torahime’s family. He explains the situation, and brings forward the machinations of the Shogun – and especially the actions of an underling of the Shogun, some guy known as Shikami Danjyo. Yes, the traitor that got killed during Momohime’s story (See Part 2 for details). However, this is not enough, and despite Kisuke saving Torahime’s family from murder, her father still sends his samurai in his way – until he gives back the Kuzuryu Muramasa. Thanks to the Oboro style he still possesses despite the time travel, he can control the wicked blade, and swears to put its beast to rest by going around the world and defeat evil. Kisuke says he doesn’t know when he comes back, but is certain that he’ll come back someday for Torahime.

"I will tame this sword! I know I can do it! I can change it into a nice sword!"

The… end?

Christ, the people at Vanillaware need to learn to write good endings. Maybe that one went in line with the Buddhist philosophy that was a part of the story… I still don’t enjoy it. For all the work I went through to get there, I guess I was hoping for something less bittersweet.

See that at the top? A single hit point.
By the way, beating the whole game in Shura Mode (the harder difficulty available from the start) unlocks the Shigurui difficulty… in which you must beat the game again, but you only have one Hit Point. …Good luck. This makes some of the challenges near-impossible to complete. Really, I hope you don’t wind up facing too many kite ninjas, those fuckers explode when you defeat them and it’s hard to avoid the blow. Also look out for the Oni, all four of them, especially the two green ones. The problem in Shigurui difficulty is that you can’t allow yourself to take any damage. Even if you memorize the patterns of all the types of enemies, it will still be hard, maybe even impossible. You want to know why? You always have three swords with you, and when one breaks, Jinkuro-as-Momohime or Kisuke will take damage. You can’t allow a single sword to break. On the other hand, when you switch to a different sword when the previous one didn’t break, the new sword doesn’t make an instant slash that can defeat nearby enemies. Using special moves depletes a sword’s life bar, so it could be dangerous. The challenge is just enormous. Try Shigurui only if you want something REALLY hard.

Not that you even have to, as the other difficulties also have their own little bonuses: By playing as a character in post-game, you can go and complete all the dungeons the other character went through, with bonus rewards when you do. This is the only way for each character to collect all of the cookbooks and accessories.

Alright then, so it’s time to give my final words about this game. Is it worth playing? Yeah, I’d say it is. The beauty of the graphics is one of the major selling points, and for good reason. This is, without a doubt, one of the prettiest games of all time. When it comes to 2D graphics, anyway. The characters are perfectly animated, the backgrounds are lively and colorful, and even the darker parts are impressive to look at. The amount of detail put in every sprite, in every screen. Simply marvelous. Although, as a result, cutscenes with special animations are few and far between (outside of the ending cutscenes of course, where some new images of the characters may appear – as an example, Kongiku disguised as the human Kiku, or Kisuke and Momohime’s reincarnations, which wear different clothing). Even the swords and their special attacks required different sprites!

Talking about the gameplay now, this game does have a lot of interesting ideas: Using three swords that break when they receive damage or when you use their special talents too often, the forging tree in Muramasa Senji’s forge (I don’t like as much the “Minimum Strength/Vitality” requirements, but that’s minor), the Cooking mechanic (and the fullness mechanic, which prevents you from cooking too often or using all of your healing items at once), the restaurants and peddlers, the quick way to travel around the map… Many great ideas there. I also love that you can enter Enemy Lairs and fight either hordes of enemies or multiple bosses at once. Even better, in postgame with a character you can revisit all of the other character’s dungeons and defeat the bosses in them! The one thing that annoys me with dungeons is that, for all of them except the last one for each character, once you’ve completed one, you need to backtrack all the way to the entrance. In empty rooms, without a single encounter until you’re back on the map of the region you were in. Which is easily three wasted minutes.

Also discussing the map, it’s really large, almost labyrinthine. Easy to get lost if you don’t know where to go. Thankfully, your next destination is always indicated somewhere on the map (which you can access by pressing the - button on the Classic Controller), though unless you have a map of that region (bought from a peddler), on the first playthrough you can’t be sure on what’s the shortest path to get there. In a way, it’s not so bad since you need to level up in order to use stronger weapons; on the other hand, it’s easy to get lost. The accessories and some swords give plenty of interesting bonuses.

