Review: Muramasa belongs in the Louvre

If you don’t remember the characters for their design, you will for the eccentric roles they play in the game’s elaborate Japanese narrative.

Muramasa tells two dark, complex, intertwining stories. Kisuke is a fugitive suffering from amnesia and being chased for crimes he can’t remember, and Monohime is a young girl who has been possessed by the evil spirit of a swordsman who yearns for revenge. Before starting your journey, you’ll choose which character you’d like to control and, subsequently, which of the bleak narrative threads you’ll follow.

The more you know about Japanese mythology and lore, the more comfortable you’ll likely be with Muramasa’s tone. The game doesn’t explain itself to those confused by its esoteric references—kappa, oni, the whole nine yards—to Japanese legend, but while prior knowledge enhances the experience, the game certainly doesn’t rely on it.

Even an ignorant gaijin should be able to figure things out.

Muramasa’s controls, on the other hand, are a much simpler affair. Like many classic side-scrolling action games from decades past, the game gets by with only a few buttons. One attacks, another performs a special attack—that’s about it. The game supports nunchuck, classic and GameCube controllers, and depending on the device you choose, you can jump by pushing up on the directional pad or analog stick.

The controls are pretty basic. Some of the maneuvers and sword techniques they represent on-screen, however, are anything but.

What depth Muramasa lacks in control is compensated for by the combat itself—the swordplay is fast-paced, fierce and presented as beautifully as the game’s artwork. From stringing slashes to juggling enemies and performing magical attacks, the gameplay is frantic, fun and often rhythmic, like poetry at the end of a glistening katana.

It’s not mind-melting stuff, but the simplicity of the controls—and the decision to abstain from waggle—works well within the game’s framework and makes Muramasa both enjoyable and accessible.