This is a combination review. It not only reviews Muramasa: Rebirth as a game but it also reviews the Playstation Vita TV.
Muramasa was originally released in April 2009 in Japan for the Wii under the title OBOROMURAMASA. The title is written both in Japanese and as a subtitle in English all in caps. Oboro means hazy and Muramasa is a sword forged by the Swordsmith, Muramasa. The game was released in NA and Europe about half a year later with the title Muramasa: Demon Blade. In March 2013, a PS Vita version was released in Japan with the same name as the Wii version. Later, that year, it was released in North America and Europe under the name of Muramasa: Rebirth. For simplicity’s sake, I will refer to the game as Muramasa. As a point of trivia, the Japanese characters that appear above Muramasa on the North American and European versions of the game say OboroMuramasa and not just Muramasa.
The game is a single player Action RPG developed by Vanillaware whose most recent title is Dragon’s Crown for the PS3 and Vita. The original Muramasa Wii version was well received and gathered quite a few accolades. The biggest con to the game is that the visual presentation was so good the game was diminished by the Wii’s limitation to standard definition resolutions. The PS Vita, in contrast, shows off the spectacular visuals with its OLED screen. The biggest con to the Vita version is that one might want to view it on a big screen HDTV.
That’s where the PS Vita TV comes in. Released in Japan only less than half a year ago, it is a Vita without a built in screen. In other words, it is a tiny set-top box about the size of an iPhone. The pictures on the Vita (JP) website show off its small size and elegant design:http://www.jp.playstation.com/psvitatv/
Like the Vita, it is region free so it will play NA and JP games. I have not been able to test it with EU games. Unfortunately, it can only be used with a JP PSN ID. If you don’t already have one, the Vita TV will allow you to create one. Although I play under quite a few PSN IDs—US and JP—I consider this to be the biggest disadvantage of the PS Vita TV. I would like to have the option of getting credit for trophies for my NA PSN IDs. As an example, I found out that I needed to have registered activity on the game in order to post this review. Playing the game on another PSN ID doesn’t count. So, I quickly had to get an achievement on this PSN ID using my regular PS Vita so I could sign in with a NA PSN ID.
In all other respects, the PS Vita TV is an exceptional device. It is readily available in North America—in addition to the convenient Play-Asia.com; Amazon.com, among others, sells it as a JP import. I, myself, used Rinkya.com—a buying service—to preorder the Vita TV and recommend it highly for anyone who is serious about Japanese import gaming. Here’s the item on Amazon.com:http://www.amazon.com/PlayStation-Vita-Value-VTE-1000AA01-Ja...
By coincidence, as I was writing this review, I received an e-mail from Play-Asia.com that announced they had reduced their PS Vita TV prices. Of significance, they also offer an Asian model that will accept both Hong Kong and JP region PSN IDs. The Japanese model that I got provides only one choice of regions—Japan. http://www.play-asia.com/paOScore/19-71-1ax-15-PLAYSTATION+V...
The fact that the PS Vita TV allows us to play Muramasa on a large HDTV does not diminish the experience on a regular Vita handheld. This game showcases the Vita OLED screen and, in my opinion, is the most spectacular game from a graphics perspective on the Vita. There are games that I prefer to Muramasa but I give the edge to Muramasa in terms of visual splendor.
Muramasa, though, is more than a pretty face. There are well developed characters, an engaging story, a compelling score, and addictive gameplay. The story takes place in 17th century Japan. Players control either an amnesiac Ninja, Kisuke, or a Princess, Momohime, who has been possessed by the spirit of a vicious swordsman. There are quite a few plot twists resulting in multiple endings for each of the main characters. Moreover, there are DLC packs that provide additional storylines and characters. Four of these packs have been announced and two have been released. This additional game content is new to the Vita version of the game.
