Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Muramasa, Pt.3

This is the third and final part of my three-part Muramasa review. [Part 1] [Part 2]

It saddened me to see all of the nuance and interest in the core design get swept under the rug to make it accessible to a less skillful audience, but what could they have done about it? Below are toolbox thoughts that struck me during play.

I wondered if the game would be interesting for both high and low-level players if having sword choices matter in more gross ways. For example, if enemies had broad elemental weaknesses (acid, fire, ice, wind etc.) that gave you big advantages or disadvantage when pairing certain weapons against them, then you could give the player several interesting choices without requiring new core combat animations or AI. Since the main character can carry three weapons, the player could equip three different weapons advantageous against three different elemental types, or perhaps offer stacked bonuses for equipping three of the same type of weapon. Now each battle could be based around a single weakness or multiple weaknesses, and having a sword break (they recharge when using another sword, FYI) or not break means more to the outcome of play. Having skill to overcome a weakness in your equipment is now still valuable for the high-end player, but a low-end player can still overcome the problem through interesting choice and advancement. Additionally, you can add inherent bonuses rewards for defeating enemies with the element they are strong against to encourage (but not require) high-end play. Tons of options then become available to the designers, including advancement parsed between swords and elements, between purchasable advancement and drops, and with lots of variables added (base swords vs. swords with upgrades, swords with slots for elemental upgrades, food used to raise element levels or grant elemental bonuses, etc.).

Perhaps many of these thoughts may not have worked in practice. Regardless, I applaud the designers for making a high-end game that was deeply enjoyable when limiting yourself (or when the challenges happened to be exceptionally hard). I loved Muramasa, but wished it had more to offer in the "easy to learn" part of "easy to learn and hard to master." I wonder if the game would have been better served by limiting itself to the "hard to master" audience, and truly wish I could recommend the game it as much as I enjoyed it.


  1. It seems like the high-end player might be less likely to have weaknesses in their equipment than the low-end player, though. Adding the extra rewards for using elements opponents resist would encourage the high-end players to intentionally have suboptimal equipment, but still wouldn't make it easier for low-end players coming in with the same. Some low-end players may even want those extra rewards and choose their equipment appropriately, only to become frustrated.

    I think separate difficulty levels may be a better solution to the problem of making the game fun for both types of players (though the elemental stuff could still be an extra layer of strategy aside from that).

    I haven't actually played Muramasa, but I have Odin Sphere. I guess it has some elemental stuff as far as spells and potions having elemental effects (there's a fire potion you throw on the ground that creates a wave of fire and one for poison, etc.).

    In Odin Sphere, though, you don't really get different weapons; the spice there is from planting seeds which grow during the battle (fueled by the souls of dead enemies, which you also have to use to fuel your own magic), then using the "fruit" of those plants for regaining HP directly or combining with other items to make potions or better foods. "Fruit" is in quotes because there is a plant that grows sheep...

  2. One way to handle the difficulty setting which I think might be pretty interesting is to have a "Custom" difficulty setting (in addition to preconfigured difficulty settings for players who prefer them), where the player can decide what they want for all or most of the factors which affect difficulty.

    For example, a setting to determine how much health enemies have, another for how aggressive they are, one for how often healing potions show up, one for how much damage enemies do, etc. Players could use these settings to give themselves specific challenges or to make the game even easier than the preconfigured options if they like.

  3. Do you know of a game with custom difficulty settings? I've never heard the idea before and find it intriguing.

    I don't think separate difficulties would have solved the problem in Muramasa because the detail of your move set is revealed out of trial and error via death. The designers could have done a better job making required actions clearer, but I presumed that would require a redesigned AI and art, and I was trying to think of solutions that could have been implemented more easily.

    (Perhaps another idea would just be adding "slow-down" when action use is critical, as a hint, and to increase room for failure when executing maneuvers. But this could reveal weaknesses in the art when frames become few and far between.)

    I still feel that if you started with the game as is and /added/ elements that help you destroy enemies faster (instead of adding health), that both types of players would enjoy the reward of choice (element-type choice instead of when-to-heal), but the high-end could still be given motivation to try using intentionally weak weapons for small but greater rewards per battle (xp/$).

    I'm sure there are more holes in these ideas, and I like your feedback.

  4. I don't know of a game that does it; I thought of it while re-reading my first comment and your post. I may have thought of it (or seen it) before but I don't remember if I did. For multiplayer games a lot of them let you set different things like what types of weapons spawn, etc; things which change the nature of the game. This would be the basically same thing, but for single-player. I suppose a comparison could be drawn with "skirmish mode" for RTS games, where it lets you play with the options of multiplayer in a single-player game against AI bots.

    The slow-down thing would be cool, and could be something that happens in easy mode but not hard. Another thing that I've seen in easy mode for a lot of games is that they help you block attacks (although my character blocking when not doing anything else is something I tend to like and get used to starting on those difficulties, so that is a disincentive to move up the difficulty ladder for me, even if I could).

    The lack of in-between frames could possibly be covered up by extra code for interpolation in the game engine, or by motion blur. I suspect Muramasa and Odin Sphere use skeletal animation systems similar to 3D games (but with 2D) anyway; an image for each "part" like a forearm, thigh, etc. So if that is the case then the slowdown wouldn't have any problems with missing frames at all.

    I was thinking this morning also that if I were making the decision on difficulty settings, then players using the preconfigured difficulties could switch difficulty settings on the fly, but those using custom settings wouldn't be able to change them after they started the game. Or maybe being able to change difficulty settings mid-game would be one of the options you could enable or disable in the Custom mode?

    Anyway it may be that adding things would help with letting both types of players enjoy the game. It's also possible that the problems with being able to appeal to both types of players are more fundamental to the design, and would require more reworking of what's already there.

    But really, I was looking at it from the perspective of analyzing it to apply lessons to future, as-yet-uncreated games. Something like what types of players can play and enjoy the game is probably something that should be planned for from the very beginning of design. If a game is built from the get-go to be enjoyable to a wide range of people, I think it is more likely to be successful at that than one where things are added later to make it more widely accessible.

    So my feedback was not really considering what it would cost to rework what's there, but more in the vein of "if this game (or another) were being made now, using this analysis from Muramasa to help guide design decisions, how should it be done?" And of course I make no claim of absolute authority; mine are opinions just like everyone else's. : )