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Traditional Japan. An era so often utilised due to the country's rich cultural history, together with their beleifs in Shintoism and gods. Many forms of media have resorted to this era in their works, from film to books, art to games and many moer. One of the latest games to utilise this setting is none other than Muramasa: The Demon Blade. Does it capture the essence of the era whilst being a game that plays ell? Read on to find out.....

Muramasa: The Demon Blade (hereafter MDB) puts you in control of one of two lead characters (of which you can choose from at the start of the game). You can pick either the princess Momohime who is possessed by the warrior spirit Jinkurou, or the ninja who betrayed and fled his own clan who goes by the name of Kisuke. Basically, Momohime's story starts in the East and has her travel to the West and Kisuke's is unravelled vice-versa. Although playing through both paths will have you criss-cross aths and seeing familiar territory it adds to the game's longevity as well as being able to see how the two characters' stories play out. Playing as both characters is interesting in their own right and I think that players will be happy enough to go through both tales when they play.

Inevitably moving on to the game's graphics, beyond developer Vanillaware's previous games there really is nothing else that looks like MDB. Done in a 2-D, puppet-like style, the game animates beautifully and with parallax scrolling used on the backgrounds and foregrounds the environments are fully fleshed out in all their traditional beauty. From fields to mountain paths, beaches to populated towns, evry area looks as it should and really captures the era the game is set in. The movement of the characters is no bad things either (as you would expect from Vanillaware) and the boses you fight are a sight to behold. Simply put, MDB's graphics are truly beautiful.

Putting aside one the game's most prominent points, how does MDB play? Well, if you're into 'hack and slash' games you'll be right at home here. Players use the Wiimote and nunchuck for their character's movement and attacking with different motions used to perform different attacks. It allows for fluid movement when battles occur which are trigerred when moving through the map. You certainly feel in control whilst dueling and you will typically only die due to your own lack of skill, not down to poorly implemented controls. Players can also switch between 3 different blades which they can have equipped at any one time. In some cases this allows you to attack all enemies on the screen, providing a means of getting out ot a sticky situation. You also have access to items that you can use whilst in the middle of battle to regenerate your health, give you power boosts to toher advantages. Again, the game gives you everything at your disposal to hold your own in a battle, the only reason you will die is your lack of skill or having a decent blade.

In tune with the game's setting, the publishers have been smart in recognising that given the game is set in a traditional Japanese setting to keep the character voices in the original Japanese language with matching subtitiles. It helps add to the mood of the game and is nie to see that it is not diluted by having a dub with phony American accents thrown in for good measure.

As ever, not all is butterflies and roses in MDB. As mentioned earlier, the game is essentially 'hack and slash' style and where as this may appeal to some individuals it may prove to be too repetitive and boring for other players. Those same players may also find themselves having to do lots of runnig from one area to the next in order to take on the next boss and complete the most recent chapter. In addition to seeming too linear fro some tastes the gameplay may come across as too old-school for some in this seemingly 3D-graphics only infatuated market of recent times.

Criticisms aside, if you enjoy visually attractive games with solid gameplay systems, a reasonable story and a traditional Japanese setting the you're going to soak this up. So, 'Iza, jinjou ni shoubu' (a line pilfered from Samurai Spirits but applicable in this situation, meaning 'The time has come to fight'). Buy it, play it, enjoy for Christ's sake!

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