Now, the story… First off, as much as I want to praise Vanillaware for this game, I have to admit there are big problems. First off, the translation is rather poor. I can understand why they wouldn’t have English voices, but the dialogue is often insufficient to understand. This game deals with certain philosophies related to Buddhism, so anyone without knowledge of this religion will be lost. Second, this game is deeply rooted in Japanese culture, and it’s often difficult to understand what’s going on unless you know about Japanese history and mythology. All the bosses and some of the enemies are based on youkai. In itself, that wouldn’t be a problem, but combined to the poor translation…

Part of the problem is that this beautiful folklore and mythology is associated to a story that starts as both main characters can’t remember what happened before, and the ensuing adventure connects the dots. For starters, we only get half the story with each character – Torahime or Kisuke are never mentioned in Momohime’s story, and though each character can cameo in the other's story in hot springs, their exchanges never bring much. This kind of plot works a lot better in film; it can be done well in some games, but the way they chose to tell the story here makes it difficult to follow, and leaves players puzzled. I couldn’t get into the plot at first, this was the main reason I wasn’t playing this game more at first. I carried through, so I succeeded in the end. Adding to this, I believe I’ve stated my dislike for the way this game treats female characters? Promising to us no less than two strong female character only for them to turn out not so strong… Yeah.

Thankfully, the end result is enjoyable, and I feel like its strengths are in its gameplay. Pay attention to the story if you want, let it accompany the gameplay; or don’t, and just enjoy this game for the awesome action RPG mechanics.

If you want to try it, there's also a PlayStation Vita version of this game, with four bonus chapters to play. It keeps things pretty much the same, but the bonus chapters may be interesting to play through, as they are also connected to the large story in a way or another.

Let’s see… what’s next week… Hm, I wonder what I should do… Should I do something special, or wait a little longer before doing the third year anniversary review? I think I’ll post something special before the anniversary review. Something out of my comfort zone. How about an album review? Let’s try that. I wrote something some time ago that I really enjoyed, and I feel like sharing it with you people. Does that sound good?

June 24, 2016

Muramasa: The Demon Blade (Part 3)

Go read the previous parts if you haven't!
In Part 2, I completed Momohime’s storyline (or is it actually Jinkuro’s?), and explained a few more things about the game. Now, I’m explaining Kisuke’s side of the plot.

Go, Kisuke! The bigger they are, the harder they fall;
Well, time to see how they- Oh look, a bautiful sunset!
After runniung through the forest, Kisuke is confronted by ninjas who ask him who his boss is, and why he killed so many of his ninja comrades. Kisuke replies that he can’t give an answer, since he doesn’t remember anything; he doesn’t even know why these ninjas are gone after him. To try and stop him, the ninjas unleash a giant robotic-like ninja using pinwheel blades bigger than Kisuke himself. Well, it’s early for a boss, and this one IS pretty tough, but soon enough Kisuke depletes the boss’s bar entirely.

After this fight, I suppose the ninjas run away; Kisuke then meets Yuzuruha, another kitsune, who decides to strike up a deal with him; she needs his strength for some unknown mission. In return, she gives him access to the cursed blades of Muramasa Senji, on his quest to retrieve his memories. Kisuke runs across a portion of the world and finds himself in a city, where he goes all the way to the top of the castle. There, encountering ninjas, he tries to know why he’s being called a traitor. Even Yukinojyo’s there! It’s explained that Kisuke stole the legendary blade that was being sought during the mission where he betrayed his squad, and kept it for himself; he also killed at least six of his comrades and keeps their skulls attached to his waist… How charming. However, his antics may have provoked demons to come out and attack.

Argh. I hate centipedes. It will be a pleasure to kill them.
Just how many are there anyway?
And what big demons, indeed! Centipedes. Lots and lots of creepy, giant centipedes crawling all over the city. Each one of them is bigger than two houses. So Kisuke manages to repair his giant mess… by killing all the giant centipedes, which is actually rather tough considering there’s a whole bunch of them. There’s one good side; those fill the screen. So if you keep slashing away, you could rack up an impressive combo count. With all the centipedes gone, the ninjas show just a little bit more respect for Kisuke – despite still calling him a traitor – and even Yukinojyo chooses to keep Kisuke alive since his talents could come in handy later.

Even Rankai the monk is there. See? Momohime and Kisuke’s stories do combine. Yukinojyo explains that Momohime’s older sister, Torahime, is a shrine maiden and she might have been possessed by a ghost; Yukinojyo tasks Kisuke with defeating that ghost. Off we go! On the way towards Mino, we can come across a few enemy lairs as well as a hot spring where Kisuke may find Momohime bathing.

