Often when talking about games that are not so good, the following line is uttered: “It’s such a repetitive game…” I’ve even used this phrase and its ilk multiple times myself. Each and every time it seems justified. But over the course of the last three years, it’s been slowly crumbling into a hollow statement.
That’s mainly because of one game: Muramasa. Whether its subtitle is The Demon Blade (on Wii) or Rebirth (on PS Vita), the game has captivated me since I finally got a copy of it. It’s a platform-based action game. You move from scene to scene while being ambushed by enemies as you are locked into a screen and have to defeat them to continue.
You pick up money, experience points and an item or two along the way. It’s actually pretty standard fare. More so, because its move set is also quite limited and isn’t expanded upon as you progress through the game. Its highlights are boss battles, story exposition (woefully crippled in The Demon Blade, I may add) and the occasional meal at a small bar (wonderfully animated).
But the smallest ‘brick’ in the foundation of the game is the combat scene. It’s because of this that you can call the game repetitive. You do little else, everything you acquire enhances combat statistics rather than abilities (though different swords provide different special attacks), the enemies you encounter are all recycled multiple times and your move set does not evolve. From tutorial to final boss, you’ll use the exact same actions.
And I bloody love it.
It’s wonderfully understated to the point that each and every battle becomes an opportunity to perform better. You scan the enemies, you anticipate their equally limited actions and simply become better at performing your own. Like Tetris (that other utterly repetitive game), it’s not about getting the most bang for your buck, it’s about optimising yourself. Getting the maximum result with a minimum of effort.
I have this hoarding knack in RPGs; whenever I reach the final boss, I’m fully stocked with every type of item and attack. I want to keep important healing items for when I really need them, but because I’m so prudent I end up not using them at all.
I started off Muramasa in a similar vein, but that quickly went nowhere. Saving your screen-wiping iaido attack is stupid. Better to use it as quickly as possible. When you die in battle, you are resurrected with your items at the start, so there’s also no penalty there. The entire premise is that you can and should experiment as much as you want with your attacks.
The difference from being a new Muramasa player compared to an advanced one can be astounding. As evidenced when you start the second character play-through after completing the first. The ‘beat’ of the game is still the same, it’s like a new game+ but it’s your skills that have been carried over rather than your gear.
Even better, the game subtly grows along with you. It quietly upgrades your enemies in the background as you gain more levels and when you reach the level cap, it still feels like a challenge. And after that, there’s Fury mode allowing you to play through the game again with every hit instantly killing you.
The stupid thing is that by the time you unlock Fury mode, it actually feels possible to do so. It’s almost an insult when you discover the DLC does provide you with different move sets. Then again, after completing them it opens up the main game with that new move set, tempting you to master its ways properly.
Muramasa may be one of the most repetitive games out there, but it set out to be just that. To provide a canvas against which to enhance your skills at playing the game. It may seem shallow and you’ll play the same battle scenes over and over and over again, but it will never become boring. At least, if you are willing to better yourself each and every time.