“An ancient pond. A frog jumps in. The splash of water. Hmm… Not a bad haiku.” -Old Man living in Sagami
Muramasa is like a haiku. It’s simple and concise. It comes from an ancient era where a direction pad and a button or two were all anyone needed to escape into virtual reality. Its three metric phrases are its combat, its art and music, and its role playing. Games like this are rare these days in the retail world, having been mostly contained into digital distribution and indie divisions. I don’t know how this one managed to make it onto store shelves, but I commend whoever was responsible.
Muramasa is set in mythological Japan, where mortal life rides upon the outcome of conflicts between the gods and demons, and human civilization sprawls across the countryside. Some hamlets have sprouted within the forests and the fields and are filled with good natured country folk who love the company of traveling strangers. The wilderness is dotted with wild adventurers and traveling merchants in search of riches. Giant metropolises exist too, each a majestic personification of the most romanticly objectionable aspects of cities.
The urban landscapes are painted with luminous towering buildings. The civilians are cold shadows of people who wander the streets in crowds, ignorant of the magic that exists on the rooftops where ninjas and monsters leap and fly unseen. Demented samurai dwell in lonely apartments ready to swing a blade at whoever dares sneak in through the window. If you are lucky, you can find a restaurant where no one wants to kill you.
Prowling across the perimeters of civilization, hordes of monsters and demons lie in wait for any unsuspecting travelers passing by. Violent gods of thunder, mountains, sea, and more of nature’s majestic phenomena are eager to prove their superiority over any mortal who challenges them. Some monsters have burrowed hidden lairs in the outskirts of the map, where anyone who enters likely won’t leave. Beyond where any human dares is a pit leading straight down to Hell, inside of which march legions of agonized souls. An even more incredible journey is one to Heaven, where the Earth below can be seen for the fragile painting that it is, before eventually being completely lost below ethereal clouds.
Muramasa is like a lucid dream. Upon beginning a new game you leap into the shoes of a warrior who sprints endlessly across an ever-changing landscape, swinging a sword at any foe who dares cross your path without pausing for a moment. Your powers aren’t earthbound though, you can leap from treetops, mountaintops, and rooftops, until a vicious monster strikes. Then you fly with your blade drawn, artfully swinging the steel back and forth, up and down, only laying a foot on the ground to roll past an enemy’s counterattack.
This isn’t just a game about magic, this game is magical. I want to lose myself in the endless swordplay, mythology, art, music, and motion. The millions of people who will walk past a shelf with this game are like the shadows of crowds in Muramasa’s cities that wander the streets oblivious to the incredible spectacle they would see if they took the time to look upwards. As for a downside to this game? Like every great dream, you must eventually wake up.