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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!