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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?