Holy crap, that horse is freaking awesome. I want one.
With a transcendent saddle.

And she's awesome with a bow. I would probably enjoy this
strong female character... if she really was one. Change
to Damsel In Distress role in 3... 2... 1...
We head into Mino and find Torahime about to lead a group of giant undead samurai towards the palace of the Shogun, in Edo, in an attempt to kill him. Why? Because, apparently, the current Shogun of Japan was the one who ordered the attack on Momohime’s family. By the way, Torahime is riding a giant ghostly horse; if that’s not badass, I don’t know what is. And the boss fight against her is really hard, too; even when you defeat her ghostly guards, she tends to gallop on her giant ghostly horse around the stage, getting away from Kisuke, and shoot with her bow to hurt him. And it would be simpler to reach her if there weren’t so many tall bamboos blocking the way, forcing Kisuke to jump, and perhaps get an arrow in the face! That horse is no pushover, either. Still, after an impressive fight, our ninja manages to defeat Torahime.

Thankfully, she’s not harmed; only her ethereal mount is. He asks what happened, and gets most of the story; he’s a ninja who was tasked with getting the legendary blade known as the Kuzuryu Muramasa, owned by Torahime’s family. That blade apparently contains the spirit of a demon, hence why her family was supposed to seal it away. Along with his squad, Kisuke masqueraded for six months as a servant of their family, until the big attack happened; in it, Momohime was mortally wounded (hence why she starts the game as a body whose souls can interchange in her own storyline), while Kisuke tried to protect Torahime and was, too, mortally wounded as a result. Not that it helped, Torahime was killed too. Except people around these parts have a bad tendency to start walking again like nothing happened, even after they’ve died. Kisuke survived, he doesn’t know why. Same for Torahime, all we know is that now, for some reason, she’s leading a group of undead samurai. I hope we find answers to that soon!

Chasing evil spirits? You may be looking for Jinkuro.
Who you let pass freely to battle a green titan.
...Girl, you're an incredible fighter, but you suck at your
evil-repelling job.
Kisuke decides he needs to follow Torahime, and so he finds his way towards Totomi. There, he runs and jumps on top of tree branches and finds a scene of desolation; the undead samurai, all defeated by holy strength. When he asks where Torahime is, they answer that she ran away to a holy temple in Yamato. Also on the scene is a little girl named Sayo, who doesn’t want to let Kisuke pass, since he’s a trespasser, “like an evil spirit, and evil spirits cannot pass”. Hah, right! Bullcrap! How could Jinkuro pass so easily, then? The young girl, Sayo, does say Kisuke seems possessed by someone or something… Hm, I wonder… Ack! No time to wonder! Sayo attacks! And don’t be fooled by her small size, she hits hard! She keeps summoning crows and scrolls to attack, and really likes to spend a part of the fight suspended by said crows, away from your ground attacks. Which is a good strategy, since you can only activate your blades’ special moves on the ground and many special moves can’t hit enemies who stay in midair.

Is she being lifted by birds? Yeah. Balloons were just too much trouble.
She couldn't control her flight - also, they weren't invented yet.

It's the first time I see a guy having a flashback
and being a bystander in that flashback.
When Sayo is defeated, she leaves, but not without saying that she's surprised the Oboro Style must still be used among living people. Wait, Oboro Style… wasn’t that the power used by Jinkuro to steal Momohime’s body? We’re then treated to a flashback from Kisuke’s point of view, seeing him talk to a spirit called Oboroya Senju. The old master explains that he desires his techniques to remain in use, and thus he offers to give them to the young ninja. Kisuke can walk around this flashback, seeing a dying, greyed out version of himself accepting the Oboro style on the condition that he can avenge the deaths of the people he served, and retrieve the legendary weapon. Oboroya also states that all others apprentices of the Oboro Style were killed by one of their own – clearly Jinkuro – and he can merge his own soul with Kisuke’s, giving him free access to these techniques. So this is what happened! Oboroya merged with Kisuke!

Christ, that spider is ugly. It's a few details away from
having a trollface for a head.
Kisuke goes back to look for Torahime, and she’s run off to Yamato, which was the last place to visit in Momohime’s storyline, and enters the Buddhist temple, which was Momohime’s last dungeon. At first he’s assaulted by monks and ninjas, but we find the higher floors mysteriously covered in spider webs and inhabited by large arachnids… The next room is just a giant web, and in the middle of it awaits Tsuchigumo, the giant spider youkai. It has mummified Torahime and is ready to eat her! Kisuke fights the giant spider and manages to defeat it along with all of its offspring, saving the captured monks at the same time.

