Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Muramasa, Pt.2

This is the second part of my three-part Muramasa review. [Part 1] [Part 3]

The Bad
Though actions in Muramasa feel responsive, control is an issue. Since the game offers a full move set with only one attack button, variety exists via subtle differences in button press order, timing, or direction on the left analog thumbstick that frequently overlap and cause you to perform attacks you don't intend. I think of myself as a gamer with stronger-than-average reaction time and precision but even after playing the game for 40 hours, I regularly performed moves I didn't mean to, sometimes at high cost in particularly difficult side challenges.

Advancement exists in the game in the form of purchasing new swords that grant different special attacks, and when you first open the advancement tree, you get a bit frightened because of the wealth of choices that seem to be available to you. Unfortunately, this never works out in practice. You are rather limited in choice at any moment, and generally have more than enough money to buy every sword available to you at each phase of the game.

Story presentation is also problematic. You can see that pride was taken in its presentation, but the story was difficult to follow, with lots of names and places thrown at you to track and very little information about what was driving the heroes. I don't know how much of this came from translation issues or lack of familiarity with Japanese myth, but my enjoyment was affected. Finally and unfortunately, though you get to choose a starting character, the default (Momohime Jinkuro) is less interesting (than Kisuke), and most people will stop fighting after completing her storyline ends. Though Kisuke was mostly a rinse-and-repeat experience, he had a much more interesting story (and boss fights).

But perhaps my biggest beef with Muramasa is that there are no interesting choices to make for less skilled players. And by providing healing and powerups to make the design-as-planned accessible to a wide audience, the game loses the subtlety and interest built into the core mechanics. Bosses can be very rewarding when you restrict yourself (e.g., trying defeat them without using healing potions) and have to master some of the depth in combat, but all subtlety is lost when you can slog through the fight spamming attack and downing healing potions as you get low.

This may be preferable to requiring precision and patience and losing most of your audience (or is it? Didn't Ninja Gaiden do rather well?) but it made me wonder what things could have been done (in hindsight) to add interesting choices for lower-level play that have a gross affect on the game without changing many game assets or removing reward for high-precision skill.

More on that thought in the third and final part...

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