Muramasa: The Demon Blade – “Geisha”

Let no doubts arise, “Muramasa” is skin-deep – beneath its gorgeous pale skin and virtuous exterior, you’ll find nothing tangible to grasp. Mind you, it’s a beautiful, beautiful work as is, one which takes 2D sprites and crafts them into an art form in of itself. These are awe-inspiring paintings: whether it’s the soothing effect of watching the rural Japanese landscape bathed in warm sunset colors as the wind gently lulls the wheatfield, or cowering beneath the ominous moonlight over Japanese shiro castles in that tingling goth gloom, settings and characters are animated by true masters of this digital art. From the sumptuous color palettes, to the strong expressionist deformations that deeply underpin dramatic character, and above all, the rich aesthetic themes, all evoke classic and modern Japanese artworks, spreading their light into a new medium.

And yet, deep as its ostentatious vanity goes, it’s not a wholly unpleasant dame that wears “Muramasa’s” most lavish of kimonos. As long as one doesn’t think too much on what is lacking inside, the superficial delight it affords is fulfilling. Especially because, where “Odin Sphere’s” Norse meets Japanimation concept seemed somewhat artificial and plastic, “Muramasa’s” focus on traditional Japanese mythology makes it a slightly more honest, heartfelt endeavor. No matter how much “Vanillaware” studied Odin’s lands, it would always seem lost in translation, as they could never fully grasp its intricacies, let alone matching them with their own art-style and language, deeply rooted as they are in their culture. Now, the aesthetic side of “Muramasa” seems whole. Anime’s roots in traditional art flourish, the dramatic poise imposed by the 2D assets fits beautifully with the Kabuki theater narrative, and even the modern soundtrack (by Hitoshi Sakimoto, Masaharu Iwata et al) successfully plays with traditional instruments and sonorities to deliver rhythm and intensity to combat. And it is solely in the very heat of sword-brawling that you’ll be most often reminded of “Muramasa’s” failings as a videogame. Despite its one button elegance and fast pace, the game’s combat feels too drab, numb and saccharine, not to mention awkward for such an enticing theme and artistic background. Thankfully, the game’s short duration doesn’t allow it to become as tiresome as in “Odin Sphere”.

Never mind its offensive shallowness, you have to give credit to Kamitani for wearing his colors proudly, sticking to his authors’ legacy and continuing to create videogames his own way. In the end, that is what keeps him and his team high above their western-submissive peers. For only thus could he create one of the very few unique objects that have landed on a Wii. Like an endowed geisha, “Muramasa” entertains you with its art and music, stimulates you with its knowledge of culture and history, and charms you with its seductiveness and beauty… just don’t expect true love to come into the picture.

score: 3/5

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