Come to think of it, what is it with this game that promises to us “strong female characters” only to have them turn out to not be so strong? Momohime is actually Jinkuro possessing her body… Torahime was cool as a boss yet keeps running into trouble or getting captured…

In the next cutscene, we learn that the monk who had been captured saw Torahime’s burial, he’s certain that she’s dead. When Kisuke asks Torahime, she explains that she passed a pact with the deity of the next world, Amitabha, in order to avenge her death at the hands of the Shogun’s men, and that she has a limited number of days to do so. She then explains that her army of undeads was exorcised by Sayo met earlier, so she needs help fulfilling her mission. But hey, Kisuke can help her, right?

Hey, look, it's the sunset! A scary one. You can just feel the war as it goes
on before this background. It's like the end of time is approaching.

Using souls to attack? That's demonic.
Says the guy who's been using soul-powered blades for a few hours now.
Kisuke runs to Shinano where he finds a battlefield; living ninjas and spirits alike are fighting in a war. Aesthetically, this looks like a very unpleasant location, much like Hell in Momohime’s story. Kisuke soon finds Torahime and her army of ghostly samurai, only to learn they’re out numbered 5-to-1 against the Shura army and are trapped; if they attack, they lose, and if they wait for too long, Torahime's allotted time for revenge will run out, and they lose! Kisuke decides to find the general of the Shura army and defeat him… and so he finds a giant undead samurai monster that goes by the name of Chigurui Bishamon. Kisuke defeats the monster (it’s an easy battle if you ask me), but gets slashed in the back and almost dies, until he’s taken in by Yuzuruha and healed by the power of Inari, the fox god that kitsunes also worship (that includes Yuzuruha and Kongiku). Yuzuruha then explains the story of Inugami, the Dog God who became dangerous so Inari stopped him and took his powers away; since Inari was still a threat, the fox god had to seal it in the Kuzuryu, a blade created by Muramasa Senji and then put in the protection of the Narukami clan… Momohim and Torahime’s family. And the Shogun likely wanted to steal that weapon to unleash the power of the Dog God.

If I can go to Hell, I CAN KILL A GOD!
After his recovery, Kisuke finds out that Torahime has left for Mount Fuji, where she’ll break a special spell that keeps the barriers in place. Once again, Kisuke goes after her. The things one does for love… Our ninja finds himself scaling Mount Fuji and reaching the top, only to discover the undead samurai army defeated – AGAIN! – and Torahime and her ghostly horse, also defeated – AGAIN. Christ lady, you dare call yourself an action girl? All you’ve been doing since I met you in the game is lose and lose! All the time! She explains that her attempt at breaking the barriers awoke the Dragon God, and it got pissed and attacked them. Kisuke decides that he can take on a God, and gets into a fight with the beast. It starts off pretty simple, until the Dragon God uses lighting effects to turn the battlefield completely dark and hide in the darkness, which still lets it use plenty of annoying moves… thankfully, despite all these obstacles, Kisuke beats up the God. It apologizes for its rage after admitting defeat. From there, we learn that the Shogun is possessed by the power of Inugami, and the Dog God is attempting to open the gates of Heaven in order to access the magical well that would give him all of his powers back, immortality, and raise him to the level of a greater demon – hence why the Shogun is doing all those things. Thankfully, the protection around the Shogun’s quarters is weak, so it’s time to attack!

Kisuke thus runs to Musashi. On the way, you can go into an Enemy Lair that pits you against four bosses, so it’s the perfect place to level up before the big final battle. The ninja soon reaches the city of Edo, which seems to be on fire at this moment. There’s a scary red glow in the background where the castle is, and some rooms have backgrounds that are nothing but flames. Even as we get closer to the final battle, we see the place get darker; the final room before the boss is all dark, with fire behind.

I don't like that orange glow.

The ninja enters the final room and finds the Shogun, Tokugawaa Tsunayoshi, who easily defeated and killed Torahime. Hey, you were supposed to stay behind! How the Hell do you want me to stay in love with you if you get yourself in deep trouble all the time? I don’t want a lemming for my girlfriend! Anyway, the spirit of the Dog God inhabits the Shogun, and proudly proclaims that with Heaven’s Gate opened, he’ll become an arch-demon and burn all of Japan to the ground! Torahime says her final farewell to Kisuke who promises to avenge her.

