Oboro Muramasa is a prime example of what our era is missing out on with the shift to 3D. It's a lesson in how simple and peerless traditional gameplay can be, but also how one editor couldn't wait several more months before playing another classic by famed 2D developer Vanillaware. How hard could importing be? This is from the same team who designed such easy-to-grasp classics as Princess Crown, Odin Sphere, and Grim Grimoire. How hard of a language barrier could there be getting into their latest 2D installment?
Damn hard, as it turns out.
Oboro Muramasa, is in every sense of the term, poetry in motion, with little to complain about...
Oboro Muramasa centers around the main island of Japan, with various parties all fighting for demonic swords, which, though they might carry insurmountable power, are infamous for dragging death, misfortune, and malice behind them. This is all explained to you in totally incomprehensible Japanese. In fact, it's so complex that Ignition Entertainment has stated that trying to replace the voice acting would completely remove the feel of Genroku-era Japanese.
The player can assume the role of either Kisuke - an amnesiac swordsman seeking to know his past - or Momohime - an exiled princess once possessed by an evil swordsman. Both characters can be selected right off the bat and played through one of the first two available modes: Muso modo and Shura modo. The former focuses more on RPG elements with an eye toward increasing stats in your character and swords, while the latter stresses non-stop hardcore action, which will probably be the preferred approach for anyone willing to import.
Selecting a character unveils completely different pathways and storylines, as well as different swords to forge (get to that later) on Honshu island. Unlike Odin Sphere, players in Oboro Muramasa don't have to worry about repeatedly running through areas that are fun until the eleventh or twelfth time. Maps are completely jumbled up between rain forests, wheat fields, tall cities, shallow rivers, long banks of snow, tall green hill mountains, withered-up trees in passageways, and more. It's a real sight and looks magnificent on either an HD or SD screen.
Combat is pitch perfect, being simple enough to grasp quickly (and without silly Wii-waggling controls!) but deep enough to never grow tiresome. The A and B buttons are mapped for normal and special attacks, respectively. Upper and crouching slashes, deflecting shuriken from several ninjas at once, ninja-dashing juggled foes in the air - those are all done with A. Special attacks via the B button change depending on the sword wielded. Both Kisuke and Momohime can hold up to three swords at once, be they large, slower Zweihänder types (ōdachi) or shorter, quicker swords for multiple attacks (tachi). All your swords, though, use soul energy, which you can harvest off of fallen foes or wandering green blob-like spirits floating all around Honshu island. Deplete all the soul energy out of a blade and it'll break, slowly restoring itself and forcing you to switch to another weapon.
Many things here are taken out of the pages of Princess Crown or even Odin Sphere, but thankfully all of the bad pages were kicked to the curb. The pacing is just right, the music is nearly always fresh and exciting and the "Metroidvania" feel of defeating bosses to unlock color-coded gates across the island of Honshu is great. Depending on whether you're into blitzing to trying to fight every hidden battle, gameplay can last between six and fifteen hours for each character - satisfying the wishes of many that played Vanillaware's past work of art on the PS2. Oboro Muramasa, is in every sense of the term, poetry in motion, with little to complain about and many things to write home about, even when you've left your Wii. If only the Genroku era were really this exciting.