The game is a side scrolling action RPG where the characters collect and forge swords while fulfilling the story objectives. Momohime travels east to west while Kisuke travels west to east through a great variety of locales—an amazing visual tour de force. The different directions of the two travelers are used as an intriguing plot device that adds to the intricacy of intersecting story lines. In addition to the main story line there are side quests that can be accepted and secrets to uncover. The game has 42 trophies and an additional 12 for the DLC currently available. The trophies cover a variety of areas from main plot progression through collectibles. Because of the numerous endings and collectibles, it will take quite a while to earn the Platinum Trophy. Fortunately, the game has good replay value so getting to 100% completion is not a chore.
I usually like to conclude my reviews with three strengths and three things that can be improved upon. However, in my opinion, the game has no weaknesses. Even people who do not care for side scrolling 2D games would concede that Muramasa is exceedingly well crafted. It is as if nothing has been overlooked. The animation is completely fluid and the character movement with shifting perspectives sets a standard that few can match.
Muramasa on the Wii was a great game and the Vita version is a level of magnitude better. The translation has been greatly improved upon. It should be noted that this game is similar to Gravity Rush. Only the text has been localized, the voice tracks are the original Japanese. This was also a feature of the Wii version. For those who insist on a complete localization, this could be considered a weakness. However, I know of no complaints in this department and, even people who know no Japanese, have said the Japanese language, instead of being a detractor, contributes to the game’s unique atmosphere.
The game is so good that, even with the Vita’s exceptional display, one would like to see it on a big screen TV which brings us back to the Vita TV. The Vita TV is very easy to set up. Looking at the back, from left to right, you insert a memory card in the slot, plug a PS3 controller into the USB port, connect an HDMI cable, an optional Ethernet cable if you don’t want to use the built in wireless, and connect the power jack. The HDMI cable then plugs into a TV or, as I prefer, an A/V Receiver.
The first step in the setup process is to select the language. In spite of limiting the region to Japan, a full range of selections is available including English. The process concludes with signing into the PlayStation network with your JP PSN ID. If you do not have a Japanese region PSN ID, you are able to create one.
After you complete the setup, you will see the customary Vita screen on your monitor or TV. You will not have access to touch and back panel features of the Vita so there are some limitations. These limitations affect the games you are able to play. Gravity Rush, for example, that makes use of all the handheld features is not compatible with Vita TV as is another of my favorites, Wipeout 2048. Perhaps my biggest disappointment was that Dragon Crown, like Muramasa a Vanillaware game, does not work with the Vita TV.
The Hong Kong site provides a list of compatible games. (So, too, does the Japanese site but the Hong Kong site has an English language version). Note that the list is current as of February so it does not include the NA release of Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD. Those games are compatible with the Vita TV and benefit from the PS3 controller.
Nevertheless, the positives outweigh the negatives. Not only can you play the supported games on the big screen TV but you have a variety of controllers to choose from. If you buy the value pack, it comes with a matching white PS3 controller. But why stop there. If you’re into fighting games or Shoot-’em-Ups, you can use professional grade arcade sticks. I've been using the QanBa Q4 RAF with genuine Sanwa arcade parts. Although the arcade stick dwarfs the PS Vita TV, it easily plugs into the USB port on the back of the Vita:
I was going to add some photos but, apparently, I can't without first uploading them to a URL. I decided not to because my photos did not do the PS Vita TV justice. I'd taken them with a regular Vita and they don't really show how good the PS Vita TV outputs to the big screen. The Vita TV outputs at 720p and I was using an A/V receiver that upscales the image. The A/V receiver has two HDMI outputs and I tried to depict simultaneous outputs to a 50 inch HDTV and a 30 inch 2560 X 1440 computer monitor. The result was breathtaking but I couldn't capture the effect in a photo.
The PS Vita TV can also be connected to a video capture card or device for people who are interested in recording their video gameplay. The PS Vita TV like the PS Vita outputs in stereo sound. This is another reason why the PS Vita TV benefits from an A/V receiver--you can convert it to surround sound. In the case of Muramasa, the noteworthy soundtrack is elevated even further.
To sum up, if you have a Vita, Muramasa is a must buy. The PS Vita TV is an exceptional device that currently is constrained by being limited to Japanese region PSN IDs. However, for people who are willing to accept that, the PS Vita will play NA games. If anyone has been able to play European games on the PS Vita TV, I would be interested in hearing about it.