I've been killing vaguely humanoid monsters like this
for days now. They don't scare me. I won't stop till your
fat ass lies lifeless! You'll pay for your attack on the Narukami clan!

The first fight against the Shogun is tough, because the guy keeps summoning ninja spirits to attack, and he also likes teleporting left and right and protecting himself with some sort of red-and-black force field. He also has a load of HP, more than any boss seen so far. Soon enough this annoying fight is over, and we get to the second part; the Shogun unsheathes the sword and some kind of demonic matter comes out, transforming the tyrant into Inugami, a giant dog.

That thing is just monstrous, creepier than any other boss. And there was a giant spider with an ugly face, for Christ’s sake! This giant dog has only two legs, and uses a whole lot of annoying attacks; bring up any annoying attack in the game, he probably has it. Thunder? Yup. Portals that attack Kisuke? You bet. Teleportation? Hell yes. Anything that instantly breaks one of your blades? That too! The new thing here is how Inugami vanishes, only for his jaw to reappear as big as the screen to try and bite Kisuke. Or when the jaw comes from the top, hits the floor in a constant stream of darkness and teeth. Good night kids!


Another very tough fight but Kisuke wins. However, Torahime is still dead; Kisuke travels into the portal leading to Heaven, convinced that an actual good deity would not have let a girl like her die in such cruel ways. Blame the deities, I’ll blame the makers of the game. Kisuke jumps on colorful lotus flowers, and reaches yellow clouds, where he meets the great deity Amitabha, the one who allowed Torahime to come back to life to avenge her clan.

...Holy, very holy indeed!

Hm, who might these two fine young people be?
That anime hair can't lie, though. This has to be Kisuke.
I’m not entirely sure what happens afterwards, I would need more knowledge in the Buddhist religion, but here’s what I got: Amitabha refused to bring Torahime back to life, so Kisuke took his own life in exchange, committing seppuku (No!). Knowing that his criminal deeds on this adventure will take him to Hell, Torahime prays to Amitabha so that she and Kisuke get reincarnated in the living world, to live together, so that Torahime can show Kisuke how to attain inner peace. They were reborn as Ohana and Kanbei, respectively, and the boy only has passing dreams of his adventure, while Ohana was contacted by Yuzuruha in dream. The kitsune is doing this to reunite them in their new lives. End of Kisuke’s story.


….Yeah, it is. Sort of. As I mentioned, every character has bonus endings that can only be seen after each story mode have been completed. Now the player can go back to either character’s final boss to see a wholly different ending. It’s also possible to cut through white barriers and access the bonus dungeons.

I’ll come back in Part 4 to discuss the secret endings and the bonus dungeons!

June 20, 2016

Muramasa: The Demon Blade (Part 2)

There’s a lot of things to keep track of in this game, so please go back to read Part 1 if you missed it. Or else, good luck following this story. So… many… Japanese… names…

Alright, so we’re now in the province of Mino. This place is like a giant castle with a town around it. Jinkuro has to fight his way through undead giant samurai, cannons, and a whole bunch of other stuff. Jinkuro even takes the battle inside, and eventually reaches the final rooms.

A boss fight is coming.

Yeah, I know I seem to be skipping a lot, but one of the issues with this game is that, on top of being an action RPG, it has very few NPCs; most of them appear right before a boss, after it, or in the intro and ending. The story is thus told during those moments. There’s also next to no animation in cutscenes, outside of characters talking or slightly moving as they stand still. All this is probably an artistic choice, considering the insane amount of work that went into the hand-drawn sprites and backgrounds. It would be even more work to draw special animations that are only seen once, twice, maybe thrice in the whole game.

Oh yeah, like mortal samurai can do anything against
demon swords! I swear, you fat asshole, your head...
It will ROLL!
In the final rooms, Jinkuro eavesdrops on two men, one of which is the magistrate of Narukami, Shikami Danjyo. Two rotten men, but then again, corruption is the cancer of politics everywhere anyway, so that shouldn’t be a surprise. Fiunding the criminal, the magistrate sends his men towards Jinkuro-as-Momohime, but Jinkuro speaks to the “demon” inside Danjyo, which somehow expels it and triggers a fight. …That makes no sense, but I guess it’s some kind of reason for a boss fight. The monster is a giant simian thing that floats and can turn into a sphere to attack. A tough fight, but a good fight.

Sadly, even monkeys have their evil deity among the youkai.

Danjyo is also the traitor who ordered the attack on Momohime’s family, so Momohime’s soul wants to kill him; Jinkuro asks where the Kuromitsu blade is kept. One of the swordsmen explains that he saw a Red Oni take everything that was in the storehouse where the blade used to be. Later, as Jinkuro meets Kongiku, the kitsune explains that Kuromitsu was made out of a weapon that came from Hell and that the Red Oni – a demon, clearly – was probably trying to take it back to Hell. Jinkuro knows that a festival in Rikdogatsuji, in the province of Yamahiro, will be the perfect time to go into Hell to retrieve the blade!

Eh, it’s not my first venture into Hell when it comes to video games. Let’s do this. Jinkuro-as-Momohime runs across many parts to reach Rikdogatsuji, and finally falls into a hole that takes him directly in Hell. …Well, that was easy. The fights ahead are anything but easy, though; every fight now features a gigantic demon at least twice Momohime’s size. First a Red Oni, then a Blue Oni, then a giant minotaur and another similar creature except with a horse’s head. And those are TOUGH, even with your best weapons of the moment.

Holy crap! I'll give it to you Momohime, when you have your
back at the wall, you do show great courage.
At the end of Hell, Momohime’s soul accidentally pushes Jinkuro’s soul out of her body, but then something happens (that we don’t see, limited cutscenes and all) and Jinkuro’s soul is eaten by a giant Oni. Knowing she can’t get out without him, Momohime… walks towards the towering Oni that is four times her size and demands politely to be eaten as well, allowing Jinkuro inside the monster to take Momohime’s body again and beat the monster from the inside. That sounds too silly to be true, and yet it works.

Guess who's getting their brain hemispheres separated
by a demon blade tonight? You, giant oni!
However, this triggers the boss battle; part 1 of the boss is Jinkuro slashing away inside the demon’s stomach, causing it to spit them out. The rest of the fight takes place against the Big Oni, and it’s a very, very hard fight. Why? Well, first, all you can harm is the Oni’s head. Second, it has a tendency to move a lot, and it also likes to swing its large arms to grab Momohime’s body and slam it into the ground. It can also teleport or slam the ground by becoming a giant fist. Well, gotta give this to Vanillaware, they sure got creative with these attacks. Anyway, after a long fight the Oni is defeated. The Kuromitsu blade is nowhere to be found in Hell; we’ve been sidetracked! Dammit! We do see the magistrate of Narukami in Hell, though; beheaded by the Shogun quickly after his defeat earlier.

Jinkuro is still on his quest for immortality, and he decides there’s only one way to go: If Hell led him nowhere, the answer must be in Heaven! Oh good, we’re gonna invade the palace of the Gods! I can’t see this backfiring in any way! Jinkuro travels towards Takamagahara, in the province of Ise, to look for a path that leads to Heaven. As we get closer to Heaven, yellow clouds start appearing on the way; and so do poisoned butterflies. And the higher we go, the more paper-like the world around gets. Like the game is transcending its own existence to go back to the paper the hand-drawn sprites came from… nah, that can’t be it.

That's a tall woman.
Jinkuro soon reaches the entrance to Heaven, where he’s stopped by Fujin, a wind deity, and Raijin, goddess of thunder, who’s almost completely naked. Raijin can’t let any mortal into Heaven, so she attacks Jinkuro. And damn she’s a tough boss. Lots of thunder attacks that are difficult to avoid. It’s an impressive fight but Raijin is defeated. The combatants fall to the Earth below but Fujin catches Jinkuro before hitting the ground. Fujin explains that the doors of Heaven closed during the fight and Jinkuro should just trop trying to get there.

The old swordsman knows that there are other ways into Heaven and asks where the closest one is; it’s in Yamato, near Mount Kongo... but it’s also the location of Rankai’s monastery, where his sect prays. So yeah, I suspect there’ll be a big fight against Rankai soon enough…

Once again, defeating a boss gives Jinkuro a new weapon. It’s late in Momohime’s story, so I’ll explain this now: Remember the forge I mentioned in Part 1? Whenever you have enough Spirit and Soul, you can have the Muramasa Senji forge a weapon for you. However, some of the weapons cannot be forged by Senji; those weapons are surrounded by a colored square. Those are weapons that can only be acquired by defeating certain bosses. And the way the forging tree works, you cannot obtain certain blades until you’ve earned a blade from defeating a boss. Therefore, your progress in forging strong blades is hindered by your progression in the story. Thankfully, each boss-earned blade opens the path for a few blades, allowing you to gain power to make the next boss a little easier. Momohime and Kisuke both have their own half of the forging upgrade tree, and the final blades need both characters to get to a certain point in the story. The most powerful blades can only be accessed after you’ve beaten the game with both. There’s also a number of boss-earned blades that I suspect belong to bonus bosses that can only be found after the game has been beaten once. Those also need to be acquired in order to forge the last few blades. After Jinkuro defeats Raijin, there’s about 37 blades available for him to use. On 108.

Jinkuro runs through Yamato, reaches the large monastery, and finds a path that leads to Heaven. Well, gotta give it to the guy, for the undead soul of a criminal he sure has determination. Alright then, let’s get to the final boss!

I mean, who wouldn't like eternal life? Seeing everyone
die around you while you stay young... becoming a mystery
of science and being kidnapped, put in a lab, studied, so
that they can pierce the secret of your immortality...
Oh wait, this is Feudal Japan. My mistake.
We enter the room of the boss and meet with… Yukinojyo? That guy who was supposed to marry Momohime? The guy admits that he ran to the Monastery to tell Rankai about Jinkuro’s arrival ahead of time, and makes another shocking revelation: The Kuromitsu blade, the object we’ve been looking for, has always been in Yukinojyo’s possession! Yukinojyo offers up the body of a captured criminal to transfer Jinkuro’s soul in, so that Momohime’s soul can go back in her body. He wants to see the process as it takes place, but Jinkuro figures out that Yukinojyo wants to steal the process for himself, in an attempt to also become immortal. Geez! So much for your so-called heroism, Yukinojyo!

Now this is one giant statue..
...But I've killed much bigger, in this very game.
However, that’s when two deities appear and steal the Kuromitsu blade. They are guarding this entrance to Heaven and are decided not to let a rogue swordsman like Jinkuro in there! The fight that follows is nothing short of epic. The two deities stand in different places around the large battlefield, throwing spells and attacks, while there’s a giant humanoid statue in the background – and it, too, can attack. As for how the fight works, you have to damage one of the two deities so much that it reverts to some kind of ball of energy; this will remove the protection from a weak point on the giant statue-like god, and Jinkuro has to jump on the floating platforms to get to that place on the God and slash away to break it. Each leg has a weak point that can be revealed by defeating its associated deity, then the stomach requires that both deities are defeated, then both weak points on the arms need each deity defeated separately, and finally the head which again requires both deities to be defeated. When all six weak points are beaten, the statue is destroyed…

Um... What does the almighty, God-defeating Jinkuro
have to say? Oh, he gives up? I have the impression
that it's the wiser move. 

…but the God represented by the statue, Fudo-Myoou, is still very alive, and swears that Jinkuro will never get into heaven! The God decides to become a giant demon and ravage the land… And next thing we know, Momohime awakes on the floor of the Buddhing monastery, her soul back in her body, wondering what happened to Jinkuro. Walking around, she sees that Kongiku has reverted to a normal fox, and the ex-kitsune says she wished she could have talked to Jinkuro a last time before he left. Rankai has been scared by that God he believed in suddenly going crazy, so he decides to stop his walk of revenge. Jinkuro’s Soul, a little further, explains that the god’s rampage forced his soul out of Momohime’s body and Momohime’s soul back inside it, and she’s free again. More importantly, she’s no longer “dead”. As good as new! A flashback shows that despite Jinkuro’s best efforts, he was unable to actually defeat the rampaging god Fudo-Myoou, and thus chose to mend his ways, apologize for the wrong he’s done, and set things right with Momohime’s soul. Even if that means he's going to Hell.

After Jinkuro’s soul is gone, Momohime decides to quit her arranged wedding with Yukinojyo to become a Buddhist nun and pray for Jinkuro’s soul, sensing that there was something good in him and that she might “save him”. Ah, please. Bad guys don’t need saving. The sooner they go on the road to redemption, the quicker they die! Haven’t you learned anything? Proof, he became sort of a good guy and now he’s dead! …Wait, he was already dead before that… Dammit Nicolas, stop confusing yourself!

On the right: Jinkuro, when he was alive.
On the left: Yuzuruha, a mysterious second kitsune who
accompanies Kisuke on his journey.
Okay, so technically this covers all of Momohime’s story. However, this RPG has three different endings for each character, and you can see a character’s bonus endings only if you beat the other character’s Story Mode. As such, I will soon explain Kisuke’s side of the plot. It’s actually interesting as both stories intertwine, start off on the same event (the attack on Momohime’s family), and then take wildly different paths. Momohime’s story follows Jinkuro, who can more appropriately called a villain, as he tries to attain immortality by getting into Heaven. Kisuke is closer to an actual hero… not that we’d know this since Kisuke is on the run, escaping ninjas trying to kill him. I’ll get to that in Part 3; for now, I have just a few more mentions about the gameplay.

First off, the game makes use of enemy scaling. When you level up, you get access to stronger weapons through Muramasa Senji’s forge, and thus your attack level increases. However, every enemy you encounter will also become more dangerous; they gain HP and attack when you level up. You still stay reasonably stronger than them thanks to the swords you unlock, but this also means that very few, if any, enemies on the world map will be defeated in a single slash. As such, it’s technically useless to level-grind too much, as you’ll find yourself having to fight stronger enemies anyway. However, you still need to grind for experience a bit since the unlockable swords in Muramasa Senji’s forge have requirements such as a minimum stat of Strength and Vitality on the character you currently use, and those only increase with your level.

A treasure chest! Yes! And there are no mimics in this
world, so it's safe to open!
One of the “side-quests” outside of getting all the swords could be to find every item hidden in the world you can explore. Many screens in every region have a symbol of an item that can be acquired. Near a flashing light, press A to grab the item. Most screens like this one will contain normal items, but some locations have more special items like cookbooks allowing your character to make better recipes, or Accessories that can be equipped along with the three swords to increase your Strength and/or Vitality, or giving you little bonus abilities (like becoming resistant to poison, gaining HP when slashing at an enemy, emptying the fullness gauge faster, things like that).

Talking about side-quests, even after you’ve completed one storyline you can’t access all of the locations. As I said in Part 1, the swords you unlock by defeating bosses allow you to cut through colored barriers blocking your way, but if you only complete Momohime’s or Kisuke’s story, you still don’t have the blade that cuts through white barriers. Those usually lead to bonus dungeons, or to particularly tough enemy lairs. Therefore, you need to complete both storylines in order to access everything. Also of note, each storyline has three endings, one which you can see with a character when you beat its storyline the first time, one you see after you’ve beaten both storylines and equipped certain swords, and a third one seen after you’ve created the strongest sword in the game and equipped it (a feat that can be achieved only after beating most bonus dungeons). Gotta give it to Vanillaware, they sure know how to give longevity to a game.

Alright then, I believe we’ll meet in Part 3 for Kisuke’s story. Be there Friday!

June 17, 2016

Muramasa: The Demon Blade (Part 1)

I know little about traditional Japanese culture. I know it involves a lot of stories about mythical creatures (youkai), honor, ninjas and samurais, but it would be a mistake to stereotype it to those elements alone. Thankfully, most video games from Japan are made easily accessible to English-speaking audiences thanks to effective translation. They explain the basic concepts so that the player can understand. In the case of today’s game, a relatively poor translation combined with a complex story that heavily relies on Japanese mythology results in something hard to understand for me, and for some others. I will most likely get it as I play.

Enter Muramasa: The Demon Blade. A little jewel of art on the Wii, a game that has gained a following in no small part thanks to its peculiar details. Yes, it features a lot of elements from Japanese myths. It’s an action RPG, similar to games such as Super Paper Mario, with the character walking and running around the large world to explore like it’s actually a platform game, while the random encounters with enemies award Experience and money, allowing the character to level up over time. Plus, it’s technically two storylines, each following a different character on their journey, with both stories finding their root in the same event and unfolding at the same time.

However, two things stand out in this game: First off, the art. Every single sprite and background was hand-drawn, then scanned and used for the game. And as a result, everything is drop-dead gorgeous. I mean, look at any other game I called gorgeous in the past three years; none of them even measures to this game. It’s probably one of the best-looking 2D video games ever made. Simply astonishing. Every time I pick it up and play, I am reminded of its beauty. Second, for all the beauty of this game, the large and complex storylines of each character, the giant world to visit, the entire game actually takes a ridiculously small amount of space on the Wii disc: 0.62 gigabytes. For reference, that’s only twice the size of the original Wii Sports, one of the shortest games out there. And of that 0.62 Gb. 0.49 of it make up the soundtrack and voice clips, which means that the programming and all of the beautiful hand-drawn sprites and backgrounds that make up this game world take up only 0.13 gigabytes. It’s a technical marvel. If that is not impressive, I don’t know what is.

That’s the basic information about this game. I will be jumping into the story now, and I will be looking at both the stories of Momohime and Kisuke